All candidates for the Ph.D. are required to demonstrate proficiency in foreign languages. Language requirements vary considerably from one field to another, both in their number and in the particular languages required (see Ph.D. field requirements). Students must pass at least one language exam by the end of the second year in order to receive the M.A., and all language exams required by their fields before the oral examination. Any student whose program requires successful completion of one or more language examinations in the first year will not be advanced to the second year and will not receive the M.A. unless that requirement is met.
For most students, fulfilling a language requirement involves passing an examination that requires the translation from a foreign language into English of a passage of historical writing. Except in the case of some East Asian languages, coursework itself does not fulfill the language requirement, which can only be met by passing the department's language examination. Students may take language courses during the academic year or during summer to help them prepare for the departmental language exams, but such courses do not substitute for courses required for the degree. Native speakers of languages other than English may petition the department to accept their native language as partial fulfillment of their departmental language requirement (that is, without taking an examination). Non-native English speakers may also petition the department for permission to translate passages into their native languages, rather than into English.
Language exams are offered four times during the year (late August/early September, late December, February, May), and students may take the exams as often as they need until they pass them. In exceptional circumstances, the Director of Graduate Studies may authorize a special exam for a student, upon the recommendation of the departmental officer supervising language exams. Sample language exams are available on the Language Exams page.
In the examination, dictionaries may be used, but no other aids are permitted; computers are forbidden. Exams are evaluated by individual faculty members and assigned pass/fail grades. No exam will be failed until it has been read by at least two faculty members who agree on that assessment. Students may discuss a failed exam with the departmental officer in charge of language exams or with the faculty members who graded the exam. The exam is graded principally for accuracy, and students are urged to provide translations that track the original text closely. At the same time, the passage should be translated into grammatical and comprehensible English, so that odd idioms or convoluted constructions of the original text should be rendered in their closest English equivalents and not translated entirely literally. Students should review their exams to make sure that their translations make sense in English; if they do not, they cannot be correct.
Applicants are strongly encouraged to develop a capacity to read scholarly work in the language or languages required for their proposed field of study before enrolling in the Ph.D. program.