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Ray Jackendoff

Ray Jackendoff
Born (1945-01-23) January 23, 1945
Fields Generative grammar, Cognitive science, Music cognition
Institutions Tufts, Brandeis
Alma mater MIT, Swarthmore
Doctoral advisor Noam Chomsky
Notable students Neil Cohn
Notable awards Fellow of the AAAS
Jean Nicod Prize (2003)
Rumelhart Prize (2014)

Ray Jackendoff (born January 23, 1945) is an American linguist. He is professor of philosophy, Seth Merrin Chair in the Humanities and, with Daniel Dennett, Co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He has always straddled the boundary between generative linguistics and cognitive linguistics, committed as he is both to the existence of an innate Universal Grammar (an important thesis of generative linguistics) and to giving an account of language that meshes well with the current understanding of the human mind and cognition (the main purpose of cognitive linguistics).

Jackendoff's research deals with the semantics of natural language, its bearing on the formal structure of cognition and its lexical and syntactic expression. He has also done extensive research on the relationship between conscious awareness and the computational theory of mind, on syntactic theory, and, with Fred Lerdahl, on musical cognition, culminating in their Generative theory of tonal music. His theory of conceptual semantics developed into a comprehensive theory on the foundations of language, which indeed is the title of a recent monograph (2002): Foundations of Language. Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution. Much earlier, in his 1983 Semantics and Cognition, he was one of the first linguists to integrate the vision faculty into his account of meaning and human language.

Jackendoff studied under the famed linguists Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his PhD in linguistics in 1969. Before moving to Tufts in 2005, Jackendoff was professor of linguistics and Chair of the Linguistics Program at Brandeis University from 1971 to 2005. During the 2009 spring semester, he was an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Jackendoff was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in 2003. He is the 2014 recipient of the David E. Rumelhart Prize, the premier award in the field of cognitive science.


  • Interfaces and generative grammar 1
  • Contribution to musical cognition 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
    • Selected works 4.1
    • Footnotes 4.2
  • External links 5

Interfaces and generative grammar

Jackendoff argues against a syntax-centered view of generative grammar (called syntactocentrism by him), at variance with earlier models such as Standard Theory (1968); Extended Standard Theory (1972); Revised Extended Standard Theory (1975); Government and binding theory (1981); Minimalist program (1993), in which syntax is the sole generative component in the language. Jackendoff takes syntax, semantics and phonology all to be generative, connected amongst each other via interface components. Thus, the task of his theory is to formalize the proper interface rules.

While rejecting mainstream generative grammar due to its syntactocentrism, the cognitive semantics school has offered an insight that Jackendoff would sympathize with, namely, that meaning is a separate combinatorial system not entirely dependent upon syntax. Unlike many of the cognitive semantics approaches, he contends that neither syntax alone should determine semantics, nor vice versa. Syntax need only interface with semantics to the degree necessary to produce properly ordered phonological output (see Jackendoff 1996, 2002; Culicover & Jackendoff 2005).

Contribution to musical cognition

Jackendoff, together with Fred Lerdahl, has been interested in the human capacity for music and its relationship to the human capacity for language. In particular, music has structure as well as grammar (a means by which sounds are combined into structures). When a listener hears music in an idiom he or she is familiar with, the music is not merely heard as a stream of sounds; rather, the listener constructs an unconscious understanding of the music and is able to understand pieces of music never heard previously. Jackendoff is interested in what cognitive structures or "mental representations" this understanding consists of in the listener's mind, how a listener comes to acquire the musical grammar necessary to understand a particular musical idiom, what innate resources in the human mind make this acquisition possible and, finally, what parts of the human music capacity are governed by general cognitive functions and what parts result from specialized functions geared specifically for music (Jackendoff & Lerdahl, 1983; Lerdahl, 2001). Similar questions have also been raised regarding human language, although there are differences. For instance, it is more likely that humans evolved a specialized language module than having evolved one for music, since even the specialized aspects of music comprehension are tied to more general cognitive functions [1]

See also


Selected works

  • Jackendoff, Ray (1972). Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar. Cambridge, MA:  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (1977). X-Bar Syntax: A Study of Phrase Structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 248.  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (1983). Semantics and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 283.  
  • Lerdahl, Fred & Ray Jackendoff (1983). A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 369.  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (1987). Consciousness and the Computational Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 356.  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (1990). Semantic Structures. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 322.  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (1992). Languages of the Mind: Essays on Mental Representation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 200.  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (1993). Patterns in the Mind: Language and Human Nature. New York, NY: Harvester Wheatsheaf. p. 243.  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (1997). The Architecture of the Language Faculty. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 262.  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (2002). Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 477.  
  • Culicover, Peter W. & Ray Jackendoff (2005).  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (2007). Language, Consciousness, Culture: Essays on Mental Structure (Jean Nicod Lectures). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. p. 403.  
  • Jackendoff, Ray (2010). Meaning and the Lexicon: The Parallel Architecture 1975–2010. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 504.  


  1. ^ ,100, 33-72 (2006).CognitionJackendoff, R.& Lerdahl, F. The capacity for music: what is it and what's special about it?,

External links

  • Website at Tufts University
  • Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University
  • Ray Jackendoff, Conceptual Semantics, Harvard University, 13 November 2007 (video)
  • Semantics and Cognition, in Shalom Lappin (1996), "The Handbook of Contemporary Semantic Theory", 539-559. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Possible stages in the evolution of the language capacity, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 3, No. 7 (July 1999).
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