Linguistics at JHU

At Johns Hopkins University, linguistics is fully integrated into the Department of Cognitive Science. Our research focuses on integrating formal linguistics within a broader cognitive science perspective by addressing questions about the nature of linguistic representations themselves, their processing, the architecture and learnability of the grammar, the implementation of linguistic theories in terms of neural computations, and language acquisition in the broader context of cognitive development.

In 2010, the National Research Council ranked us as one of the top departments in the country in which to study linguistics.

The department offers basic and advanced undergraduate and graduate training covering all core areas including:

  • Phonetics and phonology
  • Syntax
  • Semantics and pragmatics
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Acquisition
  • Fieldwork.

Undergraduate Training in Linguistics

Undergraduate students may select linguistics as one of two foci for their BA in cognitive science, or add a minor in linguistics to another degree. A significant number of BA recipients have gone on to pursue graduate studies in formal linguistics in top departments around the country.

Graduate Training in Linguistics

Doctoral graduate training includes a rotation in two labs/groups covering multiple methodologies in cognitive science (e.g., theory and experiments, experiments and computation), and typically multiple empirical domains, coursework in formal methods, and coursework in a sub-discipline (e.g., linguistics, cognitive psychology).

All graduate student research on linguistic problems benefits from solid training in linguistic theory and analysis combined with a broad background in cognitive science. Among the language-focused faculty are linguists as well as cognitive psychologists and computer scientists who share a broad intellectual vision of the study of the mind.

Historical Perspective on Generative Linguistics

Since Noam Chomsky’s proposal in the 1950s that the object of study in linguistics is a uniquely human mental capacity, linguistics has been one of the core disciplines of cognitive science.

Generative/formal linguistics has focused on uncovering the nature of representations and general principles underlying linguistic behavior at distinct levels of structure (e.g., phonology, syntax, semantics), and has attempted to understand what type of knowledge and predispositions children are born with in order to successfully learn their first language.

Formal linguistics has been quite successful at discovering the nature of linguistic representations and accounting for the complexity of linguistic knowledge. Viewing language in the broader context of cognitive science brings to light many important questions that traditional types of data and methods do not fully address: Does linguistic cognition share key computational properties with other cognitive domains? What is the nature of the algorithm that makes real-time language comprehension and production possible? How is linguistic computation implemented in the brain?

We are now at the beginning of an exciting era in which the traditional analysis of linguistic representation and computation is being integrated with other research areas and methods in an effort to answer such questions. Formal linguistics remains an active and fruitful research area, one that will realize its full potential by contributing to the broader goals of cognitive science.