Aims of the PhD

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 linguistic researcher involves mastering a variety of methods, both quantitative and qualitative. The PhD in Linguistics at BU 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.

Learning Outcomes

Students graduating with a PhD in Linguistics will demonstrate:

  • broad knowledge of the discipline
  • deeper knowledge in a specialized area or subfield
  • 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)

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is not required to apply.

Entering students are expected to have completed introductory classes in: 

  • phonetics/phonology (e.g., GRS LX 601)
  • syntax (e.g., GRS LX 621)
  • semantics/pragmatics (e.g., GRS LX 631)

Students who do not have sufficient background in linguistics must complete additional coursework to fulfill the above prerequisites prior to entry or during the first year. Note: if completed at BU, GRS LX 601, 621, and 631 will not count toward the PhD course requirements.

Admissions & Funding

The deadline for application to enter the program in Fall 2023 is January 6, 2023. Information about the graduate admissions process (including the application process and requirements) is available at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) website:

We anticipate being able to admit about five students per year. All admitted students will receive full coverage of tuition costs plus a fellowship for five years. For further information about funding, consult the GRS website above.

Course Requirements

The PhD requires successful completion of 64 credits at the graduate level, including three core courses: 

  • GRS LX 703 Phonological Analysis
  • GRS LX 722 Intermediate Syntax
  • GRS LX 732 Intermediate Semantics

Six additional courses from the four areas below, with two courses each in two of the areas, and one course each in the remaining two areas:

  • advanced phonetics, phonology, or morphology (e.g., GRS LX 706)
  • advanced syntax, semantics, or pragmatics (e.g., GRS LX 723, 736)
  • linguistic research methodology
  • language acquisition or socio-historical linguistics

A 4-credit graduate proseminar sequence (GRS LX 801 & 802) is typically taken in the second year.

Finally, six additional courses (including up to 8 credits of directed study) are taken in Linguistics or related fields that comprise a specialization, which will generally be in the area of the dissertation. These courses will be decided upon by the student in conjunction with their advisor, whose approval is required.

Language Requirement

The PhD requires demonstration of graduate-level reading proficiency in two foreign languages (one of which may be English, for non-native speakers) by the end of the third year of enrollment.

These proficiencies can be demonstrated through any of:

  • a language examination
  • successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered at BU
  • the equivalent of two years of undergraduate study of the language at BU (or successful completion of any higher-level language course taught in the language)

Graduate-level foreign language reading courses offered at BU include:

Qualifying Examinations

To advance to candidacy, students must satisfactorily complete and defend two substantial research papers in different areas of the field (the first by the end of the fourth semester, the second by the end of 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, upon completion, will 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 Director of Graduate Studies (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 is to be completed. For the second QP, a topic approval form, in which the student explains how the second QP differs from their first QP, must also be submitted, in advance of the proposal approval form.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

PhD candidates will 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 DGS, and the Department Chair.

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 PhD degree:


Director of Graduate Studies

Co-Directors of Graduate Admissions