(current) Professor of Linguistics & Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, University of Maryland
(From 1/24) Professor of Linguistics, University of Oxford | part-time faculty, University of Maryland
Affiliated Faculty, Maryland Language Science Center (Founding Director 2013-2023)
Co-editor, Annual Review of Linguistics
Chair (2022-2023), AAAS Section Z (Linguistics & Language Science)
BA in Modern Languages, Oxford University (1990)
PhD in Linguistics, MIT (1996)
videos: umd feature (short) | linguistic illusions talk (long) | laboratory linguistics talk (medium) | Language at Maryland: more than the sum of our parts (medium) |
I am from the flat fen country of eastern England. I came to the US in 1990 for what was supposed to be a 10-month adventure. It lasted a little longer than that. I have been based in the Washington DC area since 2000.
In January 2024 I will start a new adventure, returning to the University of Oxford as Professor of Linguistics, and a Professorial Fellow at Somerville College. I will remain part-time at Maryland, continuing to work with wonderful students and faculty at UMD. Get in touch if you are interested in graduate study with me at either institution (Oxford: DPhil, MPhil, MSt; Maryland: PhD).
I mostly do just two closely-related things.
First, I do research on human language. I am impressed by the rich structure of human language, especially the countless details that we’re not consciously aware of. I want to know how children learn this. I want to know how those structures are encoded and manipulated, in cognitive and neuroscientific terms. These questions have taken me on a journey involving many different tools, languages, and fields of research. Along the way I have been fortunate to work with wonderful students, who have taught me a huge amount. Recently areas of focus include linguistic illusions, linguistic predictions, and the relation between speaking and understanding.
Second, I am an evangelist for Language Science. Language is hugely important to humans, but it rarely features in lists of priority areas for universities or for science. At the University of Maryland I worked for many years to change that. Over 20 years we built a broad, integrated community of language scientists that spans 17 departments and centers across the entire university. Our efforts were institutionalized as the Maryland Language Science Center, which I founded and directed from 2013-2023. We pursued these goals through two NSF-funded interdisciplinary programs that I directed (IGERT: 2008-2015; NRT: 2015-2022), among many other initiatives. We have shown that it is valuable to bring together the pieces of language science, for science and society alike.
I am looking forward to contributing to both of these themes in Oxford, starting in January 2024. This will be helped by the advent of the new Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities, due to open in 2025.
This site sketches how I pursue these two themes. You have better things to do than read my papers, and CVs are soulless. These pages aim to save you the trouble. [how this site was built]
When I am not obsessing about community building for language science, I obsess about community building around running and walking. Long ago, my hugely talented adopted brother turned me into a competitive (if undistinguished) runner. I have dabbled in duathlon and triathlon. I even represented Team USA at the age-group World Duathlon Championships in 2013. Nowadays I am more interested in helping others get active. In 2016 Andrea Zukowski and I founded College Park parkrun, which ties running and community building together, serving thousands of community members each year. We have helped many other communities around the US to benefit as we have in College Park. From 2017-2019 I was Communications and Community Development Lead for parkrun USA, helping to increase annual participation 10-fold. I am fascinated by the parallels between community building in science and around physical activity.
I also have a keen interest in Smart Growth and in (sub-)urban development issues in the College Park area. College Park is very different now than when we moved here in 2000.