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Postgraduate Study

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, or from language acquisition to computational linguistics. 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. Students may choose to specialise in a specific language or language family through their choice of courses and focus of their assessments.  Topics offered may vary from year to year.

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 early June). 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.

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. 

The dissertation will normally be within the area of 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.

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

8 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

Optional lectures; teaching by seminar and class. Some seminar conveners require attendance at the relevant lecture courses.

The Easter term

[Full-time individual research]


Students taking phonetics lectures will receive some practical courses to accompany these.

Small group teaching

The Lent term seminars overall contain fewer students per group (normally fewer than 10). Each seminar runs over 16 hours.

Posters and Presentations

All students are requested to give an oral presentation in front of their peers and staff at the end of Lent Term. During Lent Term, they are also very likely to be asked to present in the context of the seminar structure.


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. Student satisfaction with the course is also monitored at termly meetings of the Staff-Student Liaison Committee. 


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

Key Information

9 months full-time

Master of Philosophy

Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics This course is advertised in multiple departments. Please see the Overview tab for more details.

Course - related enquiries

Application - related enquiries

Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 4, 2023
Application deadline
Feb. 22, 2024
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2024

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

Course Funding Deadline
Dec. 5, 2023
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 11, 2023

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2024, Lent 2025 and Easter 2025.

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