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MIT Linguistics: Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Graduate Program

Five Year PhD Program
Specialization in Semantics

"The logic of ordinary speech provides a field of intellectual study unsurpassed in richness, complexity, and the power to absorb." (P.F. Strawson)

The goal of semantic theory is to give a precise characterization of the meanings expressible in natural language and of how they are encoded in syntactic structure. Philosophers and logicians have been concerned with these questions since antiquity, and the analytical philosophers of the 20th century have pursued them with unprecedented vigor and success. In the course of the last three decades, this research tradition has been taken over by linguists. With the rapid progress of generative linguistics, it became increasingly inappropriate to theorize about the relation between meaning and structure on the basis of lay conceptions of grammar instead of building the results of the scientific study of syntax. Today, it is no longer possible to work on the cutting edge of semantic research without a solid background in both linguistics and philosophical logic. The conceptual and formal apparatus that was developed when semantics was the domain of philosophers remains as indispensible as ever, and it must be employed in conjunction with up-to-date knowledge of syntactic theory and its growing basis of cross-linguistic empirical evidence. Our new "5 year PhD program in linguistics with a specialization in semantics" is designed to offer this kind of training.



Irene Heim: Semantics
Kai von Fintel: Semantics


Martin Hackl: Semantics, Syntax, Psycholinguistics; lab website


Noam Chomsky: Syntax, Semantics, Philosophy of Language
Michel DeGraff: Syntax, Semantics, Creole Languages
Danny Fox: Syntax, Semantics
Sabine Iatridou: Syntax, Semantics
David Pesetsky: Theory of Syntax, Morphology, Language Acquisition, Russian Syntax


Vann McGee: Philosophical Logic, Philosophy of Mathematics, Philosophy of Language
Robert Stalnaker: Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Language


Students in this program will fulfill all the normal requirements of the Linguistics Program. In addition, they will take five additional courses and write a third research paper in addition to the two generals papers. They will also participate in a research forum/discussion group on syntax and semantics.

Required Coures

Paper requirement

Students in this program write a generals paper in syntax or semantics when they take 24.959 (Workshop in Syntax and Semantics) in their second year, and then they also write a paper in the other area in their third year.

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group

All students in the program that have completed the first two years are expected to attend and actively participate in the Syntax-Semantics Reading Group, a weekly forum in which students give presentations on their own research and on recent literature about the syntax-semantics interface. The readings will be selected by the participants. Active participation is required for third year students, but is highly recommended also for fourth and fifth year students. Students should start attending in their third or fourth semester.