Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Readings and Attendance

There is no single textbook for this class. No existing textbook covers the material exactly the way we wish to do it at MIT, and we have given up trying to find one.

The readings listed on the syllabus include fragments from several different textbooks, as well as a few research articles.

It is strongly recommended that you do the reading, which is provided to help you understand the material. Your primary source of information, however, should be the class itself. You will not be responsible for material in the reading that is not covered in class, and many topics covered in class will not be covered in any of the readings.

Therefore, attendance and participation in all classes is obligatory. I cannot emphasize this enough. You must come to class and you must participate. If you have a habit of working all night and sleeping all day, or if you believe that it's nobler to skip classes than to attend them, do not take 24.902!

Problem Sets

There will be problem sets most weeks. The difficulty of these problems will vary. Some will be mechanical – even trivial – but others will be real puzzles (hopefully fun) requiring imagination and thought.

Problem sets will be corrected and graded. Your lowest problem set grade will be dropped. Exception: a zero for a non-submitted problem set will not be dropped.

Problem sets will be handed out on Wednesday, and are due on the following Wednesday. In general, late problem sets will not be accepted except by e-mailed permission of the instructor requested before the due date. Permission will normally be granted only for illness and similar emergencies.

Because this class is designated CI-M, I will give special attention to the writing of the problem sets. When called upon to explain a solution, or to evaluate alternative explanations for a phenomenon, you should pay special attention to the clarity and organization of your answer. Argumentation will be stressed. In keeping with the CI-M requirements, you will also be asked to correct and revise one of your assignments (to be designated later in the term).

You are encouraged to discuss the class with your classmates, and general discussion of the problem sets is fine — even encouraged. But make sure you arrive at the solution yourself. I know it may sometimes be unclear where to draw the line between "general discussion" and actually doing the problem together. If you are in any doubt, please tell me in a note on the problem set who you worked with. Needless to say, your written answers should be yours alone.


You will also write a short paper (5-10 p.) on a syntax topic. We will be most happy if the the paper is what linguists call a squib. A squib is a pattern of facts that you find interesting along with an exploration of their possible significance. You might discover these facts yourself, as you sit in class, talk with friends, or read the newspaper - or you might read them in a reference grammar or linguistics book. The paper should contain an organized description of the phenomenon, explain its interest and significance, and suggest how you might analyse it. For an entire professional journal devoted to squibs, see online. (Click on the open book icon for the actual squibs).

If you have grave difficulties finding a topic, an acceptable (but more conventional) alternative to the squib would be a 5-10p review of a popular-science book that discusses syntax in some way. I will supply a list of such books and more details about this option later in the semester.

The squib or review will be due two days after Lecture #19, but you should notify me of your topic no later than Lecture #17. Your squib will not necessarily take more time to write than one of the longer problem sets. Please discuss your topic with me in advance of the due date.

Final Exam

The exam will cover material from the entire course. The final exam will be a straightforward mixture of factual questions and problems. If you did well on the problem sets, you should have no problem with the final exam.

Grade Computation

  • Problem Sets / Midterm Quiz: 65%
  • Squib: 15%
  • Final Exam: 15%
  • Attendance / Participation: 5%