Dear colleague,

We write to invite you to the celebration of an upcoming anniversary.

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.1 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.

As a first step in preparing the book and in planning the reunion, we invite everybody to send us their thoughts on the following two points:

  1. What was the broad question that you most wanted to get an answer to during your time in the program?
  2. What is the current status of this question? Has it been answered? Did it turn out to be an ill-conceived question? If it’s a meaningful question as yet unanswered, please tell us what you think the path to an answer might be, or what obstacles make it a hard question.

We will post your answers on the anniversary website and we hope to discuss them during the December 9-10 meeting at MIT, and to include them in an anniversary book. The responses we receive by February 15 2011 will determine how we plan the meeting in December 2011. Right now we see the meeting as consisting of talks and panel discussions on questions that will emerge from the alumni’s responses as central, or as ripe for an answer, or as likely to engage the largest number of participants. Morris and Noam will speak. There will be celebratory parties. For the benefit of those not able to attend we are looking into videotaping and perhaps live streaming of portions of the event.

Please send your answers to the two questions above, preferably by February 15, 2011, or any further feedback on the format of this anniversary event, to Responses will be posted at, along with photos, footage, anecdotes and reminiscences that we hope you will also contribute. The website will contain details on the event as our plans take shape.

We look forward to hearing from all of you and to seeing you here next year.

Irene Heim
Michael Kenstowicz
Donca Steriade

  1. The list of theses completed by 1965: J.Foley, Spanish Morphology; B.Fraser, An Examination of the Verb- Particle Construction in English; J. Gruber Studies in Lexical Relations; B.Hall Subject and Object in Modern English; P.Kiparsky Phonological Change; Y.Kuroda Generative Grammatical Studies in the Japanese Language; T.Langendoen, Modern British Linguistics; T.Lightner, Segmental Phonology of Modern Standard Russian; S.Petrick, A Recognition Procedure for Transformational Grammars; J.McCawley, Accentual System of Standard Japanese; P.Rosenbaum, Grammar of English Predicate Complement Constructions; S.Schane, Phonological and Morphological Structure of French; A.Zwicky, Topics in Sanskrit Phonolog