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How do I Earn a Linguistics PhD?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 17, 2024
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To earn a linguistics PhD is a similar process to getting any degree of that level in the social sciences. A bachelor's or a master's degree in a related field is helpful when applying to graduate schools, but a person with a degree in any field can apply for acceptance into a linguistics PhD program. Every school has different acceptance criteria, so after choosing the best school for individual needs, the first step toward the PhD, also known as Ph.D or D.Phil, is meeting those particular criteria.

Linguistics is a discipline with a large number of sub-fields that are related only by unique focus on language. Anthropological linguistics and cognitive linguistics have very little in common, but both sub-fields may be studied when trying to earn a linguistics PhD. Some schools offer PhDs that cover multiple related disciplines, such as sociology and linguistics, with students taking courses in both departments. Potential students should investigate what program best fits their interest before applying for a program.

Although most admission requirements are fairly standard, linguistics programs sometimes have requirements not demanded of students in other disciplines. Knowledge of multiple languages is sometimes required, often to high degrees of fluency before a degree is granted. Various tests may need to be passed before admission is obtained. Most programs are impressed by past academic work and a stunning collection of essays, but having recommendations from noteworthy linguists can also help a student gain admission into an elite program.

Once a person is accepted into a program, there are still many difficulties ahead before he or she can earn a linguistics PhD. Some programs have certain courses, papers, and examinations that must be satisfactorily completed. These usually include a core course and several papers written at definitive moments in the academic process. The requirements may differ for students in the same program with different specialties or areas of study, or they may be consistent for all students. Typically, the farther along one is in the program, the more specialized the requirements become.

Other requirements involved for someone looking to earn a linguistics PhD, typically include fieldwork and the satisfactory completion of a dissertation. These projects are generally undertaken after all coursework is completed, and may take years to finish. Fieldwork usually takes up to a year, but gathering data can be an extremely lengthy process and this part of the degree can drag on for a long time. Actually writing the dissertation can also take years to complete, as many people have a hard time finishing works of this magnitude.

After these requirements have been met, the student typically then defends his or her dissertation to a board of some sort before he or she can earn a linguistics Phd. There may be small requirements that need to be met after the defense, but these are usually quick. The degree may be considered finished only after graduation, but the majority of the work is over after these tasks have been completed.

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