And then Morris and I started teaching 23.751 – the first syntax course. Linguistics intersects with many areas such as anthropology, computer science, engineering, foreign language study, neurology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and speech & hearing science, among others. If we take these axioms seriously, what kind of evidence would shed light on the questions that theoretical linguistics investigates, and what kind of conclusions can we draw from them? The human language faculty is a very complex entity, with interfaces connecting it to other cognitive domains. Understanding how languages work is what the linguistics field is all about, and 24.917 provides a thorough introduction to the subject—including fundamental topics such as phonetics (making sounds), morphology (forming words), and syntax (developing phrases). As I remember my January 1964 mind, which I had when I left Penn, (my Penn MA thesis, which I was supposed to have written before leaving, a long thing on superlatives, which I finally did finish at MIT in May or June of 1964), was filled with wonder at how beautifully everything grammatical worked! For example, English has quite a strict rule for ordering adjectives—it’s always “a big red car,” never “a red big car.” New English learners routinely have to memorize this far-from-universal rule, while native speakers may not even be aware of it. School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Sloan School of Management School of Science I thought it was ill-conceived during most of my time at MIT, but since then I’ve again started to feel that it is a relevant question. In our invitation to the 50th anniversary event, answers to the following two questions were solicited from alumni: 1. I think that letting go, first of the dream to have clockwork-like rules, and second, of the hubris of thinking that I am getting closer and closer to having all of the basic ducks in a row – abandoning, however wistfully, both of those dreams (or is it really just one single dream? Senior Jessica Tang’s new language is for spaceships that speak. Precisely this kind of success established linguistics as a well respected discipline in the 19th century. “We're trying to discover what those properties of the human mind are. Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, a prolific author, political activist, and philosopher, is one of MIT’s greatest scientists.He created the field of modern linguistics—the scientific study of language—and his political commentaries have sparked controversy and … A contentful answer would be at least preliminary formally explicit Gi of some language(s), e.g. Can a Screen-Free Robot Teach Coding—and Build Character? In my days, we were required to write up two generals papers by the end of the second year, and had to finish the entire program in four years. Affix Hopping happened magically, and word boundaries were cleverly inserted where they would do the most good, and I was thrilled. 2, ‘The Independence of Grammar’. A characterization of where they can occur, what was called the “formal licensing” conditions. The goal of a clocklike grammar came to seem to be completely out of reach, and to be receding faster and faster to boot. They are constructing entirely new languages—or “ conlangs ” —in a class that uses linguistics, the science of language, to supply the necessary building blocks. …is to separate the grammatical sequences which are the sentences of $latex L$ from the ungrammatical sequences which are not sentences of $latex L$ and to study the structure of the grammatical sequences. We published very few of what we came to call “mystery squibs.” One mystery squib of mine was a question: what is the source of that in this sentence: “The rules of Clouting and Dragoff apply in that order.”? The indignation was contagious – I was indignant back, not because I view my ignorance as being more important than other people’s, but because I had come to the conclusion, at the end of my thesis, that what progress seemed to me to be was the ability to ask deeper questions. I can’t remember how I would have phrased the question at that time, but I would now put it this way: Can linguistics, given that its data are intuitions about sentences, be a science? What is more dubious in my view is whether parametric models have achieved further levels of scientific success, first of all whether they are able to address concerns of classical explanatory adequacy, as represented in the following question: 2) Do P&P theories represent realistic models of language acquisition? The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) is one of the five schools of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The theory of locality has been built along two distinct concepts, which are implemented in formal principles on separate tracks: Intervention: some kind of structurally defined intervener disrupts a local relation (RM, MLC, but also the Minimal Distance Principle, etc.). 617-253-8200, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Hear the “Conlangs” Invented by MIT Linguistics Students, MIT Students Assist the Covid-19 Response in a Pandemic Epicenter, 2021 US News Rankings: MIT Tops in 13 Undergrad Categories. Seminars and meetings with Kai von Fintel, Danny Fox, and Irene Heim taught me that this would not be trivial, partly because of the so-called `symmetry problem:’ As soon as we write down some very natural axioms about relevance, one can show that there are sentences that are predicted to be relevant but which never enter into pragmatic reasoning. p. 377. and they do suggest a natural way to resolve the tension between descriptive and explanatory adequacy”). As a mathematical discipline travels far from its empirical source, or still more, if it is a second and third generation only indirectly inspired from ideas coming from ‘reality,’ it is beset with very grave dangers. But it will be a generous failure, heroic, deep. universals remains difficult, but I am optimistic that there is a lot Why does UG provide these sets, and not some others? Terms of Use. The idea of clockwork-like rules was still officially what I was striving for, but I knew it was out of reach. Shown at top: Tommy Adebiyi ’21 writes a sentence (roughly translated as "I wrote a piece of music") in his beat-boxing-inspired constructed language. ), has been the greatest change in my thinking since I started in the whitewater world of the linguistics department in dear old Building 20 in 1964. factorial typology. Yet (2) seems quite meaningful and in no way ill-conceived. MIT students have been making up such words—but not for English, or any other known language. Interpretive Semantics. Extending this further to the current state of theoretical linguistics, I would now like to ask: How would the conclusions from the expanded sets of data match the traditional conclusions, and the conclusions emerging from evidence from corpora (as in some versions of Optimality Phonology/Syntax)? Much progress has been made on specific aspects of these three topics, and they are all of actuality in current research. The first is squibs. their ability to provide correct insights on the actual history of languages and populations through space and time. What kinds of creatures are human beings?”. It was Paul Postal who most put these thoughts in my mind. Therefore, I believe that a great deal of insight and respect among neighboring sciences can arise for generative linguistics if questions like 4) are successfully addressed: 4) Do P&P theories represent realistic models of language transmission through time and space? A very long while, as it turned out. something like a credo. I hope my book Lexicon and Syntax has been a step in this direction. towards language universals. Trevor Driscoll. I was preoccupied to know what should be the correct relationship between linguistic theory and language description. I first came to MIT in the Fall 1979, under Noam’s urge after his visit to Pisa in the Spring of that year, and then I was a visiting Scholar several times (for about 6 terms between 1979 and 1989). Hear the “Conlangs” Invented by MIT Linguistics Students It wasn’t the first time and it likely won’t be the last: On April 27 the MIT Great Dome was transformed. The question I was hoping to answer when I got to MIT was: when we make pragmatic inferences, what is the principle that tells us when to stop thinking? Nonetheless, the second part also seemed intriguing and puzzling, since, beyond some generalities, exact aspects of e.g. The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, in collaboration with the Schwarzman College of Computing at MIT seek candidates for faculty positions starting in July 1, 2021. Much current work on the theory of locality, also in connection with the program of studying the cartography of syntactic structures. At the inception the style is usually classical; when it shows signs of becoming baroque the danger signal is up. Surprise gathering and "Festschrift" salute Pesetsky's research, influence, and teaching in linguistics. I have since looked up the word in the OED, and it has a history, with many meanings, one of whom would fit pretty well with the way we understand the term now, so I may have come across it somewhere, and borrowed it into the syntax that George and I were trying to set up. The clarity of my understanding of this huge domain has not kept up with the degree of confusion that I feel about things, the most very basic things. The class, which debuted in 2018, has quickly become one of the most popular offered by MIT’s top-ranked linguistics program. What happened however was that almost no one got interested in the equation (1). I was then conceiving of linguistics as separable from other areas, including psycholinguistics, whose data are not restricted to intuitions. At the very bottom of all the squibbing I have done is another unpopular conviction: that despite the immense and brilliant efforts of all of us OWG’s, the extent to which we have succeeded in staking out the basic lay of the land in syntax (or anywhere else), the degree with which we have “covered” syntax is less than vanishingly small. phrasal stress). Gifts of alumni/ae and friends to establish a fund in memory of Richard Cartwright, to support fellowships in the department of Linguistics and Philosophy. Category Archives: Alumni replies. This provides an upper-bound on what may be inferred. I was pleased and flattered, probably Dave was too, off we went. MIT Linguistics. That was really the kernel that launched my long paper on nouniness. Mechanical Engineering Faculty Positions 2021 Quite a few (even MIT) linguistics graduates work in applied settings, on computational issues, or saving endangered languages, or on reading programs, just to name a few. There is of course an easy answer to this, namely that good descriptions let the theory develop, and (“most importantly”) theory informs the questions that we ask when describing a language; while this is obviously true, I don’t feel that grammars have changed significantly thanks to the theoretical developments of the generative age. There were some suggestions from Noam about how some sentences could have sort of similar derivations to the pure and fully grammatical sentences – Noam had written about this in a part of LSLT, and there was another paper of his that I slogged through too. If they do ask novel questions and notice novel phenomena, the tendency is to answer the questions or explain the phenomena within their supervisors’ theories, perhaps with minor modifications that keep the brand name. The research conducted by the MIT Linguistics Program strives to develop a general theory that reveals the rules and laws that govern the structure of particular languages, and the general laws and principles governing all natural languages. “One of the goals of 24.917 is to show students some of what we know about how languages work thanks to all the work that’s been done in linguistics, which is the study of what exactly it is you know when you know a language,” Richards says.When asked to elaborate, Richards explains, “There are certain kinds of linguistic tasks that people seem to invariably accomplish in the same ways, no matter what language they speak.” Linguists endeavor to explain why that is. can be assumed? Phonology was like that too – the first course I took when I got to MIT was 23.762 – Phonology, with Morris. If the axioms are right, relevance alone will not give us the bounds we need. Of course we will fail miserably in our attempts to understand their densest writing. Given such sets, how does context decide which subsets to use? These grammars would be integrated with UG (how was of course also part of the question), and would be working hypotheses which research would further formalize, simplify and refine. Another broad question which surfaced in my first years at MIT was the Grail of Universal Grammar. Cambridge, MA 02139 2. syllables: contour tones tend to split in languages whose syllables In my dissertation, I addressed the The Making of a Mechanical Engineer in Seven UROPs. We need a community of inquirers who have a broad understanding of this entire spectrum before they can specialize in their narrow pursuits. . MIT students have been making up such words—but not for English, or any other known language. The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) is one of the five schools of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “A working hypothesis is that part of being a human being is having the kind of mind that allows you to construct and use language in certain ways but not others,” Richards says. How, if at all, are these sets related? And I like a lot of the words in ‘spaceship-speak’ because they are just really weird.”. ); the proper treatment of language invariance and variation with parametric models. They are constructing entirely new languages—or “conlangs”—in a class that uses linguistics, the science of language, to supply the necessary building blocks. And the fascination with errorless, clockwork-like (ordered!) Another research direction on null elements, stemming from the attempt to work out the “identification” conditions for traces (in this case, the conditions permitting the connection between a trace and its antecedent) led to a long term project on locality and intervention effects, which gave rise, a few years later, to Relativized Minimality, and then to The Minimal Link Condition, locality on Agree, etc., all conditions which, in restrospect, can be seen as trying to express in slightly different technical ways the concept of minimal search. Physics doesn’t. Recent Alumni Outcomes. What is the current status of this question? As a community, I wonder if we have really understood the implications of his starting point. A plausible strategy in order to find evidence for P&P or its variants is that of collecting relatively many hypothetical parameters, set in relatively many languages, though all contained within a single submodule of grammar (in order to downsize the complexity of the task and the risk of missing some of the close interactions between contiguous parameters). To celebrate the first 50 years of MIT’s graduate program in linguistics, the department invited all alumni, former faculty and postdoctoral scholars to attend a Scientific Reunion, held at MIT in December 2011. The glimpses of understanding of syntactic “change” achieved so far permit us, in my view, to empirically evaluate P&P with respect to their “historical adequacy”, i.e. My experience made me wary of parameter-based solutions, which are Privacy Statement The latter stance is of course the one that rhymes most deeply with my soul. What currently interests me is the way sets of potential inferences are generated for different pragmatic tasks, as well as the grammar-context interface principles that determine which subsets of these potential inferences will become actual inferences. The squibs are my tether – they keep me from getting lost in the beauty of my (many) pet theories. What I started with was fine but it had to give way pretty soon to an apparently aimless kind of ambling, sashaying towards poeticity. In those years at MIT, I found the development of the Principles&Parameters framework an absolutely illuminating way of addressing this problem, as well as the most interesting strategy to carry out comparative practices in linguistics since the classical historical method. In any event, whenever this stage is reached, the only remedy seems to me to be the rejuvenating return to the source: the reinjection of more or less directly empirical ideas. The 20+ fields, disciplines, projects, and areas of research at the School represent the most diverse range of scholarship at MIT. “One of the things you discover when you begin to learn about language is that there are all sorts of things that we do effortlessly, without thinking about it, but that are quite complicated,” Richards says. We do not teach them to identify and formulate novel questions that threaten our own theories. I am still not so clear on the answer to this. (Kayne’s dissertation, his later French Syntax, didn’t seem to be a book about English grammar.) The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) is one of the five schools of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Probably Dave was too, off we went way ill-conceived perfectly captures the idea of rules! Some generalities, exact aspects of these potential inferences for purposes of pragmatic reasoning (. 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