Ian Roberts


Ian Roberts, Ph.D., is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Cambridge, having previously held positions in Geneva, Bangor, and Stuttgart. His many books include Diachronic Syntax (Oxford University Press, 2007), Agreement and Head Movement (MIT Press, 2010), The Wonders of Language, or How to Make Noises and Influence People (Cambridge University Press, 2017), and Parameter Hierarchies and Universal Grammar (Oxford University Press, 2019). He is the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Universal Grammar (Oxford University Press, 2016; paperback 2018).

Dr. Roberts’ research is in theoretical linguistics, more specifically in comparative syntax. His work is set against the background assumptions argued for by Noam Chomsky: that there exists a specific human cognitive capacity for language which is present at birth and requires simple environmental stimulation in order for linguistic competence in the mother tongue to develop during the early years of life. The theory of this capacity is known as Universal Grammar. Accepting this nativist approach to language raises the challenge of accounting for the existence of seemingly very diverse grammatical structures in the languages of the world. His work, along with that of a very active worldwide community of linguists, is concerned with showing how these grammatical systems differ along relatively simple lines in such a way that the central distinguishing features are accessible to children acquiring language on the basis of primary linguistic data. To this end, he has worked on the comparative and historical syntax of many of the Germanic, Romance and Celtic languages.

Dr. Roberts currently hold a European Research Council Advanced Grant funding a project whose goal is to investigate a specific hypothesis as to the way in which the grammatical options made available by Universal Grammar are organized. Refining and testing this hypothesis involves looking at languages from all over the world and assessing the extent to which certain patterns recur.