Language Sciences at UW–Madison is an interdisciplinary hub that houses the Ph.D. program in Linguistics. Students in this program earn a master of arts degree along the way to the Ph.D.—no stand-alone M.A. program is offered.

The Linguistics Ph.D. program focuses on research in formal theories of language (encompassing cross-linguistic studies in syntax, phonology, and morphology) and the documentation and revitalization of American Indian languages. Our program combines strong theoretical groundwork with opportunities in a diverse range of experimental and innovative research methodologies. Participating faculty come from Language Sciences itself as well as from related cognitive science and language departments across campus. In addition to core areas of linguistic theory, our faculty have expertise in first and second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, historical linguistics, dialect studies, and the linguistics of particular languages or cultural areas, such as Spanish and Latin American, East Asian, and Germanic. Students have access to courses, faculty advising, and research opportunities in all of these areas. Students work closely with their graduate advisors in establishing their own areas of specialization and in working out a coherent program within this larger framework.

The ideal candidate will have a Bachelor's degree in Linguistics, a foreign language, or a related cognitive science, and a strong desire to use scientific methods of inquiry to push the boundaries of our understanding of how human language works.

Visit the Language Sciences Research page for more information about the diverse linguistics research labs at UW–Madison. Language Sciences also maintains a phonetics laboratory for teaching and research in experimental and acoustic phonetics.

Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 23
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (https://grad.wisc.edu/apply/requirements/#english-proficiency).
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

The department admits only students whose goal is the Ph.D. degree in linguistics. Admission to the Ph.D. program does not require an undergraduate degree in linguistics. Admission is based on the applicant's personal statement, three letters of recommendation, English proficiency scores if applicable, and transcripts of prior academic work. The personal statement is considered carefully to ensure that the applicant's goals are compatible with the program offered by the department.

The department admits new Ph.D. students for fall term only. The deadline for receipt of all materials is December 23.

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

All students admitted to the Linguistics Ph.D. program are offered a full funding package, which typically consists a fellowship for the first year, and some combination of teaching, project, or research assistantships in subsequent years. Students who enter the program with a Master's degree and relevant teaching experience may be eligible for teaching assistantships in the first year of graduate study. Fellowships and assistantships include tuition remission as well as a stipend, and access to benefits including health insurance.

Fellowships: Fellowships are administered through the Graduate School, and all new applicants to the Linguistics Ph.D. program are automatically considered, including both domestic and international applicants. Advanced Opportunity Fellowships are also available for students from underrepresented populations who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Teaching Assistantships: Language Sciences currently supports teaching assistantships for LINGUIS 101 Human Language, usually awarded to graduate students after their first year of study. Our students frequently serve as teaching assistants in other departments as well, such as English or foreign language departments, depending on the student's academic experience and particular skill set.

Project and Research Assistantships: Students awarded a project or research assistantship work closely with a particular professor to aid in their research. The availability of these positions varies from year to year, and will typically be most appropriate for students who are more advanced in the program.

Outside Grants and Scholarships: Graduate students may apply for their own funding directly as well, such as Foreign Languages & Areas Studies (FLAS) Fellowships and National Science Foundation Grants. These programs are most appropriate for students who are advanced in the program. The student's faculty advisor will work with the student to determine whether an outside grant is available that matches the student's research program.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.


Minimum Credit Requirement 54 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement All linguistics courses must be completed in graduate-level coursework; this will be a total of at least 42 credits out of 54. Details can be found in the Graduate School’s Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement Policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1244
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required. This program follows the Graduate School's policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1203.
Other Grade Requirements Students must maintain a GPA of 3.67 in required Linguistics courses after the third semester.
Assessments and Examinations Submit and defend on two prelim papers. One by the end of the fourth semester and the other by the end of the eighth semester. Contact the program for further details.
Language Requirements Knowledge of three languages is required. One must be English. The second must be a non-Indo-European language or a modern Indic language. The third is determined in consultation with the advisor according to the student’s research goals. Students must complete their language requirements before their second prelim exam. The language requirements can be satisfied in multiple ways and the program should be contacted directly for further details.
Graduate School Breadth Requirements A 12-credit or more minor or graduate/professional certificate that is approved by the student’s advisor is required.

Required COURSES

LINGUIS 310 Phonology3
LINGUIS 322 Morphology3
LINGUIS 330 Syntax3
LINGUIS 340 Semantics3
LINGUIS 510 Phonological Theories3
LINGUIS 522 Advanced Morphology3
LINGUIS 530 Syntactic Theories3
LINGUIS 800 Research Methods and Materials3
Take 3 seminars (must be 3 credits each) from the following (may repeat the same course number for credit):9
Take at least 3 semesters of Thesis (must be 3 credits each) as a dissertator:9
Total Credits54

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree or earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

No credits from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the degree.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of coursework numbered 300 or above taken as a UW–Madison Special student. Coursework earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.


Probation is a warning to a student who is not making satisfactory progress in the Linguistics graduate program. Departmental probation for grades or failure to make satisfactory progress lasts for one academic year (two consecutive semesters), while probation for an unsatisfactory prelim paper or unfinished Incompletes lasts for one semester.

If a student on probation clears up the problem that led to probation within the time period allotted, nothing else happens, and the student can continue with the program.

If the student does not resolve the problem (e.g., raise the GPA or successfully complete a prelim), the student is dropped from the program at the end of the probationary period.


Every graduate student must have an official faculty advisor. New students are assigned to the program director by default. By the end of the first year, students must decide whom they would like to work with, and must ask that person if they are willing to serve as advisor. If the faculty member agrees, the student is responsible for having the faculty member sign the advisor agreement form, and for making sure that it is placed in the student’s file. All permanent faculty members in the Language Sciences program (including affiliated faculty but excluding visiting faculty) may serve as advisors. Faculty from outside Language Sciences may not serve as official advisors, although they may co-chair committees.

Every faculty member has the right to refuse to become a student’s advisor. Every graduate student has the right to choose any faculty member as advisor, so long as the faculty member agrees. Students should also feel free to change advisors at any time, without fear of offending a faculty member. If a student changes advisors, a new advisor agreement form must be signed and filed, and the previous advisor must be notified by the student in writing.

The advisor guides the student in the choice of appropriate courses, in the planning of prelims and the dissertation, in choosing prelim committees and the dissertation committee, and in other professional matters. Students are reminded, however, that the fulfillment of departmental requirements is ultimately the student’s responsibility.

Each semester, the student must consult in person with the advisor about courses for the following semester. Registration is blocked until this is done, and is only unblocked when the student turns in the relevant form to the department, signed by the advisor.


15 credits

Time Limits

The first prelim paper must be completed by the fourth semester, the second prelim paper must be completed by the eighth semester, all language and course requirements must be completed by the end of the semester in which the second prelim paper is defended, and a dissertation proposal must be submitted and defended within two weeks of the defense of the second prelim paper.

grievances and appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

Students should contact the department chair or program director with questions about grievances. They may also contact the L&S Academic Divisional Associate Deans, the L&S Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Administration, or the L&S Director of Human Resources.


Full-time enrollment is assumed in order to satisfy requirements on satisfactory progress as defined in the graduate student handbook.

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

  1. Articulates research problems, potentials, and limits with respect to theory, knowledge, or practice within the field of linguistics.
  2. Formulates ideas, concepts, designs, and/or techniques beyond the current boundaries of knowledge within linguistics.
  3. Creates research that makes a substantive contribution to the understanding of human language.
  4. Demonstrates breadth within their learning experiences.
  5. Advances contributions of the field of linguistics to society.
  6. Communicates complex ideas in a clear and understandable manner.
  7. Fosters ethical and professional conduct.

Please visit the Language Sciences website for a complete list of our faculty and their areas of interest and expertise.