PhD Linguistics

The PhD in Linguistics program is reserved for those interested in advanced training in fieldwork and research while developing expertise in an area of their choice.

Program Overview

Our department covers a broad range of research topics, with substantial coverage of syntax, semantics, morphology, phonetics, and pragmatics. We approach these topics from several different research traditions and backgrounds, with particular strengths in formal-theoretical linguistics, experimental and field linguistics, acquisition, and computational approaches to the study of communicative behaviour.

Program Requirements

Students in the PhD Linguistics program must complete a minimum of 30 credits of coursework under the following requirements:

  • Breadth requirement (9 credits): A minimum of nine credits from the following courses or equivalents:
    • LING 508: Phonetic Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
    • LING 510: Phonological Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
    • LING 520: Syntactic Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
    • LING 525: Semantic Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
    • Please note that first-year breadth courses are waived if equivalent courses have been taken elsewhere.
  • Depth requirement (15 credits): A minimum of five courses from the following list, including at least one section of LING 530: 
    • LING 503: Topics in Language Acquisition (3 credits)
    • LING 505A: Issues in Morphological Theory and Analysis (3 credits)
    • LING 511 : Topics in Phonology (3 credits)
    • LING 513: Topics in Phonetics (3 credits)
    • LING 521: Topics in Syntax (3 credits)
    • LING 527: Topics in Semantics (3 credits)
    • LING 530: Linguistic Problems in a Special Area (3 credits)
      • Please note that more than one section of LING 530 can be counted towards this requirement, with each three-credit section counting as one course.
    • LING 532: Field Methods in Linguistics II
  • Methods requirement (9 credits): A minimum of nine credits from the following courses: 
    • LING 531: Field Methods in LInguistics I (3 credits)
    • The remaining six credits can be completed with either LING 532, LING 518, and/or an appropriate methods-related course within in Linguistics or in a different department
  • Thesis Requirement(6 credits): LING 549C: Master’s Thesis
  • Remaining 9 credits: The remaining nine credits must be at the 500 or 600 level and chosen with explicit approval from the supervisory committee; courses may be from Linguistics or another appropriate department.

First-year graduate students who do not have sufficient background for the first-year graduate courses are expected to take the appropriate undergraduate courses prior to registration in the graduate course.

Here are three sample course sequences that students usually take:

Sequence 1: 

Term 1: Breadth: LING 510, LING 520; Depth: LING 503

Term 2: Breadth: LING 508, LING 525; Depth: LING 511

Term 3: Depth: LING 513; Methods: LING 518, LING 531

Term 4: Depth: LING 530; Depth/Methods: LING 532

Sequence 2: 

Term 1: Breadth: LING 510, LING 520; Depth: LING 530

Term 2: Breadth: LING 525; Depth: LING 505A, LING 521

Term 3: Depth LING 527; Methods: LING 518, LING 531

Term 4: Depth/Methods LING 532

Sequence 3: 

Term 1: Breadth: LING 510; Depth: LING 503; Methods: 3 credits in statistics

Term 2: Breadth: LING 508, LING 525; Depth: LING 511

Term 3: Depth LING 513; Methods: LING 518, LING 531

Term 4: Depth LING 530; LING 530

In order to graduate, students must have a sound knowledge of one language other than English. They must fulfill this language requirement by the time of their thesis prospectus submission.

The language to fulfill this requirement is expected to be chosen on the basis of its relevance for the student’s research program, in consultation and by approval of the student’s supervisory committee. Relevance can be determined by a variety of factors such as the following:

  • The language is the object of the student’s research, or is closely related to the language of research; for example, where a student’s research focuses on Yoruba, knowledge of Yoruba could fulfill the requirement, or where the student’s research is on St’at’imcets, knowledge of Halkomelem could fulfill the requirement.
  • There is a significant and relevant linguistic literature in the language; for example, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Russian could fulfill the requirement.
  • The language serves as a medium for conducting linguistic research relevant to the student’s program of research; for example, Hausa could fulfill the language requirement for a student conducting research on a language of northern Nigeria.

Students may fulfill the language requirements in various ways:

  • Certain departments at UBC periodically schedule reading knowledge examinations. This exam evaluates a student’s language competence based on the translation of a text (approximately 1000 words) relating to the student’s field of study. A minimum second class standing (B- or better) must be obtained on this exam in order to satisfy the Foreign Language Requirement. For further information on such examinations, contact the appropriate departments.
  • If you speak a language natively, your native proficiency can be accepted by the supervisory committee.
  • If you have completed a program of post-secondary language study (a minimum of 12 credits or equivalent). A minimum second class standing (B- or better) must be obtained for these credits in order to satisfy the Foreign Language Requirement.
  • For other languages, it may be necessary to establish an ad hoc mechanism for conducting an evaluation of the student’s knowledge. In such cases, the student should make a written request to their supervisory committee, including a proposal for how such an examination can take place, and including a proposal for a qualified examiner. Students considering this option should be aware that the requirements (including the required level of competence in the language and how to demonstrate it) may vary extensively from case to case, depending on the norms of the language community involved.

Each PhD student is required to submit two Qualifying Papers, in areas to be established in consultation with and subject to approval by the supervisory committee. Balancing a student’s research interests with attention to research breadth should be a major goal in choosing topics. Each Qualifying Paper is an independently written research paper, developed under the guidance of a faculty member or members, presented orally to the Department, and passed before a faculty committee.

The paper must make a substantive original contribution to current work in the area and exhibit clarity in form of presentation. The desired scale is that of a paper in a conference proceedings, with content considered to be at the level of a one-term second year graduate seminar paper.

As part of the Qualifying Paper process, and before beginning work on the paper, a student must have a short proposal for each paper approved by the supervisory committee. The proposal must establish the specific area and problem(s) to be addressed and cite a few key references from the literature which will be surveyed. The committee will normally respond to the proposal within 2 weeks of its submission. The Qualifying Paper proposal should follow the formatting guidelines of an abstract for the Annual Conference of the Canadian Linguistic Association, with the following addition: without exceeding the one-page length limit, the proposal should include a short budget (if there will be costs associated with completing the Qualifying Paper), budget justification and funding source (faculty member’s grant, outside grant, private funds, etc.). Also note that the content for a proposal will normally be more speculative than a conference abstract. Once approved, the Qualifying Paper proposal should be electronically filed with the Grad Admin and circulated electronically to the Department.

The final paper will be submitted to UBC Working Papers in Linguistics and must follow the UBCWPL style guidelines for length and formatting.

Until their MA thesis prospectus has been approved, all MA students are expected to maintain a regular, active, physical presence in the Department. This can include participation in lab/project/reading groups, attending colloquia, research seminars or other ad hoc departmental events, meetings with their supervisor, committee members or other researchers in relevant areas. Certain circumstances may necessitate a student’s absence during some of this period (e.g. for field work); such absences should be discussed with the supervisory committee.

At all stages of the program, a student and their supervisor should be in regular contact and communication. At the thesis/dissertation stage, such contact should happen at least once a month (again, barring extenuating circumstances), either through in-person meetings, videoconferencing, or communication/reporting over email.

A Research Supervisor is appointed for a student before the beginning of their first year in the program. The Graduate Advisor and the Research Supervisor, in consultation with the incoming student, will establish a three-member Temporary Supervisory Committee no later than the end of the first week of the first term.

Prior to registration for the second year, the Temporary Supervisory Committee shall be dissolved and a new Supervisory Committee shall be established. A MA Supervisory Committee consists minimally of the Research Supervisor and two additional members. Normally the members of the supervisory committee are from the Department of Linguistics; if the students committee includes members from outside the Department of Linguistics, a majority must be departmental members. Establishing a Research Supervisor is the joint responsibility of the student and the Graduate Advisor.

Both new and continuing MA students will have a meeting with their Supervisory Committee during the last week of August or in early September. At this meeting students can discuss their course work and other aspects of their program. Incoming students are requested to bring with them copies of the calendars of course offerings from the institutions they previously attended (other than UBC). At the end of April or the beginning of May, all students will meet with their Supervisory Committee to discuss the year’s progress and to plan further work. Any changes in a graduate student’s program must be approved by the Supervisory Committee.

The Graduate Advisor, in advising students, makes every effort to ensure that they have satisfied all the requirements for the degree — language requirements, course work, etc. However, it is ultimately every student’s responsibility to ensure that at the time he/she applies for the degree he/she has met all the requirements. Separate records of a student’s program and progress are kept by the Faculty of Graduate Studies; these records are obtained from information provided by the Graduate Advisor and are used to determine a student’s ultimate eligibility for graduation.

The Faculty will meet in April or May each year to discuss the progress of each student in the PhD program. The student’s supervisor will inform them of the results of the evaluation. If a student is not making satisfactory progress, they will either be required to withdraw from the program immediately or will be placed on probation and told what conditions must be fulfilled to obtain a satisfactory standing. If a student on probation has not fulfilled these conditions by the end of the following semester, they will then normally be required to withdraw from the program.

The dissertation marks the culmination of the PhD program. A dissertation should be an original and independent research project which makes some contribution to knowledge in the special area elected by the student.The dissertation marks the culmination of the PhD program. A dissertation should be an original and independent research project which makes some contribution to knowledge in the special area elected by the student.

By the end of a student’s third year, the student must submit to the Graduate Advisor a dissertation prospectus, along with the appropriate approval form signed by the members of the dissertation committee, and circulate the prospectus electronically to the Department. The content of a dissertation prospectus should be along the lines of an NSERC Discovery Grant or a SSHRC Insight Grant; it should have the following components:

  • Summary (1 page maximum)
  • Detailed description (6 pages maximum)
  • Bibliography
  • Budget (if there will be costs associated with completing the dissertation research)
  • Budget justification (as appropriate)

Dissertations should be prepared in accordance with the thesis formatting regulations required by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Dissertations which do not meet the standards specified may be rejected. Documentation should follow the style guide of the Canadian Journal of Linguistics, Language, or the American Psychological Association.

The completed dissertation will be read by a specialist from outside the University, arranged by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at least three months before the candidate expects to take the final oral examination. The student’s research supervisor and the Graduate Advisor will forward a list of names of specialists who might serve as External Examiner using the Doctoral Dissertation Form. When the dissertation has been approved for submission to the External Examiner, the candidate will take the final oral defence. This is a formal, public examination, chaired by an appointee of the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, and attended by the members of the examining committee and other interested persons.

Students nearing the final stages of thesis writing should familiarize themselves with the timeline to the oral dissertation defense. During the weeks prior to the oral examination, students are strongly encouraged to give a practice oral presentation, ideally during a departmental research seminar slot. Practice orals should follow the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies format, allowing 30 minutes for a presentation, and a longer period for questions. While examining committee members are not prohibited from attending, practice orals should not be viewed as an opportunity to prepare students for specific questions that students will be asked by committee members at the official defence.

The candidate submits an electronic copy of the final dissertation to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The electronic copy will be deposited in the cIRcle on-line repository, and linked from the department website. The final oral exam may be held at any time of the year (except from mid-December to mid-January) provided that the examining committee can be assembled.

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