MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy is made up of two sections consisting of twenty-five faculty members (five of them jointly appointed), sixty-four graduate students, two dozen or so visiting scientists and scholars, an administrative officer, and seven support staff members. Each section operates quite independently of the other; yet between them there is a significant overlap of intellectual interests in education and research, both among the faculty, graduate students, visitors. In the most recent (1995) National Research Council rating of graduate programs in the United States, Linguistics and Philosophy were ranked first and tenth, respectively, on faculty quality: and second and seventh, respectively, on program effectiveness.


The linguists continue to pursue an account of natural language in terms of principles of computational economy. The Minimalist Program for Linguistics Theory, Optimality Theory, and the Theory of Distributed Morphology offer somewhat different yet sometimes complementary suggestions for the course that the pursuit might follow. These ideas continue to be explored, developed, and challenged in research on syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, and on the interfaces between these modules of the grammar of natural language by MIT graduate students, faculty, and visitors.

Neurolinguistics research, in addition to rapidly developing work on language growth and use, is now a central piece of linguistics research at MIT, and has led directly to the Mind Articulation Project--a five year, joint MIT Linguistics/Tokyo University Physiology project supported by the Japan Science and Technology Corporation.


Research in philosophy is not so neatly programmatic as it is in linguistics; thus it is best simply to list the wide range of topics pursued in current research in philosophy at MIT including but not exhausted by the following: theories of consciousness and the mind-body problem; causation and laws of nature; analysis of fundamental metaphysical concepts: substance, attribute, essence, set, identity, etc.; problems at the intersection of ethics and historical sociology; foundational questions of quantum physics; analysis of natural laws and their role within scientific theories; applied aesthetics; the foundations of "possible worlds" semantics for modal and conditional logics; the ontology of events; the identity across time of people and other physical objects; the principles of rationality governing ethical reasoning; and the role of evaluative thoughts in practical reasoning.


As in the past, the faculty on both sides of the department participated in a large number of colloquium and acted as keynote speakers at conferences and workshops in various parts of the United States and the world. They also published an equally large number of journal articles, book chapters, and reviews. In addition, the following books appeared during the year: Irene Heim's Semantics in Generative Grammar, Blackwell: Oxford, 1998 (co-authored with A. Kratzer); P. Barbosa, D. Fox, P. Hagstrom, M. McGinnis and D. Pesetsky (eds.) Is the Best Good Enough, MIT Press, 1998; George Boolos' Logic, Logic, Logic, Harvard University Press, 1998. In addition, there are several other books in progress.


Wayne O'Neil was awarded the George Watson Fellowship, The University of Queensland. Noam Chomsky was awarded an honorary degree from McGill University. David Pesetsky was appointed to the Advisory Committee for the Directorate of Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, at the National Science Foundation. He was also honored as "Education Partner," Portsmouth, New Hampshire School District. Ralph Wedgwood was awarded the Humanities Center Fellowship sponsored by The National Endowment for Humanities and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. Michel DeGraff is the recipient of the Levitan Prize in Humanities for his research project "Whence Language Creation Elucidating the Mental Processes Underlying Creole Genesis."


Prof. Wayne O'Neil was on sabbatical leave for the fall semester. Prof. Alex Byrne was on Old Dominion Leave for the fall semester. Prof. Edward Hall was on Old Dominion Leave for the spring semester.


It is with great pleasure that we note the promotion of Kai von Fintel to the rank of Associate Professor without tenure and the appointment of Assistant Prof. Alexander Byrne as the Class of 1947 Development Professorship.

The appointments of Prof. Sally Haslanger and Prof. Stephne Yablo as Associate Professor with tenure in the Philosophy Section of the Department begin July 1, 1998.

With the appointment of Sally Haslanger, the representation of women on the faculty has increased to five. We are now within one appointment to reaching our revised affirmative action goal of six women on the faculty.

Robert Stalnaker

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98