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Geoffrey K. Pullum

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Geoffrey Keith Pullum
Born (1945-03-08) 8 March 1945 (age 79)
Irvine, Scotland
  • British
  • United States (since 1987)
Alma mater
Known for
  • Joan E. Rainford (1967–93)
  • Barbara C. Scholz (1994–2011)
  • Patricia C. Shannon (2014–2016)
PartnerJoan Maling
Scientific career
ThesisRule interaction and the organization of a grammar (1979)
Doctoral advisorNeil Smith
Doctoral studentsDesmond Derbyshire
Websitewww.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/ Edit this at Wikidata
Geoffrey Keith Pullum
Also known asJeff Wright
Years active1961–1967
Formerly of

Geoffrey Keith Pullum (/ˈpʊləm/; born 8 March 1945) is a British and American linguist specialising in the study of English. Pullum has published over 300 articles and books on various topics in linguistics, including phonology, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, computational linguistics, and philosophy of language. He is Professor Emeritus of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh.[1]

Pullum is a co-author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002),[2] a comprehensive descriptive grammar of English. He was co-founder of Language Log and a contributor to Lingua Franca at The Chronicle of Higher Education, often criticizing prescriptive rules and linguistic myths.

Early life[edit]

Geoffrey K. Pullum was born in Irvine, North Ayrshire, Scotland, on 8 March 1945, and moved to West Wickham, England, while very young.

Career as a musician[edit]

He left secondary school at age 16 and toured Germany as a pianist in the rock and roll band Sonny Stewart and the Dynamos. A year and a half later, he returned to England and co-founded a soul band with Pete Gage, which became Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band when Geno Washington joined.[3] Pullum went by the name of Jeff Wright.[4] The group had two of the biggest selling UK albums of the 1960s, both of which were live albums.[3] Their most commercially successful album, Hand Clappin, Foot Stompin, Funky-Butt ... Live!, was in the UK Albums Chart for 38 weeks in 1966 and 1967, peaking at number 5. The other album was Hipster Flipsters Finger Poppin' Daddies, which reached number 8 on the same chart.[5] The singles included "Water", "Hi Hi Hazel", "Que Sera Sera" and "Michael (the Lover)".[6]


After the band broke up, Pullum enrolled in the University of York in 1968, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours. In 1976 he completed a PhD in Linguistics at University College London, where his thesis supervisor was Neil Smith.[7]

Career as a linguist[edit]

Pullum's work in the 1970s with Desmond Derbyshire, for whom he was the primary doctoral supervisor, established the existence of object-initial languages.[8]

Pullum left Britain in 1980, taking visiting positions at the University of Washington and Stanford University. He contributed significantly to the development of Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar.[9] In 1983, he and Arnold Zwicky showed that n't is a negative inflectional morpheme, and not simply a contraction of not.[10]

In 1987, he became a United States citizen. He worked at the University of California, Santa Cruz, from 1981 to 2007.[11] He was Dean of Graduate Studies and Research from 1987 to 1993.[12] From 1983 to 1989, he wrote the regular "Topic Comment" pieces in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.

In 1995, Pullum started to collaborate with Rodney Huddleston and other linguists on The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language,[13] which was published in 2002 and won the Leonard Bloomfield Book Award of the Linguistic Society of America in 2004.[14]

From 1998 until 2002, he produced 10 "Lingua Franca" talks for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[15] In 2000, he published, in the style of Dr. Seuss, a proof of Turing's theorem that the halting problem is recursively unsolvable.[16] In 2003, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[17] In 2004, Barbara Scholz, Pullum, and James Rogers initiated a group project on the applications of model theory in syntax, which was supported by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2005–2006.[18]

In 2007, he moved to the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, where he was Professor of General Linguistics and at one time Head of Linguistics and English Language.[12] In 2009 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy,[19] and, in 2019, a Member of Academia Europaea.[12] He became emeritus professor in 2020.[20]


Linguistic theory[edit]

Pullum argues against the view, broadly held in linguistics, that languages are scientific objects of study.[21]

It seems to me that the notion of 'a language' should not be regarded as scientifically reconstructable at all. We can say in very broad terms that a human language is a characteristic way of structuring expressions shared by a speech community; but that is extremely vague, and has to remain so. The vagueness is ineliminable, and unproblematic. Human languages are no more scientifically definable than human cultures, ethnic groups, or cities. The most we can say about what it means to say of a person that they speak Japanese is that the person knows, at least to some approximation, how to structure linguistic expressions in the Japanese way (with object before verb, and postpositions, and so on). But in scientific terms there is no such object as 'Japanese'.[22]

He also argues that we do not and cannot know whether human languages consist of a finite set of sentences.[23] Pullum advocates for a model-theoretic approach to grammar rather than a generative one.[22] This perspective emphasizes understanding the formal properties of languages, focusing on the relationship between structures and their interpretations, rather than rules that generate those structures. In other words, model-theoretic grammars aim to describe the possible structures in a language, rather than focusing on the process of generating sentences.

Pullum's grammatical frameworks, such as that in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, have been monotonic phrase-structure grammars, similar to X-bar theory but with explicit notation for syntactic functions such as subject, modifier, and complement.[24] Monotonic phrase-structure grammars are based on the idea that the structure of sentences can be represented as a hierarchy of constituents, with each level of the hierarchy corresponding to a different level of grammatical organization. X-bar theory is a specific type of phrase-structure grammar that posits a uniform structure for all phrasal categories, with each phrase containing a "head" and optional specifier and/or complement.

The key difference between monotonic phrase-structure grammars and generative grammars like transformational-generative grammar (TGG) is the absence of transformations or movement operations in the former. Monotonic grammars maintain that the structure of a sentence remains fixed from its initial formation, whereas generative grammars propose that sentences can undergo various transformations during the derivation process.

Pullum argues that the traditional notion of a noun phrase is correct, and that the so-called DP hypothesis is mistaken.[25] He believes that some kind of fusion of functions accounts for some of the data leading to the disagreement.[26]

Criticism of Chomsky[edit]

Pullum has been a long-time critic of Noam Chomsky, whom he accuses of mendacity, plagiarism, and general academic dishonesty.[27] He has attacked the argument from the poverty of the stimulus in multiple publications.[28][29][30] He has called Chomsky's Minimalist Program "really just a repertoire of hints, suggestions, and buzzwords", has said that concepts such as Deep Structure and Recursion have "come to nothing", called Chomsky's idea that language arose as a result of a genetic mutation "utterly eccentric", and regretted that Chomsky "turned the discipline of syntactic theory into a personality cult".[27]


Pullum has coined or prompted the coining of a number of terms that have come to be popularly used including eggcorn, snowclone, and linguification.[31]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Pullum, Geoffrey K. (1977). Cole, P.; Sadock, J. M. (eds.). "Word order universals and grammatical relations". Syntax and Semantics. 8: 249–277. doi:10.1163/9789004368866_011.
  • Derbyshire, Desmond C.; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (1979). "Object initial languages". Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session. 23 (2). doi:10.31356/silwp.vol23.02.
  • Pullum, Geoffrey K. (1979). Rule interaction and the organization of a grammar. Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics. New York: Garland. ISBN 0824096681.
  • Gazdar, Gerald; Klein, Ewan; Pullum, Geoffrey K.; and Sag, Ivan A. (1985). Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-13206-6
  • Pullum, Geoffrey K., and Ladusaw, William A. (1986). Phonetic Symbol Guide, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226685314, 0226685322
  • Pullum, Geoffrey K. (1991). The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-68534-9. (See also Eskimo words for snow)
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43146-8
  • Huddleston, Rodney D.; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2005). A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 312 pp. ISBN 978-0-521-84837-4, 978-0-521-61288-3.
  • Liberman, Mark, and Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2006). Far from the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from the Language Log, William, James & Company. ISBN 1-59028-055-5
  • Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2018). Linguistics: Why It Matters. Cambridge: Polity. ISBN 9781509530762


  1. ^ "Geoffrey K Pullum". The University of Edinburgh. 11 June 2020. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  2. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43146-0.
  3. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 1234. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  4. ^ "Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band 1965-1967". The Strange Brew. Retrieved 1 July 2023.
  5. ^ Martin Roach (ed.), Virgin Book of British Hit Albums, 2009, p.292
  6. ^ "Geno Washington and His Ram Jam Band | full Official Chart History". Official Charts. Retrieved 2 April 2023.
  7. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K. (1979). Rule interaction and the organization of a grammar. Internet Archive. New York: Garland. ISBN 978-0-8240-9668-7.
  8. ^ Derbyshire, Desmond C.; Pullum, Geoffrey (1 January 1979). "Object initial languages". Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session. 23 (1). doi:10.31356/silwp.vol23.02. ISSN 0361-4700.
  9. ^ Gazdar, Gerald; Klein, Ewan; Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Sag, Ivan A. (1985). Generalized phrase structure grammar. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-34455-3. OCLC 644797704.
  10. ^ Zwicky, Arnold M.; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (1983). "Cliticization vs. inflection: English N'T". Language. 59 (3): 502–513. doi:10.2307/413900. JSTOR 413900.
  11. ^ "Geoffrey K. Pullum: Redirect". UCSC. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  12. ^ a b c "Academy of Europe: Pullum Geoffrey". Academia Europaea. Retrieved 2 April 2023.
  13. ^ Culicover, Peter W. (2004). "The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (review)" (PDF). Language. 80 (1): 127–141. doi:10.1353/lan.2004.0018. ISSN 1535-0665. S2CID 140478848.
  14. ^ "Leonard Bloomfield Book Award Previous Holders". Linguistic Society of America. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  15. ^ "ABC Search". ABC. Retrieved 3 April 2023.
  16. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2000) "Scooping the loop snooper: An elementary proof of the undecidability of the halting problem". Mathematics Magazine 73.4 (October 2000), 319–320. A corrected version appears on the author's website as "Scooping the loop snooper: A proof that the Halting Problem is undecidable".
  17. ^ "Geoffrey Keith Pullum". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  18. ^ "Barbara C. Scholz". Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. 16 March 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  19. ^ "Professor Geoffrey K Pullum FBA". The British Academy. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  20. ^ "Geoffrey K Pullum". The University of Edinburgh. 11 June 2020. Retrieved 3 April 2023.
  21. ^ Daniela, Isac; Reiss, Charles (2008). I-language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-19-966017-9. OCLC 829793847.
  22. ^ a b Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2013). "The central question in comparative syntactic metatheory". Mind & Language. 28 (4): 492–521. doi:10.1111/mila.12029.
  23. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Scholz, Barbara C. (2010). "Recursion and the infinitude claim". In van der Hulst, Harry (ed.). Recursion and Human Language. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 113–138. ISBN 978-3-11-021925-8. OCLC 630538881.
  24. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Rogers, James (2009). "Expressive power of the syntactic theory implicit in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language". Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (PDF). pp. 1–16.
  25. ^ Miller, Philip; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (14 October 2022). "La tête du groupe nominal: l'hypothèse du DP dans les théories génératives". Corela (HS-37). doi:10.4000/corela.15038. ISSN 1638-573X. S2CID 253050932.
  26. ^ Payne, John; Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2007). "Fusion of functions: The syntax of once, twice and thrice". Journal of Linguistics. 43 (3): 565–603. doi:10.1017/s002222670700477x. ISSN 0022-2267. S2CID 145799573.
  27. ^ a b "Chomsky's forever war". National Review. 17 February 2022. Retrieved 2 April 2023.
  28. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K. (25 September 1996). "Learnability, hyperlearning, and the poverty of the stimulus". Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. 22 (1): 498. doi:10.3765/bls.v22i1.1336. ISSN 2377-1666.
  29. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K; Scholz, Barbara C (26 January 2002). "Empirical assessment of stimulus poverty arguments". The Linguistic Review. 18 (1–2). doi:10.1515/tlir.19.1-2.9. ISSN 0167-6318. S2CID 143735248.
  30. ^ Scholz, Barbara C; Pullum, Geoffrey K (26 January 2002). "Searching for arguments to support linguistic nativism". The Linguistic Review. 18 (1–2). CiteSeerX doi:10.1515/tlir.19.1-2.185. ISSN 0167-6318. S2CID 14589503.
  31. ^ "Denials". Arnold Zwicky's Blog. 18 December 2020. Retrieved 2 April 2023.

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