Prof. Kenny Smith

Languages evolve as they are passed down across the generations, and my research is helping us understand how the innovations and mistakes that occur during language learning shape this evolutionary process.


Wee Kenny

Wee Kenny

I am a Professor in Linguistics and English Language. I became interested in language evolution when I studied Linguistics as an undergraduate here in Edinburgh. I also did my PhD here and have worked here more or less ever since, mainly because I can’t get enough of the fabulous weather.

Likes: Cycling, doodling, eating cake
Dislikes: Walking, sushi, long boring meetings


I am interested in the evolution of communication, human language and the human capacity for language. I am particularly interested in how languages are shaped by their repeated learning and use, and whether humans have evolved unique abilities to enable us to learn language.


  • Culbertson, J., Galgliardi, A., & Smith, K. (2017). Competition between phonological and semantic cues in noun class learning. Journal of Memory and Language, 92, 343-358.
  • Samara, A., Smith, K., Brown, H., & Wonnacott, E. (2017). Acquiring variation in an artificial language: children and adults are sensitive to socially conditioned linguistic variation. Cognitive Psychology, 94, 85-114.
  • Blythe, R. A., Smith, A. D. M., & Smith, K. (2016). Word learning under infinite uncertainty. Cognition, 151, 18-27.
  • Fehér, O., Wonnacott, E., & Smith, K. (2016). Structural priming in artificial languages and the regularisation of unpredictable variation. Journal of Memory and Language, 91, 158-180.
  • Kirby, S., Tamariz, M., Cornish, H., & Smith, K. (2015). Compression and Communication in the Cultural Evolution of Linguistic Structure. Cognition, 141, 87-102.

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