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The curriculum is designed to assure that Ph.D. students receive an adequate grounding in all of the fundamental areas of linguistics, while leaving them the freedom they need to become independent researchers. The first year is devoted to coursework, which gives students a strong foundation and enables them to quickly begin contributing to the research life of the department. Beyond the core, students are relatively free to design their own program of study both within the discipline and across disciplines, within a framework of requirements set by the field and the Graduate School.
This program is organized in consultation with a Special Committee of the student’s own choosing. Committee members represent the student's major and minor subjects. Minors may be chosen from disciplines other than linguistics, so that it is possible, for example, for a Ph.D. student to major in General Linguistics and minor in such areas as Computer Science, Latin American Studies or Cognitive Science. The Special Committee system makes the Ph.D. program maximally flexible and allows students to avail themselves of the entire university's resources.
Note on M.A. Program:
We do not offer a Master's program. The exception is through the Employee Degree Program (a benefit for Cornell employees). Contact the Graduate Field Assistant for more information (email@example.com or 607-255-1105).
APPLICATION DEADLINE: December 5 (of each year - fall admission only)
Applicants must have a B.A., B.S. or M.A. degree.
- Online application found at www.gradschool.cornell.edu/admissions
- Statement of purpose
- One research paper as a writing sample
- Three letters of recommendation
- Application fee: $105
- GRE* and TOEFL or ILETS scores also required
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the GRE test is not required for the 2021-22 admissions cycle.
All materials must be uploaded to CollegeNet (see application link above). No hard copy application materials are accepted.
Requests for further information should be addressed to:
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone : (607) 255-1105
Notification of Application Status: If any material is missing from your application, you will be notified by email. Check the status of your application and select "review your activity".
Application and Admission Timeline
December 5 – All application materials are due.
Mid-January - Applicants are informed of admissions decisions and financial awards by this time.
April 15 – Admitted students are required to accept or decline their offers by this date.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the strengths of your program?
At Cornell, linguistic theory is applied to a broad range of linguistic evidence and tools, augmenting traditional linguistic intuitions. These include experimental/instrumental approaches, corpora, computational methods, and language documentation.
- What are the research interests and theoretical orientation of your faculty?
Take a look at our faculty webpages! Our faculty cover a wide range of interests within the field of linguistics.
- How long does it take to complete the Ph.D. in Linguistics?
Most students take five years. Finishing in this amount of time is contingent on timely completion of the required coursework and the A-exam.
- Can I do a Master's in Linguistics at Cornell University?
No. Our program is designed to train students for the Ph.D.
- Can I start the program in the Winter or Spring semester?
No. Our program's coursework is designed to start in the fall semester.
- What kinds of jobs do students who receive the Ph.D. in Linguistics have?
Our students are successful in obtaining various academic and non-academic positions . See our "MA/PhD Alumni" page for information on the placement of our Ph.D graduates.
- What are the tuition costs?
The tuition cost set for the 2020-21 academic year is $29,500. More detailed information on tuition & stipend rates and other fees (student activity fee and health insurance).
- What financial aid is available? Are international students eligible for financial aid?
Two types of financial support are available through Cornell: merit-based (fellowships, assistantships, and tuition awards) and need-based (loans). Please visit our "Financial Support" section below for more information. Unless you choose otherwise, students are considered for merit-based aid, regardless of citizenship, as part of the admissions process—no special application is required. Applicants are notified of merit-based awards at the same time admissions offers are made. You must notify the Graduate School by April 15 if you plan to accept the offer.
- What does the admissions committee look for when reviewing applications?
Simply stated, we are looking for talented students who are a good match for our program.
- How many students are accepted to the program per admission cycle?
Our target class size is six.
- What do my GRE scores and GPA have to be?
We do not set specific minimums for GRE scores and GPA. GREs and GPA are only one consideration in evaluating applications for admission. Note that for the 2021-22 admissions cycle, the GRE test has been waived due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Who should my letters of recommendation come from?
Generally, academic references are from professors you have worked with during your undergraduate or master’s program. If you are not coming straight out of an academic program, these may also include references from your employers. Simply put, we are looking for letters from people who know both the applicant and our program and can tell us that the applicant will do well in our program.
- What should I include in my statement of purpose?
A statement of purpose should be a well-written statement (of about 2 pages in length) that tells us why you have chosen to pursue linguistics as a field of study and why you have chosen to apply to Cornell. It should include your reasons for undertaking graduate work and an explanation of your academic interests, including their relation to your undergraduate study and professional goals. If possible, include the names of the Cornell faculty members whose research seems to match your own interests, and briefly discuss the connections you see. Also describe your relevant research experience, and note any publications you have authored or co-authored.
Progress towards the degree is attained by
- Completing the core course requirements
- Passing the Qualifying Exam (Q-exam), results reported to Field
- Passing the Admission to Candidacy Exam (A-exam), results reported to Grad School (form A4)
- Defending the prospectus (P-exam), results reported to Field
- Completing and defending dissertation (B-exam), results reported to Grad School (form A4)
Brief Ph.D Progress Checklist
(For details on the requirements, see below. Italicized items are new Graduate School policies that apply to students beginning with those admitted for Fall 2014.)
- Apply for an NSF or other national fellowship in the fall semester, if eligible (usually only US citizens and resident aliens are eligible).
- Make significant inroads on completing the core courses
- Have two meetings (one per semester) with your Advisory Committee
- File academic plan with Graduate School describing anticipated summer activities and outcomes (due May 1, required for summer funding)
Select a Special Committee for your Q-paper by September 1st
- Submit a Q-paper proposal to your Special Committee by December 1st
Continue taking core courses, seminars
Complete any ancillary skills courses your committee requires (if any)
- Take Research Workshop (LING 6603) in spring
Take Q-Exam, committee reports results to GFA
The Q-Exam should be attempted before the end of the 4th semester. Summer funding for the second summer will be contingent on having attempted the Q-Exam by this deadline. To qualify for summer funding at the end of the fourth semester, it is essential that you schedule your Q-Exam no later than May 1st, and that the date of the exam be no later than May 14th.
- File academic plan with Graduate School describing anticipated summer activities and outcomes (due May 1, required for summer funding)
- Select a Special Committee for your A-paper by September 1st
- Submit an A-paper proposal to your Special Committee by December 1st
Take Research Workshop (LING 6604) in fall semester
Take seminars to further research goals
Schedule A-Exam (form A3)
Take A-exam (report results with form A4, eligibility for 3rd summer funding is contingent on passing A-exam or filing a scheduling form indicating an intention to take the exam for the start of the 7th semester)
N.B. The dissertation-year fellowship will be available only to students who attempted their A-exam prior to the seventh semester of enrollment (a requirement of the Code of Legislation) and have passed the A-exam. In addition, students seeking the dissertation-year fellowship must have written and submitted an external fellowship or grant proposal within their first four years of enrollment, to encourage all students to pursue external funding. (In exceptional cases for which there may be no logical external funding organization to which it would be appropriate to write a proposal, the student may write a proposal for an internal Cornell award such as a Graduate School or Einaudi travel grant or may petition for permission to complete an alternative professionalization activity.)
- A-exam should be done by the beginning of the 7th semester!
- Select Special Committee for your dissertation by September 1st
- Write your dissertation proposal
- Take P-Exam (defense of prospectus) by end of fall semester, committee reports results to GFA
- Work on dissertation
- Apply for dissertation year fellowships (usually done in fall) and other post-A-exam funding
- 4th year summer funding is available by application only; students who have not passed their A-exam are not eligible. Applications for summer funding are due May 1 at the Graduate School.
- Apply for jobs, postdocs, etc.
- Finish dissertation
Schedule B-Exam (form A3)
- Take B-exam (defense of dissertation, report results with form A4)
- File Thesis, using Graduation Manager
A. Core Courses
To assure that Ph.D. students receive an adequate grounding in all of the fundamental areas of linguistics, the field has defined a set of core requirements in the areas of Syntax, Phonology, Semantics and Historical Linguistics. The general expectation is that all students will take all core courses. If a student requests an exemption on the basis of comparable graduate-level coursework at another institution, this exemption can only be granted after consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the instructor of the relevant course. Beyond the core courses, Ph.D. students are expected to attend advanced linguistics courses (topics courses and seminars) not only in the areas in which they write their research papers and thesis but in areas that will provide sufficient breadth as advised by the Special Committee.
Students are required to complete courses equivalent to the following:
- Historical Linguistics (LING 6314)
- Phonology I and II (LING 6401/6402)
- Syntax I and II (LING 6403/6404)
- Semantics I (LING 6421)
- Research Workshops (LING 6603/6604): This course provides students with an opportunity to develop an original research paper through a number of revisions, some of which are presented to an audience of fellow students. The final version is presented at a semester-end conference. Offered both fall and spring.
- At least one course from the following subfields: computational linguistics, historical linguistics (beyond Ling 6314), morphology, phonetics, semantics and pragmatics.
- Advanced courses: all students are required to take at least four (4) seminars or topics courses for credit. These are courses at the 6600-level or higher.
B. Ancillary skill sets
In the course of research a student may need to master one or more ancillary skill sets. These might be familiarity with languages of scholarship or training in statistics, logic, field methods or programming. The student, in consultation with his/her committee, is expected to determine which skills need to be acquired and how and when this should be done.
Q- and A-Exams (admission to candidacy):
Admission to candidacy in the field of Linguistics consists of writing two research papers which are evaluated in two exams, the Q-exam and the A-exam. The Q-exam is taken by the end of the second year, and the A-exam is taken by the end of the third year. Graduate School regulations require that all doctoral students must take the Examination for Admission to Candidacy before beginning their seventh semester of registration unless special permission is obtained from the Dean. The format of the Q- and A-exams varies from case to case, depending on the expectations of the Special Committee. The Field requires that the candidate submit to the committee in advance of the exam a research paper of high quality (see the deadlines above). The papers for the two exams must be in two distinct subfields, with a distinct Special Committee devoted to each paper. The Special Committee for each exam will normally ask the candidate to prepare written answers for one to two questions.
P-Exam (defense of prospectus):
Following successful completion of the A-exam, a Special Committee for the dissertation is selected and the P-exam is undertaken by the fall of the fourth year.
B-Exam (thesis defense):
The B-Exam is taken after completion of the Ph.D. dissertation. The B-Exam includes a presentation of the highlights of the dissertation followed by questions from the committee and others in attendance.
We typically offer guaranteed five-year full financial support to students we admit into the graduate program, regardless of the student's citizenship. Two of those years (SAGE Fellowship: the first-year and the "dissertation year" in which students are not expected to work as a Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant) are through fellowships, and the other three years are through other sources of support, typically teaching assistantships or research assistantships. The five year funding package covers: tuition and fees, student health insurance and a nine-month stipend for living expenses. Funding is contingent on satisfactory academic performance, and beginning with the 2014-15 academic year, the Graduate School has instituted progress requirements for continued funding.
The studies of all graduate students are funded in part by Teaching Assistantships (TA). In the Department of Linguistics, most Teaching Assistantships involve helping a professor in an undergraduate course; responsibilities may include leading discussion sections, meeting with students, helping grade papers and exams. Every effort is made to match teaching assignments with graduate student interests and to make sure that each Teaching Assistant receives a variety of teaching experiences while at Cornell. Teaching assistants work on average 15 hours per week and do not usually exceed 20 hours in any given week.
A student holding a TA-ship may work total of 20 hours per week as a combination of the TA responsibilities and employment elsewhere, either on- or off-campus. Students holding a University fellowship, external fellowship, or GRA may also be employed on- or off-campus for no more than 8 hours per week, as long as this does not conflict with the terms of the external funding agreement.
A research assistantship (RA) entails work on a faculty research project not necessarily related to the student's dissertation. RAs work 15 to 20 hours per week. If the research project directly relates to the student's dissertation, then the appointment is a graduate research assistantship, in which case the time spent on research connected with the project is expected to be significant.
The John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines allots the Linguistics department TA-ships for our graduate students to teach a First-Year Writing Seminar. This program emphasizes the humanities and social sciences and provides graduate students in all fields the opportunity to lead small undergraduate writing seminars and even to develop their own unique course syllabi. All graduate student instructors of First-Year Writing Seminars are required to take Writing 7100: Teaching Writing, a summer or fall semester one-credit course that provides a thorough pedagogical and experiential grounding in teaching. The department of Linguistics has approved courses that are offered as a writing seminar. If you would like to propose a new writing seminar, you will need to fill out the pre-EPC form.
Students may serve as language instructors for their TA-ship. These also involve 15-20 hours a week. Students with appropriate language background who are given such assignments are required to fulfill the respective department's training requirements.
The Graduate Field now requires all graduate students to apply for external funding at some point in their first four years. Students in the field of Linguistics are encouraged to apply for a variety of fellowships such as the National Science Foundation and the Social Science Research Council Fellowships. Also, the area programs at Cornell (East Asian, Southeast Asia, South Asia and European Studies) offer federally supported Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships to students whose research focuses on any of these areas.
Many of these non-Cornell sourced external fellowships are intended for students who are U.S. citizens or nationals or permanent residents of the United States. Applicants from foreign countries should seek aid from their own governments, universities, corporations or from a U.S. agency operating abroad, such as the Institute for International Education or the Fulbright-Hays Program.
Under certain conditions, external funds can be used to extend the package of guaranteed support from the Field or used in place of the teaching assistantship or research apprenticeship to allow the recipient to focus on research. The Graduate School and Field policies on modifying the initial package are available from the Director of Graduate Studies. Currently, students who are awarded these fellowships receive the two "free" years of SAGE funding (i.e., the first year and the dissertation year), but not the University-funded RA or TA stipends in the years that are covered by the external fellowship.
The East Asian Program offers the following fellowships that have no citizenship restrictions. These three typically provide tuition and stipend for one semester.
- Robert J. Smith Fellowships in Japanese Studies
- Starr Fellowships
- Lee Teng-hui Fellowships in World Affairs
Einaudi Center grants: http://einaudi.cornell.edu/student-funding
Cornell's Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS), Fulbright-Hayes Awards, Fulbright Program, International Research Travel Grants: The Mario Einaudi Center and its associated Programs offer a wide range of support and assistance to graduate students in search of funding for their international research, study and scholarship. See web site for deadlines, usually late January.
Graduate School Fellowship Database: http://gradschool.cornell.edu/fellowships/
A searchable database of fellowships of all kinds - well worth a look!
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSFGRFP):
The National Science Foundation funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. For U.S. citizens and permanent residents, these are very competitive, but they provide a multi-year package of fellowship funding. College seniors, first- and second-year students with no more than 12 months of graduate study (i.e. no MA/MS degree) are eligible. It is most advisable to apply in your first year, if you are eligible. Even if you feel you do not have much linguistics research experience, the experience of writing the proposal is worthwhile. You will also get feedback from the NSF Fellowship Panel, which you can incorporate into an improved application the following year, if you do not succeed the first time. If you wait until your final year of eligibility to apply, you cannot take a second chance.
Social Science Research Council fellowships: http://www.ssrc.org/fellowships/all
Most support from the Council goes to predissertation, dissertation and postdoctoral fellowships, offered through annual, peer-reviewed competitions.
NSF dissertation improvement grants (DDRIG):
These are for post-A-exam dissertation writers. There is no U.S. citizenship requirement. The grants supply up to $12,000 for research-related expenses. Deadlines are July 15th and January 15th of each year. The Principal Investigator should be the student's dissertation advisor, and the student should be the Co-Principal Investigator. It is expected that the student (Co-PI) will author the proposal, which will then be submitted through the university by the dissertation advisor (PI).
Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships: http://www.acls.org/programs/dcf/
Recently Offered Seminars:
The department of linguistics offers a wide variety of graduate-level seminars. Seminar topics vary each semester based on the research interests of the graduate students and faculty.Computational
- Finite State Methods
- Optimality Theory
- Old Iranian
- Old Irish
- Sanskrit Historical Grammar
- Phonetics in the Lexicon
- Timing and Weight in Phonology and Phonetics
- Information Structure
- Modality, Negative Polarity
- Polarity, Alternatives, Modality, Pragmatics
- Aspect of Interface between Syntax and Morpho-Phonology
- Relation Based Syntax
The Computational Linguistics Lab focuses on the statistical parsing of large data samples, including grammar development, parameter estimation, and acquisition of lexical information from corpora.
The Language Documentation Lab provides resources and laboratory space for research involving language documentation, description, and analysis, with an emphasis on understudied languages.
The Phonetics Lab offers state-of-the-art facilities for research in articulatory movement tracking, ultrasound, electroglottography, and speech aerodynamics. The phonetics lab is part of the Cornell Speech Imaging Group (SIG), a cross-disciplinary team of researchers using real-time magnetic resonance imaging to study the dynamics of speech articulation.
Cornell Linguistics Circle:
The Cornell Linguistics Circle (CLC) is the graduate student group of the Cornell Department of Linguistics. Students from linguistics and related fields are welcome to attend CLC meetings and participate in planned activities. The CLC serves to promote exchange of ideas among graduate students in the field and to advocate for the graduate student body within the department. Throughout the course of the academic year the CLC invites a series of outside speakers from linguistics departments around the country and the world. Speakers deliver talks attended by faculty and graduate students (followed by a CLC-sponsored reception, of course!) and are often available for one-on-one meetings with interested students. The CLC also publishes The Proceedings of SALT, which contains articles developed from work presented at the annual Semantics and Linguistic Theory conference. All volumes of the Proceedings of SALT are available online through the LSA.
CLC Officers 2019-20
President: Rachel Vogel
Senior Treasurer: Lingzi Zhuang
Junior Treasurer: Zahra Alzebaidi
Senior Speaker Series Coordinator: Yexin Qu
Junior Speaker Series Coordinator: Frances Sobolak
SALT Senior Editors: Joseph Rhyne & Kaelyn Lamp
SALT Junior Editors: Chloe Kwong & Nicole Dreier
GPSA Representative: Charlotte Logan
Web Administrators: Joseph Rhyne & Kaelyn Lamp
Librarian: Kevin Kwong
Social Chair: Jasmim Drigo
Social Committee: Chloe Kwong & Nicole Dreier
Colloquium Caterer: Carol-Rose Little
Outreach Liaison: Francesco Burroni