PhD Program

Prerequisites. An applicant for the PhD degree normally should hold a Master’s degree in English, a foreign language, Speech and Language, Linguistics, or some related field. Prospective applicants with a master’s degree in a field other than those listed are encouraged to enter the Master’s program described above before beginning doctoral work. Anyone unsure of eligibility should contact the Program Director.

Course Requirements. A minimum of ten courses beyond the master’s degree is normally required for the post-master’s degree PhD. The program consists of 8 core courses plus 2 electives. The electives are chosen as part of a coherent program of study that is approved at the end of the first semester of enrollment by an adviser and the Program Director. Students may, with the approval of the Program Director, count up to two courses taken as part of their master’s degree program toward the core course requirements—if their previous courses are equivalent to the core courses—thereby reducing the total number of required courses to 8. Students should apply for exemption from core course requirements within three weeks of enrollment.

  • Core Courses. Two courses (listed below) are required of all students.  Students who have not yet taken the prerequisites for these cores should consult with their advisor.
    • CAS LX 513: Phonology (prereq. CAS LX 510)
    • CAS LX 523: Syntax II (prereq. CAS LX 522)

    Students must take four additional courses from the Linguistics core:

    • CAS LX 500: Topics in Linguistics
    • CAS LX 501: Linguistic Field Methods
    • CAS LX 502: Semantics
    • CAS LX 510: Phonetics and Phonology
    • CAS LX 520: Sociolinguistics
    • CAS LX 521: Morphology
    • CAS LX 522: Syntax I
    • CAS PS 828: Psycholinguistics
    • SED LS 726: Discourse Analysis
    • SED LS 751: Language Universals and Universal Grammar

    Students must also take one course from the Language Acquisition core:

    • SED LS 566: Language Acquisition
    • SED LS 750: Cognitive Development and Language
    • GRS LX 700: Language Acquisition and Linguistic Theory
    • GRS PS 848: Developmental Psycholinguistics
    • SAR CD 708: Language Theories, Acquisition, and Analysis
    • GRS LX 865 Advanced Topics: Language AcquisitionAdditional courses may be considered as satisfying this core requirement, upon the approval of the major advisor and the program director. Students must also take one course from the Research Methods core:
      • CAS AN 590: Theory, Method & Technique in Fieldwork
      • CAS LX 501: Linguistic Field Methods
      • CAS MA 613, 614: Statistical Methods, I and II
      • GRS PS 711, 712: Statistics in Psychology, I and II
      • GRS SO 709: Theory and Practice of Field Research
      • SED RS 652: Qualitative Research Methods
      • SED RS 653: Quantitative Research Methods
      • GRS LX 865 Advanced Topics: Language Acquisition

      Additional courses may be considered as satisfying this core requirement, upon the approval of the major advisor.

      Qualifying Examinations

      A candidate for the doctoral degree must satisfactorily complete one publishable book review (by the end of the first year of course work), and two substantial research papers in different areas (the first by the end of the 5th semester, the second no later than the 7th semester of enrollment). This work shall be planned and carried out under the supervision of three faculty members (including one major adviser for the project). An oral examination will follow submission of each research paper. Please note the deadlines for completion of these requirements.

      NOTE: All forms referred to in this section and a checklist of forms and due dates are available at the Applied Linguistics Program Office.

      1. Book Review: The review will be evaluated by a committee of two faculty members (chosen by the student). A copy of the book review, with the book review approval form signed by the faculty members who have approved it, should be submitted to the Applied Linguistics Office.

      2. Research Projects: Because the research projects replace the previous comprehensive examinations, it is important that the two projects be in quite different areas. This is to ensure that students do not focus too narrowly at this stage and that they have in-depth knowledge in more than one subject area. One of the two topics may be related to future dissertation work. Each project should be more substantial than work which would normally be done as part of a course. It may, nonetheless, begin as a class project. The research project should result in a publishable paper. Although many of these projects will be experimental, they need not be.

      3. Participation in the organization of the annual Language Development Conference. This student-run conference is an important part of the program, and it can only be successful if all of the students share in the work for it.

      4. Formalities: Students should declare the subject of each research project no later than the third week of the semester in which they expect to complete the work. Forms for this purpose may be obtained in the Applied Linguistics Office or on our website. Students should indicate the topic of research and the committee of two professors (including at least one member of the Applied Linguistics Program being the official project adviser) who will be supervising the work. The second proposal also requires the approval of the director, who will confirm that the two areas of research are sufficiently distinct. Thus, students are urged to seek approval for each project (especially the second one) before beginning work on it. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss their work with their advisers and other faculty members throughout the course of their research. A form certifying successful completion of each project should be submitted, along with a copy of the paper, after the oral defense.

      There is no requirement that the same faculty members approve the book review and the research project. In each case, the student should choose the professors most appropriate to the area of research.

      Language Requirement

      Competence in two non-native languages is required. (Any natural language counts, spoken or signed.) Competence in at least one of the two languages must be demonstrated officially:

      (a) You may take the language examination given through the Applied Linguistics Program.  You are allowed one hour and use of a dictionary (if you bring one). To take this exam, please make arrangements through the Applied Linguistics Office.

      (b) Graduate students may also enroll in free language courses offered by the Graduate School in Spanish (GRS LS 621), French (GRS LF 621), and German (GRS LG 621). These courses are designed to prepare graduate students for the language exam. Students will not receive graduate credit for this course and there is no tuition charge.

      Competence in a second non-native language or a computer language may be demonstrated as described above, or in one of the following additional ways:

      1.    If English is not your native language, then demonstrated proficiency in English will count as the second of your two foreign languages.  This may be certified by your adviser.

      2.    Competence in ASL may be counted toward your second language requirement.  Please contact the program director or program assistant for details.

      3.    Competence in a computer language may also count as the second language.  This may be demonstrated by having taken (and received a passing grade for) two semesters of computer programming in the same computer language. The two semesters of course work may be completed at another university, but transcripts showing a passing grade must be presented to the program director and must be deposited in your file in the Applied Linguistics Office.

      4.    If you have completed an undergraduate major or a Master’s program in a foreign language, or have formal experience teaching a foreign language, you can be certified by your advisor as having proficiency in that language.

      Important: If you satisfy the requirements for one of the foreign languages in any of the ways described in (1) through (4), please send a note of explanation to the director along with whatever documentation is appropriate (e.g., a note from the person certifying your competence, a copy of the test scores, a college transcript), so that this can be made official.

      Certified Full-time Status

      You may be certified as a full-time student if you take two courses and carry out research under the direction of one of the faculty members in the program. Full-time certification is simple; there is a form to fill out. Foreign students must be certified full-time students. This status will also be useful to students with certain kinds of outstanding student loans.

      Registration Status after Completion of Course Work:

      Students who have completed course work normally register as Continuing Students. They may also register for a Directed Study SED DC 900 or GRS AL 901 and 902 or for the Dissertation Advisement course SED DC 999. See the program assistants for information and registration procedures for these courses.

      1. Part-time continuing students are entitled to advising and to full library privileges.

      2. Full-time continuing students have, in addition, access to health service and the gym. Full-time students are also entitled to the optional major medical insurance, discussed in the Welcome to New Students section.

      Residency Requirement: There is a residency requirement for all PhD programs. Each student must be certified as a full-time student for two sequential semesters during their graduate years.

      Leave of Absence: You may take an official leave of absence of up to two semesters during the 5-year maximum period for completion of the post-master’s degree PhD. However, you must be registered for the two semesters immediately prior to graduation (although you need not be certified as full-time). Students are not entitled to be advised officially by their advisers during a leave of absence, nor do they have library privileges. It has been possible for students on leave to maintain their computer accounts, although a note from the Program Director has been required.

      Dissertation Proposal

      Students are eligible to submit a thesis proposal only after all of the above requirements have been completed. A student selects a tentative dissertation topic and determines who will serve as first and second (and optionally third) readers. The dissertation prospectus should be completed before the more extensive phase of dissertation research is undertaken. Please pay attention to the form of the thesis proposals.

      Dissertation Proposal Hearing

      A hearing will be held with three faculty members (including the official first and second readers) to discuss the student’s dissertation proposal. The student should plan to make a brief presentation (about 20 minutes) and respond to questions. The Dissertation Proposal Hearing form should be submitted to the Applied Linguistics Office, and the dissertation proposal and the official Dissertation Proposal Form must be submitted to the Graduate School. Check the Graduate School Calendar for due dates (see below).

      Final Oral Examination

      An abstract (not longer than 350 words) and the GRS PhD Dissertation Defense Abstract form must be submitted at least three weeks prior to the scheduled thesis defense to the Graduate School Dean’s Office for approval. (The abstract will not be approved if it contains spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or stylistic problems.) Fourteen copies of the approved abstract must then be submitted to the Records Office along with the final oral examination schedule, in accordance with the Graduate School calendar (see below).

      Students must defend their dissertations before an examining committee consisting of at least five faculty members, including the first and second official readers. This is required by the Graduate School.

      Dissertation Calendar

      Note: There is an official Boston University Graduate School Graduate Calendar that you should consult, available from the Graduate School.

      All PhD degree requirements are complete only when both copies of the dissertation have been certified as meeting the standards of the Graduate School and are accepted by the library. NOTE: If the final draft of the dissertation is submitted after the Graduate School deadline (which is the beginning of the next semester or summer term), you WILL be charged for an extra semester’s fees !!! If you register for the second summer session to complete the dissertation, you may submit the final version early in September at no additional cost. Check the exact deadlines with the Graduate School.

      Time Limit

      The post-bachelor’s degree PhD program shall be completed within seven years after the first registration for doctoral study. The post-master’s degree PhD program shall be completed within five years after the first registration for the doctoral program.


      Publication of the thesis, in whole or in part, is urged by the Graduate School Faculty. PhD holders who publish their completed dissertations should state that such work was submitted originally in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Boston University Graduate School. When materials for the dissertation are published in part, or when they are published before degree requirements have been fulfilled, credit should be given to the University auspices under which the work was pursued. One copy of all published materials must be submitted to the Graduate School office for deposit in the University Library. (Please also send a copy to the Applied Linguistics Office.)