Michel DeGraff to give Freeman Lecture

March 24, 2015

Michel DeGraff is Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He specializes in syntax, morphology, language change, Creole studies, Haitian Creole, education in Haiti, and the linguistics-ideology interface. In his Freeman Lecture, he will discuss his participation in and the rationale, accomplishments and prospects of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, which is a project for the development, evaluation and dissemination of active-learning resources in Kreyòl (the national language of Haiti and one of its two official languages) to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education plus leadership and management in Haiti.

The lecture will be on April 10, 2015 in the Integrative Learning Center, room N151.

Emmon Bach 1929-2014

December 5, 2014

Emmon Bach of Oxford, England, formerly of Amherst, died suddenly at home on November 28 after collapsing from undiagnosed pneumonia. He was born on June 12, 1929, in Kumamoto, Japan, the youngest of six children of Danish missionary parents Ditlev Gotthard Monrad Bach and Ellen Sigrid Bach who emigrated with their family to the U.S. in 1941, where he grew up in Fresno and Boulder. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Chicago, with a Ph.D. in Germanic Studies in 1959.


Emmon taught at the University of Texas from 1959 to 1972, then at Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY in 1972-73. From 1973 until his retirement in 1992 he was Professor of Linguistics, and then Sapir Professor of Linguistics, at UMass Amherst, where he served as Department Head from 1977 until 1985. He was elected President of the Linguistic Society of America in 1996. He was predeceased by his daughter Meta Bach in 1984, and by his first wife Jean Bach; he is survived by his wife Wynn Chao of London, his son Eric Bach and grandson Stevie Bach of Madison, his stepsons Morriss, David, and Joel Partee, his stepchildren Christopher and Gabriella Lewis, step grandchildren Sean Partee, Sara Davis, and Rachael Davis Partee, his second wife Reed Young of Houston, and his third wife Barbara Partee of Amherst. Emmon published articles and books on syntax, phonology, languages of British Columbia, especially Haisla, on problems of tense and aspect in semantics, and on formal problems and semantic issues in the morphology of polysynthetic languages. For several years in the 1980s and 1990s, he taught linguistics and cotaught Haisla and Coast Tsimshian in British Columbia. After his retirement from UMass, he held an appointment as a Professorial Research Associate at SOAS (University of London), where he taught semantics and field methods. Beyond his scientific interests, he was also concerned with language rights and problems of language endangerment. He also wrote poetry and played the banjo and various other instruments.

Our department's founder, Don Freeman, had tried to recruit Emmon here in 1971, but Emmon was not yet ready to leave Texas. Later, after Barbara arrived in 1972 and Barbara and Emmon got together, Emmon was happy to come to UMass. At first there wasn't a full position available and for two years starting in 1973 Emmon taught half-time at Hampshire College and half-time at UMass (amounting to about 150% time in terms of work). But starting in 1975 he was full-time at UMass, and when Jay Keyser left for MIT in 1977, Emmon became Head, and was Head until 1985. Emmon played a major role in strengthening the department. Besides recruiting a number of new faculty and persuading the Dean to raise departmental salaries substantially during one of the rare budgetary good years, he obtained a commitment from the Dean for first-year fellowships for our PhD students so that they would not have to teach, making possible a major strengthening of the first-year curriculum. Emmon was a key part of the strength in semantics that helped to put UMass on the map within just a few years of the department's 1970 creation. Don Freeman had managed to get the 1974 Linguistic Institute for UMass, and had Emmon signed up as Co-Director before Emmon had even come to UMass. Emmon and Barbara put together a strong semantics and philosophy of language component in that Institute, with leading scholars here to teach and participate in research workshops (one led by Emmon, one by Barbara, both with funding from the Mathematical Social Science Board.)

After Angelika joined the program in 1985, Emmon, Barbara, and Angelika often taught seminars together and worked together with students (including Molly Diesing, Roger Schwarzschild, Kai von Fintel, Paul Portner, Hotze Rullmann, Ginny Brennan, Noriko Kawasaki, Stephen Berman, Alison Taub, and Yutaka Ohno) on the big NSF cross-linguistic quantification project that included events at the LSA and at the 1989 Linguistic Institute in Arizona, and led to their jointly edited book (with Eloise Jelinek) Quantification in Natural Languages, one of the first major efforts in semantic typology.

Emmon Bach supervised PhD dissertations in semantics, syntax, and phonology, including those by Ellen Broselow, George Horn, Deborah Nanni, Mark Stein, Jean Lowenstamm, Deirdre Wheeler, Charles Jones, Wynn Chao, Carolyn Quintero, Joyce McDonough, Gert Webelhuth, and Jim Blevins. Students whose dissertation committees involved Emmon included Robin Cooper, Muffy Siegel, Nicki Keach, Michael Flynn, Michael Rochemont, Paul Hirschbuhler, Elisabet Engdahl, Irene Heim, Gennaro Chierchia, Peter Sells, Alison Huettner, Yoshi Kitagawa, Craige Roberts, Scott Myers, Jae-Woong Choe, Sandro Zucchi, Virginia Brennan, Noriko Kawasaki, and Paul Portner.Emmon had also been interested in linguistic fieldwork from several years before he came to UMass. His first periods in Kitimat, BC, working on the Haisla language were around 1970 - 71. He resumed that interest in the late 1970's and spent quite a few summers and some sabbatical (and retirement) years in Kitimat, including all of 1989-90 and 1994-95, with continuing trips there until quite recently. His work on Haisla led him into a great interest in the nature of the word in agglutinative languages; in the open Workshop on Cross-Linguistic Semantics at the 1989 Linguistic Institute he first launched discussion of the question of whether one even found variable-binding inside the word in languages where 'a word can be a sentence'. In the last few decades many of his papers have been about the syntax and the semantics of word grammar, often drawing on Haisla. His earlier research included classic papers on the semantics of tense and aspect, often combined with excursions into what he felicitously christened 'natural language metaphysics'. As he put it, philosophers who work on metaphysics try to figure out what there is; linguists try to figure out what speakers of natural languages talk as if there is -- what presuppositions about metaphysics and ontology are built into the semantics of a language. And he saw model-theoretic semantics as offering new ways to probe such presuppositions. Among his most cited contributions are two in this area: 'On time, tense, and aspect: an essay in English metaphysics' (1981) and 'The algebra of events' (1986). Earlier still he had done influential work somewhat in the vein of generative semantics, particularly with his early and influential paper 'Nouns and noun phrases' (1968). His interesting work in the 1970's on the status of 'transitive verb phrases' (TVPs), phrasal units that combine with a direct object to make a verb phrase, led to insights into the nature of passive ('In defense of passive' (1980)) and control ('Control in Montague grammar' (1979), 'Purpose clauses and control' (1982)), and fed into his interest in 'extended categorial grammar': when a TVP combines with a direct object, the direct object goes next to the verb -- the TVP combines with the NP by an operation he called 'right-wrap'. A number of those ideas, including 'right-wrap', were later incorporated into HPSG.


In Memoriam

Emmanuel Chemla to lecture

October 8, 2014

Emmanuel Chemla from the Institut Jean Nicod and the Laboratory of Cognitive Science and Psycholinguistics at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris will visit us from October 13 to October 31. He will give a series of three lectures and will also be available for individual appointments. Emmanuel is a philosopher, logician, semanticist, and psycholinguist all in one person. His lecture series will inaugurate what we hope to be a string of events in the next couple of years dedicated to:


The Investigation of Linguistic Meaning: From the Armchair to the Lab and Back 

Here is a summary of Emmanuel’s lectures:

"Our language ability relies on complex rules. Combinatorial semantic rules, syntactic rules, phonological rules are all complex in the following sense: if you translate these rules in a non-linguistic domain and ask a competent speaker to apply them, these speakers would suffer (and show signs of it: slow reaction times, high error rates if that's defined, etc.). Yet, we all apply these rules, hundreds of times every day, effortlessly. That's the tension I'm interested in: the complexity of language (measured from the perspective of speakers) and the easiness with which these same speakers deploy it in language. Models coming from modern linguistics offer the means to investigate these issues, by providing the right test cases and careful descriptions of the underlying rules. I will discuss specific case studies and propose different methods to investigate this tension and see what it says about the organization of our language system.”


Lecture 1: October 15, 2:30 to 4:00. Integrative Learning Center, N400. 

Logic in Grammar: Parallel Investigations. Joint work with Vincent Homer and Daniel Rothschild.

Joint session with Vincent Homer’s seminar.


Lecture 2: October 22: 4:00 to 5:30. Integrative Learning Center, N400. 

Concepts in a lexicon: Learning homophony. Innateness and Bayesianism. Joint work with Isabelle Dautriche.

Joint session with Alejandro Pérez-Carballo’s and Vincent Homer’s seminars. 


Lecture 3: October 27: 4:00 to 5:30. Integrative Learning Center, N400. 

Priming studies to study linguistic representations and operations. Joint work with Lewis Bott, Mora Maldonado, and Benjamin Spector. 

Joint session with Brian Dillon & Lyn Frazier’s seminar. 


You are cordially invited to attend one, two, or all three of the lectures. There will be receptions after lectures 2 and 3, followed by special discussion sessions. We hope to inspire a lot of discussion and deep thinking about the arduous road from the armchair to the lab and back. 

NSF grant awarded to support research on phonology at UMass

September 21, 2014
The NSF has awarded a grant of $305,613 to support a project entitled “Computing constraint-based derivations: Phonological opacity and hidden structure learning”, starting September 1, 2014, and lasting for 3 years. John McCarthy and Joe Pater will direct the grant, and the other senior personnel will be Robert Staubs (UMass) and Mark Johnson (Macquarie). The grant will support a graduate student RA, and also includes a Research Experience for Undergraduates component that will involve two undergraduates every semester. The project plans include the creation of a publicly accessible database on instances of phonological opacity, development of accounts of opacity in Harmonic Serialism and comparison with other approaches, implementation of computational tools for working with derivational versions of OT and Harmonic Grammar ("OT-Help 3"), and research on the learning of hidden structure in a Maximum Entropy framework, including learning of derivations.

We Are Moving

July 24, 2014

The Linguistics Department is finally moving into our new space.  Our new address is:


Integrative Learning Center

650 North Pleasant Street

Amherst, MA  01003


The move is scheduled for Monday, July 21, 2014.  The movers plan to move everything out of South College on that day.  The labs in Bartlett and the CSAAL offices will be moved later in the week.  It is unclear when exactly the phones and ethernet connections will be moved, so we will be harder to reach while we unpack and get set up.  Email will probably be the best way to reach us.  Our addresses are available on the “People” page of this website.

Angelika Kratzer and Manfred Krifka to convene SIAS Summer Institute

July 14, 2014

Angelika Kratzer and Manfred Krifka have heard that their proposal for a Summer Institute entitled “The Investigation of Linguistic Meaning: in the Armchair, in the Field, and in the Lab” was selected by the eight directors of SIAS (Some Institutes of Advanced Studies).  SIAS is a consortium consisting of the Princeton, Radcliffe, Stanford and Jerusalem Institutes for Advanced Studies, as well as the Berlin Wissenschaftskolleg, the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, and the National Humanities Center. A SIAS Summer Institute is a two year mentoring program for 20 post-doctoral fellows from Europe and the US. The fellows will be brought together in two two-week summer institutes directed by Kratzer and Krifka.  The program is jointly funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.


Seth Cable Awarded NSF Grant to Support Fieldwork on Tlingit

December 4, 2013

Professor Seth Cable has been awarded a three-year project grant by the National Science Foundation to study "The Verbal Morpho-semantics and Clausal Architecture of Tlingit." This grant funds semantic and syntactic fieldwork by Cable on the Tlingit language, a highly endangered and understudied Na-Dene language of Alaska. During the first year, the grant will also fund field research by James Crippen, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the University of British Columbia. In the second and third years, the grant will fund field research by graduate RAs at UMass Amherst. Finally, during all three years, the grant will provide funding for a special Undergraduate Research Assistant, who will aid the work of Cable, Crippen, and the RAs.


John McCarthy Becomes Dean of Graduate School

June 30, 2012

John J. McCarthy has been appointed Vice-Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School. Dean McCarthy is a Distinguished University Professor and was formerly Special Assistant to the Provost and Head of the Department of Linguistics. Read more about the Dean here. Congratulations, John!

Elisabeth Selkirk Awarded NSF Grant

July 24, 2012

Professor Emerita Elisabeth Selkirk has been awarded a nearly $500,000 grant by the National Science Foundation to study the "Effects of Syntactic Constuency on Phonology and Phonetics of Tone" (BCS-1147083). The award includes subawards for Central Connecticut State University and the University of the Basque Country (Spain). Selkirk held the first project meeting at the Linguistics department this month with her collaborators, Seunghun Lee of CCSU, Gorka Elordieta of UBC, and Emily Elfner, a postdoctoral researcher at McGill University and recent UMass alumna. Assistant Professors Kristine Yu and Seth Cable will also lend their expertise to the project. The project is expected to conclude in December 2015.


Work Starts on New Academic Classroom Building

March 23, 2012

During spring break week, March 19-23, work will begin on a new, $85 million academic classroom building to the north of the Campus Pond, adjacent to the Campus Center. This is an exciting project for the campus, and will add nearly 2,000 seats in state-of-the-art team-based learning classrooms, case study rooms, and other modern learning facilities. This will be the new home of the Linguistics Department, as well as Communications, Journalism, and Film Studies.

Sidewalk Closed

By going to, you can see a map of the construction zone and artist's renderings of the new building. The website has a complete description of the project, and will always have the most up-to-date information on schedules, detours, and other project information.

Undergraduate Wins Honors Grant for Work in Phonetics Lab

January 27, 2012

Undergraduate student Christopher Garry has received a $1000 research grant from the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Commonwealth Honors College for building a system to record vertical movement of the larynx during speech. Movement is recording using a Casio EX-F1 camera that can capture up to 1200 frames per second, although just 300 fps is more than enough for recording the relatively slow movement of the larynx. The system Chris is building processes these images in Matlab to measure changes in the height of the larynx as the person speaks and synchronizes these measurements with an audio recording of their speech. The height of the larynx in the neck varies directly with the pitch of the speaker's voice -- larynx lowering appears to be the principal mechanism for lowering pitch -- and with their regulation of the volume of the oral cavity to control air pressure inside it -- larynx lowering is at least the second most important means of expanding the oral cavity and reducing pressure. Chris is a computer engineering major who came to the Phonetics Lab last spring with an interest in getting practical research experience. He will present the results of this project at the Undergraduate Research Conference later this spring. Linguistics Professor John Kingston is his mentor in this research project.

Semantics Position to Start September 2012

January 4, 2012

The Linguistics Department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst invites applications for a one-year Lecturer position in Semantic Theory, starting Sept. 1, 2012. Duties for this position include advising students, pursuing independent research, participating in departmental research initiatives and teaching one course each semester.  We seek applicants with a vibrant research program that complements the research interests of the current Linguistics faculty.


Qualified applicants should have a Ph.D. in Linguistics by time of appointment. Salary is $48,520.


Applicants should submit a letter of application, statement of research and teaching interests, curriculum vitae, copies of research papers and three letters of recommendation, in either electronic or hard copy form, to:


Sarah Vega-Liros (Search Administrator),,




Semantics Search Committee
Department of Linguistics
226 South College Bldg.
University of Massachusetts
150 Hicks Way
Amherst, MA 01003-9274, USA



Review of applications will begin on Feb. 1, 2012 and continue until the position is filled.


UMass Amherst is a member of the Academic Career Network, a resource for dual-career couples ( and a member of the Five College Consortium along with Amherst, Hampshire, Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges.  The University of Massachusetts Amherst is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.  The Linguistics Department is committed to increasing the diversity of the faculty, student body, and curriculum. Women and members of minority groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

UMass Linguists Sweep LSA Honors

October 17, 2011

The Linguistics Society of America has awarded the 2011 Early Career Award to Professor Seth Cable.  This award is in recognition of the "outstanding contribution to the field of Linguistics" made by a young scholar.  Congratulations, Seth, for this well-deserved honor.


Of the ten new Linguistics Society of America Fellows elected this year, five were from UMass:  Four faculty members and one alumna.  This honor recognizes the "distinguished contributions to the discipline" made by  Professors Alice Harris, Angelika Kratzer, John McCarthy and Lisa Selkirk, and alum Irene Heim.  Congratulations to all five for this recognition of their many important contributions to Linguistics.

Read more

Tenure Track Position in Language Acquisition, University of Massachusetts Amherst

October 7, 2011

The Linguistics Department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Commonwealth Honors College invite applications for a joint tenure-track position for a theoretical linguist with a specialization in language acquisition at the assistant professor level, starting September 1, 2012. The position will involve advising and teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels as well as participating in initiatives to enrich the offerings of Commonwealth Honors College. Commonwealth Honors College is the undergraduate honors college at UMass Amherst, and as such half of the teaching load for this position will be undergraduate honors courses offered by the Linguistics Department. We seek applicants who can develop and supervise experimental studies and whose research interests complement those of the current Linguistics faculty.


Qualifications: Ph.D. in linguistics or related field by August 31, 2012 strongly preferred; but firm expectation of ABD by August 31, 2012 will be considered. Salary commensurate with qualifications and experience. The standard teaching load is two courses per semester.

Applicants should submit a letter of application, statement of research and teaching interests, curriculum vitae, copies of research papers, and evidence of teaching ability, and they should arrange for three letters of reference to be sent. Materials can be submitted online to:

Electronic submissions preferred. If unable to submit application online, applications can be mailed to:


Acquisition Search Committee
Department of Linguistics
226 South College
University of Massachusetts
150 Hicks Way
Amherst MA 01003 U.S.A.


Questions about the application process may be directed to the Search Administrator,
Sarah Vega-Liros, , (413) 545-0885.


Review of applications will begin on December 2, 2011 and continue until the position is filled.


UMass Amherst is a member of the Academic Career Network, a resource for dual-career couples ( and a member of the Five College Consortium along with Amherst, Hampshire, Smith and Mt. Holyoke Colleges. The University of Massachusetts Amherst is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. The Linguistics Department is committed to increasing the diversity of the faculty, student body, and curriculum. Women and members of minority groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

Kristine Yu hired as Assistant Professor of Phonology

April 1, 2011

Yu studies the relationship between phonetic cues and phonological categories and how this is learned, using fieldwork, phonetic analysis, computational modeling, and experimentation. She has published on the representation of tonal categories and on sentence-level prosody. Yu’s research at the phonetics-phonology interface will complement our current strengths in phonetics and phonological learning. Yu is expected to complete her Ph.D. from UCLA in June 2011. She will join the faculty in Fall 2012, after a completing a post-doctoral position at the University of Maryland.

Department welcomes Psycholinguist Brian Dillon to the faculty

April 1, 2011

Brian Dillon was hired as part of a ‘cluster hire’ search carried out in collaboration with Psychology and Computer Science in spring 2010. Dillon works on the processing of different types of grammatical dependencies, and how they interact with memory systems.  He also has worked on the acquisition of phonological categories.  Dillon's research is motivated by questions of linguistic theory, with a strong cross-language component.  He has conducted research on processing in Iniktutut, Mandarin, Hindi, and he has begun research on processing in Turkish. Dillon also has expertise in quantitative and computational approaches to linguistics. This summer he will be setting up a psycholinguistics laboratory in Bartlett Hall, and will join the faculty full-time in September 2011.  Brian Dillon is expected to complete his Ph.D. from University of Maryland in May 2011. Welcome Brian!

Iranian Language Project: A Community-Based Oral History

November 5, 2010

UMass Ph.D. student Annahita Farudi and Maziar Toosarvandani, of UC Berkeley are collaborating on a community-based oral history project for Zoroastrian Dari. Zoroastrian Dari (also called Zartoshti, Behdinˆani, or Gabri) is a Central Plateau language of the Northwestern subbranch of the Iranian language family (Indo-European). It is spoken by the Zoroastrian religious minority of Iran, primarily in and around the city of Yazd, and is distinct from the eponymous dialect of Persian spoken in Afghanistan. The 5,000 fluent speakers who remain are the last generation to grow up when the language was still the community’s primary mode of communication. This project will record the oral histories of elderly Zoroastrian residents of Yazd, documenting Dari as it was spoken before modernization, when the Zoroastrians of Yazd still lived in isolated agrarian communities. (Link to ELF October 2010 newsletter)

New Home For Linguistics Planned

October 29, 2010

A beautiful new $85 million academic and classroom building is expected to be completed on the UMass campus near the campus center and the pond by January 2014. It will provide a new home for the UMass Linguistics department, including all of its labs. See the full article here.

(October 22, 2010)

National Research Council's ranking of graduate programs released

October 27, 2010

The long anticipated National Research Council's evaluation of U.S. graduate programs has been released. There are two chief measures, and on both of them UMass's department did well. On the measure that has the narrowest range of variation, we were rated, overall, between the 3rd and 5th best among linguistics graduate programs. The methods used to evaluate programs are complex and subtle (look here or here for details). The results for all linguistics programs, as compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education, can be found here. The Chronicle has also published an interactive guide to the rankings across fields which affords a way of directly comparing departments. You'll find it here.

LSA honors Andries Coetzee

October 26, 2010

The Linguistic Society of America honors UMass PhD Andries W. Coetzee, now a linguist at the University of Michigan, with its first-ever Early Career Award. This new award was instituted in 2010 to recognize a new scholar who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of linguistics. The award will be presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh. Andries got his PhD at UMass in 2004.

Katy Carlson receives Distinguished Faculty award

October 26, 2010

Katy Carlson, UMass PhD 2001, awarded a distinguished faculty award by Morehead State University.