Skip to main content

Language

Facility in scholarly and source languages is imperative for participation in global scholarly discourse. Before admission to candidacy each student must normally demonstrate the ability to comprehend and interpret scholarly works written in two contemporary research languages (other than English) relevant to their fields. Research languages can include Japanese, modern Arabic, Chinese, and other languages in which a substantial body of secondary literature exists in a student’s field. Facility in research languages is determined by comprehension examination. In addition, students must demonstrate the ability to translate the languages required for study of their primary source materials. Facility is determined by translation examination. In special cases (e.g., native fluency) the adviser and DGS may agree to establish competency in different ways.

Normally, students’ programs will require competency in three or fewer languages. In rare cases in which more than three languages are required, the student may acquire the fourth language post-candidacy; the DGS and adviser may agree to accept evidence of competency other than an examination.

During the summer before matriculation if possible, but certainly in the fall meeting with their adviser and the DGS, first-year students decide the languages in which they must develop competency before candidacy and discuss the need for possible post-candidacy language study. Students should take their language exams as soon as they are ready to do so, from the first quarter forward.

Comprehension examinations in contemporary languages of scholarly discourse are administered by the department. Each examination will call for reading of a series of scholarly texts in a foreign language (totaling roughly 1,750-2,000 words). The student will be asked to read these passages and to answer two or perhaps three questions on each one; the questions will be meant to elicit engagement with the issues raised by the authors. Use of a dictionary will be allowed, but heavy reliance on one will be discouraged. The student will be given two hours to read the texts and answer the questions.

Students planning to take these exams should notify the DGS in early fall, but no later than the end of reading week in the previous quarter, so that the exams can be written and, as much as possible, administered to multiple students at the same time. Each exam will be graded by two members of the faculty; grading will be pass/fail, but faculty readers may choose to make comments that will be communicated to students and entered into their records. A student who has already passed a language examination at another institution may petition to have that exam count for our program, but the petition must include evidence that the exam taken was equivalent to ours in its format; substitution of an examination taken elsewhere is highly exceptional.

Primary source language proficiency is required of students who plan to work extensively with primary texts in languages other than English (e.g., classical Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or Arabic, but in some cases modern languages). When national or international translation examinations are available (such as the Toronto doctoral exam in Medieval Latin, or institutionally-administered Sanskrit examinations), these will be expected, even if a student has passed course work in the relevant languages. When such examinations are not available, the department will prepare, administer, and evaluate comparable translation exams.

Apart from national or international examinations, primary-source language examinations are scheduled and organized in the same way as examinations on languages of scholarly discourse. They are two-hour translation exams designed by a faculty member (usually the adviser), administered by the department, and typically evaluated by the adviser and one other reader. Typically there are three passages in the foreign language, with a total of a thousand or fewer words, depending on the language and on the texts to be translated. Use of a dictionary is allowed, but heavy use is discouraged.

Provisions for failed examinations

A student who fails a language examination may retake it the next time it is offered (normally, the following year). If the student is approaching candidacy or graduation and the exam can be administered locally, the student may retake it as soon as the quarter following the failure.

Funding for language study

Graduate students may enroll in undergraduate language courses as fourth courses at no extra charge. Summer language grants are also available, see Summer Language Grant.

Back to top