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Prof Bas Aarts
English Department
Prof Bas Aarts profile picture
  • Professor of English Linguistics
  • Dept of English Lang & Literature
  • Faculty of Arts & Humanities

I was born in the Netherlands and educated at the University of Utrecht and at UCL, where I obtained an MA and PhD in English Linguistics. I was appointed as a lecturer at UCL in 1989, and to a Chair in 2003.

Since January 1997 I have been the Director of the Survey of English Usage (SEU). The SEU (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/english-usage) is an internationally recognised and highly regarded centre of excellence for research in the area of English Language and Linguistics. Founded by Professor the Lord Quirk in 1959, it is housed in the English Department at UCL. The SEU has been engaged in the study of the English language for more more than half a century. Quirk and Greenbaum are two of the authors of the Grammar of Contemporary English (Longman, 1972, with Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik), and the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Longman, 1985, with Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik). These books have long been regarded as the standard reference grammars of Modern English. The Survey is also known for its pioneering work in the area of corpus linguistics. As a full list on the web of publications based on SEU material testifies, countless books, articles and postgraduate theses world-wide have been based on our three English language corpora, which constitute large collections of spoken and written language. These corpora are the Survey of English Usage Corpus, compiled by Quirk, the British component of the International Corpus of English (ICE-GB), compiled by Greenbaum, and the Diachronic Corpus of Present-Day Spoken English (DCPSE), compiled by Aarts and Wallis. The ICE-GB corpus is a state-of-the art resource for English language studies. It can be searched using the innovative ICECUP software developed at the SEU. The corpus and its associated software is being used in scores of universities world-wide. A book on the ICE project, co-authored by Gerald Nelson Sean Wallis and myself, entitled Exploring natural languge: working with the British component of the International Corpus of English was published in July 2002. The SEU has attracted a large amount of research funding from a variety of sources (the AHRB, the British Academy, the ESRC, the EPSRC, UCL Business, and the Leverhulme Trust, among others).

I am a Founding Editor of the scholarly journal English Language and Linguistics (ELL), which appears four times per year, and is published by Cambridge University Press. ELL is an international journal which focuses on the description of the English language within the framework of contemporary linguistics. The journal is concerned equally with the synchronic and the diachronic aspects of English language studies and publishes articles of the highest quality which make a substantial contribution to our understanding of the structure and development of the English language and which are informed by a knowledge and appreciation of linguistic theory. ELL was awarded a top A-rating in the 2007 and 2011 journals list of the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH). I stepped down as Editor in 2012, and was Reviews Editor of the journal until 2015. 

Research Themes
Research Summary

My research interest within English language studies is in the field of syntax, more specifically verbal syntax. My PhD dissertation, which was published in 1992 (Small clauses in English, Mouton de Gruyter) later publications (e.g. The verb in contemporary English, Cambridge University Press, 1995 and The verb phrase in English) focus on this area.

In 1997 English syntax and argumentation, a textbook which aims to teach students the fundamentals of syntax and linguistic argumentation, was published by Macmillan. There have been 4 further editions in 2002, 2008, 2013 and 2018. Several editions were translated into Korean.

A book on the syntactic exploration of the ICE-GB corpus, co-authored with Gerald Nelson and Sean Wallis, entitled Exploring natural language, was published in 2002 by Benjamins.

The handbook of English linguistics (edited with April McMahon) was published  in 2006. A paperback was published in 2008 and a second edition (with Lars Hinrichs as an additional editor) iwas published in 2021.

My more recent research has been on the phenomenon of gradience in grammar. With David Denison, Evelien Keizer and Gergana Popova I edited a book on this topic, namely Fuzzy grammar: a reader, published by Oxford University Press in 2004, and my monograph Syntactic gradience: the nature of grammatical indeterminacy was published by Oxford University Press in 2007. The latter is the first exhaustive investigation of gradience in syntax, conceived of as grammatical indeterminacy. It looks at gradience in English word classes, phrases, clauses and constructions, and examines how it may be defined and differentiated. I address the tension between linguistic concepts and the continuous phenomena they describe by testing and categorising grammatical vagueness and indeterminacy, and I consider to what extent gradience is a grammatical phenomenon or a by-product of imperfect linguistic description. I make a series of linked proposals for its theoretical formalisation. This book draws on, and reviews, work in psychology, philosophy and language from Aristotle to Chomsky, and deals with a fascinating and important aspect of language and cognition.

My Oxford modern English grammar was published early in 2011 (translated into Korean in 2017) and the second edition of the Oxford dictionary of English grammar in 2014.

A book I edited with Joanne Close, Geoffrey Leech and Sean Wallis entitled The English verb phrase (Cambridge University Press) was published in 2013.

Published in 2019: How to teach Grammar (OUP).

Published in 2020: the Oxford handbook of English grammar, edited with Jill Bowie and Gergana Popova. (Oxford University Press).

In addition to the books above I published many articles and book chapters, which are available for download from academia.edu.

Teaching Summary

At UCL I teach English Linguistics to undergraduate and postgraduate students. I also teach on the Summer School in English Corpus Linguistics (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/english-usage/summer-school/) and on CPD courses for teachers (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lifelearning/courses/english-grammar-for-teachers).

01-OCT-2003 Professor of English Linguistics English Language and Literature UCL, United Kingdom
01-OCT-1999 – 30-SEP-2003 Reader English Lanuage and Literature UCL, United Kingdom
01-JAN-1997 Director, Survey of English Usage (SEU) English Language and Literature UCL, United Kingdom
01-OCT-1996 – 30-SEP-1999 Senior Lecturer English Language and Literature UCL, United Kingdom
01-OCT-1994 – 30-SEP-1996 Lecturer B English Language and Literature UCL, United Kingdom
01-OCT-1989 – 30-SEP-1994 Lecturer A English Language and Literature UCL, United Kingdom
Academic Background
1990   Doctor of Philosophy University College London
1987   Master of Arts Universiteit Utrecht
1985   Master of Arts University College London
1984   Bachelor of Arts Universiteit Utrecht
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