Oxford University announces its next Professor of Linguistics

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Professor Colin Phillips has been appointed Professor of Linguistics at the University of Oxford. He will take up this post on 1 January 2024. He will also be a Professorial Fellow at Somerville College.

Professor Phillips is the first person to be appointed to this post since the establishment of the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, the youngest Faculty in Oxford’s Humanities Division. The Faculty was created in 2008 under the leadership of Phillips’ predecessor, Professor Aditi Lahiri. The post has been permanently endowed since 2018, thanks to a generous donation from an anonymous benefactor.

Professor Phillips’ appointment represents the latest step in efforts to integrate Oxford’s wide-ranging expertise in human language. Oxford has a long tradition in the history of languages, in the analysis of individual language families, and more recently in approaches rooted in psychological, computational, or social sciences. The creation of a chair in “General Linguistics” in 1978 was an early step towards connecting the pieces. The recent creation of a new Faculty, new degree programmes, and new cross-faculty posts have forged closer connections between these areas of expertise. Professor Phillips is ideally suited to further advance these connections in Oxford.

He comes to Oxford from the University of Maryland, where he built an interdisciplinary research programme on the moment-by-moment processes involved in speaking and understanding, drawing on diverse languages, and methods from linguistics, psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and computational modelling.

Beyond his own research programme, Phillips built an interdisciplinary postgraduate training programme that trained 100 PhDs from 10 fields. He established the Maryland Language Science Center, a hub for research and education that connected over 200 language scientists from fields as diverse as education and engineering. He has been a leader in numerous public engagement efforts around linguistics and language science.

Professor Phillips says: “When I left Oxford as a young graduate in (mostly) medieval German literature in 1990, I thought I was headed for a 9-month adventure in the US. It lasted a little longer than that, and it brought so many opportunities to learn from people with different expertise and backgrounds. Oxford is now a dramatically different environment for language research than it was in my own student days. The advent of the new Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities will create unmatched opportunities to collaborate with students, colleagues, and the public. I am excited to take on this new role.”

Professor Philomen Probert, Faculty Board Chair of the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, says, “Colin Phillips is a great believer in bringing different areas of Linguistics into dialogue with one another, and has done this with distinction via his own programme of research and via the energy he has poured into collaborative work at the Maryland Language Science Center. He is the ideal Professor of Linguistics for a Faculty whose work spans theoretical, historical, and experimental work: he will help to ensure that we keep finding the links between work going on across the Faculty, so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

Baroness Jan Royall, Principal of Somerville College, says: “We look forward to welcoming Professor Phillips to Oxford and to Somerville, where he will build on the strong tradition of excellence in linguistics established by Professor Lahiri and Professor Mycock. I have no doubt that his cutting-edge work on psycholinguistics and impassioned advocacy for language science will both inspire our students and generate fascinating new avenues of research.”