Jack Hawkins

Jack Hawkins Portrait

Position Title
Professor of Linguistics

1 Shields Avenue, Davis CA 95616


  • Ph.D., Linguistics, Cambridge University, 1975
  • B.A., Modern and Medieval Languages (Germanic Philology, Linguistics and Literature) Cambridge University, 1970 (First Class Honours)


John A. (Jack) Hawkins is Distinguished Professor of Linguistics at UC Davis. He is also the Emeritus Professor of English and Applied Linguistics at the University of Cambridge. In addition to his prior position at Cambridge, he has held permanent positions at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles), the Max-Planck-Institute for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen), and the University of Essex (Colchester), and visiting appointments at institutions including UC Berkeley, UCLA, the Free University of Berlin, the University of Potsdam, and the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig).
He has broad and interdisciplinary interests in the language sciences. His current research focuses on language universals and typology from a processing perspective, and on English and the Germanic language family. In his 2004 and 2014 books Efficiency and Complexity in Grammars and Cross-linguistic Variation and Efficiency (both Oxford University Press), he presented extensive empirical evidence for the view that principles of language processing derived from experimental and corpus studies on individual languages can be extended to explain grammatical universals and variation patterns across languages (see below for further details). In other words, principles of efficient performance and language use, and related metrics of simplicity and complexity, can explain fundamental properties of the grammars of the world’s languages (by the “Performance-Grammar Correspondence Hypothesis”).
His 2012 book, Criterial Features in L2 English (co-authored with Luna Filipović, Cambridge University Press) presented his findings from a research project conducted at Cambridge University on second language acquisition using electronic corpora derived from writing samples of learners of English around the world. He has also written numerous papers on the semantics and pragmatics of definiteness and indefiniteness, and a book Definiteness and Indefiniteness: A Study in Reference and Grammaticality Prediction, originally published in 1978 and recently reissued by Routledge in its Routledge Library Editions series, on The English Language (2015). Routledge also reissued Hawkins’ 1986 A Comparative Typology of English and German book in 2015 in the same series. For papers on historical linguistics, consult his CV.

Research Focus

For much of his research career, Jack Hawkins has been collecting and presenting data showing that major patterns of grammatical variation across languages can be explained by general principles of efficiency and simplicity/complexity in language use. Evidence for these “performance-grammar correspondences” comes from languages permitting structural choices from which selections are made by speakers in performance, e.g. between competing word orders, and between relative clauses with a resumptive pronoun (structures such as the students that I taught them) versus the gap strategy (students that I taught O) in languages like Hebrew that permit this option. The preferences and patterns of performance within languages are reflected, he shows, in the fixed conventions and variation patterns and preferences across grammars, with the preferred structures in language use showing up in more grammars across the globe. In his most recent 2014 book Cross-linguistic Variation and Efficiency, Professor Hawkins extends and updates the general theory that he laid out in earlier publications and incorporates new research findings that test his earlier predictions. New advances in the contributing fields of language processing, linguistic theory, historical linguistics and typology are also addressed. This efficiency approach to variation has far-reaching theoretical consequences for many current issues in the language sciences. These include the notion of ease of processing and how to measure it, the role of processing in language change, the nature of language universals and their explanation, the theory of complexity, the relative strength of competing and cooperating principles, and the proper definition of fundamental grammatical notions such as “dependency.” The book also gives a new typology of VO and OV languages and their correlating properties seen from this perspective, and a new typology of the noun phrase and of argument structure.


Hawkins, J. A. (2014) Cross-linguistic Variation and Efficiency. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 291 pp. Hawkins, J. A. & L. Filipović (2012) Criterial Features in L2 English: Specifying the Reference Levels of the Common European Framework. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 201 pp. Hawkins, J. A. (2009) Language universals and the performance-grammar correspondence hypothesis. In M. H. Christiansen, C. Collins & S. Edelman, (Eds.) Language Universals, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 54-78. Hawkins, J. A. (2004) Efficiency and Complexity in Grammars. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 320 pp. Hawkins, J. A. (1999) Processing complexity and filler-gap dependencies across grammars, Language 75:244-285 Hawkins, J. A. (1994) A Performance Theory of Order and Constituency. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 73, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 516 pp. Hawkins, J. A. (1990) A parsing theory of word order universals, Linguistic Inquiry 21:223-261. Hawkins, J. A. (1986) A Comparative Typology of English and German: Unifying the Contrasts. University of Texas Press, Austin (Texas Linguistics Series), and Croom Helm, London & Sydney, 258 pp. Hawkins, J. A. (1983) Word Order Universals. Quantitative Analysis of Linguistic Structure Series, Academic Press, New York, 362 pp. Hawkins, J. A. (1978) Definiteness and Indefiniteness: A Study in Reference and Grammaticality Prediction. Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and Croom Helm, London, 316 pp..


Jack Hawkins teaches at all levels of the undergraduate and graduate programs in Linguistics. He receives consistently high teaching evaluations, and especially enjoys teaching at the beginning undergraduate and advanced graduate levels. The undergraduates at UC Davis, with their strong life science and social science emphases and the growing international presence, are an excellent match for his own broad research interests in the language sciences and his focus on numerous languages. His Linguistics 1 (Introduction to Linguistics) provides a mix of breadth and depth designed to appeal to this population. For undergraduate majors and minors in Linguistics he regularly teaches Linguistics 152 (Language Universals and Typology), which provides an introduction to language typology, the study of variation patterns across the world's languages. He has also taught Linguistics 151 (Historical Linguistics). At the graduate level he teaches Linguistics 250 (Principles of Typological Linguistics), which includes both a traditional component outlining general themes in typology involving its goals, methods and findings, as well as a more modern component in which he introduces students to his own interdisciplinary approach, integrating work on language variation with psycholinguistic work on processing and language learning (especially second language learning). He also leads advanced seminars in the Linguistics 205 series on different topics, which are especially designed to help students identify and pursue their own research themes and gain feedback from the instructor and fellow students.


2015: Promotion to Distinguished Professor of Linguistics, Above Scale, University of California Davis. 2003: Election to Professorship of English and Applied Linguistics, Cambridge University. 2000-04: Visiting Scientist Fellowships, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig. 1992: Albert S. Raubenheimer Distinguished Faculty Award, University of Southern California College of Letters Arts & Sciences. 1985: Phi Kappa Phi Scholarly Book Award, University of Southern California, for Word Order Universals, Academic Press, New York. 1982-85: Research Fellowship Award, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen.