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

Positions held

  • 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; syntax


  • 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

Citation index

Google Scholar

Courses taught by Ljiljana Progovac

Fall Term 2024 (future)

Winter Term 2024 (current)

Fall Term 2023

Winter Term 2023

Fall Term 2022