Ph.D. Program in Linguistics


Students wishing to enter the Ph.D. program in Linguistics, including those who hold a master's degree from elsewhere, must satisfy the requirements for the UWM Master of Arts degree in Linguistics. Students apply to the Graduate School for admission, which, in turn, forwards completed applications to the Department. The Department faculty then evaluates the applications and decides on admissions to the Ph.D. program in Linguistics. Occasionally, an exceptionally well-qualified student will be admitted to the Ph.D. program with a baccalaureate degree. The student must complete the requirements of the M.A. degree in the course of fulfilling the requirements for the Ph.D.

New students are admitted each year typically to begin in the Fall term. To be considered, all application materials normally must be received by the Graduate School no later than December 15. Admission materials will include:

  • Completed Graduate School application.
  • Official transcripts of previous work, including evidence of a master's degree either completed or in progress.
  • Three letters of recommendation.
  • Sample of written work.
  • Statement of purpose.

In addition, students whose native language is not English must submit scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or the equivalent. A score of at least 587 (TOEFL) is normally necessary for admission. The minimum score for the computer based TOEFL is 240, or 95 for the internet-based test (iBT).

Submission of Graduate Record Examination (GRE) results, though not required, is encouraged.

Major Professor as Advisor

The student must have a major professor to advise and supervise the student's work as specified in Graduate School regulations. The Director of Graduate Studies serves as an initial advisor.

Ph.D. Program Requirements

Effective Summer Semester 2013, the Ph.D. program requires a minimum of 54 credits beyond the B.A.

The 54 credits are distributed as follows:

  • Required courses (30 credits)
    • Linguis 415 - First Language Acquisition (or) Linguis 420 - Introduction to Second Language Acquisition
    • Linguis 450 - General Phonetics and Phonetics Practicum
    • Linguis 460 - Sound and Sound Systems
    • Linguis 464 - Word and Sentence Structure
    • Linguis 466 - Semantics
    • Linguis 468 - Language in its Various Forms or Linguis 470 - Historical/Comparative Linguistics
    • Linguis 550 - Advanced Phonetics
    • Linguis 560 - Advanced Phonology
    • Linguis 564 - Advanced Syntax
    • Linguis 566 - Advanced Semantics
  • Seminars and Independent Studies (12 credits):
    • 9 credits in:
      • Linguis 800 - Level Seminars
    • 3 credits in:
      • Linguis 800 - Level Seminars or Linguis 900 - Level Independent Studies
  • Electives selected with approval of the student’s major professor (12 credits)

General Restrictions

Doctoral students may not count more than 9 credits in independent study toward the degree without the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. No more than 18 credits may be counted in courses taken outside the Department of Linguistics.


Students are required to consult periodically with their Major Professor. The Major Professor helps the student to define an area of special interest within the concentration for the preliminary examination. The Major Professor also assists the student in the selection of appropriate coursework and may chair the Preliminary Examination Committee.

Foreign Language Requirement

All Ph.D. candidates are required to demonstrate proficiency (reading knowledge) in a language other than English. The choice of language, and the means of demonstrating proficiency, must be approved by the student's Major Professor in consultation with the Director of Graduate Study.


The student must meet minimum Graduate School residence requirements.

Doctoral Preliminary Examination

The doctoral preliminary examination consists of an oral defense of a major research paper submitted by the student typically after completing 39 to 45 credits toward the Ph.D. degree. Though the scope of the examination, which usually lasts two hours, is open-ended, its focus is on the submitted research paper, which itself is intended to demonstrate the breadth and depth of a student's knowledge and the ability to conduct advanced research in one or more areas of study. The successfully-defended research paper should lead naturally to timely preparation of the dissertation proposal.

Students cannot take the preliminary examination if they have any incomplete or unreported grades or a GPA less than 3.0. The exam must be finished within one semester after all course work is completed, excluding summer sessions. Students may receive from the Director of Graduate Studies a one semester extension for additional course work. Students who do not complete the exam within this time frame will be considered to have failed the exam. The exam may be retaken only once, after making appropriate revisions to the research paper. Students who fail the preliminary examination may not proceed to the dissertation. The exam must be passed within five years of initial enrollment in the doctoral program.


The dissertation topic, together with a comprehensive prospectus, must be approved by the student's doctoral committee in a dissertation proposal hearing that should be held not later than the semester immediately following the preliminary examination. The dissertation proposal is typically, albeit not necessarily, a refinement and extension of the research paper defended in the oral preliminary examination. Though no specific length requirements are imposed on the dissertation itself, the Department considers 200 pages to be reasonable and representative.

Dissertation Defense

The completed dissertation is subject to an oral defense, to be arranged by the Major Professor in coordination with the Director of Graduate Study according to Graduate School regulations. A copy of the dissertation is kept in the Department office.

Time Limit

All degree requirements must be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment in the doctoral program.

For additional information see the Graduate School Ph.D. requirements.