Forensic Linguistics Jobs: Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a forensic linguist. Learn about the duties of this job, the education requirements and salary range to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Forensic Linguist?

Forensic linguists apply their training in language and forensic science to find proof for criminal cases. They have the ability to interpret either oral or sign language. A forensic linguist could also be an expert in translating written text from one language to another. If a linguist is skilled at oral language translation, they are considered an interpreter. Those working with the written language are called translators. Forensic linguists are experts at dissecting how words are put together and how they fit together to become sentences; in other words, they recognize patterns. They apply this knowledge to the law. A forensic linguist is recognized as a consultant who applies their knowledge of linguistic patterns to criminal and civil cases.

The following chart provides an overview of the education, job outlook and average salary in this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree (minimum)
Education Field of Study Linguistics, social science, communication, English and other languages
Key Responsibilities Examine written and oral communications for fraud; interpret languages; decipher messages
Job Growth (2014-24) 29% (all interpreters and translators)*
Mean Annual Salary (2015) $44,190 (all interpreters and translators)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Become a Forensic Linguist?

Forensic linguistics programs are rare, but you can find them at the graduate level. These programs include master's degrees in linguistics or social science that offer a forensic linguistics concentration. The curriculum in these programs may offer several courses that focus on applying forensic linguistics concepts to various types of criminal cases. You may also learn how to profile offenders, deal with academic plagiarism and discuss ethical issues when using forensics in criminal cases. You'll also take basic linguistics coursework that covers syntax, dialectology and semantics.

A doctorate in linguistics may be required in order to pursue work in the field. The doctoral degree program provides you with advanced training in linguistic theory and research, and you may be required to complete a book-length dissertation before you can graduate.

What Skills Do I Need?

According to the Linguistic Society of America, proficient linguists can make insightful observations and arguments in addition to drawing conclusions based upon their findings. Some employers prefer you to be fluent in other languages besides English, according to past jobs posted on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) website. You may be expected to write, speak, read and listen to the foreign language and be able to convey and express what is being discussed.

What Job Duties and Salary Could I Expect?

You may find employment as a consultant, where you may use your linguistic experience within civil and criminal cases. You may be called upon to find patterns in the evidence, which may include examining handwritten documents, recognizing dialects or deciphering verbal transcripts. With the advance of technology, you may also be asked to authenticate texts and e-mails for cases. Employment may be found with federal crime investigation agencies - such as the FBI - as well as police departments or law firms. You may be required to pass language proficiency tests prior to being hired.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 2015 mean annual salary for interpreters and translators at $48,360 with a high job growth rate of 29% predicted between 2014 and 2024. PayScale.com reports the annual median wage for linguists is $60,959 as of January 2017.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you like the idea of recognizing patterns and applying them to the law, you might consider becoming an attorney or a linguistics professor. An attorney must first obtain an undergraduate degree, take and pass the LSAT, and then obtain a law degree. They defend or prosecute witnesses based on the pattern of evidence in a crime or civil dispute. A linguistics professor must obtain a master's or doctoral degree in order to teach at the college level. They instruct students on the patterns of language.

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