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MIT Linguistics: Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Linguistics at MIT

Linguistics at MIT

The MIT Linguistics Group has been engaged in the study of language since the 1950's, and the first class of PhD students was admitted in 1961. Our research aims to discover the rules and representations underlying the structure of particular languages and what they reveal about the general principles that determine the form and development of language in the individual and the species. The program covers the traditional subfields of linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and psycholinguistics) as well as interfaces with philosophy and logic, speech science and technology, computer science and artificial intelligence, and study of the brain and cognition.


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James Higginbotham (1941-2014)

It is with sadness and shock that we have learned of the death of linguist, philosopher, and colleague James Higginbotham at the age of 72. Jim was member of both the Linguistics and Philosophy faculties at MIT for 13 years, from 1980 until 1993, when he left MIT for Oxford. In 2000, he moved from Oxford to the University of Southern California, where at various times he chaired both the philosophy and linguistics departments. At the time of his death, he was Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics and Linda Hilf Chair in Philosophy at USC.

In both fields, Jim was a larger-than-life figure. It was Jim who made semantics a vital component of the linguistics program at MIT. He taught classes at all levels in both the linguistics and philosophy programs, and was a huge influence on many graduate students in both programs during his time here.

Jim pioneered the integration of semantic theory (in his own maverick version) with the Principles-and-Parameters approach to syntax that was being developed at MIT. In the press release that accompanied his appointment to USC in 2000, Jim described this work (accurately) as follows: "I’m putting together the work of Chomsky and Davidson and juxtaposing it in ways that both would probably object to". In the same press release, he described the joys and sorrows of living in California by noting: "I have grown reconciled to not being able to see the Yankees play. After all, I couldn’t get to Yankee Stadium easily from Oxford either. At least here I can watch them on television.” Jim will be badly missed.

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