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Ph.D. Curriculum

Our Ph.D. program combines current theoretical research in phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics with state-of-the-art experimental research in psycholinguistics, first language acquisition, language processing, neurolinguistics and computational linguistics

The Ph.D. is a research degree. That means you will advance the scientific understanding of language, and explain what you have discovered to others, including peers, students, and interested parties outside of the field. Training for this degree has at least four aspects, all of them important: coursework, research, presentation of your research, both written and oral, and teaching. Progress requires work in all of these areas, and students in the program are actively mentored in each.

Schematic of PhD Program

Year 1 & 2: Core Requirements

6 core courses in the department, organized in at least two sequences, at least one of which is theoretical (18 credits). The core courses are the 600-level LING courses, plus 723 and 773. The core sequences are below.

Years 2 & 3: Electives and 888

  • 2 courses in the second area of specialization (6 credits)
  • 2 LING 800-level electives (6 credits)
  • LING 888: a major research paper due in the fifth semester of the graduate program (total of 6 credits)
  • Possibly the 896 minor paper, which is expected any time before the eighth semester of the graduate program

Years 4 & 5: Minor Paper & Dissertation

  • 896 minor paper, which is expected any time before the eighth semester of the graduate program
  • 1 or 2 LING 800-level electives (3 credits each)
  • LING 899: Ph.D. dissertation research (12 credits)

 Core Sequences

  • LING 610, 611 Syntax
  • LING 620, 621 Phonology
  • LING 640, 641 Psycholinguistics
  • LING 660, 661 Semantics
  • LING 723, 773 Computational linguistics

Course of study in detail


Students pursuing the Ph.D. take at least 33 graduate-level credits of coursework, of which at least 9 are at the 800-level (seminars) in Linguistics, and 6 correspond to the second area of coursework specialization, possibly in another department. Usually these 33 credits are earned through formal classes and not independent studies. A student must also complete three written works: the 888, the 896, and the dissertation. To help ensure satisfactory progress towards the degree, students are required to submit to the graduate director a Ph.D. Roadmap once each semester, completed in consultation with their advisor.

Normally the student's first year is focused on foundational coursework in the department's three primary research areas: (i) phonology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics, (ii) psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics and language acquisition and (iii) computational linguistics. Within their first two years students must take at least 6 core courses, comprising at least two 2-semester core course sequences, at least one of which is in area (i). The core courses are all of the 600-level LING courses, plus LING723 and LING773. The core sequences are above.

Coursework in the second and third years is ordinarily aimed at satisfying more of the 9-credit requirement for seminars, as well the requirement for 6 credits in the second area of coursework specialization. Courses used to satisfy the second area requirement may be in the same area as courses used to satisfy the other requirements. But the very same credits cannot be used to satisfy two distinct requirements.

This second area of specialization is a coherent area of study that, in the judgment of the graduate director, differs broadly from the student’s first area, either in topic or in method. The first area is one which the student regards as a central area of their research, and normally it is one in which they will complete several courses. For example a student who regards syntax as their central area of research may count semantics as their second area – or psycholinguistics, or phonology, or computational linguistics, and so on. The second area requirement may also be satisfied with courses outside of LING. Some students fulfill the requirement by pursuing the certificate in neuroscience and cognitive science (NACS), for example. 

In the third and fourth years, students prepare two papers, the 888 and the 896, also called the major and the minor paper. The 888 need not be in the first area of coursework specialization, nor the 896 in the second. But jointly the 888 and 896 must demonstrate an ability to work in at least two different areas, differing broadly in either topic or method, in the judgment of the graduate director. Normally this requirement for plurality is satisfied by the two papers differing broadly from each other. 

The 888 is a substantial paper that demonstrates a capacity for productive research and makes an original contribution to the literature, written under the direction of the supervisor(s) and in consultation with the rest of the committee. Often it is the basis for the dissertation research, but it need not be. The 888 should be completed by the end of the fifth semester. Preparation should begin at least three months prior to completion, with formation of an "888 committee" and submission of an "888 Committee Form" to the graduate director. The committee must include at least three faculty members, one or more of whom are the appointed supervisors of the 888. While working on the 888, students must register for 6 credits of LING 888, either by taking all 6 in one semester, or by taking fewer over more. The 888 requirement is satisfied only if the paper is submitted to the committee, defended publicly two weeks later, and approved by the committee after the defense. The student must then upload the completed 888 paper to the 888 folder in the department's PDF locker and inform the graduate director that this has been done.

The 896 is a research paper that allows the student to demonstrate a capacity to work in more than one area, satisfying our plurality requirement. Normally it does this by differing broadly from the 888, either in topic or in method. Often it is in the second area of coursework specialization, but this is not required. The 896 is called the minor paper because it need not have the scope or gravity of an 888, and must be approved by only a single member of the faculty who agrees to serve as supervisor. In many cases the supervisor is not a supervisor of the 888, or an advisor of the student, but this is not required. Once the 896 is completed to the satisfaction of the supervisor, it must be uploaded to the 896 locker and the Minor Paper Approval Form must be presented to the graduate director. Completion should occur prior to the end of the eighth semester, and may occur at any prior time, before or after the 888. 

Under special circumstances, upon the written recommendation of the student's advisor and with the approval of the faculty of the department, a student may satisfy the minor paper requirement by instead taking a third course in their second area of coursework specialization, beyond the two that satisfy the second area requirement.
  
After completing the 888, the student becomes a candidate for the PhD. They are then entitled to write a proposal for a dissertation, and find one or two members of the Linguistics faculty to supervise it.  While working on the dissertation, a candidate must enroll in LING 899 and take at least 12 credits of this course. With their supervisor(s) they must then jointly select an examining committee and nominate this committee to the Graduate School at least six weeks before the date of the public dissertation defense. The committee must comprise at least five voting members, including its chair(s), as well as a Dean’s Representative, who may or may not be a voting member. Determination of when there is a draft that can be defended, and of when the defense will happen, is made by the student and their supervisor(s) in consultation with the committee. Members of the committee must then receive the draft to be defended at least ten working days prior to the defense. On completion of the approved dissertation, following the defense and revisions, a hard copy will be submitted to the department, along with a second hard copy or an electronic version for the department web page. An approved dissertation must make a substantial and original contribution to knowledge in its research area(s).

Under exceptional circumstances, students are awarded an M.A. degree on completion of the core coursework requirements (six courses, see above), four further classes and writing either a M.A. thesis, which is defended publicly (LING 799) or two comprehensive papers in different areas of language study (LING 798). Two of the post core-level class requirements should be taken in the Department of Linguistics, with the rest being taken either in linguistics or in other departments satisfying a secondary area of specialization and complementing the student's work.