PhD in Applied Linguistics

Not accepting new applications

We are no longer accepting applications to this program. The information on this page is for the benefit of students already enrolled.

We will be launching a new PhD Program in Linguistics, with applications due January 1, 2018 for admission in September 2018. Further information will be available by mid-July 2017, on this site.

Prospective MA students are invited to apply to our new MA program in Linguistics.

Course Requirements

Eighteen semester courses (72 credits) are required for the post-bachelor’s PhD degree.
Course requirements are as follows:

Four core courses

  • GRS LX 601 Phonetics & Phonology: Introduction to Sound Systems (previously offered as CAS LX 510)
  • GRS LX 621 Syntax: Introduction to Sentential Structure (previously offered as CAS LX 522)
  • GRS LX 703 Phonological Analysis (previously offered as CAS LX 513)
  • GRS LX 723 Advanced Syntax: Modeling Syntactic Knowledge (previously offered as CAS LX 523)

Five courses in language structure and linguistic theory

  • GRS LX 611 Morphology: Introduction to the Structures and Shapes of Words (previously offered as CAS LX 521)
  • GRS LX 617 Having and "Being" across Languages (previously offered as CAS LX 517)
  • GRS LX 627 Focus (previously offered as CAS LX 518)
  • GRS LX 628 Questions (previously offered as CAS LX 519)
  • GRS LX 645 Languages in Contact: The High Stakes of Grammatical Border-Crossing (previously offered as CAS LX 515)
  • GRS LX 660 Historical and Comparative Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LX 535)
  • GRS LX 705 Prosody (previously offered as CAS LX 525)
  • GRS LX 732 Intermediate Semantics: The Grammatical Construction of Meaning (previously offered as CAS LX 503)
  • GRS LX 733 Intermediate Pragmatics: Meaning in Context (previously offered as CAS LX 504)

One course that provides an introduction to a major area of applied linguistics

  • GRS LX 641 Sociolinguistics (also offered as CAS AN 521)
  • GRS LX 649 Bilingualism (previously offered as CAS LX 545)
  • GRS LX 650 Crosslinguistic Approaches to Language Acquisition (previously offered as GRS LX 700)
  • SAR SH 524 Language Acquisition
  • SAR SH 531 Introduction to Communication Disorders
  • SED LS 566 Language Acquisition
  • SED LS 750 Cognitive Development and Language
  • GRS PS 828 Psycholinguistics

One additional course in language acquisition

  • GRS LX 655 Second Language Acquisition (previously offered as CAS LX 542)
  • GRS LX 659 Interrupted Acquisition and Language Attrition (previously offered as CAS LX 546)
  • GRS LX 753 Acquisition of Phonology (previously offered as CAS LX 541)
  • GRS LX 754 Acquisition of Syntax (previously offered as CAS LX 540)

Four additional courses in an area of specialization

Possible specializations are suggested below, or students may design their own specialization in consultation with their advisor.

One research-oriented course appropriate to the student's specialization

May be one of the following, or another course with advisor approval.

  • CAS AN 590: Theory, Method & Technique in Fieldwork
  • CAS MA 613, 614: Statistical Methods, I and II
  • GRS LX 691 Linguistic Field Methods (previously offered as CAS LX 501)
  • GRS LX 795 Quantitative Methods in Linguistics
  • GRS LX 865 Advanced Topics: Language Acquisition
  • GRS PS 711, 712: Statistics in Psychology, I and II
  • GRS SO 709: Theory and Practice of Field Research
  • SED RS 652: Qualitative Research Methods
  • SED RS 653: Quantitative Research Methods

Two additional electives from the set below, or others with approval of the student's academic advisor

Specialization Requirements

Each student will construct a specialization sequence of four courses (some possible courses are listed in the Electives section below). The specialization sequence provides students with the opportunity to develop sophisticated knowledge of the theories and methods of one area of linguistics.

The four-course specialization sequence is to be designed in consultation with the faculty advisor. Possible specialization sequences are described below, but students should note that it is not necessary to specialize in one of these. MA students and their advisors often compose unique specialization sequences that meet their needs or interests, as indicated in the ‘Individualized Specialization’ option below.

Language Acquisition and Development

Includes the study of first and/or second language learning within the theoretical frameworks provided by linguistics and psychology; may emphasize linguistic, cognitive, social or educational implications.

Neurolinguistics and Language Disorders

Features the study of neuro-psychological and neurological substrates of language and language disorders; may include adult and child language disorders; may emphasize clinical or theoretical implications.

Language Structure and Linguistic Theory

Students may specialize in the study of a particular language or language family (e.g., African languages, Romance languages or American Sign Language), viewed within current linguistic theory, or students may focus on linguistic theory exclusively.

Bilingualism and Language Teaching

Includes study of linguistic theory and methods of language teaching and learning; may include adult and child language learners in formal educational settings; may emphasize bilingual education, or English and other languages taught as a second language.

Sign Language

Includes the study of the linguistic structure and acquisition of American Sign Language and signed languages in general. Research may also address crosslinguistic comparisons of different signed languages or comparisons between signed and spoken languages.

Individualized specialization

Students may design their own programs of study in consultation with an advisor. Examples include focus on language and literacy teaching in developing countries, language in mass communication, natural language understanding, discourse analysis, pragmatics, and others.

Elective Course Offerings

Students may take courses not on this list for their electives, but advance approval by the major advisor is required.

Linguistic Theory

  • GRS LX 611 Morphology: Introduction to the Structures and Shapes of Words (previously offered as CAS LX 521)
  • GRS LX 617 Having and "Being" across Languages (previously offered as CAS LX 517)
  • GRS LX 627 Focus (previously offered as CAS LX 518)
  • GRS LX 628 Questions (previously offered as CAS LX 519)
  • GRS LX 645 Languages in Contact: The High Stakes of Grammatical Border-Crossing (previously offered as CAS LX 515)
  • GRS LX 660 Historical and Comparative Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LX 535)
  • GRS LX 703 Phonological Analysis (previously offered as CAS LX 513)
  • GRS LX 705 Prosody (previously offered as CAX LX 525)
  • GRS LX 722 Intermediate Syntax: Modeling Syntactic Knowledge
  • GRS LX 732 Intermediate Semantics: The Grammatical Construction of Meaning (previously offered as CAS LX 503)
  • GRS LX 733 Intermediate Pragmatics: Meaning in Context (previously offered as CAS LX 504)

Language Acquisition

  • GRS LX 650 Crosslinguistic Approaches to Language Acquisition (previously offered as GRS LX 700)
  • GRS LX 659 Interrupted Acquisition and Language Attrition (previously offered as CAS LX 546)
  • GRS LX 753 Acquisition of Phonology (previously offered as CAS LX 541)
  • GRS LX 754 Acquisition of Syntax (previously offered as CAS LX 540)
  • GRS PS 848 Developmental Psycholinguistics
  • SED LS 566 Language Acquisition
  • SED LS 750 Cognitive Development and Language

Second Language Acquisition, Bilingualism, and Language Teaching

  • GRS LX 649 Bilingualism
  • GRS LX 655 Second Language Acquisition
  • SED BI 620 Educational Issues in Bilingualism
  • SED BI 621 Bilingualism and Biliteracy
  • SED LS 658 Second Language Acquisition
  • SED TL 509 Methods of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Linguistic Analysis of Specific Languages

African Languages

  • GRS LX 668 Structure of African Languages


  • GRS LX 664 The Linguistics of Contemporary English (previously offered as CAS LX 406)
  • GRS LX 665 Variation in Dialects of English (previously offered as CAS LX 530)
  • CAS EN 515 History of the English Language 1
  • CAS EN 516 History of the English Language 2
  • CAS EN 518 Linguistic Problems in TESOL


  • CAS LJ 510 Structure of the Japanese Language: Syntax

Romance Languages

  • GRS LX 670 Romance Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LX 532)


  • CAS LF 504 History of the French Language
  • GRS LX 673 The Structure of French: Phonology (also offered as CAS LF 503)
  • GRS LX 674 The Structure of French: Syntax (also offered as CAS LF 502)
  • GRS LX 676 Topics in French Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LX 506; also offered as CAS LF 506)


  • CAS LS 504 History of the Spanish Language
  • GRS LX 681 Spanish in the United States (previously offered as CAS LX 420; also offered as CAS LS 420)
  • GRS LX 683 The Sounds of Spanish (previously offered as CAS LX 507; also offered as CAS LS 507)
  • GRS LX 684 The Structure of Spanish (previously offered as CAS LX 508; also offered as CAS LS 508)
  • GRS LX 686 Topics in Spanish Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LS 505)

American Sign Language

  • SED DE 672 Structure of American Sign Language

Other languages

  • GRS LX 669 Creole Linguistics (previously offered as CAS LX 533)
  • GRS LX 691 Linguistic Field Methods (previously offered as CAS LX 501)

Neurolinguistics and Language Disorders

  • CAS PS 544 Developmental Neuropsychology
  • SAR SH 505 Introduction to Phonological Disorders
  • SAR SH 708 Models of Language
  • SAR SH 731 Phonological Disorders
  • SAR SH 735 Preschool Language Disorders
  • SAR SH 736 Aphasia
  • SAR SH 756 Cognition and Neural Bases

Philosophy of Language

  • GRS PH 621 Frege, Moore, and Russell
  • GRS PH 622 Analytic Philosophy
  • GRS PH 624 Wittgenstein
  • GRS PH 633 Symbolic Logic
  • GRS PH 663 Philosophy of Language

Computational Linguistics

  • GRS LX 690 Topics in Linguistics: Natural Language Processing and Computational Linguistics

Research Methodology

  • GRS LX 691 Linguistic Field Methods (previously offered as CAS LX 501)
  • GRS LX 795 Quantitative Methods in Linguistics
  • GRS MA 613/614 Statistical Methods I and II
  • GRS PS 711/712 Statistics in Psychology I and II
  • GRS SO 709 Field Research
  • GRS SO 712 Qualitative Research Methods
  • SED RS 652 Qualitative Research Methods

Directed Research

For GRS LX 951/952 Directed Research courses, instructor and hours are arranged and credit is variable. Students do not register themselves for these courses on the Link. Rather, they must fill out an application (including a brief summary and outline of the project, plus a list of readings), which is first approved by the supervising Linguistics faculty member and then submitted to the Program office at the very beginning of the semester. Once this application is approved by the DGS, the program administrator will then register the student in the appropriate section (corresponding to the supervising faculty member) of the directed study course. Deadline for submission of the application: 2 days before the deadline for adding classes in the given semester.

Transfer credits

Students may receive transfer credit for up to two courses, in accordance with the policies and practices of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. If a student has taken the equivalent of any of the core courses, it may be waived. In this case, the student may substitute another course for the course already taken, but unless the credits are transferred, there will be no reduction in the 32 credits required for the MA.

Qualifying Examinations

A candidate for the doctoral degree must satisfactorily complete one publishable book review (by the end of the first year of course work), and two substantial research papers in different areas (the first by the end of the 5th semester, the second no later than the 7th semester of enrollment). This work shall be planned and carried out under the supervision of three faculty members (including one major advisor for the project). An oral examination will follow submission of each research paper. Please note the deadlines for completion of these requirements.

1. Book Review

The review will be evaluated by a committee of two faculty members (chosen by the student). A copy of the book review, with the book review approval form signed by the faculty members who have approved it, should be submitted to the Linguistics Office.

2. Research Projects

Because the research projects replace the previous comprehensive examinations, it is important that the two projects be in quite different areas. This is to ensure that students do not focus too narrowly at this stage and that they have in-depth knowledge in more than one subject area. One of the two topics may be related to future dissertation work. Each project should be more substantial than work which would normally be done as part of a course. It may, nonetheless, begin as a class project. The research project should result in a publishable paper. Although many of these projects will be experimental, they need not be.

3. Participation in the organization of the annual Language Development Conference

This student-run conference is an important part of the program, and it can only be successful if all of the students share in the work for it.

4. Formalities

Students should declare the subject of each research project no later than the third week of the semester in which they expect to complete the work. Forms for this purpose may be obtained in the Linguistics Office or on our website. Students should indicate the topic of research and the committee of two professors (including at least one member of the Linguistics Program being the official project advisor) who will be supervising the work. The second proposal also requires the approval of the director, who will confirm that the two areas of research are sufficiently distinct. Thus, students are urged to seek approval for each project (especially the second one) before beginning work on it. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss their work with their advisors and other faculty members throughout the course of their research. A form certifying successful completion of each project should be submitted, along with a copy of the paper, after the oral defense.

There is no requirement that the same faculty members approve the book review and the research project. In each case, the student should choose the professors most appropriate to the area of research.

Language Requirement

Competence in two non-native languages is required. (Any natural language counts, spoken or signed.) Competence in at least one of the two languages must be demonstrated officially:

(a) You may take the language examination given through the Linguistics Program. You are allowed one hour and use of a dictionary (if you bring one). To take this exam, please make arrangements through the Linguistics Office.

(b) Graduate students may also enroll in free language courses offered by the Graduate School in Spanish (GRS LS 621), French (GRS LF 621), and German (GRS LG 621). These courses are designed to prepare graduate students for the language exam. Students will not receive graduate credit for this course and there is no tuition charge.

Competence in a second non-native language or a computer language may be demonstrated as described above, or in one of the following additional ways:

    1. If English is not your native language, then demonstrated proficiency in English will count as the second of your two foreign languages. This may be certified by your advisor.

    2. Competence in a computer language may also count as the second language. This may be demonstrated by having taken (and received a passing grade for) two semesters of computer programming in the same computer language. The two semesters of course work may be completed at another university, but transcripts showing a passing grade must be presented to the program director and must be deposited in your file in the Linguistics Office.

    3. If you have completed an undergraduate major or a Master’s program in a foreign language, or have formal experience teaching a foreign language, you can be certified by your advisor as having proficiency in that language.

Important: If you satisfy the requirements for one of the foreign languages in any of the ways described in (1) through (4), please send a note of explanation to the director along with whatever documentation is appropriate (e.g., a note from the person certifying your competence, a copy of the test scores, a college transcript), so that this can be made official.

Internship Requirement

Doctoral students are required to complete an internship during their enrollment in the program. This will normally be completed concurrent with coursework and comprehensive requirements, during the first three years of enrollment. This internship must provide students with experience (research, teaching, or other professional work) in an area that is relevant to progress in some aspect of their doctoral program. For further information, please consult the Director of Graduate Studies.

Certified Full-time Status

You may be certified as a full-time student if you take two courses and carry out research under the direction of one of the faculty members in the program. Full-time certification is simple; there is a form to fill out. Foreign students must be certified full-time students. This status will also be useful to students with certain kinds of outstanding student loans.

Registration Status after Completion of Course Work

Students who have completed course work normally register as Continuing Students. They may also register for a Directed Study SED DC 900 or GRS AL 901 and 902 or for the Dissertation Advisement course SED DC 999. See the program administrator for information and registration procedures for these courses.

  • Part-time continuing students are entitled to advising and to full library privileges.
  • Full-time continuing students have, in addition, access to health service and the gym. Full-time students are also entitled to the optional major medical insurance.

Important Policies and Procedures of the Graduate School

Please be sure to familiarize yourself with the very useful and important information available here:

Residency Requirement

There is a residency requirement for all PhD programs. Each student must satisfy a residency requirement of a minimum of two consecutive regular semesters of full-time graduate study at Boston University. Full-time study in this context is full-time commitment to the discipline as determined by the department. Without necessarily implying full-time course enrollment, this commitment permits access to libraries, laboratories, faculty, and other academic facilities of the University.

This requirement does not apply to Boston University employees enrolled as part-time students.

Leave of Absence

You may take an official leave of absence of up to two semesters during the 5-year maximum period for completion of the post-master’s degree PhD. However, you must be registered for the two semesters immediately prior to graduation (although you need not be certified as full-time). Students are not entitled to be advised officially by their advisors during a leave of absence, nor do they have library privileges. It has been possible for students on leave to maintain their computer accounts, although a note from the Program Director has been required.

Please note that during any given semester, you must request a Leave of Absence if you are not officially registered. Please read the GRS policies on this carefully:


Final Oral Examination

An abstract (not longer than 350 words) and the GRS PhD Dissertation Defense Abstract form must be submitted at least three weeks prior to the scheduled thesis defense to the Graduate School Dean’s Office for approval. (The abstract will not be approved if it contains spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or stylistic problems.) Fourteen copies of the approved abstract must then be submitted to the Records Office along with the final oral examination schedule, in accordance with the Graduate School calendar (see below).

Students must defend their dissertations before an examining committee consisting of at least five faculty members, including the first and second official readers. This is required by the Graduate School.

Dissertation Prospectus

Students are eligible to submit a thesis proposal only after all of the above requirements have been completed. A student selects a tentative dissertation topic and determines who will serve as first and second (and optionally third) readers, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. The dissertation prospectus should be completed before the more extensive phase of dissertation research is undertaken.

The prospectus cannot exceed 20 double-spaced (or 10 single-spaced) pages of 12-point type, excluding the bibliography. The format of the prospectus and specific procedures for meeting the general guidelines are described at the GRS Forms, Policies & Procedures website.

Dissertation Prospectus Hearing

A hearing will be held with three faculty members (including the official first and second readers) to discuss the student’s dissertation prospectus. The student should plan to make a brief presentation (about 20 minutes) and respond to questions. Please see this page for GRS policies on committee composition and appointments and the other procedures involved for approval of the dissertation prospectus and dissertation.

The dissertation prospectus must be approved by the readers, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Program Director. The approved prospectus, accompanied by the Dissertation Prospectus Approval Form, must be submitted to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences office on or before the date specified at the Graduation Information website.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

At least three weeks before the dissertation defense, students must submit the Final Oral Exam Schedule with Abstract Approval form with one copy of the abstract (maximum of 350 words) to the GRS office. The proper heading of the dissertation abstract must be printed at the top of the abstract. A template for the proper formatting can be found here. Prior to submission, the abstract must be read and approved by your major advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Chair/Program Director. You will be notified of the approval of the abstract or if revisions are required.

Please see important additional information about requirements related to the dissertation, including formatting directives:

Dissertation Calendar

See for important dates and deadlines.

All PhD degree requirements are complete only when both copies of the dissertation have been certified as meeting the standards of the Graduate School and are accepted by the library. NOTE: If the final draft of the dissertation is submitted after the Graduate School deadline (which is the beginning of the next semester or summer term), you WILL be charged for an extra semester’s fees !!! If you register for the second summer session to complete the dissertation, you may submit the final version early in September at no additional cost. Check the exact deadlines with the Graduate School.

Time Limit

PhD degrees must be completed within seven years after the first registration for that degree.

Petitions for extensions of time to complete degree requirements must be submitted prior to the end of the above limit. Students exceeding this time limit without an approved petition for an extension of time will not be permitted to register.


Publication of the thesis, in whole or in part, is urged by the Graduate School Faculty. PhD holders who publish their completed dissertations should state that such work was submitted originally in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Boston University Graduate School. When materials for the dissertation are published in part, or when they are published before degree requirements have been fulfilled, credit should be given to the University auspices under which the work was pursued. One copy of all published materials must be submitted to the Graduate School office for deposit in the University Library. (Please also send a copy to the Linguistics Office.)