Personal profile



Brief CV

After an undergraduate degree at Cambridge (Mathematics, then Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic) I did a doctorate at Oxford. For many years I was in English at Manchester (through various departmental name changes), and was HoD 1998-2001. Since 2004 I have been in Linguistics and English Language. I held a personal chair from 1995 and was Smith Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature from 2008. In 2014 I received an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. From March 2015 I am Professor Emeritus of English Linguistics, fully involved in research but no longer on the regular teaching staff at Manchester.

Visiting Positions

  • 2017 Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies, FRIAS (Visiting Researcher)
  • 2016-17 Aichi Prefectural University (Visiting Professor)
  • 2011-12 PhD Program in Linguistics in the University of Zurich (Kurzzeitdozent)
  • 2006 Institut du Monde anglophone, Paris 3, Sorbonne Nouvelle (Visiting Professor, and associate member of Groupe de Recherches en Linguistique Anglaise SESYLIA).
  • 1998 Dpto. Filoloxía Inglesa e Alemana, University of Santiago de Compostela (Visiting Professor).
  • 1992 Department of English, University of British Columbia (Visiting Professor).
  • 1985-86 Engels Seminarium, University of Amsterdam (Gastdocent).



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Linguistic editorial work

I was for many years an editor of English Language and Linguistics, which has become one of the leading journals in its field. It subsequently entered into a close relationship with the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE).

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  • 1996-2004 General editor (with †R. H. Robins and Geoffrey Horrocks) of Longman Linguistics Library.
  • 1997 Guest editor (with Nigel Vincent) of a special issue of Transactions of the Philological Society.

Miscellaneous activities

  • I was one of a three-man team from the LAGB who advised the then Department for Education and Employment on materials for the literacy strategy in primary schools, notably the enhanced glossary. I retain an interest in the teaching of English language at school level, contributing to the LAGB's recommendations for grammatical terminology to be used in schools.
  • Computing work has included helping with the multi-lingual Vuwriter Arts word processor in the 1980s; my own numbering program NUM in the 1990s; the acquisition of texts and corpora for the department and the use of concordance programs; building a "temporary" (1999-2005!) and increasingly versatile student record database for department and School; and constructing and processing TEI/XML files as part of an online edition. 
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  • I chaired the organising committees of the 10th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics (10ICEHL, 1998) and Directions in English Language Studies (DELS, April 2006). 
  • I was on the executive committee of the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE) 2007-14 and President 2008-11. 


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Many of my papers are available for download from this page, wherever possible via Pure, Manchester's institutional repository.

Research interests

  • Unlocking the Mary Hamilton Papers. AHRC-funded project 2019-2022. I am principally involved in text creation and editing, TEI and programming, social network analysis, and research on the English auxiliary system around 1800. See below.
  • Recent and current change in English syntax. Following my monograph-length chapter on late ModE Syntax for the Cambridge History of the English Language (IV, 1998), I have given a number of lectures and papers on current change. Richard Hogg and I edited a new, one-volume History of the English language (2006). My latest linguistic publication, 'Explaining explanatory so', clarifies the origins of, and conservative reactions to, a widespread 21st-century usage.
  • Gradience, especially in English morphology and syntax. I have been working for some time on gradience and categories, often in collaboration. I helped edit a substantial reader on Fuzzy Grammar (2004) for OUP, and I published a chapter on ambiguity and vagueness (2017a).  A joint British Academy/Philological Society lecture on Parts of Speech has been published (2013). I have suspended work on a half-complete monograph on English word classes: Categories and their limits.
  • Historical syntax and the history of English generally. My commissioned book on English Historical Syntax (1993, print-on-demand edition 2004) concentrated on verbal constructions, and my recent work has also dealt with developments in the noun phrase.
  • Possessive 's in Germanic. Kersti Börjars and I ran an AHRC-funded project (2006-9) on the history and usage of possessive -s in English, Swedish and Dutch. Follow the link for information on the project, the other researchers involved, and publications and database.

Research continued

  • Corpus and textual editing work.  I ran a project to apply morphological tagging to a collection of Middle English sermons, and in connection with the CHEL research created a nineteenth-century Corpus of late Modern English Prose (1994), with Graeme Trousdale and Linda van Bergen as assistants.  A Corpus of late 18c Prose (letters in the John Rylands University Library) was transcribed by Linda van Bergen and Joana Proud and recently re-published on the web. In a plenary lecture in 2005 I explored the rich hoard of non-standard syntax in the letters and the question of what "change from below" signifies. Two plenary papers on tagging problems have been published (2007 and 2013).  Nuria Yáñez-Bouza and I belong to the international consortium developing the third phase of ARCHER, a multi-genre historical corpus of British and American English from the 17th century to the present, giving access to it in Manchester. We are coordinating the current phase of the project, for which I won a British Academy Small Research Grant. This phase has nearly doubled ARCHER's size and made it available online; POS tagging will follow soon. We used a seedcorn grant from the John Rylands Research Institute to work towards an online edition of the papers of Mary Hamilton, a corpus project running since 2013-14 with major student involvement from several universities called Image to Text: Mary Hamilton papers. A multidisciplinary team I assembled – Hannah Barker (managing the project), Sophie CoulombeauNuria Yáñez-Bouza and myself – has won an AHRC grant for Unlocking the Mary Hamilton Papers, a three-year project to complete the edition and conduct wide-ranging literary and linguistic research. We started in December 2019, joined by the postdocs Tino Oudesluijs, Christine Wallis and Cassandra Ulph. Tino is working with me on the history of auxiliaries.
  • Construction Grammar. I have experimented with Construction Grammar theories in ongoing work on sort of/kind of constructions and in a paper on taking long. An earlier attempt avant la lettre was embodied in papers on what I call the Information Present.
  • Literary networks. An explanation for the origins of the progressive passive which involves social network theory and English literary politics ca 1800 was published in a joint paper with Lynda Pratt.


Teaching Areas:

  • At undergraduate level I taught course units on the history and structure of English, including particular historical periods and present-day grammar. Until recently I continued to direct undergraduate assignments on the Image to Text project as part of a Modern English Language course, and more recently, group research and editing in the Undergraduate Scholars programme.
  • At postgraduate level I offered courses on historical linguistics, grammatical change, methodology and corpus linguistics.

Supervision information

Please note: as an emeritus I no longer supervise doctoral students.



Pronouns and word order in Old English, with particular reference to the indefinite pronoun man

Author: Linda van Bergen, now Lecturer, University of Edinburgh

Supervisor: David Denison
PhD [published in series Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics, 2003]



Diachronic comparative lexical field analysis of verbs of locomotion from Old High German and Old English to the present: A paradigmatic and syntagmatic approach

Author: Petra Storjohann, now researcher at Leibniz-Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS), Mannheim

Supervisors: Martin Durrell & David Denison



On the history of synthetic compounds in English

Author: †Makoto Yamashita

Supervisor: David Denison

Learning style and identity: A sociolinguistic analysis of a Bolton high school

Author: Emma Moore, now Professor of Sociolinguistics, Sheffield

Supervisors: †Richard Hogg & David Denison

Synchrony and diachrony of English periphrastic causatives: A cognitive perspective

Author: Willem Hollmann, now Senior Lecturer, Lancaster

Supervisors: William Croft & David Denison



Diachronic changes in the passive: Conceptual development and gradience

Author: Junichi Toyota

Supervisor: David Denison



Syntax and style in a corpus of Early Modern poetry

Author: Gareth Twose

Supervisors for resubmission only: David Denison & Louise Sylvester



Preposition stranding and prescriptivism in English from 1500 to 1900: A corpus-based approach

Author: Nuria Yáñez Bouza, now Profesora Titular at Vigo and Honorary Research Fellow at Manchester

Supervisor: David Denison



Verbs of emotion and impersonals in Old and Middle English: A diachronic study in the syntax-semantics interface

Author: Ayumi Miura, now Associate Professor, Osaka

Supervisors: David Denison & Nuria Yáñez Bouza



Irish English modal verbs from the 14th to the 20th centuries

Author: Marije van Hattum, now Lecturer, Manchester

Supervisors: David Denison & Nuria Yáñez Bouza


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