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Linguistics Program

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Doctoral Program

The mission of the Ph.D. Program in Linguistics is to train students to pursue research and teach in the areas of general linguistics and a chosen subfield. The Ph.D. in Linguistics at South Carolina typically involves a much broader range of coursework than what is found at more traditional Linguistics Departments and Programs in the United States.

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Linguistics

The Ph.D. program in Linguistics at UofSC does not focus on the training of theoretical linguists, but instead sees its mission as that of training historical linguists, language acquisition specialists, sociolinguists, and others, who can apply linguistic theory to the pursuit of their research. The interdisciplinary nature of our program affords our students the opportunity to investigate the intersections of multiple sub-disciplines such as sociolinguistics and phonetics, historical linguistics and phonology, language acquisition and syntax, and psycholinguistics and semantics.

Students who do not already hold an M.A. or M.S. degree in linguistics are encouraged to consult with the Graduate Director before submitting their application online to discuss the option of concurrent enrollment in the M.A. and Ph.D. programs.

Timetable to Completion

The Graduate School requires at least 60 post baccalaureate credit hours for a doctoral degree. All requirements for the Ph.D. must be completed within eight years of first enrolling, but the coursework can typically be completed in four to five years. 

Degree Requirements

Doctoral students choose a special field to guide their studies from different areas of specializationApproved special fields are the following:

  • English/French/German/Spanish linguistics
  • Historical linguistics
  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Philosophy of language
  • Phonological theory
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Second/foreign language acquisition
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Syntactic theory
  • Teaching English as a second/foreign language

Other course requirements, such as foreign language requirements, comprehensive examination details, and subfield guidelines, can be found in the graduate bulletin.


Coursework (course information):

6 courses (18 credit hours)

  • LING 710 Introduction to Phonology
  • LING 720 Introduction to Syntax
  • LING 711 Phonological Theory and/or LING 721 Syntactic Theory
  • Three additional graduate level core linguistic courses in phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics or pragmatics (LING 627 Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics, LING 650 Introduction to Morphology, LING 712 Articulatory and Acoustic Phonetics, LING 728 Semantic Theory, in some cases LING 739 The Evolution of Linguistic Theory, Practice & Methods, LING 820 Seminar in Syntax).


  • Primary Field:  4 courses (12 credit hours) in an area of study approved by the student's Ph.D. committee. 
  • Secondary Field: 3-4 courses (9-12 credit hours) in another area of study. A secondary field is optional. If students do not wish to declare a secondary field, they will take at least 9 credit hours of Linguistics outside of their primary field.
    • A secondary field might be chosen for a number of reasons: (1) because it directly complements the primary field and will be important to the student's dissertation research, (2) because it will broaden the student's background in linguistics and make him/her a more versatile teacher, and/or (3) it will enhance the student's employment prospects by making him/her a more attractive candidate for a linguistics position in a targeted department (such as anthropology).
1-2 courses (3-6 credit hours)

2 courses (6 credit hours)

The purpose of this requirement is to insure that each student has a respectable background in the field of Linguistics as a whole. This is especially important for those students who enter the Linguistics Ph.D. program with no prior degree in Linguistics.

12-30 credit hours

 The study of languages is a necessary tool for linguists and candidates must demonstrate knowledge of at least two foreign languages. This can be accomplished in one of the following ways:

  • successful completion of an intensive reading course in a language approved by The Graduate School while a graduate student at USC (e.g., FORL 615),
  • successful completion of a course at the intermediate level of language proficiency no more than six years prior to award of the degree,
  • a passing grade on a language reading proficiency examination administered by the USC Department of Languages, Literature, and Cultures,
  • successful completion of 6 hours of coursework in a non­Indo­European language with a grade of at least a B.

Nonnative speakers of English may select English as a foreign language, upon submission of this Graduate School form

Further information about the Graduate Reading Proficiency Exams

 Progress toward Dissertation:

Successful completion of the Ph.D. Qualifying Process is required in order to earn doctoral candidacy status in the Program. The process typically takes place during the student’s third and fourth semesters.

Objective of the Ph.D. Qualifying Process
The main objective of the Ph.D. Qualifying Process is to ensure that the student is adequately prepared to write a dissertation to complete the Ph.D. degree requirements. Being prepared means the following: Students must demonstrate satisfactory performance in at least two core courses and at least two courses in the student’s proposed primary area of specialization; and students must demonstrate adequate background preparation for their proposed dissertation topic (including a basic understanding of the relevant literature, appropriate research methods, etc.).

Students must have completed at least two core courses (at least one of which must be at the 700 level or above) with no less than a B+ average and at least two courses in their primary field of specialization (at least one of which must be at the 700 level or above) with no less than a B+ average. Students must not have received less than a B on any of these four requisite courses.

Students must have completed at least 18 hours of coursework and must have no less than a 3.0 overall GPA.

Who Undergoes the Qualifying Process?
Students who are newly admitted to the PhD program or who are concurrently admitted to the M.A. and Ph.D. programs will typically undergo the Qualifying Process in their second year of admission. Students with an M.A. from our Program can undergo the Qualifying Process in their first year of admission to the Ph.D. program. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program with an M.A. from elsewhere can only undergo the Qualifying Process after having completed the four requisite courses described above (i.e., at least two core courses and at least two courses in the primary area) at USC. Any exceptions to these requirements must be approved by the Linguistics Program Director.


  • Students submit Application for Doctoral Candidacy Status form to the Program Director by November 1 of their third semester in the PhD program.
  • The linguistics faculty reviews all applications according to the following criteria:
  1. a satisfactory GPA in the program
  2. evidence of research potential (through M.A. thesis work, conference presentations, or publications)
  3. an acceptable plan of study/research, and
  4. other indications of potential for success in the doctoral program.
  • The Director of the Linguistics Program notifies all applicants of the initial review of their applications by December 15.
  • As a final step in the application process, students will submit a Qualifying Paper to the Chair of the Candidacy Committee no later than January 15.
  • The Linguistics Program recommends students whose application for doctoral candidacy status is successful and whose Qualifying Paper is given a ‘Pass’ to the Graduate School.

In the event of an unsuccessful application, the student will be put on probation, and be required to maintain a 3.5 GPA in their fourth semester. At the end of the second year, following review of the Qualifying Paper and the student’s performance in coursework during the probationary period, faculty in the student’s proposed primary area of specialization will meet to make a recommendation to the Program Director about the student’s future in the program. The Program Director will factor this recommendation and the student’s GPA into a decision about whether the student should be admitted to candidacy and allowed to continue in the program.

The Qualifying Paper
The final step towards the completion of the Qualifying Process is the submission of a Qualifying Paper, to be submitted to the Chair of the Candidacy Committee no later than January 15. This paper must provide evidence of excellent to superior ability to make and support relevant linguistic claims and demonstrate that the student is qualified to continue his/her study toward a PhD in her/his concentration. The paper must present an analysis of some linguistic problem and must not be coauthored.

Examples of papers that may be appropriate for submission include sections of an MA thesis or enhanced seminar paper, or term paper from a linguistics course, revised and reformatted as necessary.

The single authored paper

  • must present a linguistic analysis developed during graduate coursework at USC
  • must be in the student’s special field or on a topic closely related to her or his dissertation plans
  • should be no longer than 8,000 words.

The Qualifying Paper is not meant to be a totally new paper developed exclusively for this requirement.

The Qualifying Paper will be evaluated on:

  • Knowledge of prior research in the field
  • Familiarity with appropriate methods of data collection and analysis
  • Sophistication of analysis
  • Clarity of communication
  • Overall assessment of the contribution to the field

Though the paper will be made available to all core faculty members for review and comment, the applicant’s Qualifying Paper will be evaluated by the Qualifying Paper Committee, using the scale below:

A+ : 97 and above C+ : 77-79
A : 90-96 C : 70-76 
B+ : 87-89 D+ : 67-69 
B : 80-86 D : 60-66 
  F : 59 or below 

The paper must receive no less than a ‘B’ average in order to satisfy the Qualifying Paper requirement. The Program Director will notify students of the results of the Qualifying Paper evaluation no later than February 15.

If the Qualifying Paper receives an average grade of ‘B’ or better, the Qualifying Paper Committee will make a recommendation to the Program Director regarding admission to candidacy, and the Program Director will then make a recommendation to the Graduate School.

If the Qualifying Paper receives less than a ‘B’ average, the student will be given the opportunity to revise and resubmit the paper to the Chair of the Candidacy Committee no later than May 15. Students will be notified of the resubmission results no later than June 15. If the resubmitted Qualifying Paper receives an average grade of ‘B’ or better, the Qualifying Paper Committee will make a recommendation to the Program Director regarding admission to candidacy, and the Program Director will then make a recommendation to the Graduate School. If the paper receives less than a ‘B’ average on the second submission, the student will not advance to Candidacy and will be asked to leave the program at the end of the second year.

  • Students should determine as soon as possible, if not already done, their primary and (optional) secondary fields of specialization in the program. 

  • Students should decide in which area they would like to write a dissertation and do a preliminary research/literature review to narrow down a general topic within that area. 

  • Students should choose a dissertation director who can help them successfully complete a dissertation in the selected area. The dissertation director becomes the student's advisor for the remainder of their time in the program. In consultation with the advisor/director, student determines the remainder of the dissertation committee. A doctoral committee consists of a dissertation director/chair (drawn from Linguistics Program core faculty), two internal readers/members (drawn from Linguistics Program core or consulting faculty), and one outside reader/member (drawn from Linguistics Program consulting faculty or from faculty outside the program altogether). Students are strongly encouraged to approach potential committee members prepared to discuss the probable topic of the dissertation and schedule for its completion before requesting their participation.

  • Students should continue doing background reading and preparation for dissertation.

  • Student prepares a formal dissertation proposal. The specific requirements of the dissertation proposal are determined by the dissertation director, so students must consult with their director as often as necessary to understand what is expected.

  • Student submits full draft of proposal to dissertation director and revises as suggested. Director must approve proposal draft before student distributes it to other committee members.

  • Student and director decide upon time frame within which the entire Comprehensive Exam is to be completed. The exam may be spread over several days or over a semester, depending on the actual format being used and availability of the parties involved. The director advises committee members of the planned format for their approval.

  • Student reports to the Linguistics Program office the dates set for these exams.

  • Student prepares a bibliography for each of the three written exams and circulates them to the committee members for comments. The committee may suggest additions and/or subtractions to this list of readings in each area. Bibliographies must be circulated at least six weeks before the date on which the student intends to take the particular exam. 

  • Students must receive final approval of their bibliographies from the advisor/director four weeks prior to that date.

  • Student is encouraged to discuss possible content of the exams and expectations with each of their committee members.

  • Student must submit their dissertation proposal (approved by the director) to committee members at least two weeks prior to the oral exam, the final part of the Comprehensive Exam. (Note: Timeline may vary by director. Check with your director.)

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