Graduate Student Handbook

General Information

The Department of Linguistics offers an undergraduate major, a Ph.D. program in linguistics, and a Ph.D. minor in linguistics. Graduate students in UW-Madison Ph.D. programs are awarded a Master of Arts degree upon the completion of the M.A. requirements. Students newly admitted to the Ph.D. program must attend the departmental orientation and consult with the chair in person by the beginning of classes. All students proposing to minor in Linguistics must also consult with the chair.

Faculty in the Department of Linguistics consist of Professors Li, Macaulay, Macken, Raimy (chair) and Valentine. The faculty specialize in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and American Indian languages. Graduate students consult with their advisors in establishing their areas of specialization and in working out a coherent program. Applied linguistic studies such as the theory and practice of language teaching or the history and structure of a particular language are handled in other departments, or may be assembled as a program of individual study.

The department maintains a phonetics laboratory for teaching and research in experimental and acoustic phonetics.

Admission to the Graduate Program

The graduate program in linguistics admits only students whose goal is the Ph.D. degree in linguistics.

Admission to the Ph.D. program is based on:

  • the applicant's personal statement
  • three letters of recommendation
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
  • TOEFL scores if applicable
  • transcripts

The personal statement is considered carefully to ensure that the applicant's goals are compatible with the program offered by the department.

For more information or for application materials, contact:

Department of Linguistics
1168 Van Hise Hall
1220 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706 -1557
tel: 608/262-2292
fax: 608/265-3193

New students are admitted for Fall term only. The deadline for receipt of all materials is December 23.

Financial Aid

The Department of Linguistics currently has two teaching assistantships for Linguistics 101. The faculty as a whole decide on TA appointments. They take into consideration the students' background in Linguistics, their progress in the program, and for nonnative speakers, their proficiency in English. Most first-year graduate students are not eligible for such an appointment. TA appointments in other departments, e.g. in language departments or in the English as a Second Language program, are sometimes possible since being a student in a department is not a condition of employment as a TA in that department.

Fellowships are administered through the Graduate School. They are available for entering graduate students and for dissertators. Additional support is administered through other centers, programs, and departments.

Project assistantships are also available, both with Linguistics department faculty and in other departments and programs.

Although the department does not usually have guaranteed financial aid packages to offer prospective graduate students, most students find support of some type, usually as a TA or PA in our department or some other program.



The Graduate Program

  • New graduate students must attend the orientation program during the week before fall semester starts.
  • Every student must choose an advisor in the intended field of specialization by the end of the second semester at the latest.
  • The student, in consultation with an advisor, is responsible for establishing a course of study which is appropriate for the student's research goals, and which complies with departmental requirements.
  • Any exceptions to the requirements must have the approval of the student's advisor and the Degree Programs Committee. The committee makes the final decision on the basis of a brief written request from the student which must also indicate the advisor's approval.
  • Students are reminded that it is their responsibility to satisfy all of the Graduate School's requirements, in addition to departmental requirements. Consult the Graduate School website for details.


Linguistics Minor

The Ph.D. minor in Linguistics consists of 12 credits chosen in consultation with the department chair, who is also the departmental minor advisor. The minor normally includes Linguistics 301, 310, and 330, plus one more course, but special programs may be devised with the approval of the minor advisor.


M.A. in Linguistics

A student who has been accepted into the Linguistics Ph.D. program or to the Ph.D. program of any other department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is awarded an M.A. when the student

  • completes the required courses listed below with a minimum GPA of 3.25,
  • demonstrates knowledge of one language other than English in a manner described below, and
  • completes and defends one research paper.

Course Requirements for M.A.

All required courses are to be chosen from courses offered by the Linguistics Department.

  • four 300-level courses
  • two 500-level courses
  • Linguistics 800 (Research Methods and Materials)
  • one additional course at the 500 level or higher (except 800)
  • two additional approved courses

Contact the department for a list of specific courses.

Ph.D. in Linguistics

In order to receive a Ph.D. in Linguistics, students must

  • complete the courses required for the Ph.D.
  • complete the language requirements
  • submit and defend two prelim papers
  • submit and defend a dissertation proposal
  • submit and defend a dissertation

Course Requirements for Ph.D.

The following core Linguistics courses are required:

  • 310: Phonology
  • 322: Morphology
  • 330: Syntax
  • 340: Semantics
  • 510: Advanced Phonology
  • 522: Advanced Morphology
  • 530: Advanced Syntax
  • 800: Research Methods and Materials
  • 97X: Three seminars in linguistics (3 credits each)
  • 990: Thesis (9 credits required)

If seminars in other departments are appropriate for the student's chosen field of study, the student must petition the Degree Programs Committee with the advisor's approval to have them count for the seminar requirement.

The sequence in which students must take courses appears below (explanation follows):

Sem. Courses Other Requirement
310, 330  
322/340, 510, 530  
{522}, 800  
322/340, 97X First prelim

Second prelim, dissertation proposal

Where two course numbers are separated by a slash, that means that there is a choice. In the second semester, for example, the student may take either 322 or 340.  If they take 322, the following semester they would take the advanced course in that series (522).  If they take 340, they wait a year to take the 322-522 sequence.

After the fourth semester there is greater flexibility in course scheduling. These slots will be filled with courses required for the minor, courses to satisfy the language requirement, and/or electives.

Course Waivers

If a student wishes to be waived out of a required course because of previous study, the request must be approved by the faculty member designated by the Degree Programs Committee for that area. The student must then submit a petition, bearing the relevant faculty member's approval, to the Degree Programs Committee.

A student is waived out of a course only if the relevant faculty member decides that the student's previous work covers the material taught in this department. It is not enough for the student to have taken a course in the area in question. The student's petition must therefore provide detailed information about previous work, accompanied by a syllabus when possible.

Language Requirements

Knowledge of three languages is required. One must be English. The second must be a non-Indo-European language or a modern Indic language. The third is determined in consultation with the advisor according to the student's research goals. In some areas, for example historical linguistics, a reading knowledge of French and German is indispensable. Students must complete their language requirements before their second prelim exam.

The language requirements can be satisfied in the following ways:

  • by being a native speaker of the language,
  • by presenting transcripts showing that 12 credits of college-level work in the language have been completed no more than three years before admission to the Department of Linguistics, with grades of B or better in both of the last two semesters of course work,
  • by taking two semesters of a language with a minimum grade of B,
  • by taking a linguistics field methods course (Linguistics 426 or 427),
  • by taking a Structure of a Language course (Linguistics 571),
  • by taking an advanced course or a seminar which is designed to discuss data from a particular language in detail, when this course is designated as appropriate by the Degree Programs Committee on the advice of the faculty teaching the course,
  • by taking tests administered by language departments or the University of Wisconsin Extension and getting a passing grade.

Students may petition the Degree Programs Committee for other ways of satisfying the language requirements.

Admission to Candidacy

A student will be admitted to candidacy upon satisfying the following three requirements:

  • completion of preliminary examinations in two areas,
  • advanced course work in a third area,
  • approval of the dissertation proposal.

In addition, completion of the minor is required for admission to candidacy.

Preliminary Examinations

Preliminary examinations consist of two research papers in two different areas. These areas must be approved by the student's advisor. The two papers cannot have significant overlap.

The first prelim will evaluate the student's capability for original research and strength of argumentation. The second prelim paper must, in addition, be of publishable quality in the judgment of the faculty.

Each prelim paper will be evaluated by a committee of (at least) two faculty members, one of whom must be a member of the Linguistics Department faculty. The chair of the committee must be a member of the Linguistics Department faculty. In all likelihood, the student will have different committees for the two papers. Each paper will be presented publicly and will be followed by an oral defense.

Prelim papers must be submitted to the committee members at least two weeks before the scheduled oral defense.

Dissertation Proposal

A student must present and defend a dissertation proposal within two weeks of the defense of the second prelim paper. The committee evaluating the dissertation proposal consists of the student's advisor and two other faculty members chosen in consultation with the advisor. The dissertation proposal must be submitted to the committee members at least two weeks before the scheduled oral defense.

Satisfactory Progress

A student admitted into the Ph.D. program must be making satisfactory progress in order to continue in the program. Satisfactory progress is defined by the department as complying with the following timetable:

  • The first prelim paper is defended at the latest by the end of the fourth semester of study,
  • The second prelim paper and the dissertation proposal are defended at the latest by the end of the eighth semester of study,
  • Language requirements and course requirements are satisfied by the end of the semester in which the second prelim paper is defended.

If a prelim committee decides after the oral defense of a prelim paper or dissertation proposal that the paper or dissertation proposal is not acceptable, the student is placed on probation and may submit a revision or a different paper or dissertation proposal before the end of the following semester. If this paper or dissertation proposal also fails, the student is dropped from the program. If the failing prelim paper is the second prelim paper, the student must submit a passing prelim paper and dissertation proposal before the end of the following semester. That is, only one period of probation will be allowed for the second prelim and the dissertation proposal.

Students who enrolled before Fall 2002 are advised to take at least two advanced courses in an area before writing a prelim paper in that area. They must therefore plan their course work very carefully in order to meet the prelim deadlines. (This does not apply to students who enrolled in Fall 2002 or after because their course schedule is prearranged.)

Students are expected to maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 3.67 in substantive courses taken in the Linguistics Department after their third semester. If they do not, they are placed on probation, and may be dropped from the program if the GPA is not raised by the end of the probationary period. Exceptions may be approved by the Degree Programs Committee under unusual circumstances.

Departmental Policy on Incompletes

Faculty in the Department of Linguistics are discouraged from giving out Incompletes, except in such cases as described in the University policy on incompletes: (1) the student missed only a limited amount of work and can be expected to complete the work by the deadline (see below); (2) the student was unable to complete all of the work on time for reasons beyond the student's control; and (3) the student performed at least satisfactorily on the completed work.

Graduate students who take an Incomplete must resolve it by the end of the next semester in residence (excluding summer session), or by an earlier deadline imposed by the instructor. If the Incomplete is not resolved by the deadline, the student will be placed on probation for one semester, and if it is not resolved at the end of that semester the student will be dropped from the program.

Graduate School Registration Block

It is Graduate School policy to put a hold on a graduate student's registration when that student has excessive units of Incomplete, or has had an Incomplete for a long period of time. In such a case, the Linguistics Department policy is that the student must petition the Degree Programs Committee to have the hold lifted. The petition must clearly set out a plan for finishing the necessary work. If the Degree Programs Committee grants the petition, the Chair of the department contacts the Graduate School to authorize them to lift the hold. If the Degree Programs Committee does not grant the petition, the student must resolve the Incompletes according to the Graduate School's instructions before being allowed to register.

Departmental Probation

Probation is a warning to a student who is not making satisfactory progress in the graduate program of the Linguistics Department. (Note that the graduate school has an additional, separate probation policy.) Departmental probation for grades or failure to make satisfactory progress lasts for one academic year (two consecutive semesters), while probation for an unsatisfactory prelim paper or unfinished Incompletes lasts for one semester (see above).

If a student on probation clears up the problem that led to probation within the time period allotted, nothing else happens, and the student can continue with the program.

If the student does not resolve the problem (e.g. raise the GPA or successfully complete a prelim), the student is dropped from the program at the end of the probationary period.


Possibilities for appeal consist of the following:

  • A student may appeal to the Degree Programs Committee for an extension of a deadline before the deadline has passed. (This has the advantage of avoiding probation if the extension is granted.)
  • A student on probation may appeal to the Degree Programs Committee for an extension of probation before the end of the probationary period.
  • If a student is dropped from the program, the student may appeal to the Degree Programs Committee for a reversal of the drop decision.
  • If the Degree Programs Committee decides negatively on any type of appeal, the student may appeal to the department faculty as a whole. This is the final appeal.

In no case is there a guarantee that any appeal will be granted. The Degree Programs Committee and the faculty will consider each case individually on its merits.

The Faculty Advisor

Every graduate student must have an official faculty advisor. New students are usually assigned to the chair by default, unless they come with the intention of working with a particular faculty member. By the end of the first year, students must decide who they would like to work with, and must ask that person if they are willing to serve as advisor. If the faculty member agrees, the student is responsible for having the faculty member sign the blue advisor agreement form, and for making sure that it is placed in the student's file. All permanent faculty members in the department (including affiliated faculty but excluding visiting faculty) may serve as advisors. Faculty from other departments may not serve as official advisors, even though they may co-chair committees.

Every faculty member has the right to refuse to become a student's advisor. Every graduate student has the right to choose any faculty member as advisor, so long as the faculty member agrees. Students should also feel free to change advisors at any time, without fear of offending a faculty member. If a student changes advisors, a new advisor agreement form must be signed and filed, and the previous advisor must be notified by the student in writing.

The advisor guides the student in the choice of appropriate courses, in the planning of prelims and the dissertation, in choosing prelim committees and the dissertation committee, and in other professional matters. Students are reminded, however, that the fulfillment of departmental requirements is ultimately the student's responsibility.

Each semester, the student must consult in person with the advisor about courses for the following semester. Registration is blocked until this is done, and is only unblocked when the student turns in the relevant form to the department, signed by the advisor.

The Degree Programs Committee

The faculty committee which has the most relevance to graduate students is the Degree Programs Committee. This committee makes decisions about individual student matters as they arise, and periodically makes suggestions to the department regarding programs of study. The former might include, for example, a student's petition to have a seminar in another department counted for the seminar requirement, or a petition concerning departmental probation.

Students' Committees

Students choose the members of their committees with the help of their advisor. Committees can include faculty from other departments and/or visiting faculty. Visiting faculty cannot, however, chair a dissertation committee.

There will be one committee for each of the two prelim papers, and each of these committees will have at least two members (one of whom must be a Linguistics Department faculty member). Students are advised to form their committees as soon as they decide on the topic of their prelim papers. Once the faculty members agree to be on the committee, students must provide that information to the department secretary.

Students must be ready to form their dissertation committees when they defend their dissertation proposal. The dissertation committee consists of five members. One of the readers will be the chair of the committee, chosen by the student. The chair will be the primary guide for the student in the development of the dissertation, although the student can expect feedback from other readers on the committee.

Scheduling Defenses

Students are responsible for scheduling their prelim, dissertation proposal, and dissertation defenses, with guidance from their advisors. They cannot count on being able to schedule these exams during breaks or in the summer. Even though some faculty members may be available and willing, others may be away or busy with other work.

Students must submit their prelim papers, proposal, and dissertation to all committee members at least two weeks before the scheduled oral defense, preferably earlier. Note that if the defenses are scheduled at the very beginning or end of the semester, there will be many other students with scheduled exams at the same time, and committee members may need more than two weeks.

Students must inform the department secretary of defense dates as soon as the dates are set, i.e. at least two weeks in advance. The secretary then prepares paper work for the Graduate School, schedules a room and sends out notices to all members of the department.

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