John B. Whitman



Whitman's main interest is the problem of language variation: its limits (how much specific subsystems can vary across languages) and predictors (what typological features co-occur systematically). Exploration of this general problem has led him to work on historical linguistics and language acquisition in addition to his central interest in synchronic syntactic variation across typologically similar languages. 

He works mostly on Japanese, secondly on Korean. He has also done research on Australian languages and German. In the general area of syntax, Whitman has been involved in the configurationality debate, an ongoing discourse which began 15 years ago with the widely held assumption that languages may vary radically in the degree of articulation of their syntactic structure. A truly remarkable result of research on this topic is that variation is much more limited than syntacticians were once willing to believe. Most recently, he has worked on the relationship between phrase structure and word order, structural universals in relative clause structure, and crosslinguistic parallels in rightward movement. 

In the area of historical phonology, Whitman has recently completed work on the development of verbal conjugations in Japanese and Korean and their relation to transitivity. He is interested in the typological implications of developments like these, as well as their factual implications for the history of these two languages. His interests in Japanese historical linguistics are summarized here.


Research Focus

  • Syntax
  • East Asian Linguistics
  • Problem of Language Variation
  • Historical Linguistics
  • Language Acquisition


Publications on Syntactic Variation:

Publications on Diachronic Topics:

Publications on Japanese Synchrony:

  • Gengo shigen toshite no Nihongo (Japanese as a linguistic resource). (2011). with Kinsui, S., Shimizu, Y., & Yada, T. KinIn Bungaku (Iwanami Shoten), 12(3), 2-51.  
  • Prenominal complementizers and the derivation of complex NPs in Japanese and Korean. (2011). with Frellesvig, B. In W. McClure (Ed.), Japanese/Korean Linguistics, 18, 73-87. Stanford: CSLI Publications.  
  • Clefts in Japanese and Korean. (2008). with Cho, S. & Yanagida, Y. In Proceedings from the Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, 44(1), 61-77. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.  
  • Give as a Higher Verb: Reassessing Nakau. (2001). In Minoru Nakau Festschrift Editorial Committee (Eds.), Imi to katachi no intaafeesu (The interface of meaning and form) (pp. 445-470). Tokyo: Kuroshio Press.  
  • Right dislocation in English and Japanese. (2000). In K. Takami & J. Whitman (Eds.), Syntactic and Functional Exploration: In Honor of Susumu Kuno (pp. 445-470). Kuroshio Press.  
  • Gojun to kukōzō 語順と句構造 [Word order and phrase structure]. (1998). In Takezawa, K. and J. Whitman, Kaku to gojun to tōgo kōzō 『格と語順と統語構造』[Case, word order, and syntactic structure]. Nakau, M. (Ed.), Nichieigosensho 『日英語選書 9』. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.

Publications on Japanese Diachrony:

Publications on Korean:

Other Topics:


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