The PhD program (also referred to as the MA/PhD program) is a combined program designed for students entering with the intention of earning a PhD. The program consists of core coursework, requirements for specific Areas of Concentration (ARCOs), preliminary exams, comprehensive exams, and dissertation work. The ARCOs available are:
Students in the PhD program must choose one of the above ARCOs.
Required Core Courses for the PhD (all concentrations)
The following courses are required of all students in the PhD program. Students entering with an MA degree from another institution may petition to have coursework from that MA degree apply to the PhD degree at Pitt (see also the Preliminary exam requirement for students with an existing MA).
Courses normally required to be taken in the first year
LING 2578 Phonetics (Fall)
LING 2144 Research Methods (Fall)
LING 2773 Morphology (Fall)
LING 2777 Syntax (Spring)
LING 2579 Phonology (Spring)
Required courses that can be taken any time
One course in sociolinguistics/language change, typically fulfilled by one of the following:
LING 2267 Sociolinguistics
LING 2680 Historical Linguistics
LING 2253 Language Contact
Required upper level course: Choose one advanced level core course approved by the student’s advisor and Director of Graduate Studies or Chair.
Applied Linguistics ARCO PhD Course Requirements
LING 2146 Second Language Acquisition
LING 2142 Second Language Teaching
A course in psycholinguistics or first language development
A course in statistics
One of the following:
LING 2147 Current Issues in Second Language Learning
LING 2149 Advanced Second Language Acquisition
Hispanic Linguistics ARCO PhD Requirements
LING 2394 Spanish Dialectology
LING 2391 Spanish Phonology
Two Special Topics courses in Hispanic Linguistics
A course in statistics
Entrance requirement: Advanced Low Proficiency in Spanish as measured by an OPI or equivalent. Students are also interviewed by faculty in Spanish during the admissions process.
In core courses, students are encouraged to work on topics in Hispanic linguistics and to use Spanish sources.
Further specialization within Hispanic Linguistics: Students may wish to focus on Applied Spanish Linguistics or Spanish Sociolinguistics, but these are not official ARCOs.
Sociolinguistics ARCO PhD Course Requirements
Sociolinguistics (if not already taken)
SOC 2102: Sociological Theory 2 - Post-Classical
A statistics course
Two of the following:
LING 2271 Discourse Analysis
LING 2274 Language Contact
LING 2269 Variation Analysis
LING 2860 Historical Linguistics
Other MA/PhD Requirements
Native speakers of English: 1) three semesters of a language taught at the college level plus 2) at least one semester with a grade of B or better in a language that is not Germanic, Greek, Italic (Romance, including Latin), or Slavic.
Non-native speakers of English: 1) English-language proficiency and 2) at least one semester with a grade of B or better in a language that is not Germanic, Greek, Italic (Romance, including Latin), or Slavic.
Candidates for the Hispanic Linguistics ARCO: 1) English-language proficiency, 2) at least one semester with a grade of B or better in a language that is not Germanic, Greek, Italic (Romance, including Latin), or Slavic, and 3) satisfactorily completing the Spanish language proficiency required of candidates.
Students entering without an MA: The preliminary exam is fulfilled by attaining a grade of B+ or better on the final exam of all core courses with a B+ grade or better, and by submitting a portfolio of written work from coursework.
Upon completion of all core courses, the students must assemble three course papers from any course taken: one paper to come from the ARCO; and at least one paper from phonetics, phonology, morphology, or syntax. Students are encouraged revise their papers in light of the feedback from their course instructors before submitting the papers for the preliminary evaluation. This portfolio must be submitted by January 15th of the second academic year. A rubric for evaluation is used for evaluation and is available on the graduate student courseweb page. Faculty will review the portfolio and determine by March 15 if the student passes or fails. In addition, faculty may request written evaluations of writing performance from any former instructors. . The consequences of failing depend on the nature of the shortcoming. The most extreme consequence is immediate termination from the program, but a student may also be required to remediate knowledge that is lacking in a particular area and resubmit that portion of the preliminary portfolio.
Students entering with an MA: Students entering with an MA degree may petition to have core courses waived. In order to waive phonetics, phonology, morphology or syntax, a student must demonstrate knowledge by providing course syllabi and passing an oral interview. In order to fulfill the portfolio requirement when entering with an MA, a student must submit an identical portfolio as outlined above from their MA coursework by the end of their first semester of study. Students will be notified of the outcome by the end of the next semester.
Two comprehensive papers are required to fulfill the comprehensive exam requirement for the Linguistics PhD. The topics of the two papers must be substantially different. Although the topics can be in the same specialty of linguistics, at least one paper should involve linguistic form or structure (for example, by analyzing the acquisition of a particular syntactic construction, by investigating variation of a phonological variable, or by doing a theoretical analysis in syntax or phonology). Both papers have a paper and presentation portion, but only one of the presentations must be public in department colloquium. The second paper can be presented to the readers only, but it is possible to present it publicly.
Only upon completion of the second comprehensive paper should the milestone card be sent to the Graduate Administrator, who will forward it to the office of the Dean of Graduate Students.
Comprehensive Paper Procedures
The following procedures are for each paper. The student should first discuss the general topics of the two comps papers with their main advisor, and identify likely committee readers for each paper. Readers are strongly encouraged to meet with the student and agree on the scope of the content of the paper, and an appropriate timeline, before the student begins work. It is suggested that students develop comprehensive papers from papers written for a course.
The student must obtain agreement from the faculty members to be readers and set a timeline. One reader must be designated as the primary reader and will have responsibility mentoring the student’s research and writing. The readers must be minimally composed of at least two Pitt Department of Linguistics faculty members. The amount of consultation required by readers will vary and should be negotiated with the student and primary reader. The student will work primarily with the primary reader. They should agree on a target presentation date and (if relevant) must notify the committee in charge of scheduling colloquia the semester preceding the semester in which the paper will be presented.
Procedure for the public comps presentation: The student presents the paper in 30 minutes. This presentation is followed by a 15-minute question session in which faculty, students, and other audience members may pose questions to the student. All non-faculty, including the student, then withdraw for 10 minutes as all faculty present discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation and paper, and decide on a grade. The student is then invited in and informed of the grade and, if there is time, to listen to faculty comments and requirements for revision.
Procedure for the non-public comps presentation: The student presents the paper in 30 minutes. This presentation is followed by a 15-minute question session in which readers may pose questions to the student. The student then withdraws for approximately 10 minutes as readers discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation and paper, and decide on a grade. The student is then invited in and informed of the grade and, if there is time, to listen to faculty comments and requirements for revision.
Outcome: The faculty must decide on two grades: one for the presentation and one for the paper. The student can either pass or fail the presentation. For the paper, the student can pass with no revisions, pass with revisions, or fail. The following actions for all combinations are as follows:
Pass presentation and paper with no revisions. Student gathers signatures from committee and submits.
Pass presentation and paper with revisions: Student must perform the required revisions under the supervision of the primary reader within four months of the presentation.
Pass presentation and fail the paper: Student must write a new paper and present it within six months, or as soon thereafter as practical.
Fail presentation and pass paper with no revisions. Student must present again within one semester.
Fail presentation and pass paper with revisions: Student must perform the required revisions under the supervision of the committee chair within four months of the presentation and present again within one semester.
Fail presentation and fail the paper: At the discretion of the faculty, the student must write a new paper and present it within one semester.
If a student fails the paper more than once (total for both comprehensive papers), they will be terminated from the program.
Once the paper is approved, it should be signed on the cover page (available on Graduate Student courseweb site) by the readers and the signed copy given to the Graduate Administrator to place in the student’s file. The Graduate Administrator will also record completion of the comprehensive paper.
Once both comprehensive papers have been filed, a “Report of Examination” card is filled out by the Graduate Administrator, approved by the student’s principal academic advisor and the DGS and then the Graduate Administrator sends the Examination Card to the Dietrich School Graduate Dean’s office. All Examination Cards must be sent to the Dean’s office by the Graduate Administrator.
When the student has successfully completed the PhD comprehensive examination, they must prepare a dissertation proposal and present it in a formal dissertation proposal defense. A four-person (minimum) doctoral committee will direct the dissertation and administer the required proposal defense after the proposal has been submitted. Students and advisors are strongly advised to consult the regulations pertaining to the dissertation committee at the Dietrich School level, as outlined in the Graduate Bulletin. The student chooses the chair of the doctoral committee, and together they select the remaining committee members, subject to the approval of the DGS or Department Chair. One of the committee members must be from outside the core faculty of the Department of Linguistics, while three members must be affiliated with the Linguistics Department. The committee may be composed of more than four members, but at least four must be on the graduate faculty of the University of Pittsburgh. The fourth member may be from outside the University, but must be approved by the Graduate Dean. Consult the Graduate Bulletin, the DGS, or the Graduate Administrator for details and procedures.
A dissertation proposal must have at least two main elements: a knowledge essay and a proposal. The dissertation advisor will determine exactly the format for these two elements. For example, the advisor may require the first few literature review chapters of the dissertation for the knowledge essay portion, and then require a student to provide a proposal based on those chapters. Alternately, the advisor may construct a series of questions about the topic that a student must satisfactorily answer (in written essay form) in addition to providing a proposal. Students should confirm in writing the exact expectations of their advisor for the proposal. In addition to these main elements, a proposal must have a proposed timeline for work with deadlines for specific milestones, including the submission of specific chapters.
The advisor and student must schedule a dissertation overview meeting at which all members can attend. It is suggested that this be scheduled at least six months in advance, and the date should avoid the last three weeks of the semester. Overview meetings are only held during the fall and spring terms. Dietrich School regulations dictate that all members of the committee must be physically present at the proposal meeting (in other words, no telephone or Skype participation). There are no dedicated department or Dietrich School funds available for travel of outside members to Pittsburgh for such meetings. As soon as a date is set, the student must inform the Graduate Administrator. The Graduate Administrator will prepare an “Admission to Candidacy” form and the Graduate Administrator will forward it to the advisor prior to the overview meeting. The advisor must obtain committee members’ signatures on the form at the conclusion of the defense. If revisions are needed, the committee chair will withhold the form until all committee members are satisfied with the revisions, at which time the form is sent to the Graduate Administrator.
The overview meeting itself is not a defense, but rather a ‘meeting of experts:’ The student is the only expert in all of the knowledge needed for the dissertation, and the committee has specific expertise and experience to help the student carry out the proposal. There need not be a presentation at the event; the format is determined by the advisor. The overview’s purpose is for the committee to work with the student to ensure that the dissertation, if completed as proposed, will be a significant contribution to knowledge in linguistics. In addition, they will determine whether the project is feasible in the timeline. The overview is useful for the student because they will know that if they perform the study as outlined in the proposal, they should successfully pass this requirement.
Note that the Dietrich School requires a delay of at least eight months between the admission to candidacy and the defense, so it is imperative not to delay the overview meeting. (Note that the date of admission to candidacy is not the same as the proposal defense date — there will be a delay between the two).
After being admitted to candidacy, the student will conduct dissertation research and write a dissertation primarily in consultation with the main advisor, with secondary consultation with committee members when needed. If the dissertation requires more than one year, the committee must meet with the student yearly to discuss progress.
Students are highly encouraged to consult at least monthly with their advisor, and they should be proactive about setting up such meetings - do not wait for the advisor to ask how things are going! Do not write a whole dissertation and give it to an advisor as one lump; rather, send completed chapter drafts for comment. This will avoid headache later on and is the most efficient method. Students who write the entire dissertation and submit it often lose most of that work because it is unacceptable.
A dissertation defense should be scheduled at least six months in advance. The dissertation draft should be submitted to the committee at least one month before the defense, and the defense draft must be approved by the advisor. The date of the defense thus involves some educated guesswork on the part of the advisor and the student. As soon as the defense date is set, the student must notify the Graduate Administrator, who will help the student with other procedures surrounding the defense. (See also the Graduate Bulletin and Policies for regulations governing the dissertation committee and defense).
The dissertation defense is by regulation open to all members of the University community, and all graduate faculty members who attend have the right to pose questions to the candidate.