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Today, there are around 6-7,000 languages spoken in the world and it is widely agreed that at least half of those are under threat of extinction within 50 to 100 years. Language documentation is a new sub-discipline within linguistics that has emerged as a response to the growing crisis of language endangerment. It emphasises data collection methodologies, in two ways: first, in encouraging researchers to collect and record a wide range of linguistic phenomena in genuine communicative situations; and secondly, in its use of high quality sound and video recording to make sure that the results are the best possible record of the language.

The MA programme in Language Documentation and Description is intended for students who wish to specialise in the documentation and description of languages, with a focus on minority and endangered languages. This specialist MA is characterised by an integrated core of subject offerings that are oriented around issues in language documentation and description, plus a series of options in linguistics, applied linguistics, and language studies.


The MA Language Documentation and Description (LDD) consists of three components: core modules, optional modules and dissertation research. This degree programme is formulated with two different pathways; one specialising in Language Support and Revitalisation and the other specialising in Field Linguistics.

Regardless of the pathway they chose, all students must take 180 credits. They will take 60 credits as core modules, 60 credits on optional modules and submit a Masters dissertation worth 60 credits at the end of the year. The MA may be taken part-time, over two or three years, and there is a possibility for transferring between the two pathways for part-time students.

Teaching & Learning


  • Familiarity with the basic concepts and assumptions of different theoretical frameworks in the discipline, and the ability to critically question and evaluate these assumptions.
  • Acquiring a solid foundation in ‘core’ areas of language documentation.
  • Familiarity with the relevant conventions and methodology applicable to work with both raw linguistic data and existing linguistic descriptions.

Intellectual (thinking) skills

  • The ability to formulate appropriate linguistic problems, propose and evaluate analyses and present evidence (for and/or against) these analyses.
  • Knowledge of how to assess data and evidence critically from the literature and original sources, how to formulate analyses and arguments within the system of concepts and assumptions in the discipline, how to solve problems of conflicting sources and conflicting interpretations.

Subject-based practical skills

  • Practising research techniques in specialised research libraries and through consultant work.
  • Retrieving and selecting information from a variety of linguistic sources.
  • Students should be familiar with the relevant conventions and methodology applicable to work with recording, transcribing and analyzing linguistic data.

Transferrable skills

  • Training in locating materials and using research sources (library holdings, ‘raw’ language data, periodicals, and the internet).
  • Structuring and communicating ideas effectively in writing
  • Questioning, understanding and evaluating competing proposals.

Visit the Language Documentation and Description - MA page on the SOAS University of London website for more details!





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