James R Hurford

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Born 1941, Reading, England.
Married 1964, to Sue Ann Davis,
Two daughters,
Eve Hurford (b.1971, d.2013), who was a video and slide installation artist working in Berlin and
Rosie (b.1980), who, after completing a Masters in Epidemiology at San Diego State University, works for the Alzheimers Disease Cooperative Study.


1950 - 1960 Exeter School, Exeter.
1960 - 1963 St John's College, Cambridge, reading Modern and Medieval Languages (French and German). Graduated 1963, with a B.A. (2.i).
1964 - 1967 Department of Phonetics, University College, London. Graduated 1967 with University of London PhD. Thesis title: `The Speech of One Family: a phonetic comparison of the speech of three generations in a family of East Londoners'.


1963 - 1964 Associate, Department of Germanic Languages, UCLA, teaching elementary and intermediate German.
1967 - 1968 Postdoctoral Research Fellow, System Development Corporation, Santa Monica, California. (Researching early automatic question-answering systems, e.g. Protosynthex.)
1968 - 1971 Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of California at Davis.
1972 - 1979 Lecturer and Senior Lecturer, Department of Linguistics and Modern English Language, University of Lancaster.
1979 - 2007 Professor of General Linguistics, University of Edinburgh.

Books published

1975 The Linguistic Theory of Numerals, Cambridge University Press.
1983 (with Brendan Heasley) Semantics: a Coursebook, Cambridge University Press. 2nd edition, with Brendan Heasley and Michael Smith, 2007.
1987 Language and Number: the emergence of a cognitive system, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.
1994 Grammar: a Student's Guide, Cambridge University Press.
1998 (edited with Michael Studdert-Kennedy and Chris Knight) Approaches to the Evolution of Language: social and cognitive bases, Cambridge University Press.
2000 (edited with Chris Knight and Michael Studdert-Kennedy) The Evolutionary Emergence of Language: Social function and the origins of linguistic form, Cambridge University Press.
2007 The Origins of Meaning, Oxford University Press.
2011 The Origins of Grammar, Oxford University Press.
2014 The Origins of Language: A Slim Guide Oxford University Press.

Research Theme

Jim Hurford was trained as an articulatory phonetician, and has written textbooks on semantics and grammar, two books of numeral systems and three books on the origins and evolution of language, beside articles and book chapters on phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and language acquisition. He has a broad interest in reconciling various traditions in Linguistics which have tended to conflict. His work is interdisciplinary, based in linguistics, but reaching out to, and taking insights and data from, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience, genetics, artificial intelligence and philosophy. His work brings together the work of formal linguists who study words and sentences out of their communicative context, psycholinguists and neuroscientists who study the brain processes underlying language use, and anthropologists and sociolinguists who emphasize how language is embedded in social groups. He has worked on articulating frameworks in which representations of languages in individual minds interact with properties of languages used in communities. These frameworks emphasize the interaction of evolution, learning and communication. Early work focussed on the properties of numeral systems, and this broadened out to the topic of the evolution of language, in all senses of that phrase. He produced some of the earliest computer simulations of aspects of the evolution of language.


Jim Hurford was elected to the British Academy in 2015.
Jim Hurford was elected as a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2018.