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. I 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 organised. Refining and testing this hypothesis involves looking at languages from all over the world, and assessing the extent to which certain patterns recur.

Biberauer, T. & I. Roberts. 2015. The Clausal Hierarchy, Features and Parameters. In U. Shlonsky (ed) Beyond Functional Sequence: The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, Volume 10. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 295-313.

Roberts, I. & J. Watumull. 2015. Leibnizian Linguistics, in Angel Gallego and Dennis Ott (eds) 50 years later: reflections on Chomsky, MIT Working Papers in Linguistics 77:211-222.

Biberauer, T. & I. Roberts. 2015. Rethinking Formal Hierarchies: A Proposed Unification. Cambridge Occasional Papers in Linguistics 7:1-31.

Biberauer, T., A. Holmberg, I. Roberts & M. Sheehan. 2014. Complexity in comparative syntax: the view from modern parametric theory. In F. Newmeyer & L. Preston (eds) Measuring Grammatical Complexity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 103-127.

Holmberg, A. & I. Roberts. 2014. Parameters and the three factors of language design. In C. Picallo (ed) Linguistic Variation in the Minimalist Framework. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roberts, I. 2014a. Taraldsen’s Generalisation and Diachronic Syntax: Two Ways to Lose Null Subjects. In P. Svenonius (ed) Functional Structure from Top to Toe: The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, Volume 9. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 115-148.

Roberts, I. 2014b. Syntactic Change. In A. Carnie, D. Siddiqi & Y. Sato (eds) Routledge Handbook of Syntax. London, Routledge, pp. 391-408.

Roberts, I. 2014c. Subject clitics and macroparameters. In P. Benincà, A. Ledgeway & N. Vincent (eds) Diachrony and Dialects: Grammatical change in the dialects of Italy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 177-201.

Aboh, E., M.-T. Guasti & I. Roberts. 2014. Locality. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Biberauer, T., A. Holmberg & I. Roberts. 2014. A Syntactic Universal and its Consequences. Linguistic Inquiry 45:169-225.

Roberts, I. 2014. The Mystery of the Overlooked Discipline: Modern Syntactic Theory and Cognitive Science. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique 58:151-178.

Watumull, J., Hauser, M., Hornstein, N. & I. Roberts. 2014. On Recursion. Frontiers in Psychology 4:1017.