Language Reading Requirement

This page describes the language reading requirement that applies to students who matriculated Fall 2014 and before. The new language requirement is described on the Procedures page.

Every student in the Ph.D. program is required to demonstrate reading ability in two languages with a significant linguistic literature. This requirement should normally be completed by the end of the second year, but an extension of up to a year may be permitted when necessary for further language study. No dissertation proposal will be accepted prior to completion of the language requirement.

The reading exam consists of a translation into English from a linguistic work not already familiar to the student. The standard exam lasts one hour and performed with the aid of a dictionary; online or electronic dictionaries are permitted, but not automated translation applied to sentences. Faculty may choose to give the student the option of requesting a reading on a particular topic.

The student should arrange an exam directly with any member of the graduate group who knows the language to be tested. If no such member can be found, alternate arrangements will be made in consultation with the graduate chair. The result is evaluated with regard to the amount and quality of translation, which must be sufficient to enable reasonable access to the linguistic literature in that language. Perfection is not expected, but repeatedly mistranslating basic constructions, or translating just a short paragraph after an hour of effort, is grounds for failure. A copy of the original text and the student's translation must be submitted to Amy as a record of the exam.

A student who fails a language exam with one faculty member must take the new with the same person; that is, post hoc forum shopping is prohibited.

Native speakers of a language other than English are permitted to count the native language in lieu of one exam, assuming they have received formal education in that language. A bilingual student with formal education in one language must complete a translation exam in the second language, to ensure reading competence.

For any language not previously established within the graduate group as a vehicle of linguistic scholarship, the student must submit a list of approximately twenty relevant works (articles, books, or journals, with titles translated) to demonstrate the appropriateness of the choice. This determination is made by the graduate chair in possible consultation with the faculty, and holds for non-native languages tested by translation as well as native languages substituted for an exam.

The language reading requirement is intended to ensure access to the linguistic literature in at least two languages other than English. It is distinct from learning about other languages for the purposes of broadening typological knowledge. Few languages are offered at a graduate level of instruction, and by University policy no undergraduate course can be counted toward a graduate degree. A student wishing to learn about the structure of a language not offered as a graduate-level course has the option of setting up an independent study with a faculty member: the student can sit in on an undergraduate language course (with permission of the instructor) while doing parallel study of the descriptive or theoretical literature on that language. As usual for an independent study, the student must complete a final paper or other project.

Many students have benefited from free reading courses offered by SAS each summer. These have historically been limited to a short list of European languages such as German, French, and Spanish. The schedules are announced in the spring semester each year.

The following languages have been approved for use toward the requirement. It simply gives languages already counted by previous students, and the absence of a particular language implies no judgment on the part of the graduate group.

  • Arabic (Modern Standard)
  • Bulgarian
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Dutch
  • French
  • German
  • Hebrew (Modern)
  • Hindi
  • Hungarian
  • Indonesian
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Swedish
  • Tamil
  • Vietnamese
  • Yiddish