The Department of Linguistics is home to one of the oldest and most distinguished linguistics programs in the United States. The study of linguistics at Harvard draws much of its strength from the unique range and depth of the University’s offerings in related fields, especially ancient and modern languages. Students are encouraged to take advantage of the full spectrum of Harvard’s resources in planning their schedules; they are also free to cross-register for linguistics and linguistics-related courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While all PhD candidates are expected to acquire a solid background in contemporary linguistic theory, the department places great emphasis on the inseparability of good theoretical work and detailed empirical research, and on the interrelatedness of diachronic and synchronic approaches to the study of linguistic phenomena.
Since the department is relatively small, discussion among faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates is ongoing and informal. Special workshops funded by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, together with frequent departmentally sponsored lectures and seminars, bring an unusually large number of outside speakers to Harvard every year. Widener Library contains a matchless linguistic and philological collection, supplemented by a special non-circulating collection accessible only to linguistics students and faculty.
Further information regarding departmental courses, faculty, and facilities can be obtained from the Department of Linguistics, Boylston Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138 (telephone: 617-495-4054; fax: 617-496-4447), or by visiting the departmental Website.
Admission and Financial Aid
Requirements for admission are flexible. Preference is normally given to candidates with a previous background in linguistics, but students with a mature interest in the field and a strong language background are encouraged to apply as well. GRE scores are required of all applicants, and are valid if taken within the last 5 years.
All new graduate students in Linguistics receive a five-year support package, either from GSAS, or from an outside funding source (e.g., the National Science Foundation), or from a combination of the two. The standard GSAS package provides sufficient funds to make teaching unnecessary in the first and second years. Support in the third and fourth years takes the form of teaching fellowships. The department regards teaching as an essential part of the Ph.D. program. Courses open to participation by teaching fellows include undergraduate tutorials, beginning-level linguistic theory courses, and large-enrollment undergraduate courses. Full support is again provided in the dissertation-completion year, freeing the student of teaching obligations. Stipends are provided for summer research in the first two years.
Inquiries regarding admission and financial aid should be directed to the Admissions Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Holyoke Center 350, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138. We require online submission of the application.
The Structure of the Program
Coursework - To acquire a basic grounding in the core areas of the field, students must complete the following courses, normally in their first two years of residence:
- Linguistics 112a (Introduction to Syntactic Theory) and 112b (Intermediate Syntax)
- Linguistics 115a (Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology) and 115b (Intermediate Phonology)
- Linguistics 116a (Introduction to Semantics)
- Linguistics 117r (Linguistic Field Methods)
- Linguistics 224 (Historical and Comparative Linguistics)
In addition, second- and third-year students are required to enroll in Linguistics 241r (Practicum in Linguistics).
There is also a language requirement, which is described separately below. Course requirements are flexibly enforced. Students with a substantial background in one or more areas of linguistics may substitute more advanced courses for those listed above, with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). Only rarely are course requirements waived completely.
Advising - First-year students are advised by the DGS until they choose a major field (see below), at which time they also choose a major advisor from the regular departmental faculty. Thereafter, progress toward completion of the PhD requirements continues to be monitored by the DGS, but primary responsibility for overseeing study in the major field shifts to the major advisor. Students may change their major advisor at any time. By the end of the second year they should also select a co-advisor, who serves as a second advisor and faculty mentor.
Major and Minor Fields - Students choose a major and a minor field during their first year. The major field is typically a large subarea of linguistics, such as phonology, syntax, semantics, or historical linguistics. The minor field may either be another major subarea or a more specific one (e.g., Germanic syntax, psycholinguistics, Greek historical grammar). Competence in the major field is demonstrated by a) advanced coursework, as determined in consultation with the major advisor; b) submission of an original research paper of publishable quality (see below); and c), optionally, in certain fields, a special written examination. Competence in the minor field is demonstrated by satisfactory performance in three courses above the introductory level, or in two courses with submission of a research paper.
Research Papers Requirement ("Generals") - In lieu of a formal admission to candidacy examination ("general exam"), students are required to submit and orally defend two publishable research papers, preferably by the end of the third year. One of the two papers should be in the area of the declared major field, and the other should be in a different area of linguistics, which may, but need not be, the same as the minor field. If the second paper is in the area of the minor field, it may count in place of a third course in the minor field (see above).
Language Requirement - The department's language requirement has two components:
(1) Reading knowledge of two languages of scholarship other than English. Native speakers of qualifying languages may count their native language for this purpose. Non-native speakers may satisfy the requirement by completing a second-year language course at the university level, or by passing a one-hour departmental reading exam (dictionary permitted).
(2) Knowledge of the structure of a non-Indo-European language. This requirement may be met by taking a "structure" course (e.g., Linguistics 171, Structure of Chinese), a course in linguistic typology, or a second semester of Linguistics 117r (Linguistic Field Methods). Practical reading and/or speaking knowledge cannot be used to satisfy this requirement.
Satisfactory Progress - A B+ average must be maintained in each year of graduate study. Grades below B- cannot be counted toward departmental requirements; two grades below B- in required courses may result in termination of candidacy. Ordinarily, a grade of Incomplete can only be converted into a letter grade if the work is made up before the end of the following term. No grade of Incomplete can be used to satisfy a departmental requirement.
All requirements, including the research papers, should ideally be completed by the end of the third year, but in no case later than the end of the fourth. The dissertation prospectus (see below) is also due by the end of the fourth year. Failure to meet program requirements in timely fashion may result in termination of candidacy.
A.M. Degree - Graduate students who have completed two years of residence and who have fulfilled all the course requirements and language requirements for the Ph.D. may upon petition receive an A.M. degree.
Dissertation Prospectus - A prospectus of the Ph.D. dissertation must be submitted to the department by the end of the fourth year. The prospectus should contain a summary (in approximately ten pages) of the goals and methodology of the dissertation research, a bibliography of relevant literature, and a schedule for progress toward completion.
Committee - As part of the prospectus submission procedure, students nominate a three-person committee to serve as readers of the completed dissertation. Final membership of the dissertation committee is subject to departmental approval. The head of the committee, if not already the major advisor, assumes this role as soon as the prospectus is approved. Students are urged to maintain regular communication with all three members of the dissertation committee during the dissertation-writing process.
Dissertation Defense - Acceptance of a Ph.D. dissertation requires a successful public defense, which should take place one to three months before the Registrar's due date for final submission of the dissertation. Sufficient time must be allowed to permit any required corrections or revisions, as well as to have the dissertation bound.
Recent Ph.D. Dissertation Titles
“Bardi Verb Morphology in Historical Perspective”
“Canadian French Vowel Harmony”
“Case, Referentiality, and Phrase Structure”
“Ditransitive Structures and the (Anti-) Locality Principle”
“Elliptical Predicated Constructions in Mandarin”
“Finiteness, Case and Clausal Architecture”
“Focusing on Negative Concord and Negative Polarity: Variations and Relations”
“Indo-European Origins of the Nasal Inchoative Class in Germanic, Baltic, and Slavic”
“Lexical Rules in Syntax: A Case Study of VConcatenation in Japanese”
“Linguistic Practice, Social Identity, and Ideology: Mandarin Variation in a Taipei County High School”
“Multiple Dominance in Syntax”
“Referential-access Dependency in Penobscot”
“Relativization and Ellipsis”
“Studies in Japanese Prosody”
“Studies in the Language of Three Northumbrian Poems”
“Studies in Ancient Anatolian Language and Culture”
“Symmetries in Coordination”
“The Interaction of Verb Semantics and Functional Features in Korean Syntax”
“The Syntax of Negation in Spanish”