Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Humanities
Area of Study
My research and teaching have been centered on the connections between rhetoric (discourse) and grammar (linguistic structure). I am interested in working out the implications of an idea first broached by me in 1988, that structure is not immanent in a language but "emerges" through repetitions of favored word groupings in discourse. Along these lines, I wrote, with the Stanford linguist Elizabeth Traugott, a book, Grammaticalization (Cambridge 1993), that describes the typical historical sources and trajectories of the forms that make up the grammar of a language. Some of my work involves a critique of the standard assumptions of linguistics from the perspective of rhetoric. I'm fascinated by structural differences among languages and the search for "the essential" in language, and this interest has led me into a variety of projects, from comparative Indo-European and the Malayo-Polynesian languages to discourse analysis to the study of human-ape communication. I have published articles and written and edited books on Indo-European and Germanic philology and on Malay discourse. I have been editor of the journal Language Sciences, and have served on the executive committees of the MLA's Language Theory section and of the Linguistic Society of America. I've been the Collitz Professor at the LSA's Linguistics Institute, and have been a Fulbright Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow.