John Goldsmith

Faculty Photo
Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of Linguistics and Computer Science
Pronouns: He/Him/His
Rosenwald 201B
Office Hours: By Appointment
(773) 702-3681
Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1976
Teaching at UChicago since 1984
Research Interests: Phonology, Computational Morphology, Historical Epistemology

Dr. John Goldsmith’s work has focused on phonological theory, on Bantu tone systems, and on computational morphology and phonology (especially algorithms for unsupervised learning). This work has included the development of autosegmental phonology, harmonic phonology, dynamic computational models of stress and sonority, the open source projects Linguistica, and geometric morphology.

In 2019, Goldsmith published (along with Bernard Laks) Battle in the Mind Fields, the first in a sequence of books exploring the epistemology and sociology of the development of ideas in linguistics, philosophy, and psychology.

Recent Publications


  • Battle in the Mind Fields (2019) 
  • Empiricism and Language Learnability (2015) 
  • Ideology and Linguistic Theory (1995) 
  • Autosegmental and Metrical Phonology (1990)


Selected Articles/Chapters:

  • "American descriptivist morphology in the 1950s" (in press) 
  • "Generative phonology: its origins, its principles, and its successors" (in press);
  • "Learning Swahili morphology (in press); A group structure for strings: Towards a learning algorithm for morphophonology" (Radical, 2019);
  • "Computational approaches to morphology" (2017); Geometric morphology (2017);
  • "Information theoretic approaches to phonology: the case of Finnish vowel harmony." (2017)

2019-2020 Course Offerings

Battle in the Mind Fields (LING 26550/36555) - Autumn 2019

The goal of this course is to better understand both the ruptures and the continuity that we find in the development of linguistics, psychology, and philosophy over the period from early in the 19th century up until around 1960. Among the topics we will look at are the emergence of 19th century linguistics through the methods developed to reconstruct Proto Indo-European, and at the same time, the emergence of two wings of German psychology (exemplified by Brentano and by Wundt); the transplanting of both of these disciplines to the United States at the end of the 19th century; the rise of behaviorism in psychology and its interaction with Gestalt psychology as German scholars were forced to leave their homes in Europe in the years before World War II; the development of an American style of linguistics associated with the Linguistic Society of America; and the interactions after World War II of cybernetics, cognitively-oriented psychology, and a new style of linguistic theory development, and the relationship between generative grammar and the work in phonology and syntax during the 1950s in the United States.

Computational Linguistics (CS) (LING 28600/LING 38600) - Spring 2020

This is a course in the Computer Science department, intended for upper-level undergraduates, or graduate students, who have good programming skills. There will be weekly programming assignments in Python. We will look at several current topics in natural language processing, and discuss both the theoretical basis for the work and engaging in hands-on practical experiments with linguistic corpora. In line with most current work, our emphasis will be on systems that draw conclusions from training data rather than relying on the encoding of generalizations obtained by humans studying the data. As a consequence of that, in part, we will make an effort not to focus on English, but to look at a range of human languages in our treatments.