Salikoko S. Mufwene

Faculty Photo
Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Linguistics
On leave as a Visiting Professor, for the annual Chaire Mondes francophones, at the Collège de France, Paris, in spring 2024.
Wieboldt 411
(773) 702-8531
Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1979
Teaching at UChicago since 1992
Research Interests: Evolutionary Linguistics (including the emergence of Creoles, the Indigenization of European Colonial Languages, Language Vitality), Bantu Linguistics, Language Contact in Africa and the Caribbean


Native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Salikoko S. Mufwene is the Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics and the College, Professor on the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, on the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and on the Committee on African Studies. His current research is in evolutionary linguistics, which he approaches from an ecological perspective, focused on the phylogenetic emergence of language and on how languages have been affected by colonization and world-wide globalization, especially regarding the indigenization of European languages in the colonies and language birth and death. He brings into all this fresh African, Africanist, and creolist perspectives, having published a great deal in African and creole linguistics.

Mufwene is the founding editor of Cambridge Approaches to Language Contact. His distinctions include lectures at the Collège de France (Fall 2003), teaching at Harvard University (spring 2002) and four times at the Summer Institute of the Linguistic Society of America (1999, 2005, 2015, 2017), and recognition as a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America (January 2018). He was also a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Lyon (2010-2011) and Director of the University of Chicago Center in Paris during the 2013-2014 academic year. He chaired the Department of Linguistics from July 1995 to June 2001 and was the interim faculty director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, at Chicago (2018-2020).

Mufwene has also been elected as a fellow of the following scientific organizations:

  • American Philosophical Society, May 2022.
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences, April 2023.
  • Appointed to the "Chaire Mondes Francophones" at the Collège de France for the 2023-24 academic year.

Recent Publications


  • Language Evolution: Contact, competition and change (Continuum Press, 2008).
  • Iberian imperialism and language evolution in Latin America (edited volume, University of Chicago Press, 2014)
  • Complexity in language: Developmental and evolutionary perspectives (lead editor, co-edited with Christophe Coupé & François Pellegrino. Cambridge University Press, 2017)
  • Bridging linguistics and economics (co-edited with Cécile B. Vigouroux, Cambridge University Press, 2020).
  • The Cambridge handbook of language contact. Volume 1: Population movement and language change, lead editor, with Anna María Escobar, Cambridge University Press, 2022.
  • The Cambridge handbook of language contact. Volume 2: Multilingualism in population structure, lead editor, with Anna María Escobar, Cambridge University Press, 2022.

Selected Articles/Chapters:

  • 2017a. “Individuals, populations, and timespace: Perspectives on the ecology of language Revisited.” Language Ecology 1.75-103 (co-authored with Cécile B. Vigouroux.)
  • 2017b. “Language vitality: The weak theoretical underpinnings of what can be an exciting research area.” Language. Perspectives 93.e-202-e223; 93.e306-e316.
  • 2018a. “‘Socio-Cultural Transmission’ in Language Evolution? Comment on ‘Rethinking [the] Foundations of Language from a Multidisciplinary Perspective’” by Tao Gong, Lan Shuai, & Yicheng Wu. Physics of Life Reviews.
  • 2018b. “Language evolution from an ecological perspective.” In the Handbook of ecolinguistics, ed. by Alwin Fill & Hermine Benz, 73-88. Routledge.
  • 2018c. “Population movements, language contact, linguistic diversity, etc.” Postscript. In Tracing language movement in Africa, ed. by Ericka A. Albaugh & Kathryn M. de Luna, 387-414. Oxford University Press.
  • 2019. “The evolution of language as technology: The cultural dimension,” in Beyond the meme: Development and structure in cultural evolution, ed. by Alan C. Love & William C. Wimsatt, 365-394. University of Minnesota Press.
  • 2019. “The legacy of Braj B. Kachru through World Englishes and Culture Wars.” World Englishes, 38.162-169.
  • 2020. "Global English and World Englishes from an evolutionary perspective: A rejoinder to Anna Kristina Hultgren." Nordic Journal of English Studies 19(3).130-136.
  • 2020b. “Do linguists need economists and economists linguists?” co-authored with Cécile B. Vigouroux. In Bridging linguistics and economics, ed. by Cécile B. Vigouroux and Salikoko S. Mufwene, 1-57. Cambridge University Press.
  • 2020c. “Grammaticization in the development of creoles.” In Patterns of Linguistic Convergence in Africa, a Festschrift for Bernd Heine, ed. by Rainer Vossen, 153-169.
  • 2020d. “Creoles and pidgins: Why the latter are not the ancestors of the former.” In The Routledge handbook of language contact, ed. by Evangelia Adamou & Yaron Matras, 300-324.
  • 2020e. “Genetic creolistics as part of evolutionary linguistics,” in The Handbook of historical linguistics, vol. 2, ed. by Brian Joseph, Richard Janda, & Barbara Vance, 395-422. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • 2020f. “Language shift.” The International Encyclopedia of Linguistic Anthropology, ed. by James W. Stanlaw. Wiley. Electronic publication, 9 pages.
  • 2020g. “Decolonial linguistics as paradigm shift: A commentary.” In Colonial and decolonial linguistics – Knowledges and epistemes, ed. by Ana Deumert, Anne Storch, & Nick Shepherd, 289-300. Oxford University Press.
  • 2020h. “Population structure and the emergence of World Englishes.” In The Cambridge handbook of World Englishes, ed. by Daniel Schreier, Marianne Hundt & Edgar W. Schneider, 99-119. Cambridge University Press.
  • 2021. “Linguistic diversity, formal education, and economic development: The Sub-Saharan African chicken-and-egg dilemma?” In Language & the sustainable development goals, ed. by Philip Harding-Esch & Hywel Coleman. London: British Council.
  • 2022a. “The verticalization model of language shift from a population-structure perspective: A commentary." In The verticalization model of language shift: The great change in American communities, ed. by Joshua Brown, 166-194. Oxford University Press.
  • 2022b. “The Linguist, language, and economic development: A commentary on Language, linguistics and development practices.” In Language, linguistics and development practices, ed. by Deborah Hill & Felix Ameka, 267-289. Palgrave Macmillan.

2021-2022 Course Offerings

Race, Ethnicity, Language, and Citizenship in the United States -Spring 2022

This course is intended to help students make sense of the current discourse on diversity and inclusion/exclusion from a historical perspective. They will be trained to read critically the evolution of political discourse on citizenship in the United States since the American Revolution. They will learn to detect the role of shifting interpretations of race and ethnicity, after that of European nationality, in determining who is (not) a (full) citizen. For instance, who counted as “American” in the early stages of the Republic? Why were Native Americans and (descendants of) forced immigrants from Africa excluded at the outset? How did English become the unofficial language of American citizenship and inclusion? What factors favored its rise and drove to extinction the competing European national languages?

Other relevant questions include: What has been the political language of Othering and exclusion? Who is an “alien” and why are locally-born children of “resident aliens” referred to as “second-generation immigrants”? What does it mean to “naturalize” American and what’s the expected cost of doing so? What is entailed by “hyphenated” labels such as “Native American,” “African American,” “Asian American,” and “Hispanic American”? Why have some politicians resented them and why are some White Americans opposed to being identified as “European Americans”? What does the label “people of color” presuppose?

This is an opportunity for students to learn to think critically about the power of political language in enabling inclusion/exclusion. They will also discover how far back in time some of the current political issues can be traced and how much light that history sheds on some of the controversies today. Students will select their own topical foci, get help in finding the relevant literature, give informed presentations on them, and develop a paper from a historical perspective. They can also contextualize their own experiences of disenfranchisement, or those of people they know, in light of their readings and our class discussions.

2020-2021 Course Offerings

Language and Communication (LING 20150/30150) - Autumn 2020

This course can also be taken by students who are not majoring in Linguistics but are interested in learning something about the uniqueness of human language, spoken or signed. It covers a selection from the following topics: What is the position of spoken language in the usually multimodal forms of communication among humans? In what ways does spoken language differ from signed language? What features make spoken and signed language linguistic? What features distinguish linguistic means of communication from animal communication? How do humans communicate with animals? From an evolutionary point of view, how can we account for the fact that spoken language is the dominant mode of communication in all human communities around the world? Why cannot animals really communicate linguistically? What do the terms language "acquisition" and "transmission" really mean? What factors account for differences between "language acquisition" by children and by adults? Are children really perfect language learners? What factors bring about language evolution, including language speciation and the emergence of new language varieties? How did language evolve in mankind? This is a general education course without any prerequisites. It provides a necessary foundation to those working on language at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

2019-2020 Course Offerings

Creole Genesis and Genetic Linguistics (LING 24960/34960) - Winter 2020

In this seminar course we will review the "creole exceptionalism" tradition against the uniformitarian view, according to which creoles have emerged and evolved like other, natural and non-creole languages. We will situate creoles in the context of the plantation settlement colonies that produced them and compare their emergence specifically with that of languages such as English and the Romance languages in Europe. We will also compare these evolutions with those of new colonial varieties of European languages (such as Amish English, mainstream American English varieties, Brazilian Portuguese, and Québécois French) which emerged around the same time but are not considered creoles. Using the comparative approach (in evolutionary theory), we will assess whether the criteria used in the genetic classification of languages have been applied uniformly to creole and non-creole languages. In return, we will explore ways in which genetic creolistics can inform and improve genetic linguistics (including historical dialectology).

The Evolution of Language (LING 21920/41920) - Spring 2020

This course is designed to review critically some of the literature on the phylogenetic emergence of Language, in order to determine which questions have been central to the subject matter, which ones have recurred the most, and to what extent the answers to these are now better informed. The class will also review new questions such as the following: What is the probable time of the emergence of modern language(s)? Should we speak of the emergence of Language or of languages, in the plural?