UMass Amherst is well known for integrating formal semantic theory into generative linguistic research. Natural language semantics seeks to understand the nature of how linguistic meaning is cognitively represented, and how those representations are productively computed. It is therefore studied here as a sub-branch of the larger discipline of cognitive science, a perspective that fosters leading research into the interactions and interfaces with syntax, morphology, and phonology (especially prosody). At this exciting moment in the discipline, our program emphasizes the essential cross-disciplinarity of semantic research, drawing upon work in such diverse areas as philosophy, logic, psychology, language documentation, and other areas of linguistic theory. As a branch of cognitive science, semantic theory is studied here through a variety of empirical methods, including traditional judgment tasks, laboratory experiments, psycholinguistic studies, computational modeling, and fieldwork. Our faculty have broad expertise in a variety of languages and language families, including Romance, South Asian languages, and North American indigenous languages. In addition, our program has a well-established tradition of faculty and students carrying out in-depth, theoretically-informed semantic fieldwork on a wide variety of understudied and endangered languages, especially languages indigenous to the Americas, Asia, and Africa, as well as signed languages.

Core faculty: Ana Arregui, Maria Biezma (joint with LLC), Seth Cable, Vincent Homer

Affiliated faculty: Rajesh Bhatt, Brian Dillon, Lisa Green, Kyle Johnson, Angelika Kratzer
(emerita), Barbara Partee (emerita)


Research on syntax at UMass is highly collaborative and empirically based. We believe that discovering the nature of natural language syntax requires not just a deep understanding of current models of sentence structure and syntactic features, but also a broad range of skills in collecting and analyzing linguistic data. The syntax faculty’s research exemplifies these goals in a variety of ways, including seeking extensive cross- linguistic evidence that reveals the typology of syntactic systems, testing theoretical models against data from understudied languages, and developing models of syntactic knowledge in collaboration with specialists in semantics, psycholinguistics, phonology, and language development. The syntax-semantics interface has been an area of active research in the department; more recently there has also been engagement with psycholinguistic proposals. The syntax faculty have broad area and typological expertise that in recent years has extended to cover Semitic, Iranian, Turkic, and South Asian languages in addition to existing areal expertise in Germanic and a focus on African American English. Some broad areas of interest include syntactic variation, at the dialectal level as well as language contact induced syntactic change, crosslinguistic typological generalizations, and development of novel architectures for syntactic structure that capture basic generalizations about movement and offer transparent mappings to interpretation. 

Core faculty: Faruk Akkus, Rajesh Bhatt, Lisa Green, Kyle Johnson

Affiliated faculty: Seth Cable, Brian Dillon, Shota Momma, Magda Oiry, Tom Roeper

Phonetics and phonology

The phonetics and phonology program at UMass Amherst is distinguished by its integration of innovative theoretical work with a wide range of empirical research. Phonological theory, usually within the broad framework of Optimality Theory, is developed with typological data, in-depth analysis of individual languages, and experiments with native speakers. Research on learning develops computational theories that are tested on natural language data, and that are used to model data from child language acquisition and laboratory experiments. Research on prosody probes the nature of phonological grammar and interfaces with phonetics, syntax, and semantics. Phonetics research develops theories of speech perception using behavioral experiments, as well as eye-tracking and ERP methods. The phonetics and phonology faculty also conducts field research, on languages as diverse as African American English, Samoan, indigenous languages of Brazil and the Oto-Manguean languages of Mexico.

Core faculty: Michael Becker, Gaja Jarosz, John Kingston, Joe Pater, Kristine Yu

Affiliated faculty: Meghan Armstrong (LLC), Brian Dillon, Lisa Green, Lisa Sanders (PBS),
Lisa Selkirk (emerita)


UMass Amherst is home to a highly active and interdisciplinary psycholinguistics community, comprising researchers both in the Linguistics department and in the Psychological and Brain Sciences department. Psycholinguistic research at UMass focuses on integrating linguistic theory with psycholinguistic theory, in the areas of speech perception, adult sentence comprehension and phonology. Research on sentence comprehension focuses on syntactic, semantic, and discourse processing with adult native speakers, both in English and in other languages spoken in our local community (e.g. Korean, Chinese, and Spanish). Sentence processing research at UMass also focuses on the interface between linguistic processing and other cognitive systems, such as working memory or extra-linguistic reasoning. Research on language production focuses on understanding the mechanisms involved in mapping meaning to linguistic structure in language production, focusing on how this varies cross-linguistically and across different types of linguistic structures. Research on speech perception focuses on the contributions of auditory processes, linguistic knowledge, and their interaction to recognizing and discriminating speech sounds. The interface between phonetics and phonology is studied by examining how listeners’ perceptual response to speech sounds influences sounds’ behavior in phonological grammars and sound change. Phonological psycholinguistics at UMass investigates native speaker knowledge, and learning of artificial languages. Psycholinguists at UMass explore these areas using a wide variety of experimental techniques, such as eye-tracking while reading and listening, ERP/EEG recordings, and behavioral experiments in the lab and on the web. Psycholinguistic research at UMass also involves computational modeling of language processing and learning.

Core faculty: Brian Dillon, John Kingston, Shota Momma

Affiliated faculty: Charles Clifton (emeritus, PBS), Lyn Frazier (emerita), Gaja Jarosz,
Alexandra Jesse (PBS), Joe Pater, Lisa Sanders (PBS), Adrian Staub (PBS), Kristine Yu

Language acquisition

Language acquisition research at UMass investigates the inplications of linguistic theory for our understanding of child and adult language learning, and develops theories of language learning. Research in this area ranges from the logic of acquisition in learnability theory, to the development and study of corpora of child language in a number of languages, to experimentation on topics such as complex structures in syntax, quantification in semantics, implicatures in pragmatics, and the order of acquisition of phonological structure. The Language Acquisition Research Center facilitates contact with work in second language acquisition and Communication Disorders and enables experimental research in nursery and elementary schools.

Core faculty: Magda Oiry, Tom Roeper

Affiliated faculty: Luiz Amaral (LLC), Megan Armstrong-Abrami (LLC), Michael Becker,
Brian Dillon, Lisa Green, Megan Gross (ComDis), Jill Hoover (ComDis). Gaja Jarosz,
Joonkoo Park (PBS), Joe Pater, Danielle Thomas (LLC), Jill deVilliers (Smith College)

Under-represented languages

In recent years faculty members have conducted fieldwork on languages as diverse as Tlingit, Navajo, Oto-Manguean languages, Bodic languages, Bantu languages, Dholuo, Somali, Batsbi, and Samoan. Graduate students have worked on an even wider array of languages, and still others have been studied in field methods courses. In this department, fieldwork has been used as a tool for research in phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, psycholinguistics, documentation, historical linguistics, and language variation. In addition, faculty as well as graduate students have been active in a variety of community-centered projects, including workshops for speakers of endangered languages and teachers of speakers of varieties of English, dictionaries, grammars, and pedagogical materials.

Core faculty: Faruk Akkus, Michael Becker, Seth Cable, Lisa Green, John Kingston, Kristine Yu

Affiliated faculty: Alice Harris (emerita)

Computational linguistics

Computational linguistics at UMass Amherst involves the application of computational methods and theory to the study of linguistics, and the development of computational theories of language learning and language processing. The faculty in this area are part of a broader community of researchers studying computation and language at the Five Colleges, which along with computational linguistics also includes research in natural language processing and information retrieval.

Core faculty: Michael Becker, Rajesh Bhatt, Brian Dillon, Gaja Jarosz, Joe Pater, Kristine Yu

Affiliated faculty: Brendan O'Connor, Mohit Iyyer, Andrew McCallum (all CICS)