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MA Sociolinguistics

Why we're great

  • Our internationally renowned staff are researching how language varies, what causes such variation, language rights, and asylum cases where language is used to determine origin
  • We offer paid opportunities to contribute to research - our students have helped us to build a database of interviews used in our research
  • We're Top 10 in the UK for our research quality - be part of our thriving research culture

Course options2017-18

Duration: 1 year
Start month: October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Language and Linguistics
Fee (Home/EU): £6,125
Fee (International): £15,450
Fees will increase for each academic year of study.
PGT fees information

Duration: 2 years
Start month: October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Language and Linguistics
Fee (Home/EU): £3,065
Fee (International): £7,725
Fees will increase for each academic year of study.
PGT fees information

Course enquiries

Telephone 01206 872719
Email pgadmit@essex.ac.uk

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About the course

In what way does society influence the way that we use language? And conversely, how far does the way we use language influence society? Can language use impact the class system? Sexism? Mental health?

On our MA Sociolinguistics, you address questions like these through exploration of the stylistic, cognitive and functional aspects of language variation and change. We familiarise you with the foundations of contemporary sociolinguistics, including:

  • Language variation and change
  • Ethnography of speaking
  • Multilingualism
  • Discourse

We additionally offer modules in some of the most prominent sub-disciplines in linguistics such as variation theory, socio-pragmatics, conversation analysis, language contact, language and gender, and language rights.

You also gain first-hand experience of interview, questionnaire and observation data and learn quantitative and qualitative methodologies for coding and analysing sociolinguistic interview and questionnaire data.

We are one of the largest and most prestigious language and linguistics departments in the world, a place where talented students become part of an academic community in which the majority of research is rated ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ (REF 2014), placing us firmly within the top 10 departments in the UK and ranked among the top 150 departments on the planet according to the QS World [University] Rankings [2016] for linguistics.

If you want a global outlook, are interested in human communication, and want to study for a degree with real-world practical value in a world-class department, welcome to Essex.

Our expert staff

Our staff maintain excellent student-staff ratios with capped language-specific seminars.

In sociolinguistics, Peter Patrick, Rebecca Clift, Enam Al Wer and Vineeta Chand all work on different aspects of how language varies, and investigate which factors cause such variation. Peter is also involved in language rights, and offers expert opinions in asylum cases where language is used to determine origin.

Specialist facilities

  • An exciting programme of research seminars and other events
  • Our Languages for All programme offers you the opportunity to study an additional language alongside your course at no extra cost
  • Our ‘Visual World’ Experimental Lab records response times and eye movements when individuals are presented with pictures and videos
  • Our Eye-Tracking Lab monitors eye movement of individuals performing tasks
  • Our Psycholinguistics Lab measures how long it takes individuals to react to words, texts and sounds
  • Our Linguistics Lab has specialist equipment to analyse sound
  • Our Albert Sloman Library houses a strong collection of books, journals, electronic resources and major archives

Your future

Our course can lead to careers in areas such as academic research, publishing, journalism, administration, public service and teaching. You develop key employability skills including research design, data analysis, thinking analytically, report writing and public speaking.

We work with the University’s Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.

Within our Department of Language and Linguistics, we also offer supervision for PhD and MPhil. We offer supervision in areas including language acquisition, language learning and language teaching, culture and communication, psycholinguistics, language disorders, sociolinguistics, and theoretical and descriptive linguistics.

Our graduates are successful in a wide variety of career paths. They leave Essex with a unique set of skills and experience that are in demand by employers.

One Masters not enough for you?

We offer a number of postgraduate taught double degrees with our international partners. You work for two Masters degrees, one at Essex and another at a prestigious university across the globe, gaining them both in a shorter time than studying them separately. This unique opportunity gives you a competitive edge when applying for jobs or prepares you for PhD study.

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Example structure

Postgraduate study is the chance to take your education to the next level. The combination of compulsory and optional modules means our courses help you develop extensive knowledge in your chosen discipline, whilst providing plenty of freedom to pursue your own interests. Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.

For many of our courses you’ll have a wide range of optional modules to choose from – those listed in this example structure are, in many instances, just a selection of those available. Our Programme Specification gives more detail about the structure available to our current postgraduate students, including details of all optional modules.

Year 1

How does language change over time, vary across communities, and what do social alignments help explain about language variation and change? Explore the relationship between sociolinguistic theories and social groupings. Examine current sociolinguistic debates regarding language variation and change.

Learn sociolinguistic research approaches to dialectology, variation, ethnography of speech, and discourse analysis by actually doing them. You’ll sample speaker populations, approach informants ethically, carry out participant observation, design questionnaires and other instruments, use digital recorders in sociolinguistic interviews to elicit natural speech, collect personal narratives, and analyse linguistic variation.

How do you use qualitative and quantitative methodologies to code and analyse sociolinguistic data? What software programs can assist with this? Understand the primary data coding and analysis methods for sociolinguistic research. Gain preparation in data analysis and presentation of your research and findings.

What interests you? Write a 16,000-word dissertation on a research topic of your choosing, with supervision from our expert staff. Gain research planning, organisational and project management skills while increasing your knowledge of the subject. Build your research abilities for future employment or a PhD.

Are you ready to write your dissertation? Build your knowledge of the standard practices for writing assignments and dissertations. Understand the common research methodologies and paradigms used in applied linguistics and TESOL.

Can sounds be analysed in terms of their constituent components of voicing, place and manner of articulation? Which features of sound are relevant for distinguishing word meanings? Is there a set of universal constraints on the way that sounds are related to mental representations? Acquire a solid understanding of phonological analysis, and apply that understanding to new data in a variety of languages.

Wish to run experiments on child-language acquisition? Examine research on children’s acquisition of English. Understand and critically evaluate the data analysis techniques available. Develop and present your own arguments in a variety of formats, building your knowledge and professional skills for future research.

How do children develop phonologically? And how does this change if they have delayed or disordered speech? Examine how phonological theories have been applied to first language data. Apply the knowledge you gain to sample data sets of child speech.

The purpose of this module is to develop your knowledge of some well-known facts about how second languages are learned. You will look at the role of nature and nurture and critically evaluate the theories that make use of these factors to explain how second languages are learned and evaluated. This will involve looking at some of the topics that have been addressed by researchers who have studied second language learner development, and familiarising yourself with the techniques they have used to collect research data.

Explore North America’s language history. Study language contact and conflict beginning with Native American languages. Why did English dominate other colonial languages? Why is Spanish expanding today but French contracting? How has US English – including Southern, African American, Midwestern and New England dialects – spread and changed? Should English be official?

How did the accents and dialects of English develop? What are the differences between them? Become skilful in identifying where speakers are from on the basis of their accent. Gain a sound understanding of the major changes which have affected English over the last 1,000 years.

Why do speakers of English initially think that sentences like “The horse raced past the barn fell” are ungrammatical? Why are sentences like “The mouse the cat chased stole the cheese” more difficult to understand than “The mouse stole the cheese and the cat chased the mouse”? Learn about the principles of sentence and discourse processing that guide language understanding. Conduct experiments testing how speakers respond to structurally different types of sentences.

From a human rights perspective, what kinds of conflicts occur around languages? Are there linguistic human rights? What are they? How do governments, lawmakers, schools, courts and international organisations identify and treat language problems? Can language planners and policymakers address conflicts involving indigenous peoples, national minorities, ethnic or racial groups?

What do you know about semantics? Wish to understand this key component of modern linguistics? Study formal semantics, working on examples and exercises that use logic in the analysis of natural language semantics. Examine the main topics on word and sentence meaning in contemporary semantics.

What are the similarities between first and second language acquisition? And what are the differences? How does this change between child and adult second language acquisition? Study the key concepts around language acquisition. Evaluate, compare and contrast the main theories and empirical research.

Why are English modal verbs ‘tricky’ and how can we elucidate their properties? How can infinitival constructions be analysed? Gain a sound understanding of the clause structure of English. Learn how to solve grammatical problems for yourself.

What psychological factors impact on second language learning? Study a range of cognitive variables that influence people's success when learning a second language. Undertake your own piece of research into a variable of your choice, eg learning style or language learning aptitude, and gain useful experience for your future Masters project in the process.

What are the main phenomena of syntax and how can we describe and explain them? Study the properties of syntactic categories, subjects, complements and adjuncts, raising and control sentences, and long distance dependencies. Learn the importance of precise and explicit descriptions, of dealing with the full range of relevant data, and of accommodating different kinds of languages.

Wish to undertake psycholinguistic experiments? Work as a group on designing and preparing your own psycholinguistic research. As a team, collect and organise your experimental data. Use descriptive and inferential statistics to analyse your findings. Produce your own report that discusses your theoretical and methodological outcomes.

What are research methods? What are the differences between quantitative and qualitative research? Learn more about the research tools available for studying applied linguistics and TEFL. Examine each available research method in-depth. Build your understanding, while preparing for your MA dissertation or other future research projects.

How can we capture the structural similarities between clauses and nominal expressions? Are gerunds nouns or verbs? Gain a sound understanding of the English nominal system. Develop your skills in exploring the grammar of English as an object of intellectual inquiry.

How important is empirical data in syntactic theorising? What are the norms of syntactic argumentation? Examine one of three contemporary syntactic theories – Lexical Functional Grammar, Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, and Minimalism. Build your knowledge of the core topics behind the theory.

How important is age when learning another language? Study the role that age plays in bilingual development. Examine second language acquisition in both naturalistic and classroom settings, alongside first and second language attrition. Explore current theories on bilingual development, evaluating the empirical evidence and learning implications from such research.

What factors determined the varieties of English which evolved in Wales, Scotland and Ireland? How can you tell a New Zealander from an Australian? Investigate the different accents of English spoken outside England. Understand how English changed as it spread across the globe.

Are you ready for your dissertation? What qualitative research methods are suitable for your research? Learn more about the qualitative research methods and statistical techniques that you could use for your MA dissertation or other future research projects.

Do you want to explore in some depth a research question that has emerged from one of your modules? Are you keen to do some independent research? Survey the existing literature on a topic that has intrigued you. Prepare the ground for your MA dissertation, under the watchful eye of a supervisor.

This module looks at the phenomenon of first language attrition as a result of bilingualism. You will look at the way in which bilingual development and the acquisition of a new language can trigger often subtle changes in a native language as well as the factors which may accelerate or delay this process. The first half of the module will focus on current research into language learning and attrition, whereas the focus in the second half is on the methods commonly used when researching this topic.

The aim of this module is to develop your understanding of the theoretical foundations of pragmatics and conversation analysis. You will be introduced to the study of meaning and explore how what is said is not necessarily what is meant, by investigating aspects of utterance interpretation and of language use. By the end of the module, you will be familiar with a range of issues and debates in contemporary pragmatics and be able to apply your knowledge of these to a variety of problems in the investigation of language use in interaction.

This module will acquaint you with some of the existing approaches and issues in intercultural communication, balancing theoretical insight with advanced practical skills. You will investigate communication patterns in different cultures and languages including illocutionary force, indirect speech acts and politeness and look at how cultural norms, values and conventions influence linguistic choices across languages and cultures.

Teaching

  • Teaching methods include lectures, demonstrations and learning by teaching others
  • We run a weekly departmental seminar, attended by both staff and students

Assessment

  • Your eight one-term modules are assessed by coursework and you are also assessed on your dissertation

Dissertation

  • Your 16,000-word dissertation allows you to focus in-depth on your chosen topic from April onwards
  • Close supervision by a member of staff within our Department

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Qualifications

UK entry requirements

We will consider applications with an overall grade of 2:2 and above.

International and EU entry requirements

We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Email pgadmit@essex.ac.uk for further details about the qualifications we accept. Include information in your email about the undergraduate qualification you have already completed or are currently taking.

IELTS entry requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 5.5 except for 6.0 in writing

If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.

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Visit us

Open days

We hold postgraduate events in February/March and November, and open days for all our applicants throughout the year. Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex, and give you the chance to:

  • tour our campus and accommodation
  • find out answers to your questions about our courses, student finance, graduate employability, student support and more
  • meet our students and staff

If the dates of our organised events aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing tours@essex.ac.uk and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.

Virtual tours

If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.

Exhibitions

Our staff travel the world to speak to people about the courses on offer at Essex. Take a look at our list of exhibition dates to see if we’ll be near you in the future.

Applying

You can apply for our postgraduate courses online. You’ll need to provide us with your academic qualifications, as well as supporting documents such as transcripts, English language qualifications and certificates. You can find a list of necessary documents online, but please note we won’t be able to process your application until we have everything we need.

There is no application deadline but we recommend that you apply before 1 July for our taught courses starting in October. We aim to respond to applications within two weeks. If we are able to offer you a place, you will be contacted via email.

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Although great care is taken in compiling our course details, they are intended for the general guidance of prospective students only. The University reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University.

The full procedures, rules and regulations of the University are set out in the Charter, Statues and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.