David Pesetsky – 2013

15th Annual Lecture

David Pesetsky
Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Modern Languages and Linguistics
Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow

April 5, 2013
Wu & Chen Auditorium
101 Levine Hall


Language and Music: same structures, different building blocks

Is there a special kinship between music and language? Both are complex, law-governed cognitive systems, Both are universal across the human species, but show some variation from culture to culture. Do the similarities run deeper than this? Although there is a rich tradition of speculation on this question, the current consensus among researchers is quite cautious. In this talk (presenting joint work with Jonah Katz), I will offer a linguist’s perspective on the issue — and argue against the cautious consensus. Though the formal properties of music and language do differ, I will propose that these differences reflect what is obvious: that the fundamental building blocks of language and music are different (for example: words vs. pitches). In all other respects, however — what they do with these building blocks — language and music are identical.


Bio: David Pesetsky is Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Linguistics and MacVicar Faculty Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he heads the Linguistics Section of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. Pesetsky received his B.A. from Yale in 1977, and his Ph.D. in linguistics from MIT in 1983. Before coming to MIT as a professor in 1988, he taught at the University of Southern California (1982-1983) and at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1983-1988). Pesetsky’s research focuses on syntax and the implications of syntactic theory for related areas such as language acquisition, semantics, phonology and morphology (word-structure). Many of his papers concern the structure of Russian, an language of special interest. Most recently, he has begun a collaborative investigation into the syntax of music and its relation to the syntax of language. (In his extra-curricular life, he is also principal second violinist of the New Philharmonia Orchestra of Massachusetts.) His publications include the books Zero Syntax (1994), Phrasal Movement and its Kin (2000), Russian Case Morphology and the Syntactic Categories (2013), and numerous published papers. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011) and a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America (2012).



Lecture Video