Wananga landing Wananga landing

Honours in Linguistics

21 January 2024

The Honours year is quite different from undergraduate studies. We have small class sizes to facilitate detailed discussions on the latest linguistics research. Find out about doing an Honours in Linguistics at UC.


Staff do not simply give lectures and assess students' answers to pre-prepared questions and exams – instead, classes at honours level work much more like collaborative research groups, with students and staff working together towards shared research goals. 

Although you choose just three courses (as well as LING480), you have a great deal of flexibility in the work you do.

  • Syntactic Theory

    In Syntactic Theory (LING403) you are free to investigate any syntactic feature from any language, and from any theoretical perspective. So if you enjoy minimalism, lexical functional grammar, cognitive grammar, or another theory, you can investigate how well it models and explains the structural properties of the language(s) you have chosen to focus on. You can also compare different theories to each other. The workshop format of the course means that you get plenty of support when learning about these theories, both from your fellow students and from the staff who teach into the course.

  • Variation Theory

    Comparison of different theories is also important in Variation Theory (LING410). In this course you explore how different types of language theory deal with the variability that we find in language, and so this course encourages you to think about the intersection between linguistic theory and sociolinguistics. You will encounter examples from all ‘levels’ of linguistics, including syntax and phonology, from different varieties of English and from different time periods in history. You can focus in detail on one specific area in your project work, but you’re also given a thorough grounding in other areas, developing your general understanding of current problems in linguistic and sociolinguistic theory.

  • Field Methods

    The same is true of Field Methods (LING407) which gives you the skills you need to understand the structure of languages which are completely new to you. In this course, we simulate a language documentation situation by bringing in a language consultant, usually a native speaker of a Pacific language. The overarching aim of the course is to find out as much as possible about the phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic, and lexical properties of the language, as a class. To make this task manageable, we collaboratively elicit many different linguistic constructions from the native speaker, and analyse how they work, just like you would ‘in the field’. Field Methods gives you the opportunity to acquire elicitation and analysis skills in a wide range of areas, but also allows you to focus on whichever aspect of linguistics you wish in your individual research project.

  • Sociophonetic Research

    In Sociophonetic Research (LING412) we choose a different set of topics to focus on each year. In 2017 the focus will be ‘forensic phonetics’. Forensic phonetics is an application of the fields of acoustic and auditory phonetics. This course will introduce work on speaker comparison, speaker profiling, content analysis, enhancement and authentication of recordings and the construction of voice line-ups. The focus on specific topics will be determined by students’ interests. Everyone will be given the chance to conduct a piece of forensic phonetic analysis.

  • World Englishes

    World Englishes (LING615) explores some of the historical, political and social issues associated with the development of different World Englishes, discussing key differences between varieties of English along the way. For the language professional attempting to operate in this environment (teacher, writer, editor, policy maker), there are a number of practical challenges: What type of English should we teach? How do learners’ attitudes to a language affect their proficiency? How do we codify new varieties? These and many more real-world issues are tackled in this course.


Skill development

The honours year is excellent preparation if you are thinking of pursuing further postgraduate work, such as an MA or PhD in Linguistics, or if you are thinking about entering a profession which requires critical thinking, excellent communication skills, and the ability to work with and make sense of large datasets. The advanced work you do at honours level will engage with the questions being asked in the field of linguistics right now, and you will be given the opportunities to carry out research yourself which is the very best way to develop your transferrable skills.

You will be trained in how to ask the right questions, formulate hypotheses, and test them. You will also learn how to manage large datasets, either by collecting data yourself (e.g. via elicitation methodologies) or by taking advantage of the large corpora of language we have at UC (The origins of New Zealand English [ONZE] and/or the Origins of Liverpool English [OLIVE]).


Core skills

The different types of assessment across the year enhance the skills you need to succeed as a researcher, including:

  • Designing experiments
  • Writing research papers
  • Creating and presenting an academic poster
  • Maintaining an extended research bibliography
  • Writing a research proposal and an application to the Human Ethics Committee
  • Constructive peer review (providing helpful feedback on assignment drafts to other students in your course and receiving feedback on your own draft from them)
  • Evaluating existing work on a topic (both in informal class discussions and in a written literature review)
  • Giving oral presentations on your work
  • Using archiving software to manage fieldwork data


Previous students' research

Since honours students carry out research, they often present their work at academic conferences, attended by linguists from across the world. For example:

  • Simon Todd, graduate of Honours in Linguistics and Maths in 2012, presented a poster at the 13th New Zealand Language and Society Conference, held in Auckland. The title of the poster was: The Role of Functional load in the maintenance of Māori vowel contrast. Simon is now studying towards a PhD at Stanford University.
  • Yuki Sawada, graduate of Honours in Linguistics in 2012, also presented a poster at the 13th New Zealand Language and Society Conference, in Auckland. The title of the poster was: Vowel Epenthesis in Māori.
  • Mike Peek, graduate of Honours in Linguistics in 2012, presented a poster at the 2nd Variation and Language Processing Conference, held at UC. The title of the poster was: Personality and non-linguistic perceptual sensitivity affect phonetic convergence. Mike is now working as a research assistant in the New Zealand Institute for Language, Brain, and Behaviour (NZILBB).
  • Mineko Shirakawa, graduate of Honours in Linguistics in 2011, presented a poster on her LING480 research essay at the 2nd New Ways of Analysing Variation Asia-Pacific Conference, in Tokyo. The title of the poster was: Bilingual first language acquisition: a case study of English-Japanese bilingual children in Christchurch. Mineko has just completed her MA thesis in Linguistics at UC.
  • Tim Connell, Emma Rennell, and Mineko Shirakawa, presented a poster on joint research from the LING403 Syntax honours class in 2011 at the 19th Conference of the Linguistic Society of New Zealand, in Wellington. The title of the poster was: A case for Voice.Tim is now working on an MA in Linguistics at UC as well.


Why undertake an Honours year?

By following Canterbury's Honours programme in Linguistics you will:

  • Get the opportunity to apply everything you have learned at undergraduate level to the collection and analysis of new linguistic data, from English as well as other languages.
  • Extend the understanding of linguistic issues you began to develop in your undergraduate studies. You will not only read and discuss the most current research in linguistics, but also generate your own research, with the potential to advance the field.
  • Learn how to use state of the art methodologies to address as yet unanswered questions about language.
  • Learn to think like a researcher - how to ask the right questions, form hypotheses, and test them.
  • Enhance your ability to read and think critically, and learn how to assess the validity of theoretical claims and empirical observations reported in the literature.
  • Get experience of managing large data sets, and learn new skills for analysing such datasets efficiently and presenting results clearly and effectively.
  • Have the opportunities to develop all the skills you need to pursue a career in linguistics research.
  • Have access to the world's largest time aligned corpus of New Zealand English and northern British English.
  • Be integrated into the research culture of the department. Honours students are often to be found in our research labs, even after classes are over, working on various projects and collaborating with PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and staff.

If you have questions about Honours in Linguistics please contact the Linguistics Subject Coordinator.

Privacy Preferences

By clicking "Accept All Cookies", you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.