Actions of MIT’s 15th president have ‘grown to inspire generations,’ Reif says.
Professor David Pesetsky of linguistics and philosphy has been appointed to the Ferrari P. Ward Professorship of Modern Languages and Linguistics. He is regarded as one of the most creative and influential scholars in contemporary generative linguistics, as well as one of the best syntacticians in the world. His areas of specialization also include morphology, language acquisition and Russian/Slavic syntax.
"The existence of this chair is really an honor accorded to linguistics at MIT. We are still a young field, with a lot of basic discoveries yet to be made. While I cannot even think of filling the shoes of my predecessors in this position, I can hope to continue the tradition of linguistic inquiry and discovery that began here at MIT and has spread around the world," Professor Pesetsky said.
The Ferarri P. Ward chair was established at MIT in 1966 through a bequest from Mr. Ward (SB 1926), an inventor and industrial consultant.
As the Ward professor, Dr. Pesetsky succeeds Dr. Kenneth L. Hale, who has held the chair since 1981. Professor Hale, who came to MIT in 1967 as associate professor of linguistics, is due to retire this July. He is one of the world's leading specialists in the indigenous languages of Australia and an expert on American Indian languages. From 1976-81, the chair was held by Institute Professor Emeritus Morris Halle, one of the founders of MIT's linguistics program. The original recipient of the Ferrari P. Ward chair was Institute Professor Noam A. Chomsky, whose research on the nature of language has revolutionized linguistic science.
In announcing Dr. Pesetsky's appointment, Dean Philip S. Khoury of the School of Humanities and Social Science (SHSS) said, "David Pesetsky is an outstanding teacher and scholar of linguistics who follows in the great tradition of Hale, Halle and Chomsky."
Professor Pesetsky received the BA from Yale University in 1977 and the PhD from MIT in 1983. In 1988 he was appointed a tenured associate professor. Previously he held faculty positions at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Southern California.
Professor Pesetsky is the author of the books Zero Syntax (MIT Press, 1994) and Phrasal Movement and Its Kin (MIT Press, forthcoming), and he is currently writing an undergraduate textbook on syntax for Blackwell Publishers. He is co-editor of the book Is the Best Good Enough? Optimality and Competition in Syntax (MIT Press, 1998).
In 1993, Dr. Pesetsky received the Graduate Student Council Teaching Award for SHSS and in 1990, he received the Graduate Student Council Teaching Award for the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.
Shortly after his arrival at MIT, Dr. Pesetsky, along with Professor Kenneth Wexler of brain and cognitive sciences, established the Research Training Grant program to design a blueprint for linguistic programs for the future. This program was funded by the National Science Foundation for five years and has since evolved into the Human Language Project, which studies and influences the general direction that linguistic research and training will take in the next century.
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 30).