Students will have access to a research-minded group of faculty linguists.

by B.J. Koubaroulis

This fall, George Mason University will offer, for the first time, a PhD in linguistics, giving students another avenue along which they can explore language.

The main objective of the PhD program is to train students to be research scientists in academia, industry, and government.

“For the last 10 years, we have noticed that more than 15 of our graduates have gone on to receive a doctorate in linguistics at other universities,” said program director Steven Weinberger. “Quite a few of them are now professors of linguistics. Moreover, almost all of these students who have gone on elsewhere expressed their desire to stay with us for a PhD. But alas, we had no such program.”

After four years of planning and consulting, organizers have unveiled a PhD program that will welcome its first class this fall.

Upon program completion, graduates will work in other areas such as administration of language, speech pathology, learning programs, and government-funded research and be qualified to work as research and teaching professors at universities around the world.

In addition to a concentration in linguistics in the MA in English, George Mason currently has three undergraduate programs in linguistics: the undergraduate English concentration in linguistics, the undergraduate minor in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), and the interdisciplinary minor in linguistics. 

In 2008, there were 65 students studying linguistics at Mason, and the university typically grants 15 master’s degrees with a concentration in linguistics each year.

Located in the suburbs of Washington D.C., Mason is positioned in the heart of a language mixing bowl, with many different native languages. This local demand for qualified ESL teachers and other language professionals and the university’s proven track record in teaching and molding linguistics professionals, prompted George Mason to develop a new educational avenue for aspiring linguists.

“I believe it is a logical step for Mason to follow since it will provide a capstone opportunity for the foundational material learned during the M.A. program,” said John Pope, a 1996 Mason M.A. and TESL certificate graduate who is now director of Mason's English Language Institute (ELI).

“Obviously, (Mason’s) Linguistics program helped prepare me professionally for my career at the ELI by providing a clear understanding of the total language process, as well as the myriad challenges faced by second language learners. The program at Mason balanced ‘pure’ linguistics theory with applied linguistics theory and practical application, which is essential preparation for [English as a Second Language] instructors.”

The PhD in linguistics requires 72 credit hours in a wide range of topics, including phonology, syntax and semantics with a focus also on second language acquisition. There will be fundamental courses in research methods, seminars in the core theoretical areas and electives, qualifying papers, and dissertation research.

“My linguistics degree was the foundation that allowed me to move my career ahead,” said Kathy Trump, a 1982 graduate of the M.A. program who since has co-authored two ESL vocabulary textbooks, served as the director of Mason’s ELI and is currently University Life’s Associate Dean for International Education and Programs. “The courses I took gave me the linguistic background I needed to be more effective in the classroom, taught me how to be a more critical thinker, and turned me into a life-long learner.”