Linguistics Ph.D.


The graduate program in linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz is a small, focused program in linguistic theory leading to Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees. The research interests of faculty and students draw mostly on the framework of generative grammar, with a primary focus on theoretical and experimental approaches to morphology, phonetics, phonology, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, semantics, and syntax. Research strengths also include the study of various languages, computational methods, and field methods.

While committed to training in theoretical depth, the program makes possible an unusual breadth of theoretical and experimental understanding. Research in syntax focuses on ways in which generative theory and language-particular analysis inform one another. Faculty expertise covers principles and parameters theory, minimalism, and experimental syntax. Research in phonetics and phonology is pursued in various current frameworks, including optimality theory and dispersion theory. The issues covered range from phonetics and the phonetics-phonology interface to prosodic theory, prosodic morphology, and the syntax-phonology interface. Research in semantics applies formal, model-theoretic techniques to illuminate the interface between syntactic structure and interpretation and the role of semantic competence in the pragmatics of utterance interpretation. Experimental research in these areas reaches out to a broad range of issues in psycholinguistics and cognitive science.

The faculty have expertise in a diverse range of languages, including Chamorro, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Irish, Japanese, Kaqchikel Mayan, Uspanteko Mayan, Latin, Northern Paiute, Persian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Zapotec.

From the beginning of their studies, students are engaged in original research and critical evaluation, since the program aims to provide sophisticated training as a foundation for a career in academic research and teaching. The program begins with a sequence of foundation courses in phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, and psycholinguistics, addressing both formal and experimental approaches. Subsequent coursework emphasizes depth; it is increasingly centered around the doctoral student’s independent research, culminating in the completion of a dissertation.

For information on applying and admissions, please consult the Linguistics Department website.

Undergraduate Preparation

Applications are invited from students who have completed an undergraduate linguistics major or who have demonstrated excellence in some related discipline (psychology, mathematics, computer science, anthropology) and have the equivalent of a minor in linguistics. A student applying for admission to this program should, at a minimum, have a good foundation in at least one of the following: phonetics, phonology, psycholinguistics, morphology, semantics, or syntax. Students entering the program with a deficiency in one or more areas may need to take appropriate undergraduate courses at UC Santa Cruz during the first year of graduate study.

To apply, please consult the Linguistics Department website.

Advancement to Candidacy

Course Requirements

A minimum of 65 credits of graduate-level work.

All students are required to take the following eight core courses:

LING 211Phonology A


LING 212Phonology B


LING 214Phonetics


LING 221Syntax A


LING 222Syntax B


LING 231Semantics A


LING 232Semantics B


LING 257Psycholinguistics and Linguistic Theory


Plus one of the following courses:
LING 280Proseminar in Experimental Linguistics


LING 282Field Methods


Each student must also take four seminars.

One of these must be LING 290 (Research Seminar) and the remaining three seminars or proseminars must form a coherent program of study, as determined by the student’s adviser in consultation with the student.

The 13 required courses must be taken as 5-credit courses.

Foreign Language Requirements

Reading competence in one foreign language, to be demonstrated by examination at the end of the first year of study.

Pre-Qualifying Requirements

Two qualifying papers (QP), each in a distinct area, must be separately and orally defended by the end of the third year as part of the requirements for advancement to candidacy.

Qualifying Examination

After a student successfully defends the two qualifying papers, they proceed to prepare for the qualifying exam (QE) in order to advance to candidacy. The function of the qualifying exam is to determine whether the student has achieved sufficient competence in a chosen subfield to be able to proceed to dissertation research. The QE is based on a substantial research paper written by the student and presented to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the exam. The topic of this paper is decided by the QE chair in consultation with the student. In most cases, it will be a revised version of one of the QPs that the student has successfully defended. Whether or not the paper originated as a QP, it must be in the subfield in which the student plans to pursue dissertation research.

Post-Qualifying Requirements

Dissertation Prospectus
The dissertation prospectus lays out the direction of research that the student plans to pursue in the dissertation. It relates the student’s planned research to previous relevant research and to the larger questions with which the field is engaged. This milestone can be satisfied by the QE paper at the discretion of the faculty adviser.



The final requirement for the Ph.D. degree is the completion of a dissertation representing a significant contribution in some central area of linguistic research.

Dissertation Defense

Once a student has completed the dissertation, they defend it at a public dissertation defense that is generally attended by graduate students and faculty in linguistics. The candidate first presents the results of the dissertation and then responds to questions, first from committee members, and then, time permitting, from the audience. Afterwards, the committee confers privately and decides either to accept the dissertation, reject it, or accept it provisionally, pending specific revisions. Following the defense, the candidate will revise the dissertation according to the committee’s recommendations and then submit the final copy to the Graduate Division and graduate coordinator. See the Graduate Handbook for administrative requirements.

A copy of the completed dissertation, formatted according to UC Santa Cruz specifications, should be electronically submitted to the Graduate Division office (see Dissertation and Thesis Submission Guidelines) and an original, signed cover sheet should be submitted to the Graduate Division office as well. In addition, a pdf copy of the dissertation and physical copy of the cover sheet should be submitted to the graduate coordinator.

Academic Progress

The Linguistics Department faculty meet at the end of spring quarter each year to ensure that all graduate students are making timely progress in the program. Students may receive letters from the faculty based on this discussion.

To remain in good academic standing, a student must make timely progress toward degree completion and satisfactorily meet the following standards of scholarship established by the Graduate Council. Please see the Graduate Division handbook for details about ‘Academic Good Standing’ and ‘Time to Degree,'

Applying for Graduation

See the Graduate Handbook for administrative requirements.

See the Academic and Administrative Calendar for Announcement of Candidacy dates.

NOTE: The completed dissertation, and cover sheet, should be submitted to the Graduate Division and a pdf copy of the dissertation, and cover sheet, should be submitted to the graduate coordinator.