Ljiljana Progovac

Ljiljana Progovac

Distinguished Professor of Linguistics
Graduate Director, Linguistics


5057 Woodward, Room 10303.2
Detroit, MI 48202

Curriculum vitae




English and Linguistics

Ljiljana Progovac



University of Novi Sad, Serbia, Assistant Professor of English, 1982-85

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Teaching Assistant, English Composition, 1986-88

Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Visiting Assistant Professor of Linguistics, 1990-91

Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor, Linguistics, 1991-present

Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, Linguistics Program Director, 2007-2017

University of Venice, Italy, Visiting Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Spring 1995

University of Chicago, Linguistics Society of America (LSA) Summer Institute Instructor, 2015

MIT, Cambridge, MA, Visiting Scholar, 2018/19


Research interest(s)/area of expertise

 Evolution of language; Evolution of syntax; Syntax; Slavic syntax


Language evolution; human evolution


  • Ph.D. in Linguistics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1988
  • B.A. in English, University of Novi Sad, Serbia, 1981

Awards and grants

  • The Humanities Center Marilyn Williamson Endowed Distinguished Faculty Fellowship, 2020, for the project: “Language Evolution, Self-Domestication, and Verbal Aggression"

  • Charles Gershenson Distinguished Faculty Fellowship, 2020

  • Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award, 2020, for the book “A Critical Introduction to Language Evolution: Current Controversies and Future Prospects. Springer Expert Briefs, 2019

  • Sabbatical Leave, 2018/2019, Visiting Scholar at MIT

  • Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award, 2016, for the book “Evolutionary Syntax,” published by Oxford University Press in 2015

  • Keal Faculty Fellowship, Department of English, Summer 2016, for the project: “Testing the proposal of Evolutionary Syntax: Genetics and neuroimaging”

  • The Humanities Center Marilyn Williamson Endowed Distinguished Faculty Fellowship, 2014, for the experimental fMRI project “In Search of Protosyntax in the Brain”

Selected publications

Scholarly books

  • (2019) A Critical Introduction to Language Evolution: Epert Briefs. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. 
  • (2015) Evolutionary Syntax. Oxford Studies in the Evolution of Language. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press. Also: Oxford Scholarship Online: Oxford University Press. August 2015. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198736547.001.0001
  • (2006) The Syntax of Nonsententials: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, co-edited by LjiljanaProgovac, Kate Paesani, Eugenia Casielles and Ellen Barton. Pages: ix + 372. Linguistik Aktuell(LA) 93. John Benjamins, Amsterdam.
  • (2005) A Syntax of Serbian: Clausal Architecture, pp. 245. Slavica Publishers, Bloomington, Indiana.
  • (1994) Negative and Positive Polarity: A Binding Approach, pp. 168. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 68. Cambridge University Press.

Refereed journal articles

  • (2021) “Human Self-Domestication and the Evolution of Pragmatics.” Joint paper with A. Benítez-Burraco and F. Ferretti. Cognitive Science 45. e12987. doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12987
  • (2021) “Language evolution: examining the link between cross-modality and aggression through the lens of disorders." Joint paper with A. Benítez-Burraco. Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B 376:20200188. doi.10.1098/rstb.2020.0188
  • (2021) “Editorial: Reconstructing prehistoric languages." Joint paper with A. Benítez-Burraco. Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B 376:20200187. doi.10.1098/rstb.2020.0187
  • (2021) “Editorial: The Biology of Language Under a Minimalist Lens: Promises, Achievements, and Limits.” Joint paper with A. Benítez-Burraco, K. Fujita, and K. Hoshi.
    Frontiers in Psychology 12:654768. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.654768
  • (2020) “Hierarchical clause structure as a tool for cognitive advances in early childhood.” Joint paper with Natalia Rakhlin as first author. Language Sciences. 83: 101316. doi.org/10.1016/j.langsci.2020.101316
  • (2020) “A four-stage model for language evolution under the effects of human self-domestication.” Joint paper with A. Benítez-Burraco as first author. Language and Communication 73, 1-17. doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2020.03.002
  • (2019) “From physical aggression to verbal behavior: Language evolution and self-domestication feedback loop.” Joint paper with A. Benítez-Burraco as second author. Frontiers in Psychology 10. 3389, 1-19. doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02807
  • (2019) “Minimalism in the light of biology: What to retain and what to discard?” Frontiers in Psychology 10:1303. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01303
  • (2018) “Neural correlates of syntax and proto-syntax: Evolutionary dimension.” Co-authors: Progovac, Ljiljana; Rakhlin, Natalia; Angell, William; Liddane, Ryan; Tang, Lingfei; and Ofen, Noa. Frontiers in Psychology 9:2415, 1-16. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02415
  • (2018) “Diversity of grammars and their diverging evolutionary and processing paths: Evidence from Functional MRI study of Serbian.” Co-authors: Progovac, Ljiljana; Rakhlin, Natalia; Angell, William; Liddane, Ryan; Tang, Lingfei; and Ofen, Noa. Frontiers in Psychology 9:278, 1-13. Special Issue, Language as Adaptive Systems, edited by Enoch Aboh and Umberto Ansaldo. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00278
  • (2016) “A Gradualist scenario for language evolution: Precise linguistic reconstruction of early human (and Neandertal) grammars.” Frontiers in Psychology 7:1714. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01714.
  • (2016) L. Progovac, and M. Ratliff. “Commentary: Beyond tone and climate: Broadening the framework.” Journal of Language Evolution 1.1, 77-79. Doi:10.1093 /jole/izv006
  • (2013) “Nonsentential vs. Ellipsis Approaches: Review and Extensions.” Language and Linguistics Compass 7/11: 597-617. Review article.
  • (2012) “Compounds and commands in the evolution of human language.” Theoria et Historia Scientiarum: An International Journal for Interdisciplinary Studies IX: 49-70.
  • (2010) “Syntax: Its Evolution and Its Representation in the Brain.” Biolinguistics 4.2-3, 233-254.
  • (2009) “Sex and Syntax: Subjacency Revisited.” Biolinguistics 3.2-3, 305-336.
  • (2009) “The Urge to Merge: Ritual Insult and the Evolution of Syntax.” Joint paper with John L. Locke as second author. Biolinguistics, 3.2-3, 337-354.
  • (1999) “Events and Economy of Coordination.” Syntax: A Journal of Theoretical, Experimental and Interdisciplinary Research, 2.2., 141-159.
  • (1999) “Event Pronominal To.” Journal of Slavic Linguistics, 6.1, 3-39 
  • (1998) "Determiner Phrase in a Language without Determiners." Journal of Linguistics, 34.1, 165-179.
  • (1998) “Structure for Coordination, Part 1,” State-of-the-Articles. Glot International 3.7, 3-6 (newspaper format).
  • (1998) “Structure for Coordination, Part 2,” State-of-the-Articles. Glot International 3.8, 3-9 (newspaper format).
  • (1994) "Negation and Comp," Rivista di Linguistica, 5.2, 329-347.
  • (1993) "Long-Distance Reflexives: Movement-to-Infl vs. Relativized SUBJECT." Linguistic Inquiry, 24.4, 755-772.
  • (1993) "Negative Polarity: Downward Entailment and Binding." Linguistics and Philosophy, 16.2, 149-180.
  • (1993) "Subjunctive: The (Mis)Behavior of Anaphora and Negative Polarity." The Linguistic Review 10, 37-59.
  • (1993) "Locality and Subjunctive-like Complements in Serbo-Croatian." Journal of Slavic Linguistics 1.1, 116-144.
  • (1992) "Negative Polarity: A Semantico-Syntactic Approach." Lingua 86.4, 271-299.
  • (1992) "Relativized SUBJECT: Long Distance Reflexives Without Movement." Linguistic Inquiry 23.4, 671-680.
  • (1992) "Non-Negative Polarity Licensing Must Involve Comp." Linguistic Inquiry, 23.2, 341-347.
  • (1991) "Polarity in Serbo-Croatian: Anaphoric NPIs and Pronominal PPIs." Linguistic Inquiry 22.3, 567-572.
  • (1990) "Free-Choice Bilo in Serbo-Croatian: Existential or Universal?" Linguistic Inquiry 21.1, 130-135.

Book chapters (recent)

  • (2020) “Natural/Sexual Selection: What’s language (evolution) got to do with it?” Yearbook of the Poznań Linguistic Meeting, Volume 5.1., pp. 35-58. doi.org/10.2478/yplm-2020-0002
  • (2017) “Where is continuity likely to be found?” Commentary on ‘The social origins of language’ by Robert M. Seyfarth and Dorothy L. Cheney. Edited and introduced by Michael Platt, 46-61. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  • (2014) “Degrees of Complexity in Syntax: A View from Evolution.” In Measuring Grammatical Complexity, 83-102, ed. by Frederick J. Newmeyer and Laurel B. Preston. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • (2010) “Imperative in Compounds: Implications for Historical and Evolutionary Studies.” In Development of Language through the Lens of Formal Linguistics, 137-145, ed. by Petr Karlík. Munich: Lincom Europa.
  • (2010) “When Clauses Refuse to be Recursive: An Evolutionary Perspective.” In Recursion and Human Language, ed. by Harry van der Hulst, 193-211. The Hague: Mouton.
  • (2009) “Layering of Grammar: Vestiges of Proto-Syntax in Present-Day Languages.” In Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable, ed. by Geoffrey Sampson, David Gil and Peter Trudgill, 203-212. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Reviews (recent)

(2021) “Was syntax borrowed from toolmaking?” A review of Planer, Ronald J. & Kim Sterelny. 2021. From Signal to Symbol: The Evolution of Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Biolinguistics 15: 23–33. www.biolinguistics.e

(2016). “Review of R. Berwick and N. Chomsky’s 2016 book Why Only Us: Language and Evolution.” Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. Language 92.4, 992-6.




Courses taught by Ljiljana Progovac

Fall Term 2023 (current)

Winter Term 2023

Fall Term 2022

Fall Term 2021