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Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Nikolaus Ritt

Research Interests

  • English linguistics
    History of English
    Phonology, Morphology, Morphonology,
    Middle English, Early Modern English

  • Linguistic theory
    Language as a historical system
    Language and identity
    Language transmission and evolution
    Complex adaptive systems and generalized Darwinism
    Connectionist competence modeling
    Language and cognition
    Evolutionary epistemology

Selected Publications

Books and Monographs

(a) Authored

  • 2004. Selfish sounds. A Darwinian approach to language change. Cambridge: University Press.
  • 1994. Quantity adjustment: vowel lengthening and shortening in Early Middle English. Cambridge: University Press.

(b) Co-edited

  • 2006. Medieval English and its heritage: structure, meaning and mechanisms of change. Frankfurt: Lang (together with C. Dalton-Puffer, D. Kastovsky and H. Schendl)
  • 2005. Rethinking Middle English: linguistic and literary approaches. Frankfurt: Lang (together with H. Schendl)
  • 2000. Words: Structure, meaning, function. Berlin: Mouton (together with C. Dalton-Puffer)
  • Historical Linguistics in the modern philologies. (=Vienna English Working Papers 19/4). (together with Theresa Illès, Kamil Kazmierski, Ursula Lutzky and Lotte Sommerer)

(c) Edited Journals

  • Folia Linguistica Historica 32/2010, 33/2011, 34/2012


    • forthc. Ritt, N. & K. Kazmierski. "How rarities like gold have come to exist: on co-evolutionary interactions between morphology and lexical phonotactics". English Language and Linguistics.
    • forthc. "Linguistic pragmatics from an evolutionary perspective". In: Barron, A., Grundy, P. and Yueguo G. (eds.). Routledge Handbook of Pragmatics. London: Routledge.
    • 2014. Smith, K., Fehér, O., & Ritt, N. "Eliminating unpredictable linguistic variation through interaction". In: Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
    • 2012. "Distinguishing native and non-native languages on historical grounds". In: Agnihotri, Rama Kan and Rajendra Singh (eds.) Indian English: towards a new paradigm. London: Palgrave.
    • 2012. "How to weaken one’s consonants, strengthen one’s vowels and remain English at the same time". In: Bermúdez-Otero, Ricardo, Denison, David, McCully, Christopher and Emma Moore (eds. ). 2012. Analysing Older English. Cambridge: University Press.
    • 2012. "Evolutionary theories of language: theories and methods". In: Kortmann, Bernd and Johannes Kabatek (eds. ). Linguistic theory and methodology. (WSK-Dictionaries of Language and Communication Science). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
    • 2012. "Middle English: Phonology". In: Bergs, Alexander and Laurel Brinton (eds.). Historical linguistics of English: An international handbook (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
    • 2012. "Middle English phonology in the digital age: what written corpora can tell us about sound change". In: Nevallainen, Terttu and Elizabeth C. Traugott (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of the History of English. Oxford: University Press.
    • 2012. "Transferring mathematics to English Studies". In: Markus, Manfred and Herbert Schendl (eds.). Transfer in English Studies. Wien Braumüller. (with Andreas Baumann)
    • 2011. "Memes and Language”. In Hogan. Patrick (ed.). Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language Sciences. Cambridge: University Press. s.v.
    • 2011. "Neutrality, drift, and the diversification of languages". Journal of Theoretical Biology. 287: 1-12.(with Christina Pawlowitsch and Panayotis Mertikopoulos)
    • 2010. "MiddleEnglish (mor-)phonotactics: system, usage, change". In: SELIM: Journal of the Spanish Society of Medieval English Language and Literature. 17: 42-68.
    • 2008. "Review of: Brinton Laurel J. and Elizabeth Closs Traugott: Lexicalisation and Language Change". Studies in Language. 32. 228-36.
    • 2007. "Meaning in a material world or How to find out what linguists think about meaning". In: Fabiszak, Małgorzata (ed.). Language and Meaning. Frankfurt/Main: Lang, 235-269.
    • 2007. "It seemed like a good idea at the time: why there may not have been any early Modern English shortening before dentals after all". In: Smit, U. et al. (eds.) Tracing English through time. Explorations in language variation. Vienna: Braumüller. 2007. 315-331.
      2002. "Of vowel shifts, great, small, long and short". Language Sciences. 24. 409-421. (together with H. Schendl)
    • 2001. "The spread of Scandinavian 3rd Psn. Pl. pronouns in English: optimization, adaptation, and evolutionary stability". In: Kastovsky, Dieter und Arthur Mettinger. (eds.): Languages and Contact in the History of English. Frankfurt/Main: Lang. 279-304.
    • 2001. "Are optimality theoretical 'constraints' the same as natural linguistic 'preferences'?". In: Dziubalska-Kolaczyk, Katarzyna (ed.): Constraints and preferences. Berlin/New York: Mouton. 291-311.
    • 2000. "Introduction" to the phonological section in: Taavitsainen, Irma, Nevalainen, Terttu, Pahta, Päivi and Matti Rissanen (eds.): Placing Middle English in context. Berlin: Mouton.
    • 2000. "Theory, 'empiry', and textual witnesses: acutes in the 'Lindisfarne Gospel' and Early English vowel quantity". Sprachwissenschaft. 25. 497-512.
    • 1999. The prosodic evolution of English word forms or The Great Trochaic Conspiracy. Vienna English Working PaperS. 8. 85-107.
    • 1998. "' ... but they, to make me grieve, parts steal, let parts abide, ...'.Reflections on a poetic translation exercise". Vienna English Working PaperS. 7. 22-39.
    • 1997. "Now you see it, now you don't: Middle English Lengthening in closed syllables". Studia Anglica Poznaniensa. 31. 259-270.
    • 1997. "Early Modern English vowel shortening before dentals: a morphologically conditioned sound change?" In: Hickey, Raymond and Stanislaw Puppel (eds.): Language History and Linguistic Modelling. Berlin: Mouton. 65-71.
    • 1997. "Mutation, variation and selection in phonological evolution: a sketch based on the case of Late Middle English a > au /__l{C|#}". In: Fisiak, Jacek (ed.): Studies in Middle English Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton. 531-550.
    • 1997. Comments on Gabriella Mazzon: The study of language varieties in diachrony and synchrony, or: on methodological cross fertilisation. In: Fischer, Olga and Nikolaus Ritt (eds.) Papers and Comments presented at the workshop "Applying Historical Linguistics" at ESSE/4, Debrecen, Hungary
    • 1996. "On reading Dressler's Natural Textlinguistics". Studien zur Universalienforschung. 49. 318-321.
    • 1996. "Darwinising historical linguistics: applications of a dangerous idea". Vienna English Working PaperS. 5/1&2: 27-47.
    • 1995. "Language change as evolution: looking for linguistic genes". Vienna English Working PaperS . 4/1: 43-57.


    • 1978-1985: Student of English and German Philology at the University of Vienna
    • January 1985: Graduation to Magister Philosophiae (Mag. Phil.)
    • March 1985 Promotion to University Assistant (English Department, Vienna University)
    • 1985/86: Teacher Training at a Viennese Grammar School
    • 1987/88: Foreign Language Lecturer (German), Durham University
    • June1990: Graduation to Doctor Philosophiae (Dr. Phil.)
    • 1991 Community Service at a Neurological Clinic in Gugging, Lower Austria
    • 1992 (Summer term) Visiting Professor, Eötvös Lorand University, Budapest
    • April 1994 Promotion to Assistant Professor
    • 1994-2000 Work on Habilitation Thesis on an evolutionary framework for the study of linguistic history
    • 2001 Venia Docendi for English Linguistics, Promotion to Associate Professor
    • Nov 2001-Jan 2002 Visiting Professor, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan
    • Oct 2002-Jan 2005 Head of the English Department of Vienna University
    • Oct-Nov 2006 Visiting Professor, University of Santiago de Compostela
    • Jan 2007 Visiting Fellow, University of Edinburgh
    • October 2004-2008 Vice-Dean of the Faculty for Philological and Cultural Studies
    • February 2009 Professor for English Historical Linguistics, University of Vienna


    Room: 3E-O2-17
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    Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik /
    Department of English
    Universität Wien
    Campus d. Universität Wien
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