Dunstan Brown



Dunstan Brown investigates autonomous morphology, morphology–syntax interaction, and typology. His recent work has focused on describing and understanding different aspects of morphological complexity. After graduating with a BA in Modern Languages and a Master of Linguistics from the University of Manchester, he completed a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Surrey and worked there for many years before taking up a 50th Anniversary Chair at York in 2012.


  • Surrey University
    • Research Fellow 1992-1998
    • Foundation Fund Lecturer in Linguistics and Russian Language 1998-2001
    • Lecturer in Linguistics in Linguistics and Russian Language 2001-2005
    • Senior Lecturer in Linguistics 2005-2012
    • Professor in Linguistics April 2012-Sept. 2012
  • University of York
    • Anniversary Professor 2012-2016
    • Anniversary Professor and Head of the Department of Language and Linguistic Science 2016-

Departmental roles

  • Chair of Research Committee



I am interested in morphology, because of the particular challenge it represents, being pervaded by irregularity and idiosyncrasy, and yet presenting a system of its own. Together with colleagues at Kentucky and Surrey, my recent work has concentrated on developing a theoretical framework, known as ‘Network Morphology’, to describe the systems of rules which determine the structure of words by construing irregularity as a matter of degree, using examples from a diverse range of languages and phenomena to illustrate. The Network Morphology philosophy promotes the use of computational implementation to check theories so that neat solutions to one problem can be tested to see what ramifications they have for other parts of the morphology. The results of this work have recently appeared in the book Network Morphology: a defaults-based theory of word structure published by Cambridge University Press (with Andrew Hippisley).

Together with Roger Evans (Brighton) I am working on the unsupervised learning of autonomous morphology, such as inflectional classes, which cross-cut the categories typically associated with syntax and cannot readily be accounted for in phonological terms. Because it is difficult to account for this in terms of other linguistic layers, an approach to validation based on independent analysis of the underlying data is of particular interest. In a new project on the Oto-Manguean languages of Mexico I am also working to apply this technique to languages which exhibit a large number of inflectional classes, combining both prosodic and affixal information.

As I am interested in the interaction between morphology and syntax, the Nakh-Daghestanian language Archi provides a rich source of data on this topic, particularly in relation to the role of morphology and syntax in agreement. Working with colleagues in the Surrey Morphology Group I worked on the creation of a dictionary of the Archi language. We have now started a new project on the Archi agreement system. As agreement in Archi is manifested across a wide variety of domains and constructions it is a particularly valuable language for investigating the mechanisms and constraints on agreement.

I am working with colleagues in Fairbanks (Alaska), Leiden (Netherlands) and Surrey on the Alor-Pantar languages of eastern Indonesia. The area I have focused on, with Sebastian Fedden (Surrey), is the pronominal marking system. One of the results of this work is that we have observed differing degrees of arbitrariness in the choice of prefixal marking, something of particular interest for work on how autonomous structure can arise.

Over the years I have also been active in creating a number of databases for investigating specific morphology phenomena.


Research group(s)


On current research projects I collaborate with colleagues at Essex, Fairbanks (Alaska), Harvard, Leiden and Surrey.

Available PhD research projects

I would be happy to supervise research projects on morphology, including computational and theoretical approaches, morphology-syntax interaction and typology.


I am currently co-supervising the follow PhD students based at Surrey:

  • Maris Camilleri, Maltese verb morphology
  • Scott Collier, The evolution of complexity in Greek noun inflection
  • Kasia Marchewka, Polish gender

Contact details

Dunstan Brown
Professor and Head
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
Vanbrugh College C Block
Room: V/C/011

Tel: (0)1904 322653



External activities


  • Member of the A.H.R.C. Peer Review College, April 2012 – December 2015 (Academic and International)

Invited talks and conferences

(2008 onwards)

  • Fedden, Sebastian and Dunstan Brown. ‘Alignment systems in the Alor-Pantar languages’. Presented at the Dissemination workshop on Alor-Pantar languages, British Academy, London, 14 September 2012.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Sebastian Fedden. ‘Functional verbs in the Alor-Pantar languages’. Presented at the Dissemination workshop on Alor-Pantar languages, British Academy, London, 14 September 2012.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Sebastian Fedden: ‘Pronominal marking: Multidimensional variation between closely related languages’. Presented at the annual meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB) in Salford, 5-8 September 2012.
  • Fedden, Sebastian and Dunstan Brown: ‘Pronominal marking in the Alor-Pantar languages and diachronic alignment change’. Invited talk at the Linguistic Colloquium, University of Zürich, 30 March 2012.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Sebastian Fedden: ‘Pronominal indexing and referential hierarchies: Evidence from the Alor-Pantar languages’. Presented at the Societas Linguistics Europaea (SLE) 44, Logroño, 8-11 September  2011.
  • Fedden, Sebastian and Dunstan Brown: ‘Pronominal indexing and referential hierarchies: evidence from the Alor-Pantar languages’. Presented at the Association for Linguistic Typology (ALT) 9, Hong Kong, 21-24 July  2011.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Sebastian Fedden. ‘Ditransitives in the Alor-Pantar languages’. Presented at the Workshop on referential hierarchies in three-participant constructions. Lancaster University. 20-22 May 2011.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Sebastian Fedden: ‘Pronominal marking in Alor-Pantar languages’. Presented at the annual meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB) in Leeds, 1-4 September 2010.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Roger Evans. Principal parts and defaults in Russian. Speech and Language Group, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, 25 March 2010.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Roger Evans. Defaults and principal parts: an empirical investigation. Paper presented at the Workshop on Morphology and Formal Grammar, HPSG 2010, Paris, L'Université Paris Diderot-Paris VII and L'Université Paris Sorbonne-Paris IV, 8 July 2010.
  • Brown, Dunstan. Combining formal and frequency based approaches to morphology. Invited plenary talk at the 14th International Morphology Meeting, Budapest Hungary, May 13-16, 2010.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Roger Evans. Compression and morphological complexity: an evaluation. Workshop ‘Morphological Complexity: Implications for the Theory of Language’, Harvard University, 21 January 2010.
  • Baerman Matthew, Dunstan Brown and Greville G. Corbett. Morphological complexity: the view from typology. Centre for Linguistics, Department of Humanities, University of Hamburg, 11 November 2009.
  • Baerman, Matthew, Dunstan Brown, and Greville Corbett. Morphological Complexity: a typological perspective. Invited paper at the European Science Foundation Exploratory Workshop on "Words In Action", Istituto di Linguistica Computazionale "Antonio Zampolli" CNR Pisa, 12-13 October 2009.
  • Chumakina, Marina, Greville G. Corbett and Dunstan Brown. Archi language tutorial. LAGB Annual Meeting, University of Essex, September 11-12 2008.
  • Brown, Dunstan and Bill Palmer. Morphological defaults and the Kokota noun phrase. Paper presented at the fifteenth Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association Annual Conference (AFLA XV), University of Sydney, Australia, 2 July 2008.
  • Brown, Dunstan. Morphological defaults. Paper presented at the “Perspectives on paradigmatic morphology” MorPa workshop, Université de Toulouse, le Mirail, 20 June 2008.
  • Dunstan Brown. 8 March 2008. A realizational approach to the morphology of the Kokota NP. Paper presented at UKARG Workshop, School of Oriental and African Studies, 8 March 2008.
  • Corbett, Greville G., Dunstan Brown and Marina Chumakina. Prolegomena to a typology of periphrasis. Paper read at the 13th  International Morphology Meeting, Vienna, 5 February 2008.