Patricia Shaw was born in Montreal and moved at the age of 12 to Winnipeg. She received her B.A. in English from St. John's College of the University of Manitoba in 1967, her M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Toronto in 1973, and her Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Toronto in 1976 with a dissertation on Theoretical Issues in Dakota Phonology and Morphology. She taught at York University from 1976 until 1979 before taking her current position at the University of British Columbia.
In recent years, a major focus of her work has been the Musqueam dialect of Halkomelem, on which she has both done research and helped to create the joint Musqueam/UBC Musqueam language program.