Neil and Saras Smith Medal for Linguistics

The Neil and Saras Medal is awarded annually for lifetime achievement in the scholarly study of linguistics.

History of the prize

The award was established in 2013 by Professor Neil Smith, elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1999 and Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at University College London. This prize was first awarded in 2014.


a) Eligible nominations can be for a linguist of any nationality whose career has demonstrated the highest standards of achievement and scholarship.

b) Preference will be given to theoretical linguists, though all linguists will be eligible.

How to nominate

Nominations for the Neil and Saras Smith Medal are currently closed. Nominations will open again in December 2021.

2021 winner

Marianne Mithun

Professor Marianne Mithun is awarded the 2021 Neil and Saras Smith Medal for Linguistics for her significant contribution to theoretical linguistics, including the investigation and analysis of various structural domains on Native American and Austronesian languages.

Marianne Mithun received her doctorate in linguistics at Yale University and taught at the State University of New York, Albany, before joining colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where they founded the doctoral program in linguistics. Her interests range over phonology, morphology, syntax, discourse, prosody and their interrelations; language typology (how languages can vary); how grammatical systems emerge and evolve through time; language contact; and language documentation. Her work with community language programs has focused on languages indigenous to North America and Austronesia. Among the topics she has explored are sound symbolism and sibilant harmony; morphological complexity, particularly the nature of polysynthesis and its acquisition; compounding and noun incorporation; the elaboration of grammatical categories pertaining to the conceptualization of space (direction and location), time (tense, aspect, mood, modality), source and certainty of information (evidentiality), number, gender, and possession; lexical categories and categorial shift; the information status of pronominal affixes; argument structure; valency-changing constructions and their syntactic and discourse functions; tags and their social uses; and information structure and information packaging in speech. Her work on diachrony examines the role of usage patterns in shaping the development of grammatical structures through time in such areas as affix order, constituent order, and the extension of dependency beyond the sentence (insubordination). It also highlights the pervasive and hitherto often unnoticed effects of language contact on morphological complexity, lexical structure, grammatical relations (ergative, agent/patient, and hierarchical systems), and clause combining strategies, particularly coordination, relativization, and switch-reference.

"I am delighted and deeply honored by this award. It is especially meaningful coming from my British colleagues, for whom I have long had great respect and appreciation. Individually and collectively they have created a vibrant discipline, based on deep knowledge and high standards of scholarship, as well as fruitful interaction."

- Marianne Mithun

Previous winners

2020 Professor Paul Kiparsky FBA, Stanford University

2019 Professor Deirdre Wilson FBA, University College London

2018 Professor Barbara H. Partee FBAUniversity of Massachusetts Amherst

2017  Professor Bernard Comrie FBA, University of California, Santa Barbara 

2016  Sir John Lyons FBAUniversity of Cambridge

2015  Professor William Labov, University of Pennsylvania

2014 Professor Noam Chomsky FBAMassachusetts Institute of Technology 

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