Skip to Content

College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program


M.A. Degree Requirements (thesis option)

The M.A. in Linguistics at USC is a degree in general linguistics. Our M.A. program is designed to provide students with the broadest possible background in linguistics and encourages them to take advantage of the wide range of opportunities presented by the Program's faculty and to discover connections between the various subdisciplines of the field. It is possible for all credit hours earned in a graduate certificate program in TESOL at USC to apply to this degree. Please speak to an advisor to see how these hours apply in your situation.

I. Course requirements

Candidates must take a minimum of 10 courses (30 credit hours) of graduate work, to include:

A. Core courses: 3 courses (9 credit hours)

LING 710 Introduction to Phonology (3)

LING 720 Introduction to Syntax (3) and

One (1) more graduate level core linguistics course in one of the following: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics or pragmatics (including LING 600:Survey of Linguistics (3)).

Note: Other courses may be used to satisfy this requirement pending the approval of the student’s advisor and the graduate director. Students may choose depth (another syntax or phonology course) or breadth (another core area).

B. Special field: 2 courses (6 credit hours)

MA students should take at least 2 courses (6 credit hours) in an area approved by the student’s advisor.

C. Elective Courses: 4 courses (12 credit hours)

MA students should take four LING courses outside of the special field plus approved by the student's advisor (6 hours). Permission is required for the inclusion of any non­ LING course in the program of study.

Note: The graduate school's official policy on independent study (LING 806 Directed Reading and Research) is to allow up to 6 hours towards the M.A.

D. Thesis Hours: 3 credit hours

LING 799 Thesis preparation (3). Only 3 hours of LING 799 Thesis Credit may appear on the student's Program of Study. Any additional credits needed to complete the thesis should be taken under LING 806.

Note: Students who proceed from the MA to the PhD will need to take one more core course to satisfy the PhD core requirements if LING 600: Introduction to Linguistics was counted as an MA core requirement.

Special note on grades: Graduate students whose GPA falls below 3.00 will be placed on academic probation by The Graduate School and allowed one calendar year in which to raise the cumulative GPA to at least 3.00. Students who do not reach a cumulative 3.00 grade point average during the probationary period will be suspended from graduate study and will not be permitted to enroll for further graduate course work as a degree or a nondegree student.

II. Foreign language requirement

The study of languages is a necessary tool for linguists and candidates must demonstrate knowledge of at least one foreign language. This can be accomplished in one of the following ways:

  • successful completion of an intensive reading course in a language approved by The Graduate School while a graduate student at USC (e.g., FORL 615),
  • successful completion of a course at the intermediate level of language proficiency no more than six years prior to award of the degree,
  • a passing grade on a language reading proficiency examination administered by the USC Department of Languages, Literature, and Cultures,
  • successful completion of 6 hours of coursework in a non­Indo­European language with a grade of at least a B.

Students seeking master's degrees will have three opportunities to pass the language course or satisfy the reading proficiency examination. Non­native speakers of English may select English as a foreign language, upon submission of Graduate School form.

Further information about the Graduate Reading Proficiency Exams.

III. Comprehensive examination

Students must pass a comprehensive exam that includes an oral component in which students must demonstrate effective oral communication of their knowledge of general linguistics and the core areas of phonology and syntax as they apply to the student's primary field. Students will be examined by a committee of two Linguistics Program faculty members, typically the faculty advisor and a faculty member representing the student's special field.

Students who pursue the thesis MA option must successfully defend the thesis proposal, demonstrating knowledge of previous research in the field and methods for data collection and analysis. The written thesis proposal serves as the foundation for the oral examination. This should normally be completed (by full­time students) in the 3rd semester. The exam committee will produce an overall rating of Pass/Fail by assessing basic knowledge of general linguistics; basic knowledge of phonology; basic knowledge of syntax; basic knowledge of the subfield; ability to apply knowledge to a given problem. Upon successful completion of an oral comprehensive examination, the examination committee chair will inform the Graduate Director.

IV. Thesis requirement

In their fourth semester MA students should

  • File an M.A. Thesis Form with the Program Office (usually before the start of the third semester for full­ time students). This must be done before the student may register for LING 799 Thesis Preparation.
  • Develop a thesis proposal (under the supervision of their thesis director) and defend this as part of their Comprehensive Exam. This should be done (by full­ time students) in the third semester.
  • Write thesis (in the fourth semester) and have it approved by director and reader. 

 Some useful information can be found at the Graduate School Thesis Portal and the Guide for Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation.