The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Graduate Program

Ph.D. in Linguistics

The Department of Linguistics offers graduate work leading to the Ph.D. degree. Students may concentrate their graduate work in any of the following areas: syntax, semantics, phonology, phonetics, psycholinguistics, language acquisition, morphology, and Optimality Theory. Graduate training in the department is strongly oriented toward preparing students to carry on individual creative research and teaching in theoretical linguistics as early as possible in their graduate careers. The graduate program is set up so as to maximize close student-faculty contact. Most of our students go on to become professors in the field of theoretical linguistics at universities around the world.

As one of the top four graduate programs in theoretical linguistics, the UMass Amherst program receives more than 130 applications each year, but can only accept between 5 and 8 students a year. Because of the structure of the program, applications are accepted only for fall semester admission.

Interdepartmental Work

Our students often do additional graduate-level work at the University in departments with course offerings related to the study of natural language, such as Philosophy, Computer Science, Communication Disorders, Psychology, the foreign language programs, and Mathematics.  The Ph.D. program normally lasts five years.

Structure of the Ph.D. Program

The program is structured to train students to become skilled linguists, capable of outstanding independent scientific research and teaching. Course requirements are structured to emphasize the core areas of syntax, semantics, phonetics, phonology, psycholinguistics, and language acquisition. Faculty and students are also highly engaged in research and teaching in Morphology and Optimality Theory. Very early in their graduate education, students begin pursuing original research projects, learning to evaluate different models critically. Like scientific research in any field, this is a collaborative effort in which both students and faculty participate. In the process, a great deal of learning takes place in individual interactions between a single faculty member and a student, or among the students themselves. Most course work is completed in the first three years of the program, with the fourth and fifth years devoted to dissertation research and preparation. Students must successfully write and defend two “generals” papers and a “breadth” paper before beginning dissertation work. See more on the Ph.D. program requirements.


The Graduate Program Director (GPD) advises all first year students. By the end of the third semester, each student forms a Doctoral Guidance Committee (DGC), consisting of two specialists for the generals paper and a third member (the 'Chair') appointed by the GPD. Each semester the DGC meets with the student to provide continuing advice and supervision in planning a course of study before embarking on dissertation research. The DGC also approves the completed generals papers.


Since most people holding a Ph.D. in linguistics become university teachers, it is important for a graduate program to set up a framework within which teaching skills can be developed. The department therefore requires that every student acquire some teaching experience, either through faculty/student team teaching or by being responsible for teaching a section of one of our introductory courses. In addition, most seminars are structured in such a way as to provide maximum student responsibility and opportunity for classroom participation. See more on the department's teaching philosophy and teaching resources.

Please see the Graduate Handbook for details on the program.