Ph.D. Program Rules

This page contains the official Ph.D. program rules adopted by the Graduate Group in Linguistics. The rules were updated on 2/29/24.

  1. Advising
  2. Coursework
  3. Other Program Requirements
  4. Qualifying Papers
  5. The Dissertation

Important additional information about fulfilling these requirements and progressing successfully through the Ph.D. program can be found in the Ph.D. Program Handbook.

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

Rule 1.1. First year advising. Entering students are assigned to a first-year advisor by the graduate chair, taking into consideration the students' preferences and faculty input. At the end of the first year, the graduate chair contacts students asking them to select their advisor going forward.

Rule 1.2. Faculty advising. At the end of the first year, each student selects a faculty advisor, generally a faculty member in the area which most directly interests the student. Students may change advisors at any point, in consultation with the graduate chair and involved faculty. Co-advising is also possible. 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.

Rule 1.3. Annual progress evaluations. At the end of the spring semester, the faculty meets for a day to review the progress of students. In the weeks following this, the graduate chair emails each student with a brief report on how the faculty feels that student is progressing. Advisors are encouraged to meet with their advisees afterwards to discuss how to incorporate this feedback moving forward.

2. Coursework

Rule 2.1. Total course load. A total of 20 credits is required for the PhD. These courses must be taken during the first three years of graduate study.

Rule 2.2. Required courses. All students are required to take two semesters of Phonology – Ling 5310-5320 – and two semesters of Syntax – Ling 5510-5520 – at least one of these sequences in the first year of full-time graduate study. Alternatively, a student with strong prior experience in a field may petition the graduate chair to make alternative arrangements on the basis of demonstrated mastery, possibly including being excused from taking the courses in that area.

Rule 2.3. Other foundational courses. In addition to the required full-year foundational sequences in Syntax and Phonology listed above, every student must complete an additional four foundational courses chosen from the following list. Students are free to take courses in year-long sequences, or to choose three or four different areas. (Numbers in parentheses represent the old course numbers from prior to Fall 2022.)

●              Morphological Theory - Ling 5410, 5420 (404, 405)
●              Experiments in the Study of Meaning - Ling 5850, 5860 (455)
●              Phonetics - Ling 5210, 5220 (520, 521)
●              Developmental Psycholinguistics - Ling 5700, 5750 (570, 571)
●              Semantics - Ling 5810, 5820 (580, 581)
●              Linguistic Field Methods - Ling 5020 (502)
●              Neurolinguistics - Ling 5740 (504)
●              Historical and Comparative Linguistics - Ling 5100 (510)
●              Language Variation and Change - Ling 5600 (511)

Students should make these choices in consultation with their advisors.
Rule 2.4. Foundational course 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. 

Rule 2.5. Foundational course 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 must have a combined GPA of 3.0 or greater in the foundational courses taken so far in order to continue in the program. In addition, a student with a grade of incomplete in a foundational course that has not been resolved by June 30 may not continue. Successful completion of eight foundational courses is counted as passing the Provost's Qualifications Evaluation.

Rule 2.6. Incompletes. Incompletes must be approved in advance by the course instructor. Incompletes in regular courses must be resolved by the day before the following fall semester starts (regardless of whether the incomplete is from the fall or spring). Incompletes in courses that the student is using to fulfill the foundational requirements are discouraged; when the instructor does permit them, they must be resolved by June 30th of the immediately following summer. Petitions for extensions to these deadlines on the basis of extenuating circumstances should be directed to the graduate chair.

3. Other Program Requirements

Rule 3.1. Residency requirement. The Graduate Group in Linguistics expects that students will be in residence at Penn each semester, throughout the term of their fellowship. This policy is to ensure that the student receives appropriate advising and supervision, and participates in the intellectual life of the Group. Exceptions are, of course, made for the purposes of fieldwork or well-motivated study at another university.

Rule 3.2. Teaching requirement. The Graduate Group requires two semesters of teaching experience, satisfied by serving as a Teaching Fellow (TF, more commonly called a TA) at least twice. The teaching requirement is typically satisfied as part of the graduate fellowship's requirement of four semesters of service, but is still required even in cases where the fellowship service requirement does not apply.
Rule 3.3: Language requirement. Students are expected to explore diverse languages as part of their education. To that end, all students must demonstrate meaningful engagement with the structure of a language other than either English or (if different) their native language before the end of the third year. This requirement can be satisfied in any of the following three ways.

  1. Ling 5020 (502): Linguistic Field Methods.
  2. A graduate course on the structure of a specific language, approved by the graduate chair. This can include a 9997 (505) course created in response to student request.
  3. A qualifying paper or similarly in-depth research that involves independent analysis of language data, approved by the graduate chair and the student’s advisor.

For the last two options, the student is advised to seek approval in advance to ensure that a proposed course or paper topic will qualify, but work that is already completed can also be considered. A minimum grade of B applies to any course used to satisfy the requirement.

4. Qualifying Papers

Rule 4.1. QP timeline. By the beginning of the third year, all foundational courses will be complete. In order to ensure that students are on their way to doing independent research, during the third year they are required to submit two qualifying papers (QPs) in distinct areas. 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).

Rule 4.2. QP 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.

Rule 4.3. QP 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.

Rule 4.4. Interim QP deadlines. The written version of the paper must be provided in advance of the evaluation, 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 the graduate coordinator 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.

Rule 4.4. QP evaluation. Evaluation occurs in a meeting with the committee to defend the content of the paper (commonly called the “QP defense”). 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 student may not continue in the program.

5. The Dissertation

Rule 5.1. Dissertation committee. Dissertations are written under the supervision of a committee which generally consists of a dissertation supervisor and two additional faculty members. The dissertation committee must be selected prior to the proposal defense, although changes can be made later. Rule 5.2. Proposal timeline. Before proceeding to write their dissertations, students are required to write and defend a dissertation proposal. The proposal should be written in close consultation with the 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.

Rule 5.3. Proposal committee & evaluation. The dissertation proposal is defended before a proposal defense committee of three faculty members from the department who serve as examiners. The chair of the proposal committee may not be a member of the dissertation committee at the time of the proposal defense. The dissertation supervisor should attend the defense but is not a member of the proposal defense committee and does not vote on the proposal outcome. The proposal defense committee is appointed by the graduate chair in consultation with the dissertation supervisor. The defense is open to all members of the faculty and student body.

If the proposal is deemed to require improvement, the committee will list specific problems and recommended changes. Once this list is provided to the student, the revised proposal must be submitted within 30 days. If the revision is deemed inadequate, the student may not continue in the program.

Rule 5.4. Dissertation completion timetable. 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 the student should set a revised timetable to be met, specifying a date by which the dissertation will be completed. This timetable, and any subsequent adjustments required, should be submitted to the dissertation supervisor and graduate chair for approval.

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

Rule 5.5. Dissertation defense. Students must defend their dissertations before their dissertation committee. The defense is also open to all members of the faculty and student body. It is the responsibility of a student’s adviser to ensure that a dissertation is ready to be defended.