Linguistics at Honours level

The Linguistics Honours year is a taught programme with a strong research focus. You will discuss the latest research in the field, and you will plan and carry out your own research, both by working individually and in collaboration with staff and other students.


UC Linguistics lecturer Kevin Watson and Honours (2012) student Mike Peek during a sociophonetics class

Honours students are a very important part of the research culture of the department, and can often be found in our labs even when out of classes, working on their honours research and also on other projects. Honours students are regularly employed as research assistants on a wide range of projects, and so get the opportunity to enhance their research skills and get paid while doing so.

During your honours year, you will work on an individual research project (which we call LING480: Research Essay). There are no timetabled classes for this, instead you work closely with a supervisor or a small supervisory team and produce an extended research report on a linguistics topic of your choosing. As well as this, you choose three out of the four taught courses listed below:

The honours year is quite different from undergraduate studies. Honours courses last for a whole year, which is unusual at undergraduate level, and this gives you the opportunity to explore a range of topics in considerable depth. We also have small class sizes, which further facilitiates detailed discussion. 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.

  • In the Syntax course (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. 2013 is a particularly exciting year for LING403, because you will have the opportunity to work with Professor Richard Kayne from New York University, who is visiting the department in Term 1.
  • Comparison of different theories is also important in Variation and Theory (LING410). In this course you explore how different types of language theory deal with the variability that we find in natural 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.
  • 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.
  • In Sociophonetics (LING412), the class decides on the content and structure of the entire course. In the first few weeks, we discuss the state of the art in the field. While doing that, we note which areas of sociophonetics we finding most interesting, and which areas we want to explore further. The rest of the course is designed around this discussion, resulting in a class research project which answers a key question in the field.

All courses are designed to give you a broad understanding of key issues in the field of linguistics, and to give you a considerable amount of flexibility in designing your own programme of study. In fact, two students could enrol in the same four courses and tailor their studies to be quite different  from each other.


Honours (2012) student Simon Todd

The honours year is excellent preparation if you are thinking of pursuing further postgraduate work, such as an MA or PhD in Linguistics. The advanced work you do at honours level will enagage with the questions being asked in the field right now, and you will be given the opportunities to carry out cutting edge research yourself. 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]). There are many different types of assessment across the year, which are designed to enhance the skills you need to succeed as a researcher. These include:

  • 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 such as Toolbox to manage fieldwork data

Since honours students carry out cutting edge 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.
  • 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.
  • Mineko Shirakawa, graduate of Honours in Linguistics in 2011 (and now working on an MA in Linguistics), 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.
  • 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.
  • Bridget Read, graduate of Honours in Linguistics in 2010, presented a paper on her LING480 research essay at the 12th New Zealand Language and Society Conference, in Auckland. The title of the paper was: The functions of Samoan fa’a
  • Vicki Moore, graduate of Honours in Linguistics 2009, presented a paper on her LING403 syntax project at the 18th Conference of the Linguistic Society of New Zealand, in Palmerston North. The title of the paper was: Si-passive vs. impersonal constructions in Italian: a Minimalist analysis.

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.

For more information, contact Dr Kevin Watson:


About uclinguistics

Welcome to the blog of the Linguistics programme at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
This entry was posted in What is Linguistics?. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s