Tufts professor to discuss the structures of the mind that relate to awareness

One of the world’s linguistics luminaries, Tufts University Professor Ray Jackendoff, will speak at York University on April 11.  The title of his lecture is “Conscious Aspects of Language Structure”.

Jackendoff, who is the Seth Merrin Professor of Philosophy and the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, is a leading scholar in linguistic theory. At the lecture at York he will be talking about the functional correlates of consciousness – the formal structures in the mind that are relevant to awareness. The event takes place in the Harry Crowe Room, 109, Atkinson College, from 4 to 6pm, Wednesday.

Left: Ray Jackendoff

“My central interest is the system of meaning, the messages that language conveys and what they tell you about the character of human thought,” Jackendoff said in an interview when he took up his post at Tufts last year.

Jackendoff says his research addresses questions such as: “What is going on in the brain when we use language or understand someone else speaking? How do we learn language, and what does that tell us about the character of the brain? How do children acquire the tool kit of language? Is some of it wired in?”

Prior to joining Tufts, Jackendoff spent 34 years as a professor of linguistics at Brandeis University (1971-2005).   He completed his PhD at MIT under the outspoken linguistics giant and political critic Professor Noam Chomsky, whose theory of generative grammar, with its underlying assumption that language is largely genetically determined, has been hotly debated. Previously, linguistics had been primarily a descriptive and behaviouristic science. Jackendoff has said that he was a reluctant participant in the linguistics wars of the 1960s, the debates that ensued within the linguistics field after Chomsky’s revolutionary views were published.

Since then, Jackendoff has made a mark by developing his own groundbreaking ideas and writing numerous influential works, including Foundation of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution (2002), which explains how language, the brain and perception intermesh and his latest book, Simpler Syntax, published in 2005. Jackendoff’s forthcoming book, Language, Consciousness, Culture: Essays on Mental Structure, published by MIT Press, will be released this year.

His lecture at York University is co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and the Departments of Languages, Literature & Linguistics and Philosophy in York’s Faculty of Arts, as well as the Cognitive Science Program and Calumet College.