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MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics by Advanced Study

University of Cambridge

MPhil by Advanced Study (MLM5)

The MPhil by Advanced Study programme is for students who already hold a BA degree in Linguistics (or at least whose undergraduate degree includes a significant element of linguistics) and who would like to further their knowledge of the subject by pursuing an advanced course in areas of their choice, with a substantial element of independent research.

The balance of the course changes through the year from taught courses to research-based work. It allows great flexibility in combining areas and approaches. It provides for tailored combinations of work in any of the areas of theoretical, applied, historical, and descriptive linguistics, ranging for instance from formal semantics to experimental phonetics and phonology, from language acquisition to computational linguistics, and from Welsh syntax to the history of linguistics in France.

A piece of work may have as its focus, for example, the development of an argument in syntactic or semantic theory, the description of some aspect of a language or its use, the psycholinguistic testing of alternative linguistic analyses, the application of linguistic theory to the history of a language or languages, or the acoustic description of sound systems. The various pieces of work may relate to any language or combination of languages subject to adequate advice and facilities being available for the topic in question. Some students may also choose to look at linguistics from the point of view of a specific language or language family (depending on availability of staff).  

It is important that you only apply to a course in our section if your interests are properly represented by the research interests of our staff. Applicants may find it useful to look at the following lists of people to find out more about potential supervisors in their fields of interest:

Please direct any enquiries regarding entry requirements and academic matters to the Postgraduate Secretary in the MMLL Postgraduate Office, and any enquiries regarding the technicalities of applying to the central Postgraduate Admissions Office.

Beginners in linguistics are advised not to apply. Although the MPhil by Advanced Study contains a taught component in the first term of the course, it is intended for students who already have an extensive background in Linguistics. It is not intended as a conversion course. Occasionally students with a degree in a neighbouring discipline (for example psychology or philosophy) are considered for acceptance but they have to demonstrate familiarity with concepts, problems, and theories in theoretical and applied linguistics that makes them eligible on a par with other applicants.

Our English language requirements are absolute. Note that this course starts in October and the final submission falls in early June, and as a result it is quite intensive. Therefore there is no time or provision for improving one’s proficiency in English. We only accept candidates whose command of English meets the language test requirement in order to ensure that students can follow advanced lectures, often using specialist terminology, and formulate well-expressed, sophisticated arguments in their written work. The language test requirements stated in the eligibility criteria are the absolute minimum and are not negotiable. They must be met in full before admission to the course.


As mentioned above, some students may choose to look at linguistics from the point of view of a specific language or language family.  If you are interested in focusing on a specific language or language family, please discuss it with the relevant member of teaching staff or with the MPhil Admissions Coordinator in advance of the application.

Michaelmas Term

In Michaelmas Term (October to December) there is instruction through lectures shared with undergraduate Part II students. In addition to a minimum of four selected introductory taught courses, all students are required to participate in a set of seminars in 'General Linguistics' and follow a course in research methods (including a compulsory statistics course) to acquire skills needed for research as well as 'transferable' skills. Ultimately, each student will follow their own 'study plan' of courses which allows for the development of the student’s individual interests, needs, and strengths. At the start of the course the student, with advice if needed from the Director of the MPhil and subject specialists, draws up a study plan for the Michaelmas and Lent Terms (October to March) which is approved by the MPhil director.

Assessment essays are written in Michaelmas Term and over the Christmas vacation, based on the Michaelmas taught courses.

By default, the Course Director will initially act as supervisor, but once a dissertation topic has been chosen in the Lent Term, a subject specialist will be appointed.

Lent Term

In the Lent Term (January to March) students participate in a minimum of two research seminars, held for MPhil students only. Usually the Lent Term seminars build on courses which have been studied in Michaelmas Term. 

One of the Lent research seminars will normally relate to the dissertation, and the other is assessed by an oral presentation (which provides an opportunity to develop communication skills). A proposed title and summary for the 20,000 word thesis, formulated in discussion with the supervisor, must be submitted in mid-February, and this will be subject to approval by the Linguistics Section, the supervisor, and the Faculty's Degree Committee. 

Easter Term

Because seminars finish at the end of Lent Term, students can then devote themselves full-time to research for the dissertation during the Easter vacation and the Easter Term (April to early June). 

The dissertation demands independent study under the guidance of the supervisor and will involve a substantial piece of original research, understood as either empirical work (for example corpus-based, involving creation of databases, designing and carrying out experiments, and so on) or developing a theoretical argument or a combination of the two. The dissertation is submitted in early June, and about two to three weeks later there may be an oral examination on the dissertation at the discretion of the examiners.