MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000


The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy is made up of two sections consisting of twenty-six faculty members (five of them jointly appointed), sixty-nine graduate students, two dozen or so visiting scientists and scholars, an administrative officer, a student administrator and six support staff members. Each section operates independently of the other; yet between them there is a significant overlap of intellectual interests in education and research, among the faculty, graduate students, and visitors. In the most recent (1995) National Research Council rating of graduate programs in the United States, Linguistics and Philosophy were ranked first and tenth, respectively, on faculty quality: and second and seventh, respectively, on program effectiveness.

The linguists continue to pursue an account of natural language in terms of principles of computation and representation. The Minimalist Program for Linguistic Theory, Optimality Theory, and the Theory of Distributed Morphology offer somewhat different yet sometimes complementary suggestions for the course that the pursuit might follow. These ideas continue to be explored, developed, and challenged in research on syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, and on the interfaces between these modules of the grammar of natural language by MIT graduate students, faculty, and visitors.

Neurolinguistic research has been added to work on language acquisition and use and is now a central piece of linguistics research at MIT. Experimental research of all sorts has been supported by the [Mind Articulation] Project –a five year, joint MIT Linguistics/Tokyo University Physiology project funded by the Japan Science and Technology Corporation–which enters its last year in 2000—01. The Department continues to run the KIT/MIT MEG brain imaging facility, which draws researchers from other Departments and Universities.

Research in philosophy is not so neatly programmatic as it is in linguistics; thus it is best simply to list the wide range of topics pursued in current research in philosophy at MIT including but not exhausted by the following: theories of consciousness and the mind-body problem; causation and laws of nature; analysis of fundamental metaphysical concepts: substance, attribute, essence, set, identity, etc.; problems at the intersection of ethics and historical sociology; foundational questions of quantum physics; analysis of natural laws and their role within scientific theories; applied aesthetics; the foundations of "possible worlds" semantics for modal and conditional logics; the ontology of events; the identity across time of people and other physical objects; the principles of rationality governing ethical reasoning; and the role of evaluative thoughts in practical reasoning.

As in the past, the faculty on both sides of the department participated in a large number of colloquium and acted as keynote speakers at conferences and workshops in various parts of the United States and the world. A number of our faculty serve as editors and/or members of editorial boards for numerous journals both in the United States and abroad. They also published a large number of journal articles, book chapters, and reviews. In addition, a book appeared during the year by Institute Professor Noam Chomsky: New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind, Cambridge, University Press, 2000. Several other books are in progress.

Professor Chomsky was awarded honorary degrees from Harvard University, University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, and Scuola Normale, Pisa. Associate Professor Sally Haslanger received the Class of ’51 Fund for Excellence in Education, Class of ’55 Fund for Excellence in Teaching, and Class of ’22 Fund for Educational Innovation, with Assistant Professor of History Lora Wildenthal. Associate Professor Ralph Wedgwood received the Jean Hampton Prize from the American Philosophical Association for the best paper submitted to the APA’s Pacific Division meeting by an untenured philosopher.

Professor Irene Heim was on a leave without pay for the fall semester. Assistant Professor Michael Glanzberg was on Old Dominion Leave for the fall semester.

Professor Alec Marantz assumed the position as Department Head on July 1, 1999.

It is with great pleasure that we announce that Assistant Professor Norvin Richards has been selected as the next holder of the Mitsui Career Development Professorship. We would also like to announce the promotions of Edward J. Hall and Cheryl Zoll to the rank of Associate Professor without tenure.

We are still one appointment away from reaching our revised affirmative action goal of six women on the faculty and will continue our efforts to recruit qualified women and minority candidates to the faculty.

More information about this department can be found on the World Wide Web at or

Alec Marantz

MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000