Requirements for the Ph.D.

The doctoral program in linguistics seeks excellent students whose interests are related to the strengths of the Linguistics Program. The program only grants stipends to qualified students planning to study for the Ph.D. degree on a full-time basis. We accept students who have a B.A. (or equivalent), as well as students with advanced degrees in linguistics (M.A. or equivalent). If you are applying as a student with a M.A., you may transfer a maximum of 24 hours of appropriate coursework towards the Ph.D. A Master's degree may be earned during progress to the Ph.D. degree.

Please apply on-line by filling out the online graduate application form. The deadline for applications for admission and financial aid is February 1 of each year, for the academic year beginning in August. In addition to the online application form, you are also required to submit university transcripts, scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and, for non-native speakers of English, scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). It is your responsibility to take these examinations in time for the scores to reach us by the application deadline. This generally means that you will need to take these exams by December of the year preceding application at the latest. You must also arrange for three letters of recommendation from relevant faculty at your current or prior institutions who know your work. It is best to solicit letters from professors with whom you have studied linguistics, but letters from faculty in related disciplines are also useful. In addition, in order to get more acquainted with you and your academic interests, please include in your application materials a Linguistics term paper or a chapter of a thesis that you have written. The deadline for all application materials is February 1 of the calendar year you wish to begin studies.

If you have questions about how to apply, or cannot use the online form, e-mail Anne Schumacher at If you need to contact the Linguistics Program by mail or phone, see the contact information at the left. For general questions about graduate study at Tulane, visit Applying to an SLA Graduate Program and Information for Incoming Students.

Admission and financial awards are competitive. If you are accepted, you will receive an official statement of acceptance and fellowship offer.

Tulane University is committed to affirmative action and equal opportunity in education and employment. Tulane does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, age, disability or veteran status.


Students admitted to the Ph.D. program in linguistics are generally offered financial support in the form of a full fellowship. This fellowship includes tuition waivers and a stipend for living expenses. Contingent on satisfactory progress toward the degree, fellowships are renewed annually for a total of four years of funding. The stipend is approximately $21,500 per academic year. Also included is a full-tuition scholarship currently valued at $52,856.

If you do find that you need to supplement your stipend, however, you must get approval from the graduate adviser. Full-time students who are on stipend may not accept paid employment in excess of 10 hours per week.

General issues

The remainder of this page presents in detail each of the Linguistics program requirements for the Ph.D. In addition, there are a few requirements defined by Tulane University for all graduate students. For more information see Information for Incoming Students. The requirements discussed on this page are in effect beginning academic year 2018-2019. When preparing for graduation, you should be aware that you are in most cases bound by the requirements listed in the Graduate Studies section of the School of Liberal Arts website for the year in which you entered the program. If the requirements change in the course of your studies here, you do have the option of choosing the new set of requirements. It should be noted that the option of switching requirements can only be taken one time in the course of your program: you may not revert back to an earlier set of requirements once you've switched, nor may you choose from a later set of requirements should the program change them again.

The faculty recognizes that each graduate student is entering the program with a unique educational and language background, a specific set of professional interests, and various plans and goals for work after graduate school. For this reason, we encourage you to discuss these issues with your adviser, the program director, and/or your committee so that we may accommodate your particular situation as much as possible.

In order to succeed in graduate school at Tulane, it is important that you have polished oral and written English language skills. We will consider your TOEFL score and your writing sample to help us gauge your level of English.

Course Work

As a graduate student in linguistics, you are required to complete 48 hours of course work before advancement to candidacy, which will include at least one course drawn from each of the following categories:

  1. Acoustic phonetics
  2. Phonology
  3. Morphology or syntax
  4. Language variation and change (for instance, sociolinguistics, historical, dialectology, bilingual education, or multilingualism)
  5. Semantics, pragmatics, philosophy of language, or discourse
  6. A non-Indo-European language other than your native language (Note that this requirement can be satisfied by one of the Less Commonly Taught Languages offered at the 1000 level, which will be covered by the tuition waiver as long as you are a full-time student, but a course below the 6000 level cannot count towards graduate credit. Non-Indo-European languages taught in the Anthropology Department are 6000 level and above and so would count toward the graduate program as well as fulfilling this requirement.)

Depending on your previous course work and training, you may be able to waive some of these courses. Course waivers are to be requested on an individual basis, and must be approved by the program graduate adviser.

This range of courses ensures that you will receive a rigorous and broad background in linguistics, which will prepare you for your own research projects and will make you highly qualified for the job market. You should normally enroll in 12 credit hours (4 courses) per semester until you have completed the required course work for the Ph.D., which will normally take 4-5 semesters, depending on your background. This ensures that you will fulfill Tulane's residency requirement of four semesters of full-time study at the university, as well as Tulane's minimum course-hour requirements. (See the university graduate requirements for more information on Tulane's residency and course-hour requirements.)

In all of your course work, a grade level of B- (B minus) is the formal minimum for a passing performance in the graduate program. Although a grade of B- is a passing grade, it is considered a "weak" pass. One or two B- grades can be cause for probation or dismissal. In addition to your course grades, however, the general assessment of your overall progress in the program will also include the opinions of the faculty. The faculty meets at the end of each semester to discuss graduate students' progress. Renewal of your fellowship from year to year is dependent upon continuing satisfactory progress in your studies.

Language of Scholarship Requirement

In addition to taking at least one course in a non-Indo-European language, you must show competence in a major language of published scholarship other than English. You should meet with your adviser or the program director to discuss your proposed language and your plan for fulfilling the requirement. This requirement must be filled before advancement to candidacy.

If your native language is a major language of published scholarship other than English, you can use English to satisfy this requirement.

For everyone else, competence can be demonstrated by (i) two semesters of language instruction at the junior (3000) level or above, or (ii) a translation exam.

Comprehensive Examinations

Students must take two Ph.D. comprehensive examinations, a general examination covering all major fields of linguistics and a special field examination tailored to their chosen field of dissertation research. The general comprehensive examination is to be taken in early September of the student’s third year (fifth semester) in the program, and the special field examination is to be taken in early to mid-January of the third year (sixth semester). You may petition the program to substitute a published paper for the special field exam.

Dissertation Prospectus

Immediately after taking your special field examination, if not before, you should form your dissertation committee. It must consist of at least three tenured or tenure-track Tulane faculty members. Your committee may have additional members as well, but this is not required.

Your first task with the dissertation committee is to write a research paper, called the dissertation prospectus. The prospectus should consist of a substantial dissertation proposal and a comprehensive bibliography. It may be based on a grant proposal to an external funding agency, particularly in the case of proposed fieldwork. The work described in the prospectus should lead naturally into your dissertation. The prospectus should contain a statement of the topic area of your proposed dissertation project, a problem statement, a statement of the theoretical orientation and methodology, and a comprehensive bibliography. Work out the specific details of your prospectus with the members of your dissertation committee. Once it is complete, you will schedule an oral defense of the prospectus before the members of your committee. The prospectus defense should take place before the end of your third year (sixth semester) in the program.

Advancement to Candidacy

After you have passed your comprehensive examinations and your language requirement and your dissertation committee has approved your prospectus, you will apply for Candidacy for the Ph.D. Once you have advanced, you are considered 'ABD' (All But Dissertation). Application for some research grants requires this status.


You may find it necessary to conduct fieldwork before writing your dissertation. It is expected that you will pursue outside funding in order to support yourself and your fieldwork during this time—normally your fourth year in the program—and that you will therefore not be on fellowship during that year. If your research does not require you to absent yourself in order to pursue fieldwork, you may continue directly to writing your dissertation.

Writing, filing, and defending the dissertation

Following advancement to candidacy, you may be eligible for a final year of support to work full time toward the completion of the dissertation, an interruption of one year to conduct fieldwork as mentioned in the previous paragraph. Receiving your final year of fellowship is contingent upon your having met the following requirements:

  • Achievement of ABD status
  • Submission of an acceptable plan for research and writing during the final year of support
  • Submission of evidence of having applied to sources from outside Tulane for research funding for your field work and, in particular if outside funding for field work was not secured, for the dissertation write-up 
  • Completion of the language requirements

Students generally find writing a dissertation to be a challenging and rewarding process. However, it is also an inherently stressful activity. For this reason, you should meet regularly with the members of your committee at every stage of your project, and keep in touch with them about data collection and writing. And finally, remember that all of the faculty members have also written a dissertation (and likely supervised a number of them too), and are happy to discuss any issues that come up for you.

Upon completion of an acceptable draft of your dissertation, you will then, in consultation with the chair of your dissertation committee, schedule a public defense of your work. All members of the Tulane community are invited to the defense, and anyone else is welcome to attend. You should prepare a short presentation of your work, summarizing the main research question(s), how you went about doing your project, and your key findings. Your dissertation committee will then ask you questions about your dissertation, as may other members of the audience, time permitting.

There are a host of important deadlines to keep track of, as well as very specific formatting minutia which you must strictly follow in order to file the dissertation. Consult the relevant sections of Deadlines for Graduating Students. As always, you are ultimately responsible for being aware of and complying with all formal requirements and university deadlines. After you have submitted a complete draft of your dissertation, defended it publicly, and made any revisions suggested by your committee, you are ready to file the dissertation. Tulane's general guidelines permit a maximum of seven years from your initial matriculation to file the Ph.D.

When the final version of the dissertation is accepted by the doctoral committee and filed with the university, and all other requirements are certified as fulfilled, you have earned a Ph.D. in Linguistics!