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MIT Course Catalog 2014-2015

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Linguistics and Philosophy

As its name suggests, the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy houses a linguistics section and a philosophy section. Though they share a number of intellectual interests and a joint undergraduate major, these two sections are administratively autonomous with separate chairpersons, faculties, admissions procedures, curricular and degree requirements, and financial aid programs.

Undergraduate Study

Bachelor of Science in Philosophy/Course 24-1
[see degree chart]

This major is designed to provide familiarity with the history and current status of the main problems in epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics; mastery of some of the technical skills requisite for advanced work in philosophy; facility at independent philosophical study; and work at an advanced level in an allied field. A relatively large amount of unrestricted elective time is available so that students can devise programs suited to individual needs and interests.

Bachelor of Science in Linguistics and Philosophy/Course 24-2
[see degree chart]

This major, also known as the Program in Language and Mind, aims to provide students with a working knowledge of a variety of issues that currently occupy the intersection of philosophy, linguistics, and cognitive science. Central among these topics are the nature of language, of those mental representations that we call "knowledge" and "belief," and of the innate basis for the acquisition of certain types of knowledge (especially linguistic knowledge). Students have the option of pursuing either a philosophy track or a linguistics track. Both require a core set of subjects drawn from both fields and are designed to teach students the central facts and issues in the study of language and the representation of knowledge. Each track requires, in addition, a set of subjects drawn primarily from its discipline and is designed to prepare students for graduate study either in philosophy/cognitive science or in linguistics. A coherent program of three restricted electives (drawn from one or two of the following three areas: linguistics, philosophy, or a related area) rounds out the major.

Note that students are prohibited from majoring in both 24-1 and 24-2.


The goal of the Minor in Philosophy is to introduce students to the methods of analytic philosophy and then to have them study a broad range of philosophers and philosophical issues at a more sophisticated level, culminating in an advanced seminar.

The minor consists of six subjects arranged into three levels of study as follows:

Tier I   Two subjects:
    Any CI-H philosophy subject
    A logic subject (24.118 Paradox and Infinity, 24.241 Logic I, 24.242 Logic II, 24.243 Classical Set Theory, 24.244 Modal Logic, 24.245 Theory of Models, or a logic subject in another department, e.g., Mathematics, if approved by the minor advisor)

Tier II   Three non-introductory philosophy subjects, approved by the minor advisor

Tier III   One subject:
24.260 Topics in Philosophy

The Minor in Linguistics consists of six subjects arranged in three levels of study, intended to provide students with breadth in the field of theoretical linguistics as a whole. The three levels are as follows:

Tier I   One subject:
24.900   Introduction to Linguistics

Tier II   Three subjects:
24.901   Language and Its Structure I: Phonology
24.902   Language and Its Structure II: Syntax
24.903   Language and Its Structure III: Semantics and Pragmatics

Tier III   Two subjects chosen from:
24.904 Language Acquisition
24.905J   Psycholinguistics
24.906J   The Linguistic Study of Bilingualism
24.907J   Abnormal Language
24.909   Field Methods in Linguistics
24.910   Advanced Topics in Linguistic Analysis
24.914   Language Variation and Change
24.915   Linguistic Phonetics

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Graduate Study

Master of Science in Linguistics

The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy has an Indigenous Language Initiative program leading to a Master of Science in Linguistics. For more information about this experimental degree, visit the website at or contact the program administrator at

Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics

The Linguistics Section offers a demanding program leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics. The normal course of study is four or five years, including the writing of the dissertation. The orientation of the program is highly theoretical, its central aim being the development of a general theory that reveals the rules and laws that govern the structure of a given language and the general laws and principles that govern all natural languages. The topics that form the core of this program are the traditional ones of phonology, syntax, and semantics, but the program's interests also extend into questions of the interrelations between linguistics and other disciplines such as philosophy and logic, speech science and technology, computer science and artificial intelligence, and study of the brain and cognition.

Approximately eight students enter the program each year in a highly selective admissions process. The department does not require that applicants have taken any particular set of subjects or that they be trained in any particular discipline. Instead, applicants must present evidence that they are able to engage in serious scholarly inquiry of complex subject matter.

All students in the linguistics program must complete a set of required subjects unless they have acquired adequate preparation elsewhere. Before degree candidates begin their doctoral research, they are required to pass a comprehensive general examination, in conformity with Institute requirements. Students must also demonstrate competence in one foreign language.

The following subjects are normally required of all doctoral candidates in linguistics:

24.951   Introduction to Syntax
24.961   Introduction to Phonology
24.970   Introduction to Semantics
24.992   Survey of General Linguistics
24.952   Advanced Syntax
24.962   Advanced Phonology
24.973   Advanced Semantics
24.993   Tutorial in Linguistics and Related Fields
24.942   Topics in the Grammar of a Less Familiar Language
24.949J   Language Acquisition I
24.991   Workshop in Linguistics (two terms)
—An advanced subject with research paper requirement in syntax/semantics
—An advanced subject with research paper requirement in phonology/morphology

Before students begin their doctoral research, they are required to pass a comprehensive general examination that is composed of two parts. The first part is a written examination consisting of two substantial papers on topics chosen in consultation with members of the faculty. The two papers must present research on two distinct topics in two distinct subdisciplines of linguistics. The subdisciplines include phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, language acquisition, language processing, or any other area of linguistics, so long as there is a substantial theoretical-linguistic component to the papers. In conformity with Institute regulations, the second part of the examination is oral. It deals with topics treated in the candidate's written examination, but is not limited to these and probes into the candidate's competence in linguistics in general.

For more information about the PhD program requirements, visit

Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy

The program of studies leading to the doctorate in philosophy provides subjects and seminars in such traditional areas as logic, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, aesthetics, social and political philosophy, and history of philosophy. Interest in philosophical problems arising from other disciplines, such as linguistics, psychology, mathematics, and physics, is also encouraged.

To enter the doctoral program, students must have done well in their previous academic work and must be formally accepted as candidates for the degree by the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. Although there are no formal course requirements for admission, applicants must satisfy the committee on admissions that their preparation in philosophy and allied disciplines is sufficient for undertaking the study of philosophy at the graduate level.

Before beginning dissertation research, students are required to take two years of coursework, including a proseminar in contemporary philosophy that all students must complete in their first year of graduate study. Students are also required to demonstrate competence in the following areas: value theory, logic, and the history of philosophy.

Interdisciplinary study is encouraged, and candidates for the doctorate may take a minor in a field other than philosophy. Options for minors include linguistics, psychology, and logic. Students who elect one of these options are expected to complete three approved graduate subjects in their minor field. There is no general language requirement for the doctorate, except in those cases in which competence in one or more foreign languages is needed to carry on research for the dissertation.

For more information about the PhD program requirements, visit


Information regarding undergraduate or graduate academic programs, research activities, admissions, financial aid, and assistantships may be obtained from the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Room 32-D808, 617-253-9372.

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Faculty and Staff

Faculty and Teaching Staff

David Pesetsky, PhD
Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Linguistics
MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Department Head

Alexander Byrne, PhD
Professor of Philosophy
Philosophy Section Head


Noam Chomsky, PhD
Professor of Linguistics

Michel DeGraff, PhD
Professor of Linguistics

Kai von Fintel, PhD
Professor of Linguistics
Associate Dean, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

Suzanne Flynn, PhD
Professor of Second Language Acquisition

Daniel Fox, PhD
Professor of Linguistics

Sally Haslanger, PhD
Ford Foundation Career Development Professor of Philosophy

Irene Heim, PhD
Professor of Linguistics

Sabine Iatridou, PhD
Professor of Linguistics

Michael Kenstowicz, PhD
Professor of Linguistics

Vann McGee, PhD
Professor of Philosophy

Shigeru Miyagawa, PhD
Kochi Prefecture-John Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture
Professor of Linguistics
(On leave, spring)

Wayne O'Neil, PhD
Professor of Linguistics

Agustín Rayo, PhD
Professor of Philosophy

Norvin Richards, PhD
Professor of Linguistics
MacVicar Faculty Fellow
(On leave)

Kieran Setiya, PhD
Professor of Philosophy

Roger Schwarzschild, PhD
Professor of Linguistics

Robert Stalnaker, PhD
Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy

Donca Steriade, PhD
Class of 1941 Professor of Linguistics

Kenneth N. Wexler, PhD
Professor of Psychology and Linguistics

Stephen Yablo, PhD
Professor of Philosophy

Associate Professors

Adam Albright, PhD
Associate Professor of Linguistics

Edward Flemming, PhD
Associate Professor of Linguistics

Martin Hackl, PhD
Associate Professor of Linguistics

Caspar Hare, PhD
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Bradford Skow, PhD
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Roger White, PhD
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Assistant Professors

Justin Khoo, PhD
Assistant Professor of Philosophy

John Haven Spencer II, PhD
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
(On leave, spring)

Professors Emeriti

Sylvain Bromberger, PhD
Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus

Morris Halle, PhD
Institute Professor, Emeritus

James Wesley Harris, PhD
Professor of Spanish and Linguistics, Emeritus

Samuel Jay Keyser, PhD
Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus

Judith Jarvis Thomson, PhD
Professor of Philosophy, Emerita


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