Linguistics

Website with Track Requirements: Department of Linguistics

Advising and Assistance: Prof. Kathryn Davidson and Cheryl Murphy

The Intellectual Basis: Linguistics sits at the intersection of the core sciences, social sciences, and humanities, being concerned not only with elucidation of the mental and physical capacities underlying production and perception of language but also with the manifestations of these capacities in human societies both synchronically and diachronically. In this sense the Linguistics track combines all of the approaches to mind, brain, and behavior represented in MBB (psychology, computation, philosophy, biology, history). Linguistics was the major discipline that spearheaded what came to be known as the cognitive revolution in the 1950s and has occupied a privileged position in debates surrounding mind, brain, and behavior issues ever since.

MBB grew out of a desire to bring together faculty from distinct research areas and help them carry out interdisciplinary projects based on emerging techniques in neuroscience. Currently, linguistics figures prominently in research involving brain imaging. The time appears to be ripe for more fruitful interactions between linguistic theory and research in language processing, language acquisition, language use, spatial cognition, social cognition, evolutionary psychology and biology, and neuroscience: carrying out the original goal of generative grammar of offering an entry point into the complexities of mind/brain.

It is because of these unique insights that the Department of Linguistics at Harvard offers a linguistics track within MBB. A large majority of current MBB faculty members list "language" as one of their centers of interest and/or research focus. Linguists continue to provide researchers in other areas with new questions, techniques, and conceptual considerations. Pursuing linguistics provides students with an ideal area for interdisciplinary research. The Department of linguistics offers courses like Language and Cognition and Social Analysis that focus on issues of mind, brain, behavior, and attempt to integrate findings in linguistics into a more general architecture of human cognition, but this new MBB track is specifically designed to allow students to examine the intersections between the study of language and the study of the mind, the brain, and behavior.

Linguistics-MBB students are able to delve more deeply into the neurobiological, psychological, philosophical, and evolutionary aspects of language, and they develop an appreciation for the ways scientists from these different disciplines approach problems dealing with language. Further, this MBB track also provides students with the option to explore the relationships between language and computer science and, more specifically, the associations between language and computational neuroscience. An understanding of how the brain and the mind approach language (development, learning, processing, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics) no doubt complements the solid foundation students achieve through their Linguistics courses. We believe that Linguistics-MBB students graduate with a unique knowledge base and a useful set of skills and tools.