Professor Sam Wolfe

Sam Wolfe MPhil, MA, PhD (Cantab.)
Professor of French and Romance Linguistics, Tutor and Fellow of St Catherine's


My research focuses on understanding the nature of grammatical variation, acquisition and change, principally in the Romance languages. Within Romance, I work on both standard and non-standard Romance varieties, with particular interests in French, Occitan, Spanish, and the languages of Italy. Much of my work to date has focussed on the early history of the Romance languages, which constitutes a missing link in our understanding of how Latin changed into the Romance languages spoken today.

My most recent book, Syntactic Change in French, appeared with Oxford University Press in 2021 and charts the grammatical evolution of French from Latin through to the present day, in light of recent advances in our understanding of the nature of grammatical variation and change. I have also co-edited a major Oxford University Press handbook entitled Rethinking Verb Second (2020, OUP),  as well as two further volumes: Variation and Change in Gallo-Romance Grammar (2020, OUP) and Continuity and Variation in Germanic and Romance (2021, OUP). A monograph on word order in Medieval Romance languages appeared in 2018 with OUP, entitled Verb Second in Medieval Romance.

My current research is focussed on the internal and external factors driving the morphosyntactic differentiation of the Romance languages from the medieval period to the present day, with a particular emphasis on why certain grammatical properties remain stable whereas others change over time, often rapidly; I am writing a major monograph on this topic from 2023 onwards, funded by a Philip Leverhulme Prize. I am also in the process of editing a c.1000-page handbook of the cartographic enterprise, provisionally entitled Mapping Syntax


At undergraduate level, I teach a broad range of papers within the Oxford course, including French language and linguistics at all levels, comparative Romance linguistics, historical linguistics, and Italo-Romance linguistics. I also teach the General Linguistics course both at Prelims and FHS level for St Catherine’s and St John’s.

Graduate Teaching

My recent doctoral students are Andrew Lloyd (2017-2022, The Microvariation of Post-verbal Negative Particles in Old Gallo-Romance: A Comparative Study) and Wyn Shaw (2020-2023, Word Order and Information Structure in Early Modern French). Students completing Masters theses under my supervision have, in recent years, worked on the theoretical underpinnings of our assumptions about the left periphery, Stylistic Fronting phenomena in Old French, Old Gallo-Romance negation, and the relative complexity and simplicity of creoles.

I am always keen to hear from prospective graduate students working on topics within synchronic or diachronic Romance morphosyntax, as well as general topics within formal syntax, historical linguistics, French linguistics, and comparative Romance linguistics. My teaching at Masters level includes historical linguistics, French linguistics (both synchronic and diachronic), Romance linguistics, and formal syntax.

Access and Admissions

I have interests in school governance and educational policy and am happy to participate in access and admissions initiatives both within Oxford and elsewhere. As well as coordinating the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty’s access and outreach strategy as Director of Schools Liaison and Outreach, I am currently coordinating a national project to improve the number of care-leavers accessing Higher Education.

I believe it is important for those of us in Higher Education to participate actively in education at all levels and have served as Vice-Chair of Directors of a Multi-Academy Trust and Vice-Chair of Governors at a Sixth Form College, as well as other Trustee and Governor roles within the education sector. I am currently a Governor of Abingdon and Witney College.  


Monographs and Edited Volumes:

2021. Syntactic Change in French. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

2021. Continuity and Variation in Germanic and Romance. Oxford: Oxford University Press (edited with Christine Meklenborg).

2020. Variation and Change in Gallo-Romance Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press (edited with Martin Maiden).

2020. Rethinking Verb Second. Oxford: Oxford University Press (edited with Rebecca Woods).

2018. Verb Second in Medieval Romance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles: 

In Prep. “A Conspiracy Theory for the Loss of Verb Second in Romance”. Journal of Historical Syntax, Special Issue ‘Multifactorial Approaches to Word-Order Change’ (Pierre Larrivée and Cecilia Poletto eds).

Forthcoming. “Philology, Periodisation, and Syntactic Change:  The Case of Sardinian, French, and Venetan”. Quaderni di Lavoro AsIt.

2022. “Residual Verb Second in French and Romance”. Isogloss 8 (3), Special Issue ‘Residual Verb Second in Romance’ (Silvio Cruschina, Antonio Fábregas, and Christine Meklenborg Nilsen eds), 1-34.

2022. “Microvariation and Change in the Romance Left Periphery”. Probus 34 (1), Special Issue ‘Romance Syntax and Cartographic Studies’ (Luigi Rizzi and Giuseppe Samo eds), 235-272.

2021. “Word Order Change and Parametric Stability in Middle French”. Journal of Historical Syntax 5 (31), Special Issue ‘Secrets of Success’, 1-44.

2021. “Microvariation in the Old Italo-Romance Left Periphery: the case of SI”. Revue roumaine de linguistique 66 (2-3), 227-246. 

2020. “Reconsidering Variation and Change in the Medieval French Subject System”. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 5(1): 59, 1-29.

2019. “Redefining the typology of V2 languages: The view from Medieval Romance and beyond”. Linguistic Variation 19 (1) Special Issue ‘A Micro-Perspective on V2 in Romance and Germanic’, 16-46.

2018. “Probing the Syntax of a Problematic Particle: Old French ‘SI’ Revisited”. Transactions of the Philological Society 116 (3), 332-362.

2016. “A Comparative Perspective on the Evolution of Romance Clausal Structure”. Diachronica 33 (4), 461-502.

2016. “On the Left Periphery of V2 Languages”. Rivista di Grammatica Generativa 38, 287-310.

2015. “Verb-Initial Orders in Medieval Romance: A Comparative Account.” Revue roumaine de linguistique. Special Issue on Syntactic Variation.

2015. “The nature of Old Spanish verb second reconsidered.” Lingua 164, 132-155.

2015. “Microvariation in Old Italo-Romance Syntax: Evidence from Old Sardinian and Old Sicilian.” Archivio Glottologico Italiano 100 (1), 3-36.

2015. “The Old Sardinian Condaghes: A Syntactic Study.Transactions of the Philological Society 113 (2), 177-205.

Peer-Reviewed Book Chapters:

In Prep. “The Penthouse Principle revisited: root/embedded asymmetries in syntactic change”. In Edith Aldridge, Anne Breitbarth, Katalin É.Kiss, Adam Ledgeway, Joe Salmon, and Alexandra Simonenko (eds), The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Diachronic Linguistics. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

In Prep. “Sentential Word Order” In J. Garzonio (ed.) A Grammar of Old Venetian. With Cecilia Poletto.

Forthcoming. “Change at the Edge: Cartographic Structures in Diachrony”. In Fuzhen Si and Luigi Rizzi (eds) Cartographic Representations at the Interfaces. 

2022. “Resumption in Medieval Romance: Reconsidering SI”. In K. De Clercq, L. Haegeman, T. Lohndal and C. Meklenborg (eds) Adverbial Resumption in Verb Second LanguagesNew York: OUP, 245-266.

2022. “The GO-future and GO-past periphrases in Gallo-Romance: a comparative investigation”. In Adam Ledgeway, John Charles Smith and Nigel Vincent (eds), Periphrasis and Inflexion in Diachrony: a view from Romance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 123-144. With Sandra Paoli.

2021. “Evaluating the contact hypothesis for Old French word order”. In S. Wolfe and C. Meklenborg (eds) Continuity and Variation in Germanic and Romance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 275-297.

2021. “New prepositions in the house”. In S. Wolfe and C. Meklenborg (eds) Continuity and Variation in Germanic and Romance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 472-495. With Kersti Börjars and Nigel Vincent

2021. “Germanic and Romance — Data, method, and theory”. In S. Wolfe and C. Meklenborg (eds) Continuity and Variation in Germanic and Romance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-15. With Christine Meklenborg.

2020. “Introduction”. In S. Wolfe and M. Maiden (eds) Variation and Change in Gallo-Romance Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-9. With Martin Maiden.

2020. “Old Gallo-Romance, Periodization and the Left Periphery”. In S. Wolfe and M. Maiden (eds) Variation and Change in Gallo-Romance Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 9-40.

2020. “Introduction” In R. Woods and S. Wolfe (eds.) Rethinking Verb Second. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1-15. With Rebecca Woods.

2020. “Rethinking Medieval Romance Verb Second” In R. Woods and S. Wolfe (eds) Rethinking Verb Second. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 448-368.

2020. “Old French SI, Grammaticalization and the Interconnectedness of Change”. In B. Drinka (ed.) Historical Linguistics 2017: Selected papers from the 23rd International Conference on Historical Linguistics, San Antonio, 31st July — 4th August 2017. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 254-271.

2018. “Occitan, Verb Second and the Medieval Romance Word Order Debate”. In J. Berns, H. Jacobs and D. Nouveau (eds) Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory 2015: Selected Papers from Going Romance Nijmegen 2015. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 315-336.

2018. “Variation in Two Sister Languages: Word Order in Old French and Old Occitan”. In R. Zafiu, G.P Dindelegan, A. Dragomirescu, A. Nicolae and I. N. Paraschiv (eds.) Comparative and Diachronic Perspectives on Romance Syntax. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 53-85.

2015. “Medieval Sardinian: New Evidence for Syntactic Change from Latin to Romance”. In D. T. T. Haug (ed.) Historical Linguistics 2013: Selected papers from the 21st International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Oslo, 5-9 August 2013. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 303-324.

2015. “Microparametric Variation in Medieval Romance Syntax: The View from Old Sicilian and Old Sardinian”. Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory 2013. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 51-66.


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