Degree Requirements

Course Requirements

Students must take a total of 13 courses prior to admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. (typically, by the end of the fourth year). These twelve courses are to be distributed as specified below, and 6 of them must be taken during the student’s first year in the program. Only courses taught by faculty count toward these course requirements.

During the first two years in the program, students must take eight foundational courses (typically, 4 in the first year, and 4 in the second year), to be chosen among the following (a graduate introduction is a 3-level course):

  • Computational Linguistics. (LING 38600)
  • Computational Linguistics I (LING 38610)
  • Computational Linguistics II (LING 38620)
  • Contact Linguistics (LING 36310)
  • Language in Culture 1 (LING 31100)
  • Language in Culture 2 (LING 31200)
  • Language in Society (LING 36002)
  • Morphology (LING 31000)
  • Phonological Analysis 1 (LING 30101)
  • Phonological Analysis 2 (LING 30102)
  • Psycholinguistics: Language Processing (LING 30401)
  • Semantics and Pragmatics 1 (LING 30301)
  • Semantics and Pragmatics 2 (LING 30302)
  • Syntax 1 (LING 30201)
  • Syntax 2 (LING 30202)
  • A graduate introduction to Historical Linguistics

In addition to the foundational courses, students must also take:

  • methods course, such as Field Methods, Experimental Methods, Computational Methods, etc. Typically, this requirement should be satisfied by a course offered by the Linguistics Department; approval by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) is required if the course is offered by another department.
  • Three other graduate-level courses in linguistics or in a related field (subject to approval by the DGS).
  • Course Design and College Teaching (CCTE 50000) (See Teaching Requirements for more information)

No class can be used to meet two different course requirements. For instance, while a quarter of Field Methods can be used to either meet the methods or the additional graduate-level course requirement, it can’t be used to meet both at the same time.

The program also includes the following additional course requirements:

  • In their second and third years and in conjunction with writing their qualifying papers, students must take the Research Seminar (47900) in the autumn and winter quarters.
  • Attendance to department colloquia is mandatory for first year students, who must register for Linguistic Proseminar (LING 47800); grading is Pass/Fail; attendance and grading is done by the colloquium organizer.

Although attendance to all department colloquia is mandatory only for first year students, all students are strongly encouraged to participate in the intellectual life of the department by attending colloquia, being part of department workshops and reading groups, auditing additional classes, etc. Participation in these activities is an important part of becoming a successful academic in linguistics.

Although these course requirements are relatively flexible and can be met in many different ways, students should fulfill the requirements with courses that will help them train and develop as scholars in the field. In thinking about what courses to take, a student should consider what background (in terms of field and methodology) they need in order to complete their qualifying papers and their dissertation. To this effect, students should work closely with advisers and the DGS in developing a course of study that best fits their academic objectives. 

The 8 required foundational courses are intended to serve as a starting point upon which to build the rest of a student’s course of study. In most cases, the 3 additional class requirements will be met with advanced seminars (4 or 5-level), but the DGS can approve other classes on a case-by-case basis (for instance, an additional methods course). All advanced seminars have specific foundational courses as prerequisites. For instance, a student cannot take an advanced syntax seminar without having taken the Syntactic Analysis sequence.

No credit will be granted for courses taken outside the University of Chicago before the start of the program.

Language Requirements

The program has two separate language requirements: one non-Indo-European language and one additional, different language. The main objective of the language requirements is that, as linguists, all graduate students should be familiar with at least three languages: English (advanced proficiency in English is a requirement for admission into the program), a language that is typologically different from English, and at least one more language.

An understanding of the structure of a non-Indo-European language is a requirement for the Ph.D. Native speakers of a non-Indo-European language will be considered to have fulfilled this requirement. Others can demonstrate this understanding in any of the following ways:

  • Successful completion of the equivalent of one year’s coursework in a non-Indo-European language.
  • Successful completion of the Field Methods sequence (LING 40301 & 40302), when the course sequence uses a non-Indo-European language.
  • Successful completion of one quarter of a “structure of language x” course taught by a faculty member of the Department of Linguistics or of a similar course pre-approved by the DGS.
  • Examination credit of at least one year's study based on a university placement exam.

Students are required to pass a reading examination in a language other than English. This requirement must be met with a language that would benefit the student's research interests, such as a language with a significant body of linguistic literature in a particular field (e.g. German in Historical Linguistics), or a language to use as a medium when doing fieldwork (e.g. Spanish or French for work on Basque). A student’s particular choice of language must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. The language exam (Academic Reading Comprehension Assessment — ARCA) will be administered by the University of Chicago Language Center. A student will be considered to have passed the language examination in a language approved for this category if they have received a university degree from an institution whose normal language of instruction is the language in question. (NB: Majoring in a language does not satisfy this requirement.)

list of the languages offered through the Department of Linguistics.

A list of the languages currently taught at the University.

Qualifying Papers

Students must write and defend two qualifying papers, each of which deals with an area of linguistics on which the department faculty can advise the students. The two papers must be in separate areas of linguistics. In cases in which it is not clear to which area a given qualifying paper belongs, or whether the two qualifying papers that a student writes really belong to separate fields, the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the faculty will make a decision at the beginning of the Autumn quarter of the year the qualifying paper is due.

Each qualifying paper is assigned two faculty members, who will act as readers. The students will be asked for their preferences for the readers for their qualifying papers. Reader assignments are decided on jointly by the DGS and Chair of the Department in consultation with the faculty, taking into account the topic of the paper and the student’s preferences. This decision is made in the Autumn quarter of the year the qualifying paper is due.

The qualifying paper is an extensive original research paper, which should demonstrate both the ability to conduct independent research and an appropriate assessment of the position of the research in the broader intellectual context and history of the relevant (sub)field. It is written in consultation with the two readers, and must be approved by them after an oral examination; this defense is not public. The paper is generally 35-50 pages(double-spaced) in length, and the oral exam is typically one hour, during which the faculty may ask the student about the paper itself and about the general field it is written in, and during which the student is expected to demonstrate wide knowledge of the relevant field(s) of linguistics.

The student must submit the first qualifying paper by the last day of the sixth week of Spring quarter of the second year. This paper is an equivalent to an MA thesis for students leaving the program after the second year or for those wishing a non-terminal MA for any other reason.

No later than two weeks after the submission of the first qualifying paper, the readers must schedule the oral exam in consultation with the student to decide on the acceptability of the paper. The readers may decide:

  • To pass the paper.
  • To conditionally pass the paper, specifying the revisions that have to be made in consultation with the readers.
  • To fail the paper.

The readers will communicate the results to the student. A student who fails the first qualifying paper has until the end of the summer after the paper is first due to pass the paper, as explained in the student year-end assessment section. In the case of a conditional pass, the readers will give the student a deadline for completion of the revisions (which must be before the end of the summer in which the paper is first due). 

By the end of the sixth week of the Spring quarter of the third year, the student must submit the second qualifying paper, which is subject to the same timetable and procedure as the first qualifying paper.


Dissertation proposal and advancement to candidacy

After completing the two qualifying papers, students should identify a dissertation committee of at least three faculty members, at least two of whom must be members of the University of Chicago Department of Linguistics. The chair must be a faculty member in the Department of Linguistics.

Students must prepare a dissertation proposal of a minimum of 15 pages, with the exact length to be determined in consultation with the dissertation committee, plus a bibliography and a timeline for the dissertation research and writing.

Students must defend their proposal in a private dissertation proposal meeting with their committee, in which the student will be expected to demonstrate to the committee that provide confidence both that they can conduct independent research and that they have articulated an original research project, and in which the members of the committee will have the opportunity to jointly provide feedback on the project. After the meeting, the student will be asked to leave the room, at which point the committee will discuss the merits of the student's work and decide whether the project is ready to enter the dissertation-writing stage. The student will then be asked to enter the room, and the committee will let them know of their decision, giving them any feedback they deem appropriate. If the committee decides that the proposal needs more work, an additional dissertation proposal meeting will be scheduled later in the year. 

Upon successful completion of all of the above requirements, including passing the dissertation proposal meeting with the dissertation committee, the student becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. degree, at which point the student starts working on their dissertation. This process must be completed by the end of Spring Quarter of the fourth year. Ideally, students will complete it by the end of fall quarter of the fourth year, but the exact timing should be determined by the student in consultation with the members of the dissertation committee. A student who does not complete the dissertation proposal successfully by the end of the fourth year may be granted an extension until the end of the summer after the proposal was first due, as explained in the Student Year-End Assessment page. 


After writing the dissertation, which is to represent a significant contribution in some area of linguistic research, the final requirement for the PhD degree is the presentation and public defense of the dissertation. The dissertation committee typically has the same composition as the dissertation proposal committee, although the student and dissertation chair may jointly decide to change it at any point while working on the dissertation. It is subject to the same constraints as the dissertation proposal committee.

The defense is normally scheduled by the student in consultation with their dissertation chair, generally at a time when the entire dissertation committee feels that the dissertation is in completed or near-completed form. The student produces an abstract of approximately 200 words, which is submitted to the Department Administrator before the defense.

After the defense, the student must also send a PDF copy of the dissertation to the Department Administrator, so that it can be published on ProQuest. (If the student wishes to restrict access to a dissertation following submission, it is possible to place a temporary embargo on the document so that only the abstract is visible on ProQuest.)

For more information and general guidelines on dissertation format and submission, students may contact the Dissertation Office, located on the first floor of Regenstein Library. For guidelines specific to the Department of Linguistics, students may contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Karlos Arregi.