Seth Merrin Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
Emeritus Co-director, Center for Cognitive Studies
Ray Jackendoff’s research centers around the structure of the human language faculty and its role in human cognition. His approach, the Parallel Architecture, envisions language as the product of multiple combinatorial systems that interact to relate meaning to linguistic expression. Three of these systems have been developed in detail:
- Conceptual Semantics addresses traditional philosophical issues of inference, reference, and compositionality in thoroughly mentalistic terms; it treats a wide range of semantic phenomena, including in particular spatial concepts and social concepts.
- Simpler Syntax, in collaboration with Peter Culicover, proceeds from the premise that syntactic structure should be only as complex as is necessary to mediate between sound and meaning. It offers accounts of all the major syntactic phenomena and many lesser-known ones, stressing the interplay of syntax and semantics.
- Relational Morphology, in collaboration with Jenny Audring, focuses on the balance between productivity and idiosyncrasy in the structure of words, and on the interaction between morphosyntax, morphophonology, and meaning. An important consequence is that the structure of the lexicon becomes central, overshadowing the role of traditional generative rules.
Along the way, Jackendoff’s research has also touched on language processing, emerging sign languages, the evolution of language, the relation of language to vision, and the character of consciousness. In collaboration with composer Fred Lerdahl, he has also made major contributions to the study of music cognition.
Ray Jackendoff has been President of both the Linguistic Society of America and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. He holds honorary degrees from the Université du Québec à Montréal, Tel Aviv University, the Ohio State University, the National University of Music in Bucharest and the Music Academy of Cluj-Napoca. He was awarded the 2003 Jean Nicod Prize in Cognitive Philosophy, and he is the 2014 recipient of the David E. Rumelhart Prize, the premier award in the field of cognitive science. He is currently a Research Affiliate in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.