Professor Ian Roberts
Fellow in Linguistics
Professor of Linguistics

BA (Bangor), PhD (USC), LittD, FBA

My research is in theoretical linguistics, more specifically in comparative syntax. My 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. My 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, I have worked on the comparative and historical syntax of many of the Germanic, Romance and Celtic languages. From 2011 to 2017 I held a European Research Council Advanced Grant funding a project whose goal was to investigate a specific hypothesis as to the way in which the grammatical options made available by Universal Grammar are organised. This research culminated in my 2019 monograph Parameter Hierarchies and Universal Grammar. 

Galves, C., M. Kato & I. Roberts. 2019. Português Brasileiro; A Segunda Viagem Diacrônica. Campinas: Editora Unicamp.  

Ledgeway, A. & I. Roberts. 2017. The Cambridge Handbook of Historical Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Roberts, I. 2017. The Oxford Handbook of Universal Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roberts, I. 2021. Diachronic Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press [2nd edition]. 

Roberts, I. 2019. Parameter Hierarchies and Universal Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Roberts, I. 2018. Comparative and Diachronic Syntax. London: Routledge (Routledge Leading Linguists Series). 

Sheehan, M., T. Biberauer, A. Holmberg & I. Roberts. 2017. The Final over Final Condition: A Syntactic Universal. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  

Roberts, I. 2017. The Wonders of Language, or How to Make Noises and Influence People. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.