Predicting language evolution: analogy in morphological change

A fully-funded PhD studentship investigating analogy in morphological change.

Start date

1 April 2023


3 years

Application deadline

Funding source

Leverhulme Trust

Funding information

  • All fees
  • Stipend at UKRI rates p.a. (currently at £17,668)
  • Budget for conference travel.


The staggering diversity of the world’s languages is the cumulative effect of small-scale evolutionary processes. One such process is analogy, where speakers notice patterns in their language and extend them to new environments. Understanding analogy is crucial to understanding both how our languages came to be the way they are – i.e. the pathways of change underpinning individual language systems – and why, since analogical change reveals the assumptions and biases of human beings learning from incomplete and sometimes self-contradictory language data. The recipient of this studentship will contribute to a multidisciplinary project using innovative computational and statistical techniques to produce a predictive model of analogy, a missing puzzle piece in a complete theory of language change.

The student will be responsible for conducting a case study into morphological change in the history of a specific language. They will design their own project using the dataset they have collected, developing research questions and hypotheses relating to the theme of analogy in morphological change. Relevant topics for investigation could include (but are not limited to) questions such as: what effect do sociolinguistic conditions (e.g. language contact, adult learning, language death/attrition) have on the range of possibilities for analogical extension? Are there any morphosyntactic or lexical constraints on syncretism that reveal themselves diachronically? Under what circumstances is inflectional overabundance (meaningless variation in forms within paradigms) stable or unstable over time?

The studentship is part of the project Predicting language evolution: Analogy in morphological change, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The student will be supervised by Professor Matthew Baerman, Dr Oliver Bond and Dr Helen Sims-Williams, and will work and receive training in the vibrant research environment of the Surrey Morphology Group, alongside leading researchers on inflectional morphology.

A later start date of July 2023 may be possible.

Related links

Project website

Eligibility criteria

Applicants are expected to hold a good first degree (a minimum 2:1 or equivalent) in Linguistics or a related discipline. Applicants will usually be expected to have an MA or equivalent. They should have training in historical linguistics, and ideally expertise in one of the languages that have been selected for project case studies: Italian, Greek, Occitan, Tibetan, Aramaic, or Estonian.

English Language requirements 

IELTS Academic 6.5 overall with 6.0 in Writing, or equivalent. 

How to apply

Contact Dr Helen Sims-Williams for information on how to apply.

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Application deadline

Contact details

Helen Sims-Williams



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