Syntax and Cognitive Science

Syntactic theory is a cognitive theory; however, the connections between syntactic theory and the fundamental questions of cognitive science are not explicitly discussed as often as we might like. The goal of this course is to discuss those connections. In the first half of this course we will review some of the fundamental questions in cognitive science, from the nature of mental representations to the relationships among cognitive systems. And in the second half of the course, we will explore some of the major topics in syntax (phrase structure, dependencies, agreement, binding, etc), and discuss them in relation to those questions.

Here is a syllabus for Fall 2020.

Schedule and Materials

topic readings
The nature of cognition Descartes 1641 (Meditations I and II): Perhaps the beginning of cognitive science
Review of behaviorism: A theory that aggressively denies mental states
Chomsky 1959 - review of Verbal Behavior: Chomsky uses language to argue for mental states
The nature of cognitive systems Marr 1982: A first theory of levels of analysis (pp. 19-29)
Robbins 2017: A review of the idea of modularity (section 1)
Lewis and Phillips 2015: Are grammars distinct from parsers?
Symbolic vs. sub-symbolic cognition (Optional) Neural networks and deep learning: Chapter 1 is a nice introduction to neural nets
Fodor and Pylyshyn 1988: A case against philosophical connectionism
Smolensky 1988: A case for philosophical connectionism
Why neuroscience Fodor 1975: The relationship between cognitive theories and biology (pp. 1-26)
Fodor 1999: Questioning the rationale of localization studies
Embick and Poeppel 2015: Linking linguistics and neuroscience
Nativism vs empiricism Hornstein 2005: Empiricism versus rationalism
Pearl 2020: A review chapter on statistical learning and nativism
The complexity of cognitive systems Hunter 2020: A fresh look at the Chomsky hierarchy
Supplement: Even more
Representational vs derivational systems Hunter 2018: The cognitive claims of derivational grammars
Phrase structure Carnie 2008: A review of the complexity of phrase structure
A'-dependencies Mueller 1995: A review of the complexity of A'-dependencies
Georgi 2017: Reflexes of successive cyclic movement
A-dependencies Davies and Dubinsky 2004: A review of raising and control
Wurmbrand 2018: A-dependencies that cross (finite) clauses
Agreement Bejar 2003: A seminal dissertation on agreement
Kučerová 2019: agreement and the syntax-semantics interface
Phases Citko 2014: A review of phases
Semantics Jackendoff 2012: The mysteries of meaning and reference
Partee 2014: A brief history of semantics-syntax interface

Additional Materials

To be added as we discover them.

368 Oak Hall


My current local time is .