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University of Pittsburgh    
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 12, 2024
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Linguistics - Sociolinguistics Concentration, MA/PhD

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The degree programs in linguistics combine a solid foundation in the core areas of linguistic theory (phonetics, phonology, syntax) with courses in specialized fields of applied linguistics, Hispanic linguistics and sociolinguistics/sociology of language. Within applied linguistics, students may choose from topics such as second language acquisition, language teaching methodology, and the development of teaching materials/tests. The department also offers a certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). In sociolinguistics, students may focus on discourse analysis, variation and change, and socio-phonetics. In Hispanic linguistics, students may focus on phonetics, sociolinguistics, and second language acquisition.

Required Core Courses for the MA/PhD

The following courses are required of all students in the MA/PhD program. Students entering with an MA degree from another institution may petition to have coursework taken for that MA degree apply to the PhD degree at Pitt. See also the Preliminary exam requirement.

Required courses that can be taken any time

Choose one advanced level core course approved by the student’s advisor.

Some example courses fulfilling this requirement::

PhD Requirements

Two of:

Discourse Analysis
Language Contact
Sociology of Language
Variation Analysis

Other MA/PhD Requirements

Language requirements:

There are many ways that students come to learning languages; not all of them are covered here. If you have learned another language and have questions about this requirement, you are encouraged, admonished, and requested to ask the DGS about it. Do not rely on rumors from other students.

  1. Reading proficiency in two languages other than English is required. Oral proficiency in one language other than English is also required (the language fulfilling the oral requirement may be the same as one of those fulfilling the reading requirement). This requirement is normally satisfied by examination, which is arranged on an ad hoc basis with the DGS. Language course credits may also be used with the approval of the DGS.
  2. Students whose native language is not English and who complete their core courses with a grade of B+ or better will be considered to have completed the oral and reading requirements for one language. Such students will still need to demonstrate reading proficiency in another language.
  3. If a student speaks two languages natively and one of these is English, the student need only demonstrate proficiency in one further language.
  4. In addition to the basic second language requirement above, the department requires one term of study with a grade of B or better in a language that is not Germanic, Greek, Italic (Romance, including Latin), or Slavic. For a list of languages in these branches, see If a student studies such a language for one of the other language requirements, no extra language need be taken. For applied linguists, however, this requirement must be fulfilled by classroom study. This requirement cannot be fulfilled by Field Methods.
  5. Example 1: A student may pass an exam reading Spanish, and then take two years of Vietnamese to allow her/him to pass a reading and oral proficiency exam. In this case all language requirements have been fulfilled.
  6. Example 2: A native Spanish-speaking student passes all core courses with an A grade. She/he then takes one semester of Japanese. This student has fulfilled the language requirement.

Preliminary exam : The preliminary exam is fulfilled by submitting a portfolio of written coursework and passing the final exam of all core courses with a B+ grade or better. With respect to the thesis, the student is considered to have passed the preliminary exam if the thesis committee recommends the student for doctoral study.

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 preliminary exam requirement when entering with an MA, a student must have written a thesis for the previous MA; in addition, the student must defend the previous thesis in their first year at Pitt. Students are advised to have the MA thesis approved by the faculty-and set up a defense committee and date-as soon as possible after they begin PhD study. If a student’s MA did not require a thesis, then the student must submit a portfolio of written work from their coursework in order to pass the preliminary exam (in addition to the core course requirement).

Comprehensive exam : 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 in some way 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).

One of the comps papers must be presented publicly in a 30-minute lecture at a department colloquium, and the other may be presented to the committee only (however, if the student wishes, both papers may be presented publicly).

Dissertation proposal : When the student has successfully completed the PhD comprehensive examination, she or he must prepare a dissertation proposal and present it in a formal dissertation proposal defense. A four-person doctoral committee will direct the dissertation and administer the required proposal defense after the proposal has been submitted. The student chooses the chair of the doctoral committee, and together they select the remaining committee members, subject to the approval of the 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.

A dissertation proposal must have at least two 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. Upon approval of the proposal, the student will be admitted to candidacy for the PhD. Up to nine credits of dissertation study credits may count toward the total required number of credits.

The student should obtain an “Admission to Candidacy” form from the Graduate Secretary or DGS prior to the meeting in order to obtain at least committee 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 Arts and Sciences Graduate Dean’s Office.

Dissertation : The student must prepare and submit a dissertation that is a contribution to linguistic knowledge. A four-person doctoral committee will direct the dissertation and administer the required oral defense after the dissertation has been submitted for regulations governing the dissertation committee and defense). The dissertation defense is open to all members of the University community, and all graduate faculty members who attend have the right to pose questions to the candidate. See the bulletin regulations linked above for details.

Sample progression through MA/PhD program (milestones)

Year 1

Core courses

Year 2

Core courses and electives
Submit coursework portfolio

Year 3

Elective courses
Defend comprehensive 1
Present comprehensive paper in colloquium (can wait until year 4)

Year 4

Defend comprehensive 2
Present comprehensive paper in colloquium (if not done in year 3)
Dissertation proposal defense

Year 5

Dissertation research or fieldwork,
Possibly defend dissertation

Year 6

Defend and submit dissertation

Evaluation of Students

Annual evaluation. Students must submit an annual report to their main advisor each year by April 1. Advisors then complete an evaluation for each advisee, due to the DGS by the penultimate week of the spring semester for an evaluation meeting of faculty in the final week. Forms for both the annual review and the annual report are in the forms section of the department’s graduate handbook, available from the DGS or graduate administrator.

For progression from MA to PhD in MA/PhD program: At the end of their first year, a written evaluation is presented to all faculty that assesses the student’s work in courses and TA assignments. If unsatisfactory, students are put on notice that they will only be permitted to continue through the next year (i.e. 2nd year). The faculty may also elect to warn the student that unless their performance improves in the next semester, they will only be permitted to finish their MA. A final continuation evaluation will be based on the portfolio review

For students entering with an MA, the first year is probationary. Students must complete the year with a GPA of 3.5, and their performance will be reviewed in the spring semester.

For funding: All currently-funded students, current students without funding, and newly admitted students are evaluated at the funding meeting each January. Students currently funded will also be evaluated at this time for their performance in TA duties.

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