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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.


The CUNY syntax faculty and students are active in number of areas of research, including the comparative syntax of Germanic and Romance, and also Hungarian, Japanese, Semitic (Hebrew, Amharic) and Slavic; our research occasionally explores languages as exotic as Rotuman as well. Our specific areas of interest include the syntax of adpositional phrases, argument-structure alternations, predication and the copula, pronouns and agreement, quantification and polarity, tense and aspect, and verbs and verbal clusters. Our recent syntax dissertations cover a wide range of topics, such as the syntax of the particle no in Japanese (Koike), long-distance binding in Russian (Rudnitskaya), the syntax of pronouns and agreement in Hebrew and beyond (Sichel), phrasal reduplication in syntax (Gullì), anaphora in Icelandic (Reeves), clause-stacking and Japanese relative clauses (Suzuki), and language contact morphosyntax, with particular reference to Afrikaans and Sri Lankan Malay (Slomanson). Students currently working on their dissertation research are looking, among other things, at the copula in African American English, Romance causatives, Amharic argument-structure alternations, function words and grammaticalization, syntax under a radical interpretation of the UTAH, and the syntax of predication in the complex noun phrase. The syntax faculty are also working on an Appalachian English syntax project (which will eventually involve fieldwork). We are closely involved as well with research conducted by the students and faculty in first and second language acquisition, semantics, and sentence processing.


Semantics is an active and growing area of the CUNY linguistics program. Recent dissertations have investigated de se/de re interpretations of Icelandic pronouns (Reeves), interpretations of quantifiers in Japanese (Kobuchi-Philip), indexicals in English (Bevington). On-going research by students is on topics as varied as the individual/stage level distinction, aspect and intensionality in Japanese, the nature of causation, causative alternations, wa and ga in Japanese, interpretations of quantifiers such as few and many, conditionals, and the logics of conversation. A number of students are looking at the first and second language acquisition of semantic concepts. In addition to the two semester introduction to formal semantics, advanced seminars are regularly offered. Recent seminar topics, reflecting the research interests of the faculty, have included reference and anaphora, aspect, questions, unaccusativity, and events. A student-initiated reading group studies foundational papers in all areas of semantics. Faculty have a particular interest in how their work interacts with syntax, pragmatics, acquisition, and philosophy of language. Students are likewise encouraged to think about how areas as diverse as syntax, pragmatics, philosophy of language, acquisition, and processing might influence their own development. 


Phonology is a central area of research and study in the Linguistics Program. Students are encouraged to describe understudied sound patterns, explore theoretical implications of common and uncommon sound patterns, understand sound patterns in terms of their phonetic bases and historical developments, and design experiments to better understand the nature of phonological knowledge and its relationship to morphology, syntax and semantics. The Linguistics Program is the home to the annual CUNY Phonology Forum, regularly invites symposia speakers engaged in phonological research, hosts visiting international scholars, and, by popular demand, offers seasonal workshops and reading groups in phonetics and phonology. Ongoing research includes properties of sound inventories, phonotactics and prosodic systems, alternations, and the nature of sound change.

Language Acquisition

The Linguistics Program has been very active in multidisciplinary research on language acquisition. The multilingual environment of New York City, the varied language backgrounds of our students, and the collaborations among the faculty, as well as faculty and students, make language acquisition a particularly rich field of study at the Graduate Center. The faculty and students study how young children learn their native language (L1 acquisition) and how older children and adults learn a second language (L2 acquisition) or a foreign language. Our empirical research is informed by work in syntax, learnability theory and computational modeling, phonetics, phonology, semantics, psycholinguistics, cognitive psychology, neurolinguistics, and speech pathology. We use a range of methods: cross-sectional and longitudinal observations; experimental tasks such as elicited imitation, elicited production, comprehension, grammaticality judgment, reading, and Event Related Potential (ERP). We compare children and adult learners of many different languages. We report our research at conferences around the world and encourage students to develop research and presentation skills early in their career.

Recent projects include cross-linguistic work on the acquisition of syntax (e.g., syntactic categories, word order, tense and aspect, null subjects, and wh-questions), the acquisition of phonetics (e.g., cross-linguistic perception of voicing assimilation), the relationship between syntactic knowledge and reading and listening in L2 (children and adults), phonological effects on the perception and production of English inflectional morphology (e.g., the past tense), performance factors in the production of L2 syntax. Recent dissertations in L1 include a study of Hebrew-speaking children's acquisition of subjects (Elisha), Spanish-speaking children's acquisition of pronominal clitics (Blasco), and German-speaking children's use of root infinitives (Lasser). Recent dissertations in L2 include verb movement in Thai-speaking learners of English (Singhapreecha), lexical and morphosyntactic attrition in L1 speakers of Greek (Pelc), the role of syntactic knowledge in L2 reading (August), and ERP correlates of word order and morphosyntax in Spanish-speaking learners of English (Kessler).

Computational Linguistics

 Computational linguistics (CL) is a discipline that is concerned with the study of how computers and computer algorithms can be designed to model the sounds, grammar, and meaning that make up human language. Recent dissertations and projects have investigated L1 acquisition within the Principles & Parameters framework (Hoskey); corpus-based measures of morphological productivity (Nishimoto); bigram modeling of English auxiliary inversion (Cao-Kam); frequency effects in the acquisition of English motion verbs (Nagano). Much of this research involves statistical analysis of language corpora. We offer a specialized master’s with a concentration in Computational Linguistics, as well as a certificate in Computational Linguistics for doctoral students.

Students focusing on computational linguistics usually have an undergraduate-level fluency in at least one computer language (e.g. Perl, C++, Java) and familiarity with at least one operating system such as Windows, Unix, Linux, or Mac. There are employment opportunities in both industry and academia for linguists with a specialization in computational linguistics.


The Graduate Center Ph.D / M.A. Program in Linguistics provides students with the opportunity to pursue the study of sociolinguistics from a variety of perspectives, including areas often referred to as ‘the sociolinguistics of society’ and ‘the sociolinguistics of language.’ Sociolinguistic research projects are being conducted in a variety of languages, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Sociolinguistics studies the place of language in society, investigating the connections that hold between language and social categories such as class, gender, and ethnicity, as well as the connections between variable features and their conditioninng contexts within the language. Students and faculty have used sociolinguistic techniques to investigate such topics as creolization, urban language varieties, dialect contact in urban settings, and bilingual contact phenomena.

Spanish Linguistics

The Program is home to the CUNY Project on the Spanish of New York, a corpus-based endeavor in which faculty and students conduct structural and variationist research using one of the largest existing corpora of transcribed spoken Spanish ever gathered in the United States. The corpus includes oral samples from nearly two-hundred speakers from six different Latin American countries, stratified according to a variety of socio-demographic characteristics. The Project is one of several in the Linguistics Program conducted with support from RISLUS (the Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban Society), a University institute housed at the Graduate Center Linguistics Program. RISLUS receives support from the National Science Foundation, the NY State Department of Education, and several private foundations.

Students and recent graduates engaged in research on Spanish Linguistics have been guided in the publication of books, papers in refereed journals, and oral presentations and posters for professional conferences, some using their own newly generated qualitative or quantitative data, others making use of our existing corpora. Some of these papers and publications have been jointly authored with faculty members.

The Ph.D. / M.A. Program in Linguistics is also home to the Bilingual Literacy Project, which is carried out collaboratively between Program faculty and students interested in Spanish and in first- and second-language acquisition. The Project works with public-school children and investigates aspects of the acquisition of language and literacy in English and Spanish, using psycholinguistic techniques to explore the connection between language and literacy in bilingual Latino children. This Project is also conducted in cooperation with RISLUS.”