MIT Reports to the President 1998-99


The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy is made up of two sections consisting of twenty-seven 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 quite independently of the other; yet between them there is a significant overlap of intellectual interests in education and research, both 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 computational economy. The Minimalist Program for Linguistics 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.

Neurolinguistics research, in addition to rapidly developing work on language acquisition and use, is now a central piece of linguistics research at MIT, and has led directly to the Mind Articulation Project–a five year, joint MIT Linguistics/Tokyo University Physiology project supported by the Japan Science and Technology Corporation.

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. They also published an equally large number of journal articles, book chapters, and reviews. In addition, the following books appeared during the year: Institute Professor Noam Chomsky's Profit over People, Seven Stories Press, 1998; Professor Irving Singer's Reality Transformed: Film as Meaning and Technique, MIT Press, Cambridge, 21998; The Harmony of Nature and Spirit, volume 3 of his trilogy Meaning in Life, paperback edition, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1998; and The Pursuit of Love volume 2 of his trilogy Meaning in Life, Hosei University Press, 1998, Japanese translation. In addition, there are several other books in progress.

Professor Wayne O'Neil was awarded the George Watson Fellowship, The University of Queensland. Professor Chomsky was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science. In addition, Professor Chomsky was awarded honorary degrees from Universitat Rovirai Virgili (Tarragone), Guelph University of Ontario, University of Connecticut, and Columbia University. Professor Joshua Cohen was appointed as Carlyle Professor, Oxford University. Professor David Pesetsky received the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Educational Partnership Award. Professor Shigeru Miyagawa was awarded a fellowship from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science. Professor Singer was a Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford University, Oxford England.

Professor Singer was on sabbatical leave for the spring semester. Assistant Professor Ralph Wedgwood was on Old Dominion Leave for the fall semester and leave without pay for the spring semester.

As of July 1, 1999, Professor Robert Stalnaker will be stepping down as Department Head and Professor Alec Marantz will be assuming the position. As of June 30, 1999, Professor Kenneth Hale has retired from the Linguistics section of the department.

It is with great pleasure that we note the appointment of Professor David Pesetsky to the Ferrari P. Ward Professorship and the promotions of Alexander Byrne, Michel DeGraff and Ralph Wedgwood to the rank of Associate Professor without tenure. We would also like to note the appointment of Norvin Richards as Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Section of the department beginning July 1, 1999.

We are still one appointment away from reaching our revised affirmative action goal of six women on the faculty.

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

Alec Marantz

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99