Objectives and features of our program

Objectives of our graduate program

  • To expose students to a research enterprise which seeks to discover what a person's linguistic capacity consists of, how it arises in children, how it functions in speaking and listening, how it relates to other cognitive capacities, how it can be investigated by various methods including those of experimental psychology, neuroscience and computer science;

  • To help students to make a novel and substantial contribution to this research enterprise;

  • To offer preparation for students wishing to enter professional careers involving work on language;

  • To provide service courses for graduate students working on language from other perspectives in other departments;

  • To provide tools from traditional linguistics, neurolinguistics, computational, and psycholinguistics and to serve as a meeting point for faculty and students interested in the nature of language from varying perspectives.

Work on language has been one of the main research probes in philosophy and psychology for most of the 20th century and into the 21st. It has taken on a new momentum in the last fifty years, as a result of which productive investigations have yielded deep insights into the workings of language. This kind of research has proven to be one of the most fruitful means to cast light on the nature of the human mind and general cognitive capacity.

The Maryland program builds on these recent developments and trains students thoroughly in a research enterprise which tries to develop a detailed answer to these questions: How is a person's linguistic capacity represented in the mind? How does that representation reflect properties which are encoded innately? How is language acquired by young children? How can language be encoded as a computational or as a psychological or neurological system? Students investigate how various kinds of data bear on these central questions and how particular goals influence the shape of the technical analyses offered. To these ends, the department has assembled a faculty with strength in several subfields of linguistics. The program thus combines strength in the traditional areas of syntax/semantics and phonology/morphology with depth in the areas of language acquisition, sentence processing, computational and neurolinguistics.

While remaining focused, the department is interdisciplinary. That background enables students to evaluate proposals critically and make a contribution to research. They also become well-equipped to understand other enterprises, going to the primary literature and asking how the analyses contribute to reaching the stated goal. In addition, the program encourages students to study grammatical theory alongside in-depth work on languages. Analyses of phenomena which are not obvious in English have come to affect the shape of theoretical proposals. Fruitful work has come from those languages which have been studied carefully by groups of researchers sharing basic assumptions about the goals of grammatical theory. This forms the basis of the department's interest in comparative syntax and phonology.

Features of our graduate program

  • Emphasis on professional training: students are expected, encouraged and helped to attend and participate in professional meetings, to give conference papers and to publish articles as part of their training.

  • Students development of a secondary area of specialization, in order to get a better balanced perspective and some useful experience when seeking university jobs. This capitalizes on the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

  • Investigation of the psychological, neural or computational embedding of linguistic theories (including models of language processing and development) and on cross-language work.

  • The Cognitive Neuroscience of Language (CNL) Laboratory, whose features include a whole-head (160 channel) MEG system, a high-density EEG/ERP system and facilities to analyze EEG, MEG, and fMRI data, and for measuring eye point of regard from human subjects while permitting free head movement. (Close collaborations with the NIH permit studies using PET and fMRI as well.)

  • The Center for Young Children, an on-campus day care facility at which members of the department conduct research on language acquisition.

  • Five computer laboratories for state-of-the-art research in experimental psycholinguistics, phonetics, and computational linguistics, funded by the NSF and DARPA.

  • Efforts to attract students with an interdisciplinary focus on the study of language, or who are native speakers of a language which has not been extensively analyzed and who wish to work on a grammar of that language.



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