The MIT Linguistics Group has been engaged in the study of language since the 1950’s, and the first class of PhD students was admitted in 1961. Our research aims to discover the rules and representations underlying the structure of particular languages and what they reveal about the general principles that determine the form and development of language in the individual and the species. The program covers the traditional subfields of linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and psycholinguistics) as well as interfaces with philosophy and logic, speech science and technology, computer science and artificial intelligence, and study of the brain and cognition.

History of the Program

The Graduate Program in Linguistics at MIT was founded in 1961, and produced its first PhDs in 1965. Over the years, MIT graduates have taken up positions in many of the leading linguistics departments in the world and now provide much of the intellectual community that makes contemporary linguistics such a strong and lively branch of the cognitive sciences.

Under the leadership of Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Linguistics Program at MIT rapidly acquired an international reputation as a leading center for research on formal models of human-language phonology, morphology and syntax, guided by the bold (and, at the time, novel) hypothesis that language should be studied using the intellectual tools of the natural sciences. Many of the most influential trends in the study of syntax and phonology had their origins in research conducted at MIT. In the 1980s, the program was broadened to include semantics. The study of syntax and semantics within a group sharing the same goals and methodology proved very fruitful. In the 1990’s links with the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science were established to expand the range of research tools and methodologies available for the study of human language. Significant research efforts in language acquisition, sentence processing and neuro-imaging were launched. In the current decade the program has integrated research in experimental phonetics and computational modeling of language learning.

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 on December 9-11, 2011. More than 200 people gathered, you can read more as well as view photos and videos at 50 years of Linguistics at MIT.

Philosophy Program

Initially housed within the Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures, the Linguistics Program joined with MIT’s Philosophy Program in 1976 to form the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. The two sections of the department operate independent graduate programs, under the leadership of a common Head. The headship alternates between the two wings of the department.