Program Requirements

The Department of Linguistics at the University of Michigan, founded in 1963, currently has 17 research faculty, 11 adjunct faculty, over 20 Ph.D. students, and more than 100 undergraduate concentrators. The doctoral program provides a broad-based approach to linguistics as a cognitive and a social science. Students are encouraged to formulate and test theories of speakers' linguistic knowledge, and theories of linguistic variation and use, drawing on observational, experimental, and computational methods. In keeping with the long-standing interdisciplinary approach of the Department, close ties are maintained with the Departments of Anthropology, Computer Science, Philosophy, and Psychology, as well as the language departments and the English Language Institute.

Degrees Offered

The Department of Linguistics offers a Ph.D. in Linguistics. Student-initiated combined degree programs (e.g., Linguistics and Anthropology; Linguistics and Psychology) are also possible. The Department does not accept M.A. applications

The University of Michigan also provides students with diverse opportunities to acquire expertise in other areas that complement their linguistics coursework and research (e.g., a certificate in Women's Studies)


New students are admitted once each year to begin in the Fall term.  To be considered, all application materials must be received by the Department no later than December 7.  Admission materials must include:

New students are admitted once each year to begin in the Fall term.  To be considered, all application materials must be received by the Department no later than December 7.  Admission materials must include:

  • Completed Rackham School of Graduate Studies application;
  • Official transcripts of previous work;
  • Three letters of recommendation;
  • Sample of written work;
  • Personal Statement;
  • Statement of Purpose.


Students who are not native speakers of English and who do not hold a degree from an English-medium university must submit scores on the “Test of English as a Foreign Language” (TOEFL) or the “Michigan Assessment Battery” (MELAB). A minimum score of 87 on the MELAB, of 95 on the inter-based TOELFL or of 620 on the paper-based TOEFL is normally necessary for admission.


Each student will choose two advisors to assist them in moving through the Ph.D. program and to increase the breadth of perspective they receive. The first, the A advisor, is a faculty member in the student's primary area of research interest. This advisor will be assigned by the beginning of the student’s first term, on the basis of the student's statement of interest in their application for admission to the Ph.D. program. The second, the B advisor, may be any member of the faculty whom the student chooses and is selected sometime during the first year. The student meets frequently with the A advisor, with whom they are likely to be engaged in research. After a dissertation committee has been approved, the student's A advisor will usually become the dissertation committee chair. Students are free to make changes in advisors at any time, in agreement with the new advisor(s), and do not need to seek permission of their current advisor(s) to do so (any changes need to be informed to the Graduate Chair and the Student Services Coordinator).

Course Work

In addition to meeting the fee hour and grade point requirements of the Rackham Graduate School (see Rackham's Graduate Student Handbook), Linguistics Students who are not in a joint program must meet the following course requirements: 

  • Ling 512 (Phonetics), Ling 513 (Phonology), Ling 514 (Semantics) and Ling 515 (Syntax).  Most students will take all four courses in the first year.
  • Ling 740 (Research in Linguistics, 3 cr). Students must take this course in their first semester.
  • Ling 997 (Independent Study, 3 cr). Students take this course in their second semester. It provides an early opportunity to engage in research with a faculty advisor. 
  • Ling 750 (Research Writing in Linguistics, 3 cr). This course is taken in the fifth semester, but may be taken as early as the third semester. If the student achieves candidacy prior to the start of the fifth semester, the Ling 750 requirement is waived.
  • Ling 780 (Interdisciplinary Seminar in Linguistics). All second-year students are required to take this seminar, normally in the Fall term.
  • GSI Training. Students entering their second year participate in the CRLT training for new GSIs, followed by a 3-day training seminar (Ling 993) for teaching in Linguistics.
  • 3 electives in Linguistics. All must be at the 500-level or above. At least one must be at 600-level or above.
  • 2 cognate graduate courses taken outside the Linguistics Department.


Students must maintain a minimum average of B+ in all Linguistics courses taken in their first year. At least two of the grades in Linguistics 512, 513, 514, and 515 (or a corresponding 600-level course) must be A- or better. 

Students must define a flexible course plan by the beginning of their third term, in line with the requirements above and in agreement with their academic advisor(s).

 Exemption from, or substitution for, any of these courses must be done with the approval of both a faculty member who regularly teaches the course and the Graduate Committee.

Qualifying Research Paper

Students submit one substantial qualifying research paper (QRP); submission by end of the fifth term is expected. The QRP is written in addition to any papers done as part of course work, and is planned in careful consultation with a faculty member. The QRP may be a substantially expanded/elaborated version of a course paper or an entirely separate project. The paper should show the student's ability to pose a linguistic question within a framework of current linguistic research, collect and marshal empirical evidence that bears upon that question, and present the results in a way that communicates successfully to other linguists. The QRP is assessed by two research faculty readers, one serving as the primary advisor.


A student advances to candidacy when the following conditions have been met:

  • At least 36 Rackham graduate credit hours (18 for students with an approved MA);
  • Successful completion of all non-elective Linguistics courses, at least two of the elective Linguistics courses, and both cognate courses (this is sufficient to satisfy the 36 Rackham credit hours).
  • Successful completion of the Qualifying Research Paper.
  • Additionally, Rackham requires a cumulative GPA of at least B (3.0 on a 4.0 scale) of all graduate work taken for credit. Rackham also requires a grade of at least B- on the two courses taken to fulfill the cognate requirement.

Students are expected by both Rackham and the Department of Linguistics to advance to candidacy by the end of the 5th Fall/Winter term (middle of the third year). Failure to advance to candidacy by then will normally result in not being in good standing. Exceptions may be granted upon request, at the discretion of the Graduate Committee and in consultation with A and B advisors.

Language Requirement

Before graduation, students must demonstrate proficiency in 2 natural languages other than English, or the ability to carry out specialized research on those languages.

The language requirement may be fulfilled by one of these options:

  •   Passing an examination;
  •   Demonstrating competence in research on the language;
  •   2 years of college level study;
  •   Native competence.


Dissertation Prospectus

The principal goal of the prospectus is to communicate clearly to the dissertation committee the background to the proposed dissertation research, and its goals, scope and methods. It usually begins with a discussion of the central issue or problem, interwoven with a critical review of the scholarship to date in the area. The prospectus should include an outline of data collection procedures and other methodological issues, as well as a demonstration — usually via some preliminary analysis — that the proposed study will be able to deliver answers to the research questions.

The prospectus is prepared in consultation with members of the dissertation committee. (Students consult with their advisor in identifying faculty who might be approached as suitable committee members.)  The draft prospectus is discussed in a meeting involving at least 3 dissertation committee members (ideally, the full committee) so that faculty have a clear and common understanding of the student's plans, so that they can offer their advice and suggestions, and so that the student can defend the prospectus. An approved prospectus, signed by all members of the committee, is filed with the Department.


The dissertation is a substantial piece of work that presents and analyzes original research results, and motivates the research and interprets the results within an appropriate framework. The dissertation is supervised by a dissertation committee consisting of at least 4 members, at least 2 of whom are in the Department of Linguistics and at least 1 Graduate Faculty member from another Department. The dissertation is examined at a public oral defense.

PhD in Linguistics PDF Brochure