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MIT Linguistics: Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Graduate Program

Five Year PhD Program
Specialization in Psycholinguistics

For a long time, the study of human language was pursued separately as part of linguistics and as part of psychology. Researchers in both areas have sought to understand how language works: as a system of knowledge which all human beings hold in common, as a computational ability, and as a mental structure subject to development in the child.

The psycholinguistics track within the Linguistics PhD program embodies the realization that frontline work in these areas increasingly requires more than individual strengths. The psycholinguistics track is dedicated to the formation of scientists for whom links between linguistics and psycholinguistics will be second nature, for whom research of the sort fostered by this program will no longer count as interdisciplinary.


The entire linguistics faculty is involved in advising and directing research within the psycholinguistics track. These include two faculty members with joint appointments in the Dept. of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Profs. Kenneth Wexler and Edward Gibson, whose areas of research are Language Acquisition and Language Processing, respectively.

Questions about the program should be directed to:


The curriculum of the psycholinguistics track has two goals. First, it is important for the students to learn a body of research results and hypotheses in cognitive science. Second, students must also learn how to conduct psycholinguistic and computational research at a sophisticated level. This requires comprehensive knowledge of experimental techniques and methods of data analysis.


Besides the requirements of the standard four-year linguistics program, students in the psycholinguistics track should complete five additional courses. (The graduate-level lecture course on Language Acquisition, 24.949J, is a requirement of the standard program in linguistics.) The additional five courses required for the psycholinguistics track are:

One of these courses may be an independent study or independent laboratory research course.

The required Quantitative Methods course will provide experience in the experimental and other empirical methods typical of cognitive psychology. Students may be excused from this requirement if they have completed it elsewhere, and will then substitute another course for the Quantitative Methods requirement.

The timing of these courses will vary from student to student. Because of the tight scheduling of the first-year curriculum in Linguistics, most students profit most from beginning their psycholinguistics work in their second year of studies.

In addition, students in the program will participate in the psycholinguistic and computational research projects active in MIT Linguistics and in BCS— through attendance at lab meetings and active participation in experimental work.

History of the Psycholinguistics Track

The psycholinguistics track was inaugurated in 1991, as the linguistics component of an innovative Research Training Grant (RTG) funded by the National Science Foundation (David Pesetsky and Ken Wexler, Co-PIs). At the time, the idea of combining training in experimental methods with training in linguistic theory was quite novel, and there were many skeptics. Nonetheless, the program was a tremendous success from the very beginning. Students in the program presented their work at professional conferences, published in major journals, and have found themselves in great demand as linguistics programs increasingly move in the direction of interdisciplinary research and training.