Janet Dean Fodor came to the Graduate Center from the University of Connecticut in 1986 as a distinguished professor of linguistics. She is the author of a textbook on semantics, titled Semantics: Theories of Meaning in Generative Grammar, which has been called “a masterpiece of clarity and good sense.” Her 1979 monograph The Linguistic Description of Opaque Contexts was republished in 2013 by Routledge as part of a new series of classic works in linguistics.
From the late 1970s, Fodor developed a program of research in psycholinguistics, focusing on the psychological mechanisms by which people understand the sentences they read or hear. She has collaborated with students conducting experimental research on their native languages: Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian, and Turkish, among others. Many of these studies have focused on the role of prosody in language comprehension, including the “implicit prosody” that is mentally projected in silent reading. In 1988, she founded the CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, which has become the major international forum for research on psycholinguistics. Another research focus is language learnability theory, including model development and computer simulation studies of children’s acquisition of syntax, in collaboration with colleagues in computer science.
Fodor is a former president of the Linguistic Society of America. She earned a B.A. and an M.A. from Oxford University, and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.