Forensic Linguistics Degree

Forensic Linguistics Degree Master of Arts (M.A.) in Criminal Justice Studies: Forensic Linguistics

About the Forensic Linguistics Degree

Find your future at the intersection of language and law.

Every person has a unique way of communicating – a fact that can prove useful to law enforcement, intelligence and security personnel as they solve crimes and build legal cases.

The forensic linguistics concentration at PennWest California – part of PennWest California’s graduate degree program in criminal justice studies – focuses on oral and written communication as an element of contemporary crime analysis.

Students in the online forensic linguistics program build a strong foundation of theoretical knowledge and research skills as they learn to examine and assess threatening communications, fraudulent documents and other writings associated with serious criminal, civil and national security matters. Then they apply that theoretical framework to real-world situations requiring forensic linguistic training and skills.

Study with recognized experts in this emerging criminal justice specialty.

Faculty in the forensic linguistics master’s degree concentration at PennWest California are criminal justice practitioners with real-world experience in this emerging field. Under their guidance, students develop skills in critical areas of forensic linguistics, including language structure, author profiling and threat assessment, sociolinguistics, and legal and ethical issues.

PennWest California faculty build their instruction around actual criminal cases, as well as literature and research in linguistics, criminology and related fields. Through online presentations and discussions, hands-on projects and a capstone experience, students develop a knowledge base and practical skills they can apply to their careers in criminal justice.

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Unabomber Case Papers Donated


James R. Fitzgerald, a pioneer in forensic linguistics, gives UNABOM documents to the Center for Investigative and Forensic Sciences at PennWest California.


Program Highlights: Forensic Linguistics

Make a Difference: PennWest California’s forensic linguistics graduate program prepares you to contribute specialized knowledge in areas such as threat assessment, violent crime analysis, criminal or civil investigation, and corporate security. It also introduces you to a network of professionals who value the perspective that a trained forensic linguist can offer.

Look Ahead:  For the program's capstone experience, students may select the option that best supports their career goals and aspirations (depending on availability):

Learn more about applying


Median annual salary earned by linguists, according to
Number of credits required to complete the online forensic linguistics concentration.
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Degree Benefits


Courses in this program delve into intriguing topics such as language policy and planning in a multi-lingual society; producing, reading and interpreting spectrograms (often mislabeled as “voiceprints”); author profiling and identification based on linguistic cues; and legal and ethical issues, including relevant U.S. court decisions. Students also learn to prepare an analytical report suitable for delivery in a courtroom.

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Graduate Outcomes

PennWest California's forensic linguistics master’s degree concentration builds knowledge, skills and abilities in a specialized field. Forensic linguists primarily work as consultants, bringing their expertise to criminal and civil investigations, corporate and national security matters, legal proceedings, and investigations of evidence such as emergency phone calls, suicide notes, ransom demands and fraudulent documents.



Curriculum, Admission Requirements and Related Programs

The forensic linguistics master’s degree concentration gives students a base of theoretical knowledge and research skills, which they learn apply to real-world situations.



Course Credits
Required Core Courses 6
CRM 700  Advanced Criminological Theories 3
CRM 720  Research Methods in Criminology 3
Concentration Courses   24
CRM 600  Seminar in Forensic Linguistics 3
CRM 610  Forensic Sociolinguistics 3
CRM 620  Forensic Language Structure I 3
CRM 640  Forensic Language Structure II 3
CRM 650  Author Profiling and Threat Assessment  3
CRM 670  Authorial Attribution and Speaker Identification  3
CRM 690  Legal and Ethical Issues in Forensic Linguistics 3
CRM 855  Applied Research in Criminology 3
Capstone Experience (select one) 6
CRM 880  Criminology Thesis*
CRM 885  Criminology Internship 6
CRM 890  Criminology Studies Abroad* 6
GRA 662  Prior Learning Assessment (FBI Academy, FLETC, CFE Certification and similar academies and programs) 6
Total 36

*Depending upon availability.




Admission Requirements

Regular Admission Requirements

  • Regionally Accredited Bachelor's degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Official transcripts from a regionally accredited undergraduate institution
    • International Global Online Applicants must meet the minimum graduate English proficiency requirements.  A satisfactory viva voce interview with a member of the graduate faculty of the Department of Criminal Justice may be considered in lieu of the minimum score.

Conditional Admission Requirements

  • Conditional Admission may be granted with the following modifications of the Regular Admissions Requirements:
    • Regionally accredited bachelor's degree with a GPA of 2.9 and below will be reviewed for a decision once the following documentation has been received:
      • Resume
      • 500-word essay supporting application
        • If admitted, students will be required to earn a 3.0 in their first term to remain in the program

Provisional Admission:
Applicants who have provided unofficial documentation of test scores, prerequisite courses, transcripts or lack of letter(s) of recommendation may be admitted provisionally.

This policy also applies to undergraduate students who apply for graduate admission pending bachelor degree completion. Upon receipt of all official documents, a student will be changed from Provisional Admission to either Regular Admission or Conditional Admission. Provisional Admission students may take classes for one term but will not be eligible for Federal Financial Aid.

How to Apply:

  • Complete the Graduate School Application
  • Submit the nonrefundable $35 Application Fee
  • Submit required documentation by mail or email:
    • Mail:

School of Graduate Studies and Research
PennWest California
Box 91
250 University Ave. 
California, PA 15419

For additional information:
Phone: 1.866.595.6348

Related Programs
A forensics team studies handwritten note.

Rich Curriculum

PennWest California’s forensic linguistics program was developed with input from pioneers in the field, including a former criminal profiler and forensic linguist for the FBI. Program director Dr. John Cencich is a retired U.S. federal agent and former senior international war crimes investigatorwith the United Nations; he holds a Doctor of Juridical Science, the highest degree in law, from Notre Dame and an advanced law degree from the University of Kent at Canterbury, England. 


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Convenient Schedule

Coursework in forensic linguistics is delivered online, which allows criminal justice practitioners and other working professionals to earn a master’s degree while continuing to meet their work and family obligations. Most students are expected to complete the 36-credit program in about two years of part-time study.

Forensic Linguistics Faculty

Dr. Andrea Vargas Cencich
Assistant Professor

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Dr. John R. Cencich
Professor and Director of the Pennsylvania Center for Investigative and Forensic Sciences

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James R. Fitzgerald

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Dr. Mark Visonà
Adjunct Professor
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Dr. Christopher Wydra
Associate Professor, Program Coordinator: Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Studies - Applied Criminology and Forensic Linguistics

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