Founded in the mid-1930s, the Department of Linguistics at the University
of Chicago is the oldest linguistics department in the United States.
It is theory-oriented with a deep empirical interest in languages. One
of its outstanding characteristics is its commitment to a wide range of
approaches to the study of language. Interdisciplinary, interdepartmental
study is encouraged, and students regularly work with faculty in several
other departments. Students are expected to become active researchers
as soon as possible after their arrival here. Many students come with
strong undergraduate training in linguistics, or with a masters
degree; others come with strong training in fields such as philosophy,
mathematics, or a particular language or language group. The faculty are
involved in synchronic and diachronic research on languages from around
the world. These varied interests are reflected in the topics of the dissertations
that have been written in the department.
The University of Chicago operates on the quarter system. Graduate students
normally register for three courses per quarter, three quarters per year.
They generally take three years of coursework. Most of the courses that
a first-year graduate student takes are set by the curriculum. There are
four core courses which every graduate student must take during the first
autumn and winter quarters of their scholastic residence: Phonetics, Phonology
I, Syntax I, Semantics/Pragmatics. In addition, they must take Morphology
and either Phonology II or Syntax II in the spring quarter. First-year
students generally also take one other three-quarter sequence, typically
a non-Indo-European language.
After the first year, students have much greater freedom in the selection
of courses, except for the following requirement: by the end of their
third year of residence, students are required to have taken a course
in historical linguistics, structural linguistics, and language in society.
Students may otherwise take any course which fits into their overall plans
of studies. A large proportion of courses offered in the Department of
Linguistics are advanced courses that are open to all students. The topics
of most of these courses change from year to year; a few of them are tried
and true classics that are offered on a regular basis. In some years,
a year-long field methods course is offered on a language of interest
to the department. In other years, more courses on topics such as computational
linguistics are offered. The selection of courses is influenced by the
current interests of the students and faculty. Students are also free
to take courses related to their research interests which are offered
in other departments of the University.
Each entering class of graduate students is assigned to a shepherd,
a faculty member who will serve as their advisor until they form a dissertation
committee. Shepherds help students to choose courses appropriate to their
interests and to successfully pass each of the major landmarks in the
department. Among these is a set of four one-hour exams based on each
of the four core courses administered in the spring of the first academic
Upon successful completion of these exams, students are officially admitted
to the Ph.D. program. In the second year, the student starts taking (more)
courses that will help develop expertise in areas identified as major
and minor fields. During the third and fourth years, the student
completes exams in the two fields. The major field exam normally tests
the students knowledge of one of the major subfields of linguistics,
viz., phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, morphology,
and historical linguistics. The minor field exam covers a more specialized
field in which the student will ideally be planning to do dissertation
work, e.g., Chinese syntax, Eskimo morphosyntax, Bantu tones, Creole genesis,
language development, and language and culture. In addition to these major
landmarks, students are required to pass reading examinations in two scholarly
languages (normally French, German, or Russian), and to satisfy a non-Indo-European
language requirement (normally by taking a one-year course). On completion
of the field exams and language requirements and on the acceptance of
a dissertation proposal, students are admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D.
degree; the only remaining requirement is the dissertation.
The University of Chicago offers several joint doctoral programs. Such
options currently exist between the Department of Linguistics and the
Departments of Anthropology, Psychology, English Language & Literature,
Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, Slavic Languages & Literatures,
South Asian Languages & Civilizations, and Philosophy.
Application and Admission
Completed applications for admission and financial aid, along with all
supporting materials, are due by the beginning of January for the academic
year that starts in the following autumn. Late applications for admission
may be made, but in such cases financial aid cannot be considered.
Three parts of the application are critically important: the students
academic record, letters of recommendation submitted by persons able to
describe the students achievements and promise, and, most importantly,
the students statement of purpose which describes the intellectual
issues and subjects which they hope to explore at Chicago. In addition,
applicants are encouraged to submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
scores which are not more than five years old. It is advisable, especially
for those applying for aid, to take the GRE no later than October so that
scores will arrive on time. Students whose first language is not English
must submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Information about these tests may be obtained from the Educational Testing
Service, Princeton, NJ 08540. Applications and all supporting materials
should be sent to the Dean of Students of the Division of the Humanities,
Wieboldt Hall 105, 1050 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637.
When completing the application form, it is of benefit to the applicant
to be as specific as possible in describing research interests. General
comments are of relatively little use. We have received in years past
interesting discussions, for instance, of: the relationship of signed
languages to spoken languages; the status of the Specified Subject Condition;
evidence that English is creole-like with a Celtic substratum; grammatical
tone in Twi; and the semantics of idiomatic expressions. The department
looks forward to broadening the list of topics of interest to our applicants.
If an applicant knows faculty members with whom he or she might work,
their names should be given as well. If available, a sample of pertinent
written work that demonstrates the applicants research interests
or capabilities should be sent with the application. The sample may consist
of published essays, class term papers, or a masters thesis. The
faculty of the Department of Linguistics would be happy to answer any
questions that prospective students may have. Please contact them individually
regarding their research or classes, or contact the chair for more general
or administrative questions. The address is:The University of Chicago,
Department of Linguistics, 1010 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, e-mail:
The University of Chicago offers a number of fellowships and scholarships
to outstanding graduate students. The Department of Linguistics makes
every effort to recommend offers of financial aid to cover tuition and,
in many cases, a stipend for a students living expenses. Financial
aid is awarded normally for four years if the student makes satisfactory
progress in the degree program. In addition, qualified students may apply
for a wide variety of educational loans, as well as for part-time jobs
in the Universitys work-study program.
Some linguistics students work as research assistants to faculty members
involved in research projects within linguistics and other departments.
Although the University of Chicago does not have an extensive system of
teaching fellowships (College courses are for the most part taught by
faculty members), the department recognizes the importance of teaching
experience in a students training, and makes an effort to help students
obtain such experience. We are able to employ some advanced graduate students
as teaching assistants in introductory courses; such positions are eligible
for full or partial tuition remission plus additional compensation for
the period of appointment. In addition, the department makes an effort
to assist advanced graduate students in finding lecturer positions at
the University of Chicago and at other Chicago-area institutions.
This text was last revised on 9/08/2003.