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About the Program

Language is a pervasive feature of our lives; no one academic field could do justice to all of the ways in which it affects us. Nevertheless, Linguistics has isolated certain questions that it takes to be central. Among these is the question how it is possible for a small child, in a short amount of time, without explicit training, and without apparent effort, to acquire a language. Linguistics attempts to answer at least part of this question by studying languages themselves. Linguists study what it is that humans acquire. Languages are governed by rules; and the use of language is rule-governed behavior. Knowing a language requires knowing rules; humans, when they acquire languages, acquire rules.

It is traditional in the field to call knowledge of language 'grammar.' And it is also traditional to divide grammar into parts. Among the most important of these parts are Syntax, Semantics, and Phonology. Learning language means learning rules of sentential form, meaning, and sound. This group of studies, and others closely allied to them, we take to be central to the study of language. The study of first and second language acquisition presuppose the content of these studies, but so too do Psycholinguistics, which concerns itself with the processing of speech, and Pragmatics, which concerns itself with the rules of language use. Computational linguistics, Sociolinguistics, and the study of linguistic variation also presuppose these central areas. Consequently, we require that all of our students have a sound foundation in grammar. We aim to produce researchers. To do research in any of the many areas that are represented at the Graduate Center, grammar provides the introduction.

Our faculty and students specialize in many areas of linguistics. Some of our particular strengths include syntax, semantics, phonology, language acquisition, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics, sociolinguistics, and Spanish linguistics.