Janet Pierrehumbert
Senior Research Fellow


I received my B.A in Linguistics from Harvard in 1975, and my Ph.D from MIT in 1980. Much of my Ph.D research on English prosody and intonation was carried out in the Linguistics and AI Research Department of AT&T Bell Laboratories, where I served as a Member of Technical Staff through 1989. I then joined the Linguistics faculty at Northwestern University. I was promoted to Professor in 1996 and also served terms as department chair and director of graduate studies. I moved to Oxford in May, 2015 as Professor of Language Modelling in the Oxford e-Research Centre, and hold a Senior Research Fellowship at Trinity College.

I am one of the founding members of the Association for Laboratory Phonology, an interdisciplinary research organisation that promotes the scientific study of all aspects of language sound structure. I am a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Linguistic Society of America, and the Cognitive Science Society.

Research Areas

My current research focuses on the relationship between the dynamics of language — in acquisition, processing, or historical change — and the structure of linguistic systems. It combines experiments, statistical analyses of large corpora, and computational simulations of linguistic communities. In collaboration with colleagues at the New Zealand Institute of Language Brain and Behaviour, I am investigating the cognitive and social mechanisms that make it possible for people to have such large vocabularies, continually creating and adopting new words as they adapt to new situations. This project builds on analogies between linguistic evolution and biological evolution, and it uses crowd-sourced data in the form of on-line word games.

Selected Publications

  • Hay, J.B., Pierrehumbert, J.B., Walker, A. J. and LaShell, P. (2015) ‘Tracking word frequency effects through 130 years of sound change’, Cognition 139, 83-91
  • Daland, R. and J. B. Pierrehumbert (2011) ‘Learnability of diphone-based segmentation’, Cognitive Science 35(1), 119-155.
  • E.G. Altmann, J.B. Pierrehumbert, and A.E. Motter (2009) ‘Beyond word frequency: Bursts, lulls, and scaling in the temporal distributions of words’, PLoS One 4(11), e7678). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007678
  • Pierrehumbert, J.B. (2002) ‘Word-specific phonetics’, Laboratory Phonology VII, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, 101-139.
  • Pierrehumbert, J.B. and J. Hirschberg (1990) ‘The Meaning of Intonational contours in the Interpretation of Discourse’, in P. Cohen, J. Morgan, and M. Pollack, (eds), Intentions in Communication, MIT Press, Cambridge MA. 271-311.