Mark Aronoff received his BA in linguistics from McGill University in 1969 (the first year that the university offered the degree) and his Ph. D. from MIT in 1974. Ever since, he has taught at Stony Brook University (State University of New York) on Long Island, where he is now Trustees Distinguished Professor. He has also held many visiting positions and taught at several LSA Institutes. Morphology has always been at the heart of Dr. Aronoff’s research. He is the author of two monographs on morphological theory and numerous articles, theoretical, analytical, and experimental in their focus.  He has worked in other areas (writing systems, language acquisition, computational linguistics, psycholinguistics) but always with a morphological twist. Dr. Aronoff was enticed into research on sign languages by their morphology and spent a dozen years working on an emerging language, Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, characterized, as are most emerging languages, by a paucity of morphological structure, though with tantalizing hints of its origins. At Stony Brook, Dr. Aronoff spent a decade in university administration, most prominently as Deputy Provost and Vice-Provost for undergraduate education. Nationally, he most recently served on the Commission on Language Learning, which was formed at the behest of Congress. He is a Fellow of LSA, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

When did you first join the LSA?

I first joined the LSA while I was in graduate school.

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?

I attended annual meetings regularly, gave papers, and was involved on a few committees, beginning with the Language in the Schools Committee, before becoming Editor of Language in 1995, and then President. I also taught at several LSA Institutes over the years and was co-director of the Arizona Institute in 1989.

What are you currently researching/working on?

I am pursuing two major strands of research. The first, which has occupied me for the last five years, is the application of established principles from biology, especially competition in ecology, to longstanding problems of morphology. More recently, I have been drawn in again by a life-long fascination with writing systems, especially English spelling and especially how it encodes morphology, often at the expense of phonological clarity. The two projects are tied together by the fact that English spelling, unlike that of some other languages, is unregulated and thus subject to the organizational and competitive pressures that drive biological evolution. On the side, I have been working on the history of morphology. Most of this last type of work has appeared in festschrifts.

What is your personal favorite linguistic article or study?

My all time-favorite is Sapir’s “Sound patterns in language,” which happens to have been the first full scholarly article published in Language. It is truly timeless. In the last year, I have reread Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures several times. Most recently, I have been reading it as a Shakespearean tragedy.

How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

Especially in the last decade, the field has become much more empirical. It is no longer sufficient to present a theory or an analysis; we need to test our claims empirically. This is a good thing, as it serves to connect us to adjacent fields.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the field of linguistics today?

One word: relevance! Linguistics needs to be relevant to adjacent fields like cognitive science and computer science, to other sciences, and to the wider world. In my lifetime, there have been two linguists whose work has changed the world: Eric Lenneberg and William Stokoe. Stokoe legitimized sign language and the Deaf community. Lenneberg changed second-language education by showing the value of early immersion. We need more such people.

What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field?

The LSA is our community. LSA is the voice of the field to the wider world, both in academia and more broadly construed. For members, it provides disciplinary structure that is wider than any one subfield. 

Is there anything else you'd like to say to the LSA membership as a whole?

I would emphasize the crucial importance of community. We have seen in recent years the damage that fractionalizing politics has caused around the world. We need instead to connect, “only connect,” and our professional life is an easy place to start.