English Typology and History

Research by John A. Hawkins, a distinguished professor of linguistics, is lending new insights into the grammatical and lexical evolution of the English language since the Middle Ages.

Seeking to shed new light on the extensive grammatical and lexical changes that English has undergone during the past 1,000 years, John Hawkins is developing a new approach to the typology of Modern English, drawing on insights from both parsing and language typology. Typology is a branch of linguistics that focuses on the study, comparison and classification of languages, and on analysis of the structural similarities between languages. Typology is somewhat analogous to genetic classification in biology. Criteria for classification include syntax (word order), morphology (word structure) and phonology (sound patterns). Linguistic parsing is the process of dividing sentences and phrases into component parts in order to analyze and understand relationships between words and their meaning.

In addition to this work on English, Hawkins also is investigating language universals from a processing perspective, and second-language acquisition using electronic learner corpora.

In his 2014 book Cross-linguistic Variation and Efficiency (published by Oxford University Press), he presented extensive empirical evidence for the view that principles of language processing derived from experimental and corpus studies on individual languages can be extended to account for grammatical universals and variation patterns across languages. By examining languages permitting structural alternatives — e.g. between competing word orders conveying the same meanings — he showed that the preferences and patterns of performance within languages are reflected in the fixed conventions and variation patterns across grammars, leading to a Performance-Grammar Correspondence Principle.

His 2012 book, Criterial Features in L2 English (co-authored with Luna Filipović, Cambridge University Press) presented his findings from a research project conducted at Cambridge University on second language acquisition using electronic corpora and derived from writing samples of learners of English around the world.