PhD Program

The faculty of UWM Linguistics provide courses, research opportunities, and advising for students who wish to earn a doctoral degree. Students will join a collaborative community of scholars who use theoretical, empirical, and applied techniques to uncover the structure of language, and their training will prepare them for careers in academia, language education, or language technology.

Our program is particularly appropriate for students with research interests in syntax, semantics, phonetics, phonology, and second language acquisition, as well as ESL pedagogy. We offer exceptional facilities, with four dedicated linguistics laboratories available to students wishing to conduct experimental research. We organize regular reading groups as well as colloquium presentations by linguists from all over the world, and we pride ourselves on close mentoring relationships between students and advisors.

Recent graduates of UWM Linguistics are currently teaching at universities in the United States, Canada, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Jordan; working as advisors for large urban school districts; and revitalizing languages of Native America.

Major Professor as Advisor

The student must have a major professor to advise and supervise the student’s work as specified in Graduate School regulations. The Director of Graduate Studies serves as an initial advisor.

PhD Program Requirements

Effective Summer Semester 2013, the PhD program requires a minimum of 54 credits beyond the BA.

The 54 credits are distributed as follows:

  • Required courses (30 credits)
    • Linguis 415 – First Language Acquisition (or)
      Linguis 420 – Introduction to Second Language Acquisition
    • Linguis 450 – General Phonetics and Phonetics Practicum
    • Linguis 460 – Introduction to Phonology
    • Linguis 464 – Introduction to Syntax
    • Linguis 466 – Semantics
    • Linguis 468 – Language in its Various Forms (or)
      Linguis 470 – Historical/Comparative Linguistics
    • Linguis 550 – Advanced Phonetics
    • Linguis 560 – Advanced Phonology
    • Linguis 564 – Advanced Syntax
    • Linguis 566 – Advanced Semantics
  • Seminars and Independent Studies (12 credits):
    • 9 credits in:
      • Linguis 800 – Level Seminars
    • 3 credits in:
      • Linguis 800 – Level Seminars (or)
        Linguis 900 – Level Independent Studies
  • Electives selected with approval of the student’s major professor (12 credits)

General Restrictions

Doctoral students may not count more than 9 credits in independent study toward the degree without the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. No more than 18 credits may be counted in courses taken outside the Department of Linguistics.

Major Professor as Advisor

The student must have a major professor to advise and supervise the student’s work as specified in Graduate School regulations. The Director of Graduate Studies serves as an initial advisor.


Students are required to consult periodically with their Major Professor. The Major Professor helps the student to define an area of special interest within the concentration for the preliminary examination. The Major Professor also assists the student in the selection of appropriate coursework and may chair the Preliminary Examination Committee.

Foreign Language Requirement

All PhD candidates are required to demonstrate proficiency (reading knowledge) in a language other than English. The choice of language, and the means of demonstrating proficiency, must be approved by the student’s Major Professor in consultation with the Director of Graduate Study.


The student must meet minimum Graduate School residence requirements.

Doctoral Preliminary Examination

The doctoral preliminary examination consists of an oral defense of a major research paper submitted by the student typically after completing 39 to 45 credits toward the PhD degree. Though the scope of the examination, which usually lasts two hours, is open-ended, its focus is on the submitted research paper, which itself is intended to demonstrate the breadth and depth of a student’s knowledge and the ability to conduct advanced research in one or more areas of study. The successfully-defended research paper should lead naturally to timely preparation of the dissertation proposal.

Students cannot take the preliminary examination if they have any incomplete or unreported grades or a GPA less than 3.0. The exam must be finished within one-semester after all course work is completed, excluding summer sessions. Students may receive from the Director of Graduate Studies a one-semester extension for additional course work. Students who do not complete the exam within this time frame will be considered to have failed the exam. The exam may be retaken only once, after making appropriate revisions to the research paper. Students who fail the preliminary examination may not proceed to the dissertation. The exam must be passed within five years of initial enrollment in the doctoral program.


The dissertation topic, together with a comprehensive prospectus, must be approved by the student’s doctoral committee in a dissertation proposal hearing that should be held not later than the semester immediately following the preliminary examination. The dissertation proposal is typically, albeit not necessarily, a refinement and extension of the research paper defended in the oral preliminary examination. Though no specific length requirements are imposed on the dissertation itself, the Department considers 200 pages to be reasonable and representative.

Dissertation Defense

The completed dissertation is subject to an oral defense, to be arranged by the Major Professor in coordination with the Director of Graduate Study according to Graduate School regulations. A copy of the dissertation is kept in the Department office.

Time Limit

All degree requirements must be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment in the doctoral program.

For additional information see the Graduate School PhD Requirements.

Graduate Grievance Procedures

Federal law and UWM policy require programs and departments to have procedures for graduate students to appeal academic decisions such as grades or scholastic standing. These procedures ensure the protection of students’ rights. These pages serve as a reference on procedures for graduate student academic appeals.