50 years of Linguistics at MIT

A scientific reunion commemorating 50 years of research and graduate education in Linguistics at MIT, to be held December 9–11, 2011.

50 years ago, in the fall of 1960, Jerome Wiesner, director of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, and William N. Locke, head of the Department of Modern Languages, proposed to MIT the formation of a graduate program in linguistics whose faculty was to include Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle. At the time, Noam and Morris were affiliated with both RLE and Modern Languages.

Wiesner and Locke’s proposal was approved and the new program was slated to begin the following fall. No efforts were made to recruit students. Nonetheless, a group of at least six graduate students arrived in September 1961 and seven or more joined the following year. Four years later, many of the dissertations of these first two classes became landmark studies in the fields of phonology (synchronic and diachronic), morphology, and syntax (theoretical and computational), with semantics and phonetics added later. So have many of the over 300 theses completed in the following 46 years of the program, and those of the students, and the students’ students, of that first generation and following ones.

To celebrate the first 50 years of MIT’s graduate program in Linguistics, we are writing to all alumni, former faculty and postdoctoral scholars. We invite all to mark this occasion by revisiting the department and participating in a discussion of some of the foundational questions investigated by its past and present members. We will do this in a book (printed or electronic, to be determined) to which all are invited to contribute; and in a scientific reunion, on the weekend of 12/9/2011. All past and present members of the program are invited to attend the event and to contribute to the discussions.

read the full invitation and alumni replies