Graduate Hispanic Linguistics Program

Graduate Hispanic Linguistics Program
Graduate Hispanic Linguistics Program

The Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese at Penn State offers the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Spanish, with specializations in Spanish Peninsular Literature (Medieval through Modern), Latin American literature (Colonial through Modern), and Hispanic linguistics. A number of teaching assistantships are available to qualified applicants. Teaching assistants in the M.A. program are normally guaranteed four semesters of support; those in the Ph.D. program are usually guaranteed eight semesters of support beyond the M.A., contingent on satisfactory teaching and academic progress. A limited amount of fellowship support is also available.

For questions about the graduate program in Linguistics, contact Dr. Judith Sierra Rivera, Director of Graduate Studies. It is often the case that the questions from potential graduate applicants need to be addressed by the Director of Graduate Studies in conjunction with the Graduate Administrative Assistant. Because these individuals do not necessarily speak Spanish,  we kindly ask that you correspond with us in English.

The Program

Our Hispanic Linguistics program at The Pennsylvania State University ranks among the strongest in the nation. We have major strengths in bilingualism and language contact, areas in which all of our faculty work from distinct perspectives and which connect to other language researchers at Penn State. Our faculty encourage excellence in scientific research by engaging in collaborative projects with students and other scholars here and abroad that examine questions related to dialectology, language contact and language variation, as well as the linguistic and psycholinguistic aspects of bilingualism.

Over the past several years, many of our faculty and graduate students in our program have received external funding, including awards from the  Guggenheim Foundation, the  National Science Foundation, and  National Institutes of Health. We have an outstanding placement record, both in tenure track positions and, recently, in post-doctoral appointments of the kind not traditionally available to Spanish PhD students. This success is a direct reflection of the national visibility of our faculty and of the cutting-edge research we are pursuing. 

Our faculty also play a central role in the cross-disciplinary  Center for Language Science, and the increasing methodological sophistication of our experimental research, including work in eye-tracking and planned developments in neuro-imaging, provides a transformative model for Hispanic Linguistics programs.

Cooperating Faculty

Communication Sciences and disorders

  • Nicole Etter – Assessment and treatments for individuals with (sensor) motor speech disorders as a result of neurologic injury.
  • Carol Milller –  Typical and atypical language development; children with specific language impairment; cognitive processes in communication disorders, with emphasis on processing speed, memory, attention, and perceptual processing in children and adults with language disorders; relationships between language and social cognition in young children.
  • Anne Olmstead – Assistant Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Chalice Sandberg – Neuroplastic processes are taking place during successful language therapy for adult language disorders, with primary interest in aphasia.
  • Navin Viswanathan –  My research focuses on understanding Speech Perception and Production within the general framework of Perception, Action and Cognition. Broadly, I attempt to develop techniques to study spoken language processes in ecologically typical conditions of language use. The central question of my interest is how listeners achieve stable speech perception despite a widely varying speech signal.


  • Amy Crosson – Classroom-based interventions to support development of academic language, reading comprehension, argumentation skills of multilingual learners in public school settings, assessment of word knowledge, text comprehension, and classroom discourse.

French and Francophone Studies

  • Marc Authier – Syntax; semantics; pragmatics; mathematical linguistics; philosophy or language. 
  • Lisa Reed – Theoretical linguistics; syntax and semantics of French.

German and Slavic Languages

  • Carrie Jackson –  Second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, sentence processing.
  • Richard Page – German linguistics; historical linguistics; phonology; language change.
  • Michael Putnam – Bilingualism, contact linguistics, linguistic formalisms (generative linguistics), syntax, morphology, semantics, heritage linguistics, global varieties of Germanic languages, philosophy of language.


  • Deborah Morton – Fieldwork-based language analysis of Anii; formal phonology and formal semantics.


  • Frances Blanchette –  My core linguistics research applies theoretical and experimental methods to explore structure, meaning, and sound in natural language. Visit my  Linguistics Research page for more information and links to papers.
  • Michele Diaz –  Language is a ubiquitous aspect of human life. Yet we are just beginning to understand the neural infrastructure that supports this complex social and cognitive function. Broadly, my research focuses on age-related differences in language. My lab has examined semantic and phonological aspects of language comprehension and production. Most recently we have been examining neural factors that contribute to age-related decline in language production. We investigate the relations between structural factors (i.e., white matter integrity), functional activations, and behavior.
  • Elisabeth Karuza – Humans are the ultimate pattern learners. We absorb a constant stream of complicated, noisy data and somehow emerge with a deep understanding of structures like language, categories, even what kinds of events are likely to follow one another in time. That “somehow” is the focus of my lab. Given known constraints on the human brain, how do learners extract the information they need from the environment, often without realizing they are doing it? To answer this question my lab takes a multi-pronged approach. We use a variety of behavioral methods to examine learners’ sensitivity to both the simple associations and network-level structures around them, with a particular focus on which patterns best facilitate learning.  We also study the neural mechanisms underlying pattern learning through brain imaging techniques such as fMRI. Finally, we investigate the conditions under which learning can be boosted or impeded, including asking whether brain stimulation might be a useful tool in this endeavor.
  • Judith F. Kroll – Psycholinguistics, bilingualism, second language acquisition, language processing, cognitive neuroscience.
  • Janet van Hell – Second language learning and bilingualism/multilingualism; language development in children with a typical or atypical language development (children who are deaf, children with dyslexia, with SLI, and bilingual children from an ethnic minority background).

Research and Activities

Our graduate students are afforded several professional development opportunities through the Department in areas such as teaching (creating and implementing courses), research (fellowships and grants), study/research abroad (for dissertation), and course supervision (for both the Basic Language Program and intermediate and advanced undergraduate Spanish courses). Students may also gain valuable research experience by working closely with faculty members as research assistants.

As for study abroad, graduate students have several opportunities to collaborate with the department’s summer programs in Puebla, Mexico and in  Ronda, Spain.

Research Facilities

The  University Libraries comprise a central collection and seven branch libraries at the University Park campus, and libraries at twenty-two other Penn State locations.

At University Park, Pattee Library houses the  Arts and Humanities Library, with extensive holdings in literature and linguistics, the Extended Hours Reading Room, featuring Reserves and Microforms, and the Gateway Commons, featuring electronic resources. State-of-the-art multimedia and research facilities are also available at the  Center for Language Acquisition.

Financial Assistance

Most graduate students in the Department hold teaching assistantships, for which they receive a stipend and a grant-in-aid that covers full University tuition.

For those who do not, there are several sources of financial aid in the form of grants, fellowships, scholarships, etc. Students interested in being considered for fellowship support should apply no later than January 15.