Graduate Program Rules

This page contains regulations concerning the following topics.

  1. Advising
  2. Course requirements
  3. Grades
  4. Foundational Courses
  5. Qualifying Papers
  6. Dissertations

Important additional information about fulfilling these requirements is on the accompanying procedures page.

See also an overview of the program, applications, and financial aid. Please direct any questions to

The master's page lists the rules governing M.A. degrees.

1. Advising

1.1. Each student selects a faculty advisor, generally a faculty member in the area which most directly interests the student. Entering students who have not decided upon a particular advisor are advised by the graduate chair until such time as they wish to select another advisor. At the end of each academic year, the graduate chair contacts students asking them to select advisors for the following year. It is strongly recommended that students make every effort to meet with their advisors at least once each semester to discuss their progress and plans.

1.2. In mid-April of each year, the faculty meets for a day to review the progress of students. In the week following this, advisors meet with their advisees to let them know how the faculty feels they are progressing and to help them remedy any deficiencies.

2. Course requirements

All students are required to take two semesters of phonology (Ling 530-531) and two semesters of syntax (Ling 550-551), at least one of these sequences in the first year of full-time graduate study. Alternatively, a student with prior instruction in a field who takes and passes a foundational examination in phonology or syntax is excused from taking the courses in that area. A total of 20 credits is required for the PhD.

3. Grades

A student may not carry any incompletes from one year into a subsequent year. Thus, a student in the first year of graduate study may not register for the next academic year without having made up any incomplete grades on his or her record. Any student who still has incompletes from the previous year will be required to withdraw from the program at least until his or her record is clear. A student may petition the faculty for special exemption due to particular circumstances, which the student will specify. Students who presently have outstanding incompletes are required to submit a self-determined schedule specifying a deadline by which all the incompletes will be made up. If this is not done, the student will be required to withdraw from the program.

4. Foundational Courses

4.1. Courses. Every student will complete eight foundational courses. These must include the full-year sequences in syntax and in phonology. 

  • Phonology - Ling 530, 531 (required)
  • Syntax - Ling 550, 551 (required)

The remaining four courses are to be chosen from the following list. Students are free to take courses in year-long sequences, or to choose three or four different areas.

  • Morphological Theory - Ling 404, 405
  • Phonetics - Ling 520, 521
  • Semantics - Ling 580, 581
  • Linguistic Field Methods - Ling 502
  • Historical and Comparative Linguistics - Ling 510
  • Language Variation and Change - Ling 511
  • Developmental Psycholinguistics - Ling 570

Students should make these choices in consultation with their advisors.

4.2. Timing. Students must complete at least four foundational courses in the first year; at least two of these must be the sequence in syntax or phonology. The remaining courses must be completed by the end of the second year.

4.3. Evaluation. Student performance in the foundational courses is assessed twice, at the end of the first and second years of study. At either juncture, a student with a combined GPA lower than 3.0 in the foundational courses taken so far must leave the program. In addition, a student with a grade of incomplete in a foundational course that has not been resolved by June 30 will be dropped. Successful completion of eight foundational courses is counted as passing the Provost's Qualifications Evaluation.

5. Qualifying Papers

By the beginning of the third year, all foundational exams will be complete. In order to ensure that students are on their way to doing independent research, during the third year students are required to submit two qualifying papers in distinct areas.

5.1. Content. The student is encouraged to base the qualifying papers, partly or wholly, on papers written for a course. Judgment of the notion "distinct area" falls to the graduate chair in consultation with the student's advisor and relevant faculty. Interdisciplinary topics are welcome, and generally count as distinct. The student is expected to produce a work of independent research, single-authored, and that the faculty judges to be of publishable quality. The faculty will advise the student regarding the appropriate scope for a paper.

5.2. Committee. Each paper is evaluated by a committee of two members of the graduate group faculty, appointed by the graduate chair in consultation with the student and the faculty. As the topic of the paper is developed in the semester preceding the due date, the student should discuss possible topics with relevant faculty, and propose a committee of two based on prior agreement about the suitability of a paper topic. It is also strongly recommended that the student consult frequently with the faculty while writing the paper.

5.3. Deadlines. The first paper must be evaluated by the end of the student's 5th semester and the second by the end of the 6th semester, understood as the final day of each semester in the University calendar (this corresponds to the last day of final exams). Evaluation occurs in a meeting with the committee to defend the content of the paper; the written version of the paper must be provided in advance, according to a timeline determined by the faculty committee. Prior to these submission deadlines are two others.

  1. The student must submit a title and abstract for the qualifying paper by the first day of the semester in which the final paper is due; this information should be emailed to the two faculty members intended for the committee, with a copy to Amy and the graduate chair. Upon the faculty members' approval of the proposed topic, the graduate chair officially appoints the committee; with appropriate prior discussions, this step will be pro forma.
  2. The student must meet with the committee members (individually or together) between one and two months preceding the end of the semester to discuss progress and receive advice on improvements. More frequent meetings are, of course, recommended.

5.4. Evaluation. A student who has successfully completed two qualifying papers has passed the Provost's Candidacy Examination. If the paper submitted is deemed to require improvement, the committee will list specific problems and recommended changes. Once this list is provided to the student, the revised paper must be submitted within 30 days. If the revision is deemed inadequate, the paper is failed and the student must leave the program.

6. Dissertations

6.1. Dissertations are written under the supervision of a committee which generally consists of a dissertation supervisor and two additional faculty members.

6.2. Before proceeding to write their dissertations, students are required to write and defend a dissertation proposal. Such proposals are usually written with the assistance of a student's dissertation adviser. Students should normally submit a dissertation proposal before the end of the fall semester of the fourth year of residence, and must do so no later than the spring semester of the fourth year.

6.3. A student may request to defend a dissertation proposal at any time. However, in order to be eligible for nomination for a Dissertation Fellowship in any given spring semester, a student must have defended his or her proposal before the end of classes in the fall semester immediately preceding.

6.4. The dissertation proposal is defended before a group consisting of at least three persons: a proposal defense committee of three faculty members who serve as examiners and the supervisor of the dissertation. The defense is nevertheless open to all members of the faculty and student body.

6.5. A dissertation proposal is to include a timetable specifying the anticipated date of completion. If, for any reason, progress in completing a dissertation is delayed, then:

  1. A student shall set a timetable to be met, specifying a date by which the dissertation will be completed. This timetable is to be submitted to the faculty for approval.
  2. If the schedule is not met, the student is automatically required to withdraw from the program.
  3. A student may petition for an extension for a specified period of time. The preceding two conditions will then apply.

6.6. In accordance with the rules and regulations of the University of Pennsylvania, any student who has not met all requirements for the Ph. D. degree, including deposit of the completed approved dissertation with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, by the end of the fifth academic year in which the student is registered for dissertation tuition shall be required to be recertified as a candidate for the Ph.D. by means of a new proposal defense.

6.7. Students must defend their dissertations before the faculty of the Graduate Group in Linguistics or before an ad hoc committee thereof, including at least the student’s dissertation committee. It is the responsibility of a student’s adviser to ensure that a dissertation is fit to be defended.