Why study linguistics?

Because language is a window into the mind. Linguistics provides an understanding of the human capacity to acquire, perceive, and produce language and of language’s role in contemporary society.

Ph.D. Overview

Our Ph.D. program in Linguistics requires the student to develop a solid understanding of the core areas of the discipline in addition to an in-depth specialty in one of the many areas available through the research interests of the faculty. Areas of special strength in the graduate program include phonetics, phonology, syntax, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, first language acquisition, second language acquisition, semantics, and the study of indigenous languages.

The student will work with their academic advisor to devise a course of study that best suits the student's research interests.

The Ph.D. program usually takes five years which includes completing an M.A. degree en route to the Ph.D. All Ph.D. students receive a five-year funding package.

Admission to Graduate Studies

An applicant seeking to pursue graduate study in the College may be admitted as either a degree-seeking or non-degree seeking student. Policies and procedures of Graduate Studies govern the process of Graduate admission. These may be found in the Graduate Studies section of the online catalog.

Please consult the Departments & Programs section of the online catalog for information regarding program-specific admissions criteria and requirements. Special admissions requirements pertain to Interdisciplinary Studies degrees, which may be found in the Graduate Studies section of the online catalog.

Graduate Admission

Applicants must submit a curriculum vitae, a statement of purpose, an official copy of transcript from the baccalaureate granting institution and any transcripts from institutions attended post-baccalaureate, 3 letters of recommendation, and Graduate Record Examination scores. Applicants who are not native speakers of English must demonstrate English proficiency with Test of English as a Foreign Language scores of at least 53 (paper) or 20 (computer or internet-based) in all sections or International English Language Testing System scores of at least 6.0 overall with no part score below 5.5.

Students originally admitted to the M.A. program who are completing the M.A. degree (research project option) and want to continue toward the Ph.D. must submit the following to the Director of Graduate Studies by January 1st: a 5-7 page summary of the M.A. research project, a timeline for completing the M.A. which has been approved by the M.A. advisor, and a 1-2 page statement that outlines the type of research that the student would like to conduct at the Ph.D. level and the student’s ultimate goals upon completing the Ph.D. Any decision to apply for the Ph.D. program must be taken in consultation with the advisor or Director of Graduate Studies. Acceptance into the Ph.D. program will be contingent on two criteria: (1) a grade of ‘2’ on the M.A. research project (2) approval of the Linguistics faculty that the student should be allowed to continue in the program based on strength of the student’s application. The M.A. research project is graded on the following scale: '0' - fail; '1' - pass without consideration for admission to the Ph.D. program; '2' - pass with consideration for admission to the Ph.D. program. The admissions decision will be made at a faculty meeting following the student’s defense of the M.A. research project.

Submit your graduate application online. Send all other requested application materials to the department:

The University of Kansas
Department of Linguistics
Blake Hall
1541 Lilac Lane, Room 427
Lawrence, KS 66045-3129


Ph.D. Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. is structured as a five year program. Students will earn an M.A. en route to the Ph.D.


(1) 3 hours of LING 700 Introduction to Linguistic Science

(2) The ability to read in a foreign language (not English) with a significant linguistic literature.

Students who do not meet these prerequisites, but have an undergraduate major in a related field (such as a foreign language, English, speech, anthropology or psychology) may be accepted with the provision that they make up their deficiencies as soon as possible.

Degree Requirements


2 semesters, which may include 1 summer session, must be spent in full-time resident study at KU. Normally, an enrollment of 9 credit hours is considered full-time during the semester. See Doctoral Degree Requirements, 2. Program Time Constraints, in the Graduate Studies section of the online catalog.

Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship

  1. Language requirement: Reading ability in a foreign language (not English) demonstrated through one of the following ways:
    1. Pass a language examination devised and administered by the Linguistics Department.
    2. Complete DTCH 101, FREN 100, GERM 101, ITAL 100, RUSS 101, or SPAN 100 with a grade of C or higher, or LAT 104 with a grade of B or higher.
    3. Have a KU professor qualified in a given language certify that the student has the fourth level of competence in reading, comprehension, and speaking.
    4. Complete 16 hours (or 4 semesters) in a single language at KU or another university as a graduate or undergraduate student.
  2. Research skills requirement: 1 of the following:
    • A course in statistics with a grade of B or above.
    • A course in a computer programming language with a grade of B or above.
    • LING 783 Computational Linguistics with a grade of B or above.
  3. Responsible Scholarship: The university requires that every doctoral student have training in responsible scholarship pertinent to the field of research and appropriate to the doctoral level. This requirement must be met before taking the comprehensive oral exam. LING 794 Proseminar fulfills the requirements for responsible scholarship.

Minimum Course Requirements

57 credit hours consisting of 33 credit hours at the M.A. level and 24 hours at the Ph.D. level.

M.A. Level Course Requirements (33)
LING 794Proseminar3
LING 705Phonetics I3
LING 712Phonological Theory I3
LING 725Syntax I3
Select 1 course3
First Language Acquisition (or)
Second Language Acquisition I
Select 1 course3
Psycholinguistics I
Neurolinguistics I
Select 1 of the following research methods courses:3
Research Methods in Linguistics (or)
Field Methods in Linguistic Description (or)
Research Methods in Child Language
12 credit hours of electives to be determined by the student and the student’s advisor, excluding LING 998 Independent Study; Topics in Empirical Research in Linguistics; LING 850 Topics in Empirical Research in Linguistics; LING 851 Research in Language Acquisition and Processing; LING 852 Research in Field Linguistics.12
Ph.D. Level Course Requirements (24)
Methods requirement3
Field Methods in Linguistic Description
If already taken for M.A., replace with 1 of the following:
Research Methods in Linguistics (or)
Research Methods in Child Language
Second-level courses 9
Select 3 of the following second-level courses:
Phonetics II
Phonological Theory II
Second Language Acquisition II
Syntax II
Psycholinguistics II
First Language Acquisition II
Neurolinguistics II
Topics in Linguistics: _____ (Morphology)
1 advanced seminar in Linguistics (LING 998 Independent Study, LING 850 Research in Experimental Linguistics, LING 851 Research in Acquisition and Processing, and LING 852 Research in Field Linguistics do not count toward this requirement.)3
Elective courses in linguistics9
Select 3 elective courses in linguistics. (LING 998 Independent Study, LING 850 Research in Experimental Linguistics, LING 851 Research in Acquisition and Processing, and LING 852 Research in Field Linguistics do not count toward this requirement.)

Research Presentation Requirement

Students must give 1 research presentation each semester beginning in their second year of the program. For students who are just beginning their independent research projects, this presentation may involve the discussion of published research relevant to the student’s research interests. This requirement may be satisfied through a presentation in one of the empirical research seminars (LING 850, LING 851, LING 852), a presentation at a local, regional, or international conference, a presentation in the Linguistics colloquy series, or a presentation at any other relevant forum as determined by the faculty adviser. Students must include the titles and dates of these presentations in their annual report each year.

M.A. Research Project

The Master’s research project should consist of a detailed research proposal and include pilot results and/or preliminary analyses. Students in the Ph.D. program should be able to continue working on the project with the aim of submitting it as a qualifying paper for the Ph.D. program.

An M.A. candidate in residence who has begun work on a research project must enroll for at least 1 credit hour of LING 899 Master's Research Project each semester (summer session excluded) until the thesis is completed.

The research project must be defended successfully in an oral examination. The oral exam is scheduled when all 3 committee members have indicated in writing their approval or disapproval of the research project for defense and at least 2 (including the chair) have approved scheduling the exam.

Following the oral examination, the student's performance will be evaluated by the project committee and reported by a Progress-to-Degree form to Graduate Studies as the outcome of the Master's oral examination. The committee will evaluate the M.A. research project with the following grades: 0-fail, 1-pass but cannot continue to the Ph.D. program, 2-pass and can continue to the Ph.D. program.

Qualifying Papers

The student needs to write 2 qualifying papers -- a major paper in the area of specialization and a minor paper in a different area. Both papers should represent original work. The major paper may be an expanded version of the M.A. research project and should be of publishable quality. The minimum lengths of the major and minor papers are 25 pages and 15 pages, respectively.

The major and minor papers are developed in close consultation with an Advisory Committee (3 faculty members) and the 2 papers should be supervised by different faculty members when possible.  The adequacy of the papers is evaluated on the quality of the literature review, theoretical contribution, and research integration as well as the basis of their logical coherence and organization.  The student does not need to orally defend the qualifying papers.

Dissertation Proposal and the Oral Comprehensive Exam

When the major and minor qualifying papers have been approved by the Advisory Committee, the student may form a Ph.D. committee (4 inside members, 1 outside member), which helps the student work on the dissertation, starting from the dissertation proposal. The proposal should clearly identify the research questions that the dissertation will address, include a comprehensive literature review, lay out the methodology for the research, discuss preliminary data and results, if any, and present a timetable for the dissertation research. The minimum length for the dissertation proposal is 10 pages.

The Oral Comprehensive Exam is the official exam required by Graduate Studies and consists of an oral defense of the dissertation proposal and the answering of any other questions related to the fields of study of the dissertation research. It must be taken within 2 months (excluding summer) after the student has turned in the dissertation proposal.  The oral exam will typically last 2 to 3 hours.

Post-Comprehensive Enrollment

After passing the comprehensive oral examination the candidate must be continuously enrolled each fall and spring semester in at least 1 credit of LING 999 Doctoral Dissertation  until the degree is completed; each enrollment shall reflect as accurately as possible the candidate's demands on faculty time and University facilities. Students must also enroll in either LING 850 Research in Experimental Linguistics, LING 851 Research in Language Acquisition and Processing, or LING 852 Research in Field Linguistics  at least once following their comprehensive exam. During this time, until the degree is completed or until 18 post-comprehensive hours have been completed (whichever comes first), the candidate shall enroll for a minimum of 6 hours a semester and 3 hours a summer session. Post-comprehensive enrollment may include enrollment of LING 999 Doctoral Dissertation during the semester or summer session in which the comprehensive oral examination has been passed. If after 18 hours of post-comprehensive enrollment the degree is not completed, the candidate shall continue to enroll each semester and each summer session until the final oral examination has been passed; the number of hours of each enrollment shall be determined by the candidate's adviser and must as accurately as possible reflect the candidate's demands on faculty time and University facilities.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

The dissertation is developed in consultation with the Ph.D. committee.  The dissertation must be orally defended in front of the Ph.D. committee.  The student will be asked first to summarize his/her dissertation and evidence, and then will be questioned by the committee. The defense will normally last 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours.