Curriculum Vitae

Short Biosketch

Joan Bresnan received a BA from Reed College in philosophy (1966) and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in linguistics (1972). She has held faculty positions at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MIT, and Stanford, where she is currently Sadie Dernham Patek Professor in Humanities Emerita and a senior researcher at Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI). She has written about higher-level grammatical structures (`syntax') from many angles, and is probably best known as one of the principal architects of lexical-functional grammar. In 2016 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Computational Linguistics. She has been elected President of the Linguistic Society of America, an inaugural Fellow of the LSA, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society, a Fellow of the Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences, a Guggenhiem Fellow, an Erskine Fellow of the University of Canterbury (Christchurch), an external Fellow of the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies, and a holder of the International Chair of Quantitative and Experimental Linguistics at Labex Empirical Foundations of Linguistics in Paris. She has participated in several distinguished lecture series, such as the Edward Sapir Professorship of the LSA, the Nijmegen Lectures, the Vilem Mathesius Lecture Series (Charles University, Prague), and the Roman Jakobson lecture to the Prague Circle. She is a member of the Usage Panel for the American Heritage Dictionary. Her Spoken Syntax Lab at CSLI is a base for her research collaborations with local and international colleagues and students, where she has been principal investigator of several projects under National Science Foundation and other awards.

Personal Essays

"I began to realize that we theoretical linguists had no privileged way of distinguishing the possible formal patterns of a language from the merely probable. Many of the kinds of sentences reported by theorists to be ungrammatical are actually used quite grammatically in rare contexts. Authentic examples can be found in very large collections of language use, such as the World Wide Web. [...] Moreover, judgments of ungrammaticality are often unstable and can be manipulated simply by raising or lowering the probability of the context. Most remarkably, language users have powerful predictive capacities, which can be measured using statistical models of spontaneous language use. From all these discoveries I have come to believe that our implicit knowledge of language has been vastly underestimated by theoretical linguistics of the kind I had practiced."
--passage selected by Simonetta Vietri, from:

Joan Bresnan. 2011. "A Voyage into Uncertainty", published as "Linguistic uncertainty and the knowledge of knowledge". In Thinking Reed. Centenial Essays by Graduates of Reed College., a volume of essays by Reed College alumni on the occasion of the college's centenary, edited by Roger Porter and Robert Reynolds and published by Reed College, Portland, Oregon, pp. 69--75.

My acceptance speech of the ACL 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award provides further biographical material: "Linguistics: The Garden and the Bush" in Computational Linguistics 42(4):599-617. The MIT Press.