MIT Linguistics first rose to fame as the home of Noam Chomsky’s revolutionary approach to syntax, beginning in the late 1950s. The approach to syntax that characterizes work here, now and in the past, views language as a window into the working of the human mind. Human beings regularly demonstrate understanding of properties of their languages which, when stated precisely, turn out to be remarkably complex; moreover, they are able to do this without relevant instruction, and (in many cases) without variation among speakers. Research in syntax seeks to understand this complexity, and to uncover the simpler laws that underlie it. The Area of Specialization program in syntax provides a background in syntactic research that is both broad and deep. Its goal is not only to teach what is known, but to intrigue students with what remains unknown, to help them advance the field by solving its unsolved problems and uncovering new ones.
Students choosing syntax as their Area of Specialization will take five advanced classes beyond those required by the Common Curriculum, and participate in a research forum/discussion group on syntax and semantics.
- Syntactic Models (24.960) Investigation of the architecture of syntax from many points of view. Topics will include the history of generative research and its predecessors, and a variety of current approaches to problems in syntax, such as LFG, HPSG, TAG or Simpler Syntax. Offered every other year.
- More Advanced Syntax (24.955) Investigation in greater depth of various topics from 24.951 and 24.952, as well as several topics not covered in the first year. Offered every other year.
- A class devoted to the study of the syntax of an individual language or language family (24.943 or 24.946), offered each year.
- One additional advanced course with some bearing on issues in syntax. For example: a second semester of 24.956 (Topics in Syntax), a second semester devoted to the syntax of an individual language or language family (24.943 or 24.946), 24.965 (Morphology), 24.979 (Topics in Semantics), or an advanced seminar in the interface of syntax with phonology or semantics.
- In addition to the Common Curriculum requirements of an advanced subject with a research-paper requirement in syntax/semantics and phonology/morphology, an additional advanced subject in either semantics or phonology.
All students in the program that have completed the first two years are expected to attend and actively participate in at least one (but ideally both) of Syntax Square and the Syntax-Semantics Reading Group (also known as the “LF Reading Group”), weekly student-organized forums in which participants give informal presentations on their own research and on recent literature.