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PhD Programmes in Linguistics

Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics


PhD in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics


PhD in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (MLAL212)

The Nature of the PhD Degree

In British universities the PhD ('Doctorate of Philosophy') is traditionally awarded solely on the basis of a dissertation, a substantial piece of writing which reports original research into a closely defined area of enquiry. Candidates for the PhD in Cambridge are guided by a Supervisor, though they will normally also discuss their work with a number of other experts in their field. The nature of the work depends on topic. Within linguistics, some PhD students may do most of their work in libraries, or spend part of their time collecting and analysing data, or carry out experiments in the phonetics laboratory or psycholinguistics laboratory. The dissertation must make a significant contribution to learning, for example through the discovery of new knowledge, the connection of previously unrelated facts, the development of new theory or the revision of older views. The completion of a PhD dissertation is typically expected to take three to four years full-time, or five to seven years part-time.

PhD Topics and Supervisors

Students registered for the PhD in the Section of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics will normally have one of the staff of the Section as Supervisor, though sometimes specialists outside the Section will fulfill this role.

Prospective applicants can get an idea of the range of topics which can be supervised from the following lists of people:

However, since by doctoral research is by definition original, they should not hesitate to discuss ideas within or across areas of linguistics which are not explicitly represented in these places with the Section.

Please direct any enquiries regarding entry requirements and academic matters to the Postgraduate Secretary in the MMLL Postgraduate Office:, and any enquiries regarding the technicalities of applying to the Postgraduate Admissions Office.


Applications must be accompanied by a research proposal of approximately 500 to 1,000 words. This should outline a topic of research which the applicant has chosen, and the method for investigating it. The research proposal will form the basis of a PhD student's research, but naturally may be modified as the research proceeds.

Candidates are advised to apply well in advance of the funding deadlines listed on the Postgraduate Office 'Applying to MMLL' page.

Research Areas

All students belong to two of the Section’s research areas. One of these will be the primary area of research and the other a related field. Each area organises two half-day events per year which provide the opportunity to hear invited speakers and to present students' work. Students are also be expected to get involved in organising the events for their major area.

Research Training

All students must attend a prescribed amount of research training each year. Their personal programme for each year should be discussed with their supervisor. The Faculty's research training programme provides many useful courses, some of which are compulsory. In addition, the department organises two research training sessions per term with topics of particular interest to linguistics PhD students. These are compulsory for all PhD students registered in the Section. All enquiries about these should be made to Prof Brechtje Post, the Linguistics PhD Coordinator.

There are a limited number of places available on the Section's Quantitative Methods for Analysing Language Data (QMALD) statistics training lectures.

Information on training sessions are circulated to current students with details on how to sign up.