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All courses, faculty listings, and curricular and degree requirements described herein are subject to change or deletion without notice. Updates may be found on the Academic Senate website:

The PhD Program

The UC San Diego PhD program in linguistics offers rigorous training in multiple areas of theoretical linguistics, including syntax, semantics, phonetics, phonology, and morphology. The department is particularly strong in the study of interface areas, including syntax/semantics, phonetics/phonology, and phonology/syntax. Research conducted in a variety of theoretical frameworks is integrated into the graduate curriculum. Students receive a firm foundation in formal approaches to syntax and semantics. In phonology, basic training includes segmental and autosegmental phonology, constraint-based phonology, syllable theory, metrical theory, and theories of the phonology-morphology interface. The required courses of the graduate curriculum, typically completed within the first two years of the program, are devoted primarily to gaining a strong background in these core theoretical areas.

This theoretical strength of the department is matched by strength in both language study and experimental science. The range of languages represented in faculty research encompasses American Sign Language (ASL), Caucasian, Chinese, Finno-Ugric, Germanic, Greek, Persian, Romance, Semitic, Slavic, and Uto-Aztecan. The departmental concern with the empirical facts of language is reflected in a field methods requirement for graduate students as well as in the graduate student language requirement (conversational ability in one language other than English and reading ability in one language other than English). The department has a tradition of working with native speakers of a wide variety of languages. The department’s language laboratory maintains a library of written and recorded materials permitting independent study of dozens of languages; it also includes computers for self-instruction in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The Linguistics Language Program (LLP) provides basic foreign language instruction for the entire campus, and many linguistics graduate students are employed as TAs in the program. Aside from providing a source of funding, the LLP provides graduate students with valuable teaching experience.

The department houses laboratories devoted to experimental studies of language with emphasis on phonetics, event related brain potentials (ERPs) computational linguistics, and signed languages. The focus of experimental research in the department is the mutual dependence between mechanisms of language processing and theories of phonology, syntax, and semantics. Linguistics graduate students may supplement their theoretical studies with experimental research; in addition to departmental laboratories, graduate students have access to experimental laboratories concerned with language issues in other departments.

The department has a strong commitment to, and is an active and integral part of, the cognitive science and neuroscience communities at UC San Diego. Most linguistics faculty have joint appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the Cognitive Science Interdisciplinary PhD Program, and participate in the Department of Cognitive Science graduate core course in language (Cognitive Science 201D) as well as in the all-campus Interdisciplinary Program seminar (Cognitive Science 200) on a regular basis. Graduate students in the Department of Cognitive Science frequently participate in linguistics department graduate courses, and linguistics graduate students regularly attend courses in the cognitive science department on neuroscience, child language acquisition, aphasia, neural networks, and semantics and cognition. Linguistics graduate students are eligible to pursue a joint degree in cognitive science and linguistics within the Interdisciplinary Program. Areas of secondary specialization that are especially well represented in the cognitive science community at UC San Diego and related institutes include child development, connectionist modeling, distributed cognition, language disorders, neuroscience, philosophy, and psycholinguistics.

The department has access to rich informational resources; in addition to the extensive linguistics holdings in the main library, the department maintains a collection of research reports, dissertations, and unpublished papers. Access to the libraries of other universities exists through interlibrary loan.


Since linguistics is a highly technical and analytic field, linguistics students will find their undergraduate training in mathematics and the natural sciences especially valuable. Undergraduate work in certain of the social sciences and humanities, particularly psychology, anthropology, philosophy and literature, is also good preparation for linguistics. The ideal candidate for admission will have both experience with foreign languages and some knowledge of the fundamentals of contemporary linguistic theory. Students who, upon admission, are deficient either in their formal linguistics preparation or languages will be advised by the department on how to make up the deficiency. New graduate students will be admitted only in the fall of any academic year.

Language Requirements

A candidate for the PhD must demonstrate: (1) Conversational ability in one language other than English. (2) A reading knowledge of any one language other than his or her native language, subject to faculty approval.

Required Courses

Candidates for the PhD must pass certain linguistics graduate courses prior to taking the qualifying examination. All graduate students must take a common core of ten courses. These are

All required courses (except 293) must be taken for a letter grade.

In addition, students must successfully complete five elective graduate courses, at least three of which must be Department of Linguistics graduate course offerings. All five elective courses must also be taken for a letter grade.


A graduate student is formally evaluated by the entire faculty at particular stages during the two years of graduate study. The first evaluation (at the end of the third quarter of graduate study) pertains chiefly to performance in courses. The second (or comprehensive) evaluation (at the end of the sixth quarter) determines the student’s fitness to continue in the PhD program. It takes into account performance in course work and ability to engage in original research in one area of linguistics as demonstrated in a research paper.

Qualifying Examination

Candidates for the PhD must pass an oral qualifying examination that tests the student’s knowledge in the area of specialization. Prior to taking this examination, the student must pass the comprehensive evaluation, satisfy all language requirements, successfully complete all required courses, and demonstrate—through a research paper—the ability to carry out independent, dissertation-level research.

Colloquium Presentation

Sometime prior to the thesis defense, a student must present a paper orally at a professional gathering. The colloquium requirement is intended to enable a student to develop the skills necessary for organizing research results for oral presentation. The requirement is generally met by presenting a department colloquium or by presenting a paper at a professional meeting. In either case, a faculty member must certify the acceptability of the presentation.


The candidate for the PhD will write a substantial dissertation incorporating the results of original and independent research carried out under the supervision of the doctoral committee. The candidate will be recommended for the doctor of philosophy degree after having made a successful oral defense of the dissertation before the doctoral committee in a public meeting and after having the final version of the dissertation accepted by Geisel Library.

Apprentice Teaching

As part of their preparation for a future academic career, graduate students in linguistics at UC San Diego are given special opportunities to participate in teaching programs under the supervision of a professor. Depending on qualifications, students may conduct conversation or analysis classes in lower-division language courses (LLP and HLP), or may assist a professor in the teaching of an undergraduate linguistics course.

Other Degrees

Candidates for the PhD who have not previously earned a master’s degree may be granted the MA in linguistics after: 1) satisfactorily completing twelve required courses (the seven core courses required for the PhD and five electives, three of which must be Department of Linguistics graduate course offerings; all but LIGN 293 must be taken for a letter grade), and 2) passing the comprehensive evaluation at the end of the sixth quarter.  

Candidates for the PhD may also be granted the CPhil upon completion of all degree requirements other than the dissertation.

Departmental PhD Time Limit Policies

The time a student takes to complete the PhD depends on a number of factors, including previous preparation and the amount of time spent in teaching or other job commitments. Several policies set an upper limit to the length of the program. It is expected that all degree requirements other than the dissertation will be completed by the end of the ninth quarter of graduate work; however, all must be completed by the end of the tenth quarter of graduate work. Total instructional support (TAships, etc.) cannot exceed six years; total university support cannot exceed seven years. Total registered time at UC San Diego cannot exceed eight years.

Specialization in Anthropogeny

There is a transdisciplinary graduate specialization in anthropogeny with the aim of providing graduate students the opportunity to specialize in research and education on explaining the origins of the human phenomenon. The aim is to rectify the absence of existing training programs that provide such a broad and explicitly transdisciplinary approach—spanning the social and natural sciences—and focusing on one of the oldest questions known to humankind, namely, the origins of humans and humanity. This specialization is not a stand-alone program, but aims at providing graduate students who have just embarked on their graduate careers with the opportunity to interact and communicate with peers in radically different disciplines throughout the duration of their PhD projects. Such communication across disciplines from the outset is key to fostering a capacity for interdisciplinary “language” skills and conceptual flexibility.

Admission to the Specialization

The Linguistics Graduate Program will advertise the specialization to those students in our programs who have an interest in human origins. Qualifying applicants will have the opportunity to enroll for the specialization.

Specialization Requirements

Students pursuing this specialization will be required to take a series of courses in addition to research rounds over four years of study. It is advised that students begin their course work in their second year.

  1. Course work: Introduction to Anthropogeny (BIOM 225) and Advanced Anthropogeny (BIOM 229) are each taken once, in the winter and spring of the students second year. Current Topics in Anthropogeny (BIOM 218) is to be taken every quarter for four years.
  2. Research Rounds: Monthly seminars during which all participating students talk about their respective research.

Qualifying Examination

Linguistics students in the anthropogeny specialization must meet the departmental requirement for advancement to candidacy. In addition, students must meet internal deadlines, mentoring provisions, and proposal standards of the anthropogeny specialization track.


PhD students must complete a dissertation, which meets all requirements of the home program. In addition, it is expected that the PhD dissertation is broadly related to human origins and will be interdisciplinary in nature.

Time Limits

It is expected that students will retain the same time to degree as students not pursuing this specialization. Additional course load consists only of two regular courses (two quarters twenty lectures each). The third proposed course takes place only three times a year from Friday noon to Saturday evening.