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Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2014/2015

Term: 2

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. John Colarusso


Office: Chester New Hall 532

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23902

Office Hours: by appointment

Course Objectives:

This course will examine the origins of modern syntactic theory as a reaction against the behaviourism of B. F. Skinner.  Its basis in mathematical developments of the mid-twentieth century will be emphasized.  Revised Extended Standard Theory, Government and Binding, and Minimalism will be examined briefly as parts of a coherent effort to model a mental capacity: language.  Efforts to extend this enterprise beyond language will be discussed in a rigorous manner.  The underlying method of the course will be to render key concepts in a rigorous manner, which otherwise are traditionally presented chiefly by means of plausibility arguments.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Chomsky, Noam, Language and Mind (3rd edition)

Custom Courseware coursepack compiled by John Colarusso

Method of Assessment:

Homework,(5 assignments, 20% each).  These will be short (one page) essays of an exact and concise form.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

1)  Skinnerian Behaviourism and the concept of the science of the mind.

(Coursepack (CP), pp. 1-32; Chomsky ch. 1)  2 weeks

Homework #1

2)  Chomsky’s critique of Skinner and the concept of a generative system

(CP: 33 – 56; Chomsky chs. 2 and 3) 2 weeks

Homework #2

3)  Innateness, the language acquisition device, modularity, Language Faculty

(CP: 57-118; Chomsky ch. 5) 3 weeks

Homework #3

4)  Grammars beyond language: mathematics, music, dance, folklore, literature

(lectures; Chomsky, ch. 7) 3 weeks

Homework #4

5)  Formal issues and infinity, or “How Big is Language?”

(CP: 119-183) 3 weeks

Homework #5


Other Course Information:

If you know that you will be late in handing in your project, you must seek an extension from your instructor. 

If you know that you cannot attend class, please inform your instructor ahead of time.


METHOD:  3 hours/week of lectures.