IAI Colloquium: Juan Uriagereka, "On the algorithmic beauty of language"

Wednesday, November 2, 2016
4:00 p.m.
1146 AV Williams Building

On the algorithmic beauty of language

Juan Uriagereka
Department of Linguistics
Faculty member, Brain and Behavior Initiative
University of Maryland

In this talk I discuss an analysis of linguistic categories, and their possible (standard) combinations, in terms of matrix mechanics. I concentrate on the initial conditions of the system only – technically called First Merge (1st M).

View a PDF of the abstract, with diagrams, here.

In advance of the talk, you may enjoy reading a 15-minute, not-too-technical article on the broad topic: http://inference-review.com/article/the-recovery-of-case

Also, this little book by Noam Chomsky and Robert Berwick (which is in the library) is easy and fun to read: Why Only Us, MIT Press (2015).

Finally, here is a 50-minute video that introduces the topic:


After an initial training in the sciences, Juan Uriagereka’s work shifted to the humanities inspired by Noam Chomsky’s. His dissertation was based on a dynamical definition of locality in linguistic displacement that appeared in Linguistic Inquiry, which led to works in various venues: on Romance pronouns, topic and focus constructions, movement conditions in Basque, impersonal constructions, etc. Working at the edge of the minimalist program, Uriagereka has made proposals exploring new territories: on spell-out of syntactic structures, the emergence of barriers to question formation, reprojections of syntactic categories, etc. This project is summarized in Rhyme and Reason (MIT Press 1998) and Derivations (Routledge 2005).

Uriagereka helped put together a Biolinguistics Network, which involved workshops, grants, and the journal Biolinguistics (of which he is a member of the Editorial Board). His works on language evolution and architecture center around two events: a festschrift for his mentor Howard Lasnik, co-edited into the volume Step by Step, MIT Press 2000, and an event involving Noam Chomsky and collaborators, which he organized and co-edited into the volume Of Minds and Language (MIT Press 2009). He has also written several pieces related to biolinguistics, which have been compiled into the volumes Syntactic Anchors (Cambridge) and Spell-out in the Minimalist Program (Oxford).

Uriagereka was as a founding member of the Linguistics Department at Maryland. He was Undergraduate Director, Collegiate Council member, Senator, Graduate Director, chair of college and university committees, and Associate Provost. He has directed or co-directed 19 dissertations and participated in the committees of 60 more students. Part of his teaching efforts have come in the form of two textbooks co-authored with Howard Lasnik: A Course in GB Syntax (MIT Press 1988) and A Course in Minimalist Syntax (with Cedric Boeckx, Blackwell 2005), which have been amply reviewed.


Audience: Undergraduate  Faculty  Post-Docs  Alumni 

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