Doctoral Program in English Language and Linguistics

The PhD is an advanced research degree. The program assumes that an entering student has a wide knowledge of applied linguistics or linguistics or a related field. In addition, entrance into the program presumes courses in the history of English and English dialects (equivalent to English 323 and 331 respectively), and courses in English syntax and English phonology (equivalent to English 708 and 709 respectively).

The degree program has two major phases. During the first phase, the candidate undertakes course work culminating in the doctoral preliminary examination. During the second phase, the candidate writes the dissertation. The program is designed to give candidates the skills and the command of materials to do original scholarly work of a high order.

The Department recommends the degree upon a student’s successful completion of departmental course work and seminar work, distributed as required; the preliminary examination; course work in the minor; the foreign language requirement; and, the dissertation. Students must also adhere to Graduate School regulations as stated in the Graduate School Bulletin.

A Master’s degree in Applied English Linguistics or a related field is a prerequisite to entering the PhD program. Courses taken at UW-Madison for the MA degree in linguistics or applied linguistics do not count toward satisfaction of the PhD course requirements, except those that satisfy prerequisites. Appropriate graduate courses taken in degree programs elsewhere may be counted as soon as the student has completed a semester of satisfactory work at Madison.

Further Information

For admissions information and to download application forms, please see the graduate admissions section of this site, or contact:

Director, Programs in English Linguistics
Department of English
5134 Helen C. White Hall
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706

Credit Enrollment

A normally enrolled student must carry a full graduate course load, 8-12 credits (or 6-8 credits if the student is a teaching assistant teaching 44% or more of full-time, the maximum number of credits varying according to the teaching load), until the English Course Requirements (B) have been completed. In the semester in which these requirements are completed, and thereafter, the course load may be reduced. A student may take English 999 (reading for prelims) for the first time in the semester in which that student is completing the English Course Requirements (B). Until the English Course Requirements have been completed a student must obtain permission from the Graduate Committee in order to take English 799 (independent reading) and may take it only on a graded basis (rather than S/U).

English Course Requirements

All English course requirements must be completed with grades of B or better before the student takes the preliminary examination.

Students entering the PhD program will be expected to have had the following courses, or their equivalents (if not, the student must take the courses, which will not count toward the minimum of seven graduate courses required for the program):

  • English 323 History of the English Language
  • English 331 English Dialects
  • English 708 Advanced English Syntax; prereq. English 329
  • English 709 Advanced English Phonology; prereq. English 330

In order to be granted candidacy, students must complete a minimum of seven (7) graduate courses or seminars beyond coursework taken for the MA degree and approved by the ELL PhD advisor. At least four of these courses/seminars must be taken in the English Department.


Usually four courses (12 credits) are to be chosen by the student and the minor advisor in consultation with the student’s advisor. Although superior work in these courses is usually deemed sufficient to satisfy the requirement, formal examination in the minor remains at the discretion of the minor department.

A student must obtain permission from his or her advisor to exercise the Minor Option B (for which, see the Graduate School Bulletin) and must have at least a 3.00 average in the four courses. The minor requirement need not be completed before taking the preliminary examination, but the “Minor Agreement Form” must be completed and on file with the Graduate School before taking prelims.

It should be noted that the English Department offers an “internal minor” in Composition and Rhetoric Studies.


In all post-Master’s courses (or, if the student does not have the Master’s degree, in all courses following the first 21 credits of graduate work in English) taken at UW-Madison, a normally enrolled student in the PhD program must maintain at all times at least a 3.50 GPA in English courses (and other courses counted in satisfaction of B.3. above) and an overall GPA of at least 3.25, and a G.P.A each semester of at least 3.00. (In computing the GPA, an Incomplete will be counted as a B. The grade of P–for Progress–will be treated as a B in any course except English 990. The grade of S will not be counted in computing the GPA) A student who fails to meet this requirement will be placed on Departmental probation (See Section I below). It should be noted that a grade of BC or lower cannot be used to meet an English Course Requirement.


Incompletes will be allowed only in extraordinary circumstances and they must be removed within eight weeks of the following semester of registration. If they are not removed within that time they will revert to a failure unless special dispensation is granted by the Director of Graduate Studies. At no time may a student have more than six credits of Incompletes. The preliminary examination may not be taken by a student who has an Incomplete.

The preliminary examination may be taken only after the student has completed the English course requirements. It is recommended that students take the exam as soon as possible thereafter. Those not admitted to candidacy (because of failure to fulfill the foreign language requirement or for other reasons) by the end of their sixth semester will be placed on departmental probation beginning the next semester of enrollment. Any student entering the PhD program with more than a two course deficiency may request an appropriate extension of this deadline.

The exam will consist of two parts, a written component and an oral component. The student is expected to demonstrate clear and comprehensive knowledge of the main lines of scholarship in FOUR of the following six areas of English linguistics, at least ONE of which is in the core areas:

  • Core Areas
    • syntax
    • phonology
  • Applied Areas
    • discourse analysis
    • language variation and language change
    • second language acquisition
    • stylistics

Examination Committee

The English Language and Linguistics faculty committee constitutes a standing committee for the design, administration, and evaluation of the preliminary examination. The chair of the committee coordinates the contributions of the faculty members to the construction and evaluation of the examination.

Written Component

The written component has two parts: a preliminary paper, and three written examinations.

Preliminary Paper

For ONE of the four areas chosen from the above listing, the student will present a substantial research paper dealing with a central issue in the area chosen. The topic for this paper must be approved by the ELL faculty committee through its chair. The student secures this approval of the topic circulating an abstract of the proposed paper. The paper must demonstrate a wide-ranging familiarity with the important literature on the topic. In addition, the paper should offer conclusions for the problem researched, as well as the evidence on which the conclusions are based.

When completed, the paper is duplicated and distributed to all members of the ELL faculty committee no later than two weeks prior to Prelim Exam Week (the week before registration in August or January). If the paper has been based on previous course or seminar work, then the student is expected to broaden or deepen its initial inquiry substantially.

Written Examinations

The remaining THREE of the four areas chosen from the above listing are examined in three four-hour written tests. These tests are based on the Basic Prelim Bibliographies which have been prepared for each of the areas listed above.

The three four-hour written tests will be taken on three days during Prelim Week (the week before registration in either the fall or spring semester).

Oral Component

The oral component of the preliminary examination covers the same four areas as the written component. The length of time for this examination will vary, normally lasting two to three hours. The oral component of the preliminary examinations provides the student with an opportunity to defend positions taken in either the prelim paper or the written tests, and to clarify or elaborate on particular points. A coincident purpose of the oral component is to assess the student’s ability to make an oral presentation with clarity and effectiveness.

Members of the ELL faculty conduct the oral component of the preliminary examination, coordinated by the chair of the committee. The oral component is taken within two or three weeks after completion of the written tests. If the committee judges a student’s written component to be a clear failure, the oral component will be cancelled.

Retaking the Examination

Failure of the preliminary examination places the student on Departmental probation beginning with the following semester. A student may be allowed to take the preliminary examination a second time with the approval of the Graduate Committee.

When a student has passed the preliminary examination, fulfilled the foreign language requirement (see below), and had his or her plans for a minor approved by his or her advisor and the Director of the Graduate Division, the advisor will recommend the student to the Departmental Committee for admission to candidacy. The Departmental Committee will make its recommendation to the Graduate School on the basis of all the student’s work.

Students who fail the preliminary examination or are denied admission to candidacy are not making satisfactory progress and are placed on departmental probation. The probation period begins in the semester following the semester in which the examination is taken.

Foreign Language Requirements

Because the PhD is a research degree, the Department requires for Admission to Candidacy that students be competent to do research involving primary and secondary materials in languages other than English. Specifically, the student must demonstrate advanced competence in one language and adequate competence in another. One of these languages must be French, German, or Latin.

At least adequate competence in one foreign language must be demonstrated before the student may take the preliminary examination. The remainder of the foreign language requirement must be completed before admission to candidacy. A student who has completed a graduate degree elsewhere may, if approved by the Graduate Committee, transfer for adequate competence the previous certification in one foreign language granted for that degree.

Otherwise, reading proficiency must be proved in one of two ways: (1) through examination administered either by the Educational Testing Service or a UW-Madison department designated by the English Department Graduate Committee; or (2) through certification by the English Department Graduate Division that the student has completed a fifth and sixth semester reading course in college with no grade lower than B (advanced competence), or a third and fourth semester reading course in college with no grade lower than B (adequate competence). While passing scores may vary slightly on the basis of information provided by the testing agencies, students may use the following guide for ETS examinations:

ETS perfect score 800
Advanced competence 650
Adequate competence 520


A normally enrolled student who fails to satisfy any requirement as indicated above will automatically be considered as not making satisfactory progress toward the PhD degree in English, and will be listed as “on Departmental probation.” The probationary period begins in the next semester of normal enrollment. A student who is not removed from Departmental probation after being on probationary status continuously for a period of two semesters of normal enrollment will be dropped from the PhD program and may not re-enter.

A student may be removed from probation if he or she fulfills the relevant requirements. A student who has been put on probation for a low GPA (overall or in a given semester), and who has no further course requirements, may be removed from probation through special action of the Graduate Committee, with or without the stipulation of a proviso.

For a variety of reasons, a student may not find it possible to be normally enrolled. The student must then make special arrangements with the graduate Division and secure the approval of the Graduate Committee to apply the current work to the degree requirements.


A student must file with the Graduate Division no later than the end of the semester following admission to candidacy a proposal signed by the professor who has agreed to direct the dissertation and by three other faculty members. The director and at least one of the other faculty members must be in the English Department; one of the faculty members must be from outside the English Department.


No later than the semester before that in which the dissertation is to be submitted, the Director of Graduate Studies, upon the recommendation of the director of the dissertation, will appoint a dissertation committee of four professors, with the dissertation director as chair.


The dissertation oral is a conference between the candidate and the dissertation committee after at least half the dissertation has been written. This conference will review the aim, method, and the progress of the dissertation. The committee will indicate to the Graduate Division that the conference has been held and will briefly state its findings. If the committee is not satisfied, another conference may be scheduled. The candidate must give the committee a readable typescript two weeks before any conference. Dissertation conferences are not scheduled during the summer.


When the dissertation is complete, the final version and an abstract will be submitted to the committee for approval, with the clear understanding that the readers may refuse approval at any time after the conference has been held. For procedure, see “Information for PhD Candidates Regarding the PhD Thesis and Oral Examination.”

Every student must complete the dissertation within five calendar years after admission to candidacy.