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University of Oxford Faculty of English

English Language

 About the course

The MSt in English Language is a 9-month taught Masters degree programme. It is designed for graduates in English, linguistics or another relevant subject who want to study the history, structure and uses of the English language at an advanced level, and is a suitable preparation for those planning to do doctoral research in the field of English language.

Oxford University has a long tradition of English Language study and offers excellent facilities for it, including the extensive resources of the Bodleian library. Those teaching on the M.St course are internationally reputed experts in fields which range from the early history of English to its uses as a global language in the 21st century.

English lexicography is a particularly strong area of expertise: Oxford University Press, which produces a range of dictionaries including the Oxford English Dictionary, offers a small number of internships each year to students with a special interest in dictionaries and dictionary making.

Funding support for the MSt in English Language is available through the Faculty’s News International Scholarships, which pay the full cost of tuition plus a maintenance grant equivalent to the AHRC grant. (The scheme is competitive, but all applicants for the M.St will automatically be considered.) All applicants wishing to be considered for funding must apply by the January deadline.

The course convenor for the MSt is Deborah Cameron (Worcester College). Other Faculty members who contribute to the teaching of the MSt are Charlotte Brewer, Lynda Mugglestone and Simon Horobin. All are actively involved in English Language research, specializing in various aspects of the history, structure and uses of the language (you can find details of their research and teaching interests on their individual web pages: just click on the relevant name).

In addition to the courses provided specifically for the MSt in English Language, graduate students are able to attend lectures and research seminars offered by the Linguistics Faculty. They have access to the extensive holdings of the Bodleian Library, the English Faculty Library and the linguistics collection of the Taylorian Library. 

Academic content

The MSt runs over three terms, from October until June. The first two terms are devoted to a core course (A) dealing with the historical development of the English language and its contemporary forms, a research methods course (B), and special option courses (C)—normally one in each term, selected from those on offer in the relevant year. The third term is spent working with a supervisor on a dissertation whose topic is chosen by the student in consultation with course tutors.

Term 1 (Michaelmas)

  • Course A: Topics in English Language (part 1, historical issues). Taught over two terms as a weekly seminar, and designed to provide a solid foundation in the advanced study of English language. Required for all students.
  • Course B:  Research methods for English Language. A series of classes designed to train students in the skills needed for English language research. There will be a block on ‘core’ research skills which all B course students take, and further blocks dealing with historical research methods and methods for studying language in use, from which students can select according to their research interests. 
  • Course C:  Option 1 (see below for list of special options).

Term 2 (Hilary)

  • Course A: Topics in English Language (part 2, issues in present-day English)
  • Course C:  Option 2

Term 3 (Trinity)

  • Supervised dissertation


Students take two options, one in each of the first and second terms. Options offered in previous years have included English in the 18th century, dictionaries and lexicography, world Englishes, sociolinguistics and language and gender. Students with appropriate interests and qualifications may choose one of their options from the C courses offered on the MSt in English Literature or from the B courses offered on the MSt/MPhil in General Linguistics.


The A course is not directly assessed. B and C courses are assessed by coursework (normally an essay or project of 5-7000 words). All coursework is completed by the end of the second term, and the dissertation is submitted in early June.

Is this Masters course the best one for you?

This MSt course is designed for students with a specific interest in studying the history, structure and use of the English language at postgraduate level. If your main interest is in English literature rather than the language, you will probably find one of the English Faculty’s other MSt courses more appropriate for your needs. If you are particularly interested in the learning and teaching of the English language, and if your qualifications are in TESOL/applied linguistics, you may wish to look at the MSc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition which is offered by Oxford's Department of Education (the MSt English Language does not deal with English Language Teaching). 

Although it is not a requirement for your first degree to be in English Language or Linguistics, the course is most suitable for students whose undergraduate studies included some coverage of the subject. Students who do not already have some basic linguistic knowledge and language analysis skills will be expected to acquire these through independent study before and/or during the early part of the course.  

What students say about the M.St in English Language

Ksenija BogeticKsenija Bogetić, St Edmund’s Hall

I came to Oxford from Belgrade, Serbia, where I had studied English language and linguistics. The structure of the M.St course and the options available seemed like a perfect match to my interests. I started the course with a particular interest in gender and language, but the programme required me to research a variety of topics, some of which have sparked new interests. The course is intense and fast paced, so it is useful to have a clear idea of what you want to get out of it early on.

I am continuing with a Ph.D in English linguistics in Belgrade, and ultimately I want to pursue an academic career in my home country. I can hardly imagine a better starting point than my studies at Oxford. Being offered a scholarship to study in the English Faculty was an absolute privilege.


Henry HawthorneHenry Hawthorne, Worcester College

I studied English and Law at the University of Sydney in Australia. My undergraduate English course was mostly literature, but I had always wanted to learn more about language.

My best academic memory is my internship with the Oxford English Dictionary – I was able to meet and work alongside some of the lexicographical luminaries of the modern day, explore the sanctum sanctorum that is the quotation slip room, and revise and draft such glamorous items as ‘earwigginess’ and ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’. It was also great to make friends with the very international crowd of postgraduates in my college and on my course.

I currently have many plans, and haven’t yet made a decision; but I’ve have been accepted to do a D.Phil at Oxford, with a proposal that extends some of my M.St research on lexicography.


Beth McCarthy, Oriel College

I came to Oxford from a sixth-form college in South Wales, and did my first degree in English Language and Literature. The undergraduate teaching focused mainly on literature, so I felt I needed more formal training in linguistics before embarking on research in English Language.

When studying at Oxford, in my experience, you have to expect to be challenged. I know that some of my peers who came from elsewhere were surprised by the amount of independent learning that is expected of students on the M.St course. But I found the teaching staff very invested in my progress as an individual, and willing to go the extra mile to help. 

In September I’ll be starting a Ph.D in Linguistics at Lancaster University. The M.St course has helped me to clarify the direction I want my research to take. This time last year I had a lot of vague and disparate ideas; now I have a concrete research proposal, and a solid idea of where the next few years will lead.


If you want to know more about the MSt English Language

If your questions are about academic aspects of the course, you can contact one of the course convenors (use the link above to their web pages). Administrative queries can be directed to the English Faculty's graduate studies office. More details can be found on the admission and funding pages of the English Faculty website.


November 2011 Graduate Open Day mini-lecture by Professor Deborah Cameron: The English language in the global age: current debates and future directions