Foreign Language Requirement

The Music Department requires doctoral students to demonstrating reading knowledge in a foreign language:
  • Ph.D. in Composition: reading knowledge of one foreign language is required
  • Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology: reading knowledge of one foreign language is required
  • Ph.D. in Musicology: reading knowledge of two foreign languages is required. Languages may not be closely related.

Note: English may count as one of the foreign languages for students who are not native English speakers.

Schedule for Exams

Language examinations will be given three times during the academic year: once during the fall, once near the beginning of the spring term and once toward the end of the spring term. Language exams ordinarily cannot be given during the summer.

Planning for Your Exams

  1. The first language exam should be taken in the fall semester of the first year. This ensures that the required foreign languages are mastered early enough in a student’s program to be useful in course work and research.
  2. If the exam has not been passed by the fall of the second year, progress toward the degree will be declared unsatisfactory, and the student becomes ineligible for financial aid. Financial aid can be reinstated only for the semester following the one in which the exam has been passed.
  3. If a second language is required, the second language exam must be taken by the first semester after admission to the doctoral program (generally, the semester after passing the Qualifying Exam) and must be passed by the end of the third semester after admission to the doctoral program to maintain satisfactory progress toward the degree.

Test Format

A language examination consists of a two hour time period to translate a text selected by your doctoral committee. At the discretion of the examination committee, passages assigned may be different for different doctoral tracks. The passage may be translated with a dictionary. You must provide your own dictionaries. For each exam, the committee will specify the minimum amount of text to be translated. Two hours will be allowed to complete the translation, however, students whose native language is not English may be given extra time at the discretion of the committee.

Information about Texts

Given variations between languages and within passages in the same language, no specific acceptable word counts can be promised. However, as a rough guideline, students should normally expect to translate 400-600 words in a prose passage with dictionary in modern languages. (Less will be expected if the passages are in poetry or in Latin.) Note:

  • For a Latin examination, generally the passage will be chosen from the Bible, the Roman Catholic liturgy, or a medieval or Renaissance treatise.
  • For composers, generally passages will concern the period post-1850.
  • For musicology students, the time frame is post-1600 as a rule, though earlier authors still currently used by composers (e.g. Petrarch) are fair game.

Test Preparation

You will be given printed sources--contemporary to the period when written or in a modern edition. You are advised to become familiar with typefaces (e.g., long “s”) and variants in and syntax for the chronological periods given above. In German, knowledge of Fraktur is required.

While every effort will be taken to select passages of a fairly consistent level of difficulty from one exam to the next and from one language to another, some variation will inevitably occur. Please be aware that faculty take this into account when grading: the easier the passage, the more will be expected. Samples of previous examinations are available in the Graduate Studies Office.

Examinations will be graded by two faculty members on a pass/fail basis. In case of disagreement between faculty members, a third opinion (within or outside the Department) will be sought. All examinations will also be checked by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for consistency of evaluation policies and standards

Students can appeal a negative decision in writing to the DGS

If you are passed “at the master’s level,” you may be required to retake the examination the next term should you wish to proceed to the Ph.D., or may be required by the committee to do additional work to demonstrate language competence.

Common Reasons for Failing Language Exams

Faculty are often asked, “Why did I fail?” The answers vary from case to case but often include:

  1. Failure to have a good grasp of basic vocabulary (not translating enough due to looking up almost every word).
  2. Failure to translate verb tenses and moods correctly.
  3. Failure to understand the syntax and grammar.
  4. Failure to produce coherent prose that makes sense.
  5. Failure to translate enough. And what “enough” is may vary from examination to examination depending on the difficulty of the passage.