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Linguistic Theory

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The Department of Linguistics offers a secondary field in linguistic theory for PhD students enrolled in other departments at Harvard. Linguistic theory, the core of the modern field of linguistics, seeks to characterize the linguistic knowledge that normal human beings acquire in the course of mastering their native language between the ages of one and five. Studied as an internalized formal system, language is a source of insight into a wide range of human pursuits and abilities, some of them traditionally approached through the humanities, others through the social sciences, and others through the behavioral and natural sciences. The major divisions of linguistic theory are syntax, the study of sentence structure; phonology, the study of sounds and sound systems; morphology, the study of word structure; and semantics; the study of meaning. Courses in these areas regularly draw students from other Harvard departments, especially psychology, philosophy, and other departments associated with the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative. The secondary field in linguistic theory allows such students to receive official recognition for their linguistics coursework.


Requirement: four courses (16 credits), to be distributed as follows:

a) At least one of the following:

Linguistics 112a (Introduction to Syntactic Theory)
Linguistics 114 (Introduction to Morphology)
Linguistics 115a (Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology)
Linguistics 116a (Introduction to Semantics)

b) Three other courses in linguistics, two of which must be chosen from the following:

Linguistics 112b (Intermediate Syntax)
Linguistics 115b (Intermediate Phonology)
Linguistics 116b (Intermediate Semantics)
Linguistics 117r (Linguistic Field Methods)
Linguistics 132 (Psychosemantics)
Linguistics 145 (Logical Form)
Linguistics 146 (Syntax and Processing)
Linguistics 148 (Language Universals)
Linguistics 152 (Prosody and Intonation)
Linguistics 171 (Structure of Chinese)
Linguistics 174 (Tense and Aspect in Japanese)
Linguistics 175 (Structure of Japanese)
Linguistics 188r (Biolinguistics)
Linguistics 202r (Advanced Syntax)
Linguistics 204r (Topics in Syntax)
Linguistics 205r (The Syntax-Semantics Interface)
Linguistics 206r (Syntactic Structure and Argument Structure)
Linguistics 207r (Topics in Semantics)
Linguistics 219r (Advanced Phonology)

Other courses with a theoretical focus, including courses in other departments cross-listed with linguistics, may be added to this list at the discretion of the director of graduate studies in linguistics.

Although linguistics has no official “tracks” toward the PhD, linguistic theory is the department’s main intellectual focus. For courses offered in the 2015–2016 academic year, contact the department.


The contact person is the director of graduate studies in Linguistics.

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