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Graduate Study

Doctoral Program in Linguistics (PhD)


Students with an MA in linguistics from the University of Toronto, or with an equivalent degree from elsewhere, are eligible for admission to the PhD program. Students who have a research-oriented degree but lack the specific course background for admission to the PhD program may be admitted to the one-year MA program. Such students may subsequently apply to the PhD program. A minimum average of at least A- over four full course equivalents is required.

The PhD Program

Course Work

PhD students are expected to take four full graduate course equivalents. Courses are to be chosen in consultation with the Graduate Coordinator and the advisor, and are normally to be completed by the end of the first year.

Language Requirements

In addition to coursework, all students must demonstrate the ability to read professionally in one language other than English. The choice of languages must be approved by the Graduate Coordinator.

Generals Papers

Every PhD student is required to write two Generals papers after completing their course work. Students planning to write a Generals paper must register for LIN2201H for the first paper, and LIN2202H for the second.

The two Generals papers must be written in the following areas:
  1. One of phonology, phonetics, syntax, or semantics
  2. A second area, to be chosen from the following:
    • Another area of linguistic theory (phonology, phonetics, syntax, or semantics)
    • Language variation: sociolinguistics, dialectology, or historical linguistics
    • Cognitive science: psycholinguistics, language acquisition, or computational linguistics
Paper topics must be approved by the Graduate Coordinator, who is responsible for determining whether a topic falls within an appropriate area, and whether the two topics are sufficiently distinct.

The Generals committee

For each paper, a committee of three faculty members is set up. It consists of a supervisor, a second active member, and a third reader. The Graduate Coordinator chooses the supervisor in consultation with the student. The supervisor is primarily responsible for selecting the other two members. The student is expected to meet regularly with the supervisor and the second reader while writing the Generals paper.

Time of writing

Students should choose the topic of the first paper by May of their first year, and the second by January of the second year. Normally, the first paper (LIN2201H) is written in the summer of the first year and fall of the second year, with the finished paper due by December 15. The second paper (LIN2202H) is written in the spring and summer of the second year, with the finished paper due by August 15.

Completion and defense of the Generals paper

The evaluation of the Generals paper is based on two components: (a) the paper itself; and (b) an oral defense of the paper. After the student has turned in the final draft of the paper to the supervisor and the second reader, the supervisor selects a third faculty member to be the third reader. The three committee members have two weeks to read the paper. After two weeks the student meets with the three committee members in a closed examination. The members of the committee discuss the paper with the student, and may ask questions concerning it. These questions are not necessarily limited to the immediate topic of the paper, but may deal with relevant background or related issues. At the end of this meeting, the committee members discuss the paper and the defense, and arrive at one of the following decisions, which is communicated to the student at the end of the meeting:

  1. The Generals paper passes as it stands
  2. The Generals paper passes with minor revisions
  3. The Generals paper fails

The committee also decides on a grade for the paper, with B- being the minimum passing grade.

If the paper passes as it stands, a copy is filed in the department library. If the paper is judged to pass with minor revisions, the student is given one week to make the required changes. These must be submitted to the supervisor, whose responsibility it is to see that they have been done satisfactorily. If the supervisor determines that they have been, the paper passes, and a copy is filed in the department library. If not, the paper fails. If a paper is deemed unacceptable, the student consults with the supervisor and the Graduate Coordinator in order to decide whether to continue with the same topic or to proceed with the other paper. In any event, two acceptable papers should be completed by December 15 of the third year. In case of failure, the supervisor prepares a written report indicating the areas of weakness. The student receives a copy of the report.

Criteria for passing the Generals paper

The paper must be a work of original research of publishable quality, such as may be published as a journal article. Factors to be taken into account in evaluating both the paper and the student's oral defense include the following:

  1. Knowledge of literature and major issues
  2. Originality and creativity
  3. Judgment and critical ability
  4. Form and presentation

In evaluating criterion (4), the committee should take into account the extent to which the paper is suitable as a journal article.

Journal publication

Students who have had a recent article published in a refereed journal may submit this for use as a Generals paper. Such papers are treated as all other Generals papers, in that a Generals committee must be set up. The supervisor and the second reader decide if the article is a suitable basis for a Generals paper, and what further work, if any, is required. The paper must be defended in accordance with the above rules. Publication in a journal does not by itself suffice to make a paper an acceptable Generals paper, nor does rejection by a journal make a paper unacceptable.


Students who feel that proper procedures have not been followed may appeal to the Chair of the department. The Chair or a designate will meet with the student and all members of the committee to determine whether proper procedures have been followed. If there is sufficient reason to do so, the Chair may set a new defense, possibly with a different committee.

Completion of the paper and submission of the grade

When the supervisor has approved the final version of the paper, the supervisor will send to the Graduate Coordinator a notification of completion that includes: the student's name; which Generals paper was completed (phonology, syntax, etc.); the title of the paper; the names of the committee (identifying the supervisor, the second reader, and the third reader); the date of the defense; and the mark awarded. The final version of the paper must be submitted to the graduate coordinator for filing in the department library.


The PhD program requires the student to complete a doctoral dissertation in one of the areas outlined above. During the third year, the student must determine his/her thesis topic, and do some preliminary work. The student is also expected to submit at least one abstract to a conference during this year.

Oral proposal

All PhD students must make an oral thesis proposal by April 15 of their third year, on a date to be arranged with the graduate coordinator. Faculty and PhD students are expected to attend the presentation.

The proposal should include:

  1. a clear statement of the topic of research interest
  2. a synthesis of the major literature in the area and how the topic is related to the literature
  3. an indication of the major areas of research involved in the dissertation
  4. a sense of the direction the student plans to take in carrying out the research

If the presentation does not meet these criteria, as determined by the faculty present, the student meets with the advisor and makes a second presentation no more than three months after the first, and in any case no later than June 15 of the third year. If the second presentation is judged by the faculty present to be unacceptable, the student will not be permitted to continue in the program.

Written proposal

All PhD students must submit a written thesis proposal before their oral presentation. A supervisory committee, consisting of the advisor and two other faculty members chosen by the student and the advisor, evaluates the proposal, makes individual comments on it, and meets with the student to discuss it prior to the presentation. If the committee has serious difficulties with the proposal, it may request that the student rework it. If a student is asked to redo the proposal, the committee must indicate where the problems lie and what kinds of improvements are necessary. If the committee cannot reach agreement about the suitability of the proposal, the student, together with the advisor or the Graduate Coordinator, may choose a fourth person to evaluate the proposal. This person makes a written evaluation without consulting the committee. A final decision on the suitability of the proposal is made by the committee and the fourth person. The proposal must be approved by June 15 of the third year. A student may be not allowed to continue in the program if an acceptable proposal is not received.

The report should normally be between 20 and 50 pages long. It should contain:

  1. a clear statement of the major problem to be investigated in the thesis
  2. an outline of the major areas to be investigated, including discussion of the relationship between each topic and the overall problem
  3. a review of the appropriate literature
  4. substantial work in one area (e.g., a draft of one chapter)

It is recognized that the thesis will be an outgrowth of the report, and that it may deviate in certain ways from the topic outlined in the report. For this reason, copies of the proposals are not made publicly available, but are kept on file.

Approved thesis topic

Students who do not complete the oral and written thesis proposal by April 15 of the third year must nevertheless have an approved thesis topic, supervisor, and supervisory committee before the end of the third year in order to remain in good academic standing. This requirement will normally be satisfied at the May Monitoring in the student’s third year, by which time the student must declare a thesis topic and pick a supervisor and supervisory committee. As the default option, the supervisor and supervisory committee will be those of the Generals paper closest to the area of the thesis topic. It is understood that supervisor and committee may change as the student further sharpens the thesis topic in preparation for presenting the thesis proposal.

Thesis preparation

While the writing of the thesis is overseen by a supervisory committee of three faculty members, students are expected to present their work to the department at large on a regular basis. The first presentation is the thesis proposal, and is done before April 15 of the third year. Subsequently, students are expected to give a presentation at least once per year until the thesis is completed. With the consent of the supervisory committee, a student may choose not to make a presentation during the final stages of writing.

If a student’s progress is deemed to be unsatisfactory by the supervisory committee, it may require the student to make another presentation within three months. If this second presentation is not satisfactory, the student will not be permitted to continue in the program.

The thesis must show “the results of original investigation, conducted by the candidate, on the approved topic from the major field. The thesis shall constitute a significant contribution to the knowledge of the field and must be based on research conducted while registered for the Ph.D. program.” (p. 59, SGS 2008/2009 Calendar)

Progress Monitoring

The Graduate Coordinator advises the student in the first two years of the four-year PhD program (the years of residence), during which time the student undertakes coursework and fulfills the two Generals papers requirements. At the beginning of each year, at the time of registration, the student and the coordinator review the student's progress through the program. It is ascertained whether the student has completed all requirements to date. The student is informed of any outstanding requirements.

Upon completion of the Generals papers, the student decides on a thesis area, and chooses an advisor. The student and the advisor together decide on two other committee members. The student then prepares his/her thesis proposal (with oral and written components) with the guidance of the committee.

The committee of three faculty members meets with the student within a month of the thesis proposal. Thereafter, the committee meets with the student at least once every twelve months, until the completion of the thesis, as long as the student is enrolled in the program. At these meetings, the student makes a brief presentation of his/her thesis work and the committee discusses the student's progress in the program and provides advice on future work. The meetings are normally chaired by the advisor, but any committee member may act as chair.

After each committee meeting, the committee completes the PhD Advisory Committee Assessment form in the absence of the student. A copy is provided to the student, and to the Graduate Coordinator. The advisor discusses the report with the student. The student is invited to respond in writing to the report.

More frequent meetings may be required as determined by the committee. These meetings are not intended to replace the regular meetings between the student and the advisor.

All graduate students are also met with at the end of the spring term each year during May Monitoring to discuss their progress in the program.

Completion Timeline

The following timeline should be followed by all PhD students:

May, Year I
Complete three full courses; enrol in first Generals paper
December, Year II
Complete one half-course; defend first Generals paper and enrol in second Generals paper
August, Year II
Complete one half-course; defend second Generals paper; sit language exam
April, Year III
Presentation of thesis propoal
August, Year III
Achieve Candidacy (ABD)
August, Year IV
Completion and defense of thesis

It should be noted that the dates given above have been devised with the optimal progress of the student in mind. Funding is provided for no more than four years of the PhD program; hence, it is important for students to finish all requirements within their four-year period. If the deadlines are not met, the student will meet with the graduate coordinator and the advisor to discuss the reasons for delay. In some cases of continued failure to meet deadlines, the student's continuation in the program might be at risk.