NEW PhD in Linguistics

Human language is a multifaceted phenomenon. It is simultaneously a property of individual minds and of whole speech communities, and thus both internal and external to us. It both shapes and is shaped by our societies over time. It is a combination of sound (or sign), which has physical properties that can be measured, and meaning, which does not. Accordingly, becoming a linguist involves mastering a variety of methods, both quantitative and qualitative. The PhD in linguistics at Boston University aims to produce scholars who are versatile enough to be experts in both of these aspects of linguistic inquiry, yet skilled enough to do cutting-edge research in a particular subfield of the discipline. We offer a solid grounding in a range of research methods, including field methods, quantitative methods, and computational methods.

Possible areas of specialization include:

    • Experimental approaches to phonetics and phonology
    • Fieldwork and language documentation
    • First and second language acquisition in children and adults; bilingualism
        Click here for information about the annual BU Conference on Language Development; students participate in organizing this conference.
    • Language variation and change
    • Morphology, syntax, and semantics

See listing of some of our research labs below.

Here is a pdf flyer

Prior Background

Entering students are expected to have already completed introductory classes in:

  • Phonetics/phonology (e.g., CAS LX 301)
  • Syntax (e.g., CAS LX 321)
  • Semantics/pragmatics (e.g., CAS LX 331)

Students who do not have a sufficient background in linguistics must complete additional coursework to fulfill those prerequisites prior to entry or during the first year. Note that GRS LX 601 Phonetics, 621 Syntax, and 631 Semantics will not be counted toward the PhD course requirements.

Graduate Student Handbook

This has a large amount of useful information:


Course Requirements

    The PhD in Linguistics requires successful completion of 64-credits at the graduate-level, including:

      • GRS LX 703 Phonological Analysis
      • GRS LX 722 Intermediate Syntax: Modeling Syntactic Knowledge
      • GRS LX 732 Intermediate Semantics: The Grammatical Construction of Meaning

      • Six additional courses, two in each of two of the following areas, and one in each of the other two areas
        • Advanced courses in phonetics, phonology, or morphology
          Current offerings at this level: GRS LX 706 Advanced Topics in Phonology
        • Advanced courses in syntax, semantics, or pragmatics
          Current offerings at this level: GRS LX 723 Advanced Syntax; and
          GRS LX 736 Advanced Topics in Semantics and Pragmatics
        • Linguistic research methodology
        • Language acquisition or the study of language as a social or a historical phenomenon

      • Two Graduate Proseminars in Linguistics, GRS LX 801 and GRS LX 802

      • Six additional graduate-level courses (including up to 8 credits of directed study) in linguistics or related fields sufficient to define a specialization that will be the area within which the dissertation is written. These courses will be decided upon by the student, in conjunction with his or her advisor, whose approval is required.

Language Requirement

    All students pursuing a PhD in Linguistics are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in two foreign languages (one of which may be English, for non-native speakers) by the end of the 3rd year of enrollment. Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a language examination, successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University, or the equivalent of two years of undergraduate study of the language at Boston University (or successful completion of any higher level language course taught in the language).

Qualifying Examinations

    A candidate for the doctoral degree must satisfactorily complete two substantial research papers in different areas of the field (the first by the end of the fourth semester, the second no later than the sixth semester of enrollment). Each Qualifying Paper (QP) will be planned and carried out under the supervision of a Linguistics faculty member with expertise appropriate to the relevant project; and each QP will, upon completion, be defended orally and approved by an examining committee, composed of the first and second reader as well as a third faculty member determined by the DGS in consultation with the student. A brief proposal for each QP must be submitted, with signed approval of a first and second reader (who have been approved by the DGS and who have agreed to advise the student on the proposed project) by October 15 of the academic year in which the project must be completed.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

    Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree:

Learning Outcomes

    Students graduating with a PhD in Linguistics are expected to demonstrate:
    • A broad knowledge of the discipline
    • A deeper knowledge in a specialized area or subfield
    • The ability to carry out a significant piece of independent research (which implies knowledge of and ability to use research methodologies in order to complete the research).

Research Opportunities

Some of the active research groups, with opportunities for students to participate, are listed here:

Some of the Linguistics Labs and Projects at BU:


Information about the graduate admissions process is available here: Graduate Admissions. The deadline for application for PhD students who will be entering the program in Fall of 2021 is January 6, 2021. Please look through that site carefully; you will find answers to many of your questions about the application process and requirements there.

Please note that the GRE exam is no longer required of applicants to the Linguistics graduate programs.

We anticipate being in a position to admit about 5 students per year. All students admitted to PhD programs at Boston University will receive full coverage of tuition costs plus a fellowship for 5 years (see:

Contact Us

If you have questions about the program, please contact us at the following email address: