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Ruth Kempson

Professor Ruth Kempson

Emeritus Professor of Linguistics

  • Emeritus Professor, now Associate of Philosophy Department

Contact details


Following a BA (English and Music) at Birmingham University, Professor Kempson obtained an MA in Modern English Language with distinction in 1989 and Ph,D in Linguistics, 1973 (London University). She taught semantics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) 1970-1998, Head of SOAS Linguistics Department 1992-1996. She joined the Philosophy Department, King’s College London 1998-2010 introducing a number of graduate programmes, and was elected fellow of the British Academy 1989 and member of Academia Europaea 1999.

Throughout this period she worked on the interface of syntax, semantics and pragmatics, leading to the development with Wilfried Meyer-Viol and Dov Gabbay of Dynamic Syntax (DS), a radical new model of language as procedures incrementally driving the process of interaction. This DS framework (ESRC and Leverhulme funded) attracted a number of people as essential contributors including Pat Healey, Matthew Purver, (Queen Mary University of London), Arash Eshghi (Heriot Watt), Julian Hough (Swansea), Ronnie Cann (Edinburgh), Eleni Gregoromichelaki,, Christine Howes (Gothenburg), Jieun Kiaer (Oxford), Miriam Bouzouita (Humboldt), Lutz Marten (SOAS), Hannah Davies (Essex), Stergios Chatzikyriakidis (Cyprus) and Mehrnoosh Sadrzadeh (University College London). This work has been collaborative throughout, invariably a team effort.

Research interests and PhD supervision

  • Cognitive Science
  • Semantics
  • Syntax and formal grammar
  • Pragmatics
  • Buddhist Philosophy

Professor Kempson’s current research interest is in bringing together insights from Quantum theory perspectives, Buddhist philosophy and interactivist theories of cognition and language, a cross-disciplinary stance which promises to transform the understanding of the essentially social nature of humans.

Selected publications

Kempson, R. W. Meyer-Viol, & Gabbay, D. 2001. Dynamic Syntax. Blackwell.

Purver, M., Sadrzadeh, M. Gijs Wijnholds, Kempson. R., and Hough, J. 2021. Incremental composition in distributional semantics. Journal of Logic, Language and Information 30(2): 379-306, 2021.

Gregoromichelaki, E., Mills,G.J., Eshghi, A., Howes, C., Chatzikyriakidis, S., Purver, M., Kempson, R.. Cann,R., Healey,P. 2021. Completability vs (in)completeness. Acta Linguistics Hafniensia

Gregoromichelaki, E. & Kempson, R. 2019. Procedural syntax. In Carston, R., Clark, B., Scott, K. (eds), Relevance: Pragmatics and Interpretation pp. 187-202. Cambridge University Press.

Kempson, R., Cann, R., Gregoromichelaki, E., Chatzikyriakidis, S. 2016. Language as mechanisms for interaction. Theoretical Linguistics, Vol. 42, Issue 3-4, 203–276.