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Postgraduate Admissions

Course closed:

Theoretical and Applied Linguistics by Advanced Study is no longer accepting new applications.


The MPhil by Advanced Study programme is structured progressively to form a bridge between undergraduate study and possible further research. Its balance changes through the year so that in the first two months (Michaelmas Term – October to December) there is instruction through lectures, while by the last three months students are carrying out independent research full-time.

All students are required to follow a course in research methods and a statistics course to acquire skills needed for research and "transferable" skills. Beyond that, each student will follow his or her own "study plan", which allows the individual interests, needs, and strengths of the student to be met. At the start of the course the student, with advice 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 Section. This will include the selection of a minimum of four introductory taught courses to be followed in Michaelmas, and participation in a minimum of two research seminars in Lent term. Usually, the Lent term seminars are chosen to build on courses which have been followed in Michaelmas.

Three assessment essays written during the Michaelmas term and one assessment essay written over the Christmas vacation will be based on the Michaelmas taught courses. One of the Lent research seminars will normally relate to the dissertation, and another is assessed by an oral presentation (which provides an opportunity to develop communication skills). By default, the Course Director will initially act as supervisor, but once a dissertation topic has been chosen in Lent term, a subject specialist supervisor will be appointed. From Easter until June, students can concentrate full-time on the dissertation.

The course structure allows great flexibility for combining areas and approaches. It provides for tailored combinations of work in any of the areas of theoretical, applied, 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 the development of an argument in linguistic 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, the acoustic description of sound systems, and so on. 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 wish to specialise and opt for a pathway relating to a particular language or language family.

The dissertation demands independent study under the guidance of the supervisor and will involve a substantial piece of original research. A proposed title and summary for the 20,000-word dissertation, 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. Because seminars finish at the end of the Lent term, students can then devote themselves full-time to research for the dissertation during the Easter vacation and the Easter term (April to June). The dissertation is submitted on the seventh Friday of Easter term, and about two to three weeks later there may be an oral examination on the dissertation at the discretion of the examiners.

There are a variety of Lent term research seminars offered each year, and these depend on the availability of academic staff and on levels of student interest.  See here for more information on these seminars.

The dissertation will normally be based on one of these seminars. In addition, students will give an oral presentation on the topic of a second seminar at the end of the Lent term. The presentation should aim at a general audience rather than subject specialists. The presentation will be assessed on the content by a subject specialist and on a presentation by another assessor.

The following language-specific pathways will normally be available, depending on staff availability:

  • Celtic
  • English
  • Germanic
  • Romance
  • French
  • Hispanic
  • Italian
  • Slavonic

To fulfill a pathway, a student must write the MPhil dissertation and at least two of the essays on a topic which is clearly within the language area chosen. The choice of courses attended in Michaelmas and Lent terms will reflect that pathway. Following a pathway in "language X" will allow the student to opt, if he or she wishes, for the informal designation of the degree as "MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (X)", where 'X' might be "Slavonic" or "French"). (Formally, however, the University merely awards the degree of MPhil.)

One to one supervision

Approximately 6.5 hours per year (half an hour for each of the three 2,000-word essays; one hour for the 4,000-word essay; four hours for the dissertation).

The University of Cambridge publishes an annual Code of Practice which sets out the University’s expectations regarding supervision.

Seminars & classes
  • The Michaelmas term

32–44 hours of research training

  • The Lent term

32 hours (minimum) of subject-specific seminars

Eight to 16 hours of research training

  • The Easter term

[Full-time individual research]

  • The Michaelmas term

32 hours of subject-specific lectures

  • The Lent term

[No lectures; teaching is by seminar and class]

  • The Easter term

[Full-time individual research]


In Michaelmas term, students complete a self-evaluation to which the Course Director may respond, and in Lent and Easter terms reports are written and made available to the student online. Feedback on the essays and dissertation is provided in the form of written assessors' reports.


Thesis / Dissertation

Students submit a dissertation of no more than 20,000 words. The examiners have the option to conduct an oral examination with the candidate.


Students write three 2,000-word essays to set titles, and one 4,000-word research essay on a topic of their own choosing.


Students make an oral presentation in the Lent term on the second of their subject options.

Key Information

9 months full-time

Master of Philosophy

This course is advertised in multiple departments. Please see the Overview tab for more details.

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Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2020
Application deadline
Feb. 28, 2021
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2021

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Graduate Funding Competition
Dec. 3, 2020
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 14, 2020

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2021, Lent 2022 and Easter 2022.

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