The Department of Linguistics at the University of Connecticut is a leading center for theoretical research in generative grammar, and for experimental research on child language acquisition. The Department offers graduate training leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics, and is noted both for its high standards in graduate teaching, and for considerable success in job placement.
Working within the framework of Chomskian generative grammar, we are concerned with the syntactic structure of human language. Through detailed investigation of particular languages, we seek to discover the basic structural properties of language in general, and the parametric ways in which languages can differ. Among our major interests are syntactic universals, the interfaces of syntax with semantics and morphology, and the formal properties of syntactic systems.
A human language is a very complex, rule-governed system, and yet children learn their native language in the space of a very few years, at an age when they are unable to master mathematics or other cognitive skills of comparable complexity. Linguists argue that this rapid learning is possible because a child is born with knowledge of the basic principles of language structure and the parameters of permissible variation. In studying language acquisition, we empirically evaluate the claim that children’s evolving grammars are governed by innate principles and parameters. We are also concerned with developing new empirical methods for assessing children’s grammatical knowledge.
Semantic research is concerned with giving a systematic description of the interpretation of natural language expressions on the basis of their syntactic structure. We pursue Montague’s tradition in formal semantics within the framework of generative grammar. Our goal is to account for native speakers’ intuitions about what sentences of different kinds imply. Our tools are the formal methods and concepts that have evolved from semantic research over the past 30 years, together with modern syntactic theory. We investigate the semantics of phenomena such as questions, comparatives, clefts, negative polarity items, ellipsis and plurals, and try to find general properties of the interpretational mechanism that natural languages employ.
Language is a combination of form and meaning. The form side comprises the morphosyntactic organization, as well as the perceptible manifestation, of morphemes and words. Phonology is a subsystem or component of the grammar that accounts for the knowledge permitting language users to store in memory, produce, and understand the perceptible form. The phonological system, being a mental system, is abstract and potentially neutral with respect to whether the perceptible form is manifested in speech or sign. Our research follows the tradition of generative phonology in accounting for the phonological system in terms of primitives (‘features’), constraints, and parameters that characterize complex constellations of these primitives and (repair) processes, at various levels of representation (lexical, post-lexical) language.
Morphology studies the internal composition of words: the laws governing how the pieces of words (morphemes) may be combined, and how particular combinations relate to syntactic context. A central question is the degree to which the principles of morphology are shared with those of syntax, semantics, and/or phonology.