Dr E. O. Aboh (1962) has been appointed professor of Learnability at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
In his research Aboh emphasises the relationship between empirical study (i.e., language description) and the modeling of linguistic theory. His work has evolved along two main axes: comparative syntax with a focus on linguistic variation and linguistic typology of spoken and signed languages, and the comparative syntax of creole languages as they relate to their source languages (i.e., the Kwa languages of West Africa vs. the Romance and Germanic languages). Aboh’s research is predominantly geared towards understanding issues of language contact change and acquisition. What are the properties of a learnable language, and what role do language learners (e.g., children and (young) adults) play in language change?
Many of the UvA’s scholars focus on first and second language acquisition, language creation, linguistic typology, and the modeling of linguistic theory. In his capacity as Professor of Learnability of Human Languages, Aboh will strive to integrate work in different specialisms into a coherent body of innovative research on Learnability. Research into language acquisition and language contact indicates that human beings - adults and children - are capable of developing a learning algorithm that allows them to put together a coherent grammatical system out of possibly many different inputs. Though children are better at this than adults, it seems that all have access to the same learning algorithm. Aboh will seek an answer to what this algorithm is and how it can be investigated, taking into account the specificities of the learners (e.g., children vs. adults). Because the learning system is internalised, this issue can only be approached by studying its external manifestations and deducing from them what the internal properties might be.
Aboh has been working as a researcher (and later a lecturer) at the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication since 2000. Between 2011 and 2012 he was a fellow of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS) of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). In 2003 Aboh received a Vidi grant from the the NWO for his research project: ‘The typology of focus and topic: a new approach to the discourse-syntax interface’. In 2008 Aboh was invited associate professor at the department of Linguistics and Philosophy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, U.S.) . Before joining the UvA, Aboh also worked as a researcher and associate professor at the University of Geneva (Switzerland).