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Department of Linguistics

Research Degrees (MPhil/PhD) in Linguistics

Duration: 3 years


Start of programme: September

The MPhil/PhD in Linguistics is a research training programme which combines foundational and advanced courses in the core areas of linguistics, training on research methods and research work leading to a dissertation. The Department is strongly research-oriented, and through a combination of courses, advanced seminars and individual supervision, aims to provide the intellectual discipline, knowledge and skills required of a well-rounded researcher.

Supervision is offered in theoretical, descriptive and comparative linguistics, translation and language pedagogy. Depending on the research topic, it may also be possible to arrange joint supervision with specialists in other departments.

Research in the department

Research interests of the faculty are wide-ranging and span the world's languages, from Chinese to Arabic, Swahili to Korean, Mongolian to Japanese. This focus on Asian and African languages, combined with the unparalleled access to the considerable language and regional expertise of other SOAS researchers constitutes a unique resource for the study of theoretical, comparative and descriptive linguistics, language documentation and description, language pedagogy and translation.

Some recent research theses

  • Mahmoud Fathulla Ahmad – The Tense and Aspect System in Kurdish
  • Najat Benchiba: A structural analysis of Moroccan Arabic and English intra-sentential code switching
  • Kay Johnson: Static spatial expression in Ske – an Oceanic language of Vanuatu
  • Judith Nakayiza: The sociolinguistics of multilingualism in Uganda
  • Ian Pickett – Some Aspects of Dialect Variation Among the Nomads in Syria and Lebanon

Some current PhD topics

  • The political manipulation of translation and the role of translation in affecting the political field
  • Object properties and object marking in Makhuwa
  • Valency changing operations in Chimane
  • A grammar of Sekpele

Academic Staff and Their Research Areas

Professor Peter Austin BA(AS) PHD(ANU)

Märit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics; Director, Endangered Languages Academic Programme
Typology, morpho-syntax, language documentation and description, historical linguistics, Lexical-Functional grammar, computer-aided linguistic analysis, Austronesian languages, Australian Aboriginal languages


Lecturer in Linguistics
The syntax-semantics interface; language universals and typology; psycholinguistics; Chinese; Romance languages


Senior Lecturer in Linguistics
Phonological theory; morpho-phonology; Altaic languages; French Dialectology; phonetics

Dr Noriko Iwasaki PHD(ARIZONA)

Senior Lecturer in Language Pedagogy
Second language acquisition (grammatical development, impact of study abroad), psycholinguistics (language production, cognition and language), language testing, Japanese


Reader in Translation Studies
Cognitive approach to translation process, corpus-based translation studies, translation curriculum and material development, specialized translation (commercial, financial and journalistic), second language acquisition and teaching, experimental translation studies, qualitative research methodology

Dr Christopher Lucas BA (LONDON) MPhil PHD (CANTAB)

Lecturer in Arabic Linguistics
Historical linguistics, Arabic linguistics, the syntax-semantics interface, pragmatics, philosophy of language, Dynamic Syntax, Relevance Theory, Arabic language, Afro-Asiatic languages

Dr Friederike Lüpke MA(KÖLN) PHD(KUN)

Senior Lecturer in Language Documentation and Description
Language documentation and description, contact linguistics, anthropological linguistics, syntax-semantics interface, argument structure, Ajami writing in Africa, Niger-Congo languages, Mande languages, Atlantic languages, Jalonke (Fuuta Jalon, Guinea), Bainouk (Casamance, Senegal)

Professor Lutz Marten MA PHD (LONDON)

Syntax, semantics, pragmatics and their interfaces, historical and comparative linguistics. Bantu languages and linguistics, language and society in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Professor Irina Nikolaeva PHD(LEIDEN)

Professor of Linguistics
Syntax, morphology, information structure, typology, lexicalist theories of grammar, Construction Grammar, documentation of endangered languages, Palaeosiberian linguistics, Uralic languages, Altaic languages, Tundra Nenets (northwestern Siberia)

Professor Anne Pauwels

Professor of Sociolinguistics
Multilingualism, language maintenance and shift, language policy and language planning in relation to education, multilingual societies, gender/ethnicity, gender and language, applied linguistics, intercultural communication

Professor Itesh Sachdev BSC(BRISTOL) PHD(MCMASTER)

Professor of Language and Communication
Social psychology of language and intergroup relations, intercultural communication, identity (minority and majority), bi-multilingualism, multiculturalism, language attitudes and motivations

Dr Julia Sallabank PhD (LANCASTER)

Senior Lecturer in Language Support and Revitalisation
Sociolinguistics, language support, language policy, revitalisation methods, literacy practices in endangered languages, Guernesiais

Dr Justin Watkins BA (LEEDS) MA PHD (LONDON)

Senior Lecturer in the Languages and Linguistics of South East Asia
Burmese language and literature; Mon-Khmer and Tibeto-Burman languages; phonetics and speech acoustics computer lexicography; sign languages in South East Asia


The PhD programme in Linguistics is a rigorous, structured training programme with different activities and requirements taking place throughout the period of the programme.  

All students register in year 1 of the programme as MPhil students. The upgrade from MPhil to PhD registration takes place at the end of the first academic session for full time students (or at the end of the second academic session for part time students).

All new MPhil/PhD students are provided with a supervisory committee of three members, comprising a main or primary supervisor, and a second and third supervisor. The split in time commitment across the supervisory committee is 60:25:15. In the first year students are expected to meet their main supervisor on a bi-weekly basis for a period of at least one hour.

The student’s primary supervisor is always a member of the Department in which the student is registered. The second and third supervisors, who act in a supplementary advisory capacity, may be from the same Department, or other Departments/Centres in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures or in Departments/Centres in the other Faculties of the School.

Depending on the nature of the research, joint supervision is sometimes recommended, under the direction of two primary supervisors. In such cases the student has only one further supervisor on their committee.

The student’s progress is further overseen by the Departmental Research Tutor.

In the first year, students prepare for research by following the research training seminar (RTS) in Linguistics convened by the Departmental Research Tutor and supported by the generic training on offer in the Academic Development Directorate (ADD) (see http://www.soas.ac.uk/add/).

Students may also be encouraged by supervisors to attend additional taught courses relevant to their research and to their training needs. These may include specialist disciplinary, language or regional culture courses or research training in other Departments outside the Faculty.

All MPhil/PhD students are encouraged to attend the talks of the departmental seminar series, or those organised by the Centre for Language Pedagogy or the Centre for Translation Studies. In addition, there are special PhD seminars in which advanced PhD students present their work and which are open to staff and students.

Year 1 full time students (year 2 for part time students)  are required to submit a core chapter and research proposal (of about 10,000 words) by the end of Week 3 of Term 3, typically including the following elements:

1. Research rationale and context of proposed research
2. Main research questions
3. Literature review
4. Theoretical and methodological framework and considerations
5. Proposed research methods
6. Ethical issues (where applicable)
7. Outline structure of PhD dissertation
8. Schedule of research and writing
9. Bibliography

Adjustments to one or more of these sections, including additions or deletions where appropriate, are possible by prior arrangement between the students and lead supervisors.

The upgrade process from MPhil to PhD status is based upon an assessment of the core chapter and research proposal by the student’s research committee, and upon on a 20-30 minute oral presentation, followed by discussion. The oral presentation is given to Departmental staff, supervisory committee members and research students. This is followed by an interview of 10-15 minutes between the student and the committee.  On successful completion of the upgrade process, students are formally upgraded to PhD and proceed to the second year. (If the assessors consider there to be shortcomings in the core chapter or research proposal, students will be asked to revise it to their satisfaction before the upgrade to PhD status can be confirmed.) Students are not normally permitted to proceed to the second year until the upgrade process has been completed.

The second year (or part time equivalent) is normally spent engaged in research. This may be by any combination of fieldwork and research in libraries and material collection as agreed between the student and the supervisor(s).

The third year (or part time equivalent) is devoted to writing up research for the PhD thesis. During this time, students will normally give a presentation in the PhD seminar series organised by the Departmental Research Tutor, which is open to staff members and other research students. During the third year (or part time equivalent) students will present draft chapters to their main supervisor for comment, before completing a final draft of the thesis. Once a full draft is complete, the work is assessed by all members of the supervisory committee and the student can either submit the thesis or move on to Continuation Status to be given a further 12 months to complete the thesis and submit for examination.

The thesis must be completed within 48 months from the time of registration (or part time equivalent).

The thesis – not to exceed 100,000 words in length – is examined by two leading authorities in the field.

PhD Degrees are awarded by SOAS from registration in 2013 and are subject to SOAS regulations.

A Student's Perspective

I enjoy the student atmosphere here. The Students’ Union bar and café is cozy and friendly and I’ve enjoyed getting involved in the knitting for peace club. Also I have been impressed by the array of specialists in the department of Linguistics.

Birgul Yilmmaz