John Lyons (linguist)

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Sir John Lyons
John Lyons

(1932-05-23) 23 May 1932 (age 87)
Stretford, Lancashire, England
Alma materChrist's College, Cambridge
OccupationEnglish linguist

Sir John Lyons, LittD, FBA (born 23 May 1932),[1] is an English linguist, working on semantics.


John Lyons was born and brought up in Stretford, Lancashire (now in Trafford). He was initially educated at St Ann's RC School, Stretford, before he won a scholarship to St Bede's College, Manchester, joining at September 1943. In July 1950, Lyons progressed to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he took a degree in Classics in 1953 and a Diploma in Education in 1954.


After doing his national service in the navy for two years, studying Russian as a coder (special), and commissioned as a midshipman, he returned to Cambridge as a PhD student in 1956. His supervisor was W. Sidney Allen. The following year he was made a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He was also awarded a one-year Rockefeller Scholarship to Yale, but declined for the more opportunistic academic position in linguistics that was rare in those days in Britain. Lyons moved from Cambridge to SOAS in London, where R. H. Robins was his PhD supervisor. In the summer of 1960, Lyons went to Indiana University to work in a machine translation project; he was chosen because of his expertise in Russian and linguistics. It was at Indiana, in a post-Bloomfieldean milieu, where Lyons gave courses on general linguistics.

In 1961, he returned to Christ's College, where he taught until 1964. Between 1965 and 1969, he was the founder editor of the Journal of Linguistics.[2] From 1964 to 1984, he was professor of linguistics at the universities of Edinburgh and Sussex. He was master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge for 15 years, before retiring in 2000; he is now an honorary fellow at the college.

Lyons' introductory texts are Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics, Chomsky, Semantics, and Linguistic Semantics.


He was knighted in 1987.

In 2016, he was awarded the Neil and Saras Smith Medal for Linguistics by the British Academy "for his outstanding lifetime contribution to the field of linguistics".[3]

Selected works[edit]

  • Structural Semantics (1964)
  • Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics (1968)
  • Chomsky (Fontana Modern Masters, 1970)
  • New Horizons in Linguistics (1970) (as editor)
  • Semantics, Volumes 1 and 2 (1977)
  • Language and Linguistics (1981)
  • Language, Meaning and Context (1981)
  • New Horizons in Linguistics 2 (1987) (as co-editor)
  • Natural Language and Universal Grammar (1991)
  • Linguistic Semantics: An introduction (1995)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Birthday's today". The Telegraph. 23 May 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2014. Sir John Lyons, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1984–2000, 81
  2. ^ New Horizons in Linguistics ed. Lyons, Pelican 1972 reprint ISBN 978-0-14-021223-5
  3. ^ "British Academy announces 2016 prizes and medal winners". British Academy. 27 September 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Theodore Morris Sugden
Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Peter Clarke