Steven Moran

Assistant & postdoctoral researcher

I am a scientist trained in computational linguistics, linguistic fieldwork, and language teaching. My research focuses on the evolution of the phonological system in humans, quantitative approaches to linguistic diversity, and aspects of language ontogeny from a cross-linguistic perspective.

From 2014 until December 2019 I am working with Prof. Sabine Stoll and colleagues on the ERC-funded ACQDIV project. For the project, I have developed a state-of-the-art database comprised of longitudinal child language acquisition corpora from ten typologically maximally diverse languages. We are now investigating what are the underlying processes that make language acquisition possible given the remarkable diversity in language structures (see publications tab).

From late 2012 until December 2019 I am an assistant in the Department of Comparative Linguistics at the University of Zurich. In collaboration with Prof. Balthasar Bickel, my research has focused on quantitative issues in phonological typology, including approaches to dimensionality reduction, estimating diachronic preferences in phonological systems, and measuring complexity in phonology.

From 2010 to 2014 I worked with Prof. Michael Cysouw (PI) and colleagues on the ERC-funded research unit "Quantitative Language Comparison'' in the Deutsche Sprachatlas Forschungsgruppe at the University of Marburg. Among other publications, this work resulted in our monograph "The Unicode Cookbook for Linguists".

I received my PhD in 2012 from the Department of Linguistics at the University of Washington under the supervision of Professors Emily Bender (Computational Linguistics) and Richard Wright(Phonetics and Phonology). My dissertation, its ten page abstract, and research papers using the dataset that I developed, called PHOIBLE, are available online at:

I am also an active field linguist in West Africa. I cut my teeth in the UWR of Ghana in 2003, working with speakers of Western Sisaala [ssl], a language spoken by a few thousand in and around the village Lambussie near the Burkina Faso border. In my MA thesis, "A Grammatical Description of Isaalo (Western Sisaala)", I describe Isaalo's phonology and provide an overview of its morphology. Works in progress include a full grammar and a bilingual English-Isaalo dictionary.

Since 2005 I have worked with Jeffrey Heath (U. Michigan) on the Dogon Languages Project, which has been funded through several NEH and NSF grants (see I began by developing technological infrastructure for the pan-Dogon project, which includes several fieldworkers who live in geographically dispersed locations. In 2009 and again in 2013, I took several-month fieldwork trips working with speakers of Sangha So (Toro So [dts]) in Mali, and during rebellious times, in Burkina Faso. Works in progress include a grammar of Toro So, a trilingual Toro So-English-French dictionary, and the application of quantitative methods to disentangle the genealogical relatedness of the Dogon languages. We have also worked on and contributed to Tsammalex, a multilingual lexical database on plants and animals.