MIT linguist Danny Fox named Anshen-Chomsky Professor of Language and Thought

October 8, 2014

MIT linguist Danny Fox named Anshen-Chomsky Professor of Language and Thought

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School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

Danny Fox

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Professor David Pesetsky, head of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, has announced the appointment of MIT linguist Danny Fox to the new Anshen-Chomsky Professorship in Language and Thought.

“I am humbled and deeply touched by this appointment,” Fox said. “It is a huge honor to be able to work here at MIT, among the most amazing collection of students and colleagues.” 

This chair was made possible by an endowment to the department from the late Ruth Anshen, a philosopher and author who was personally close to Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky. Anshen established the professorship to honor Chomsky’s contributions not only to linguistics but also to the broader study of mind.

Discoveries about language and mind

“I cannot think of a linguist more worthy than Danny as the holder of a chair that honors Noam's contributions to the study of language, thought, and their interrelations,” Pesetsky said. “Danny is one of the most remarkable linguists of our time.”

Fox conducts research in a broad set of domains and is well-known in the field for his contributions to syntax (sentence structure), semantics, pragmatics, and even the relation of these areas — particularly syntax — to sound structure. Recently, he spent three years at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he helped establish the new Language, Logic, and Cognition Center.

“Danny Fox belongs to the rare breed of researchers who not only discover remarkable new facts about language, but also has the vision to see what these discoveries are teaching us about the mind as a whole, about the structure of language as a part of the human mind, and about the internal workings of language itself,” Pesetsky said.

Theoretician, experimentalist, linguist, and cognitive scientist 

Pesetsky compared Fox to Chomsky, who is sometimes called the “father of linguistics” for his work on the fundamental nature of language. “Danny is simultaneously a theoretician and an experimentalist, a brilliant linguist, and a profound cognitive scientist,” Pesetsky said. “The comparison one thinks of is Noam Chomsky himself, the founder of our field.”

Fox received his PhD from MIT in 1998 and from 1998 to 2001 was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. He joined the faculty at MIT in 2001 and became a full professor with tenure in 2007. He is the author of “Economy and Semantic Interpretation” (MIT Press, 1999), which Chomsky called “a truly outstanding achievement.”

“Every day I learn something new and am constantly reminded of how much the people around me deserve my admiration,” Fox said. “Noam Chomsky and other teachers at MIT, all my current colleagues, have influenced me in ways that are too profound to describe.”

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Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
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