Steven Moran


I am a scientist trained in computational linguistics, linguistic fieldwork, and language teaching. My research focuses on the evolution of the phonological system in humans, quantitative approaches to linguistic diversity, and aspects of language ontogeny from a cross-linguistic perspective. See my CV and my Google Scholar profile for access to my publications.

From 2020-2025, I am an assistant professor in the Institute of Biology at the University of Neuchâtel. I am also the director of the Language Evolution Lab and principle investigator of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funded project: Evolution of phonetics and phonology (EVOPHON). The goal of EVOPHON is to investigate the origin of vocal communication and to identify a timeline of when different phonetic, and ultimately, phonological features, were co-opted for speech.


Selected publications

  • 2021. Moran, Steven, Nicholas A. Lester and Eitan Grossman. Inferring recent evolutionary changes in speech sounds. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 376: 20200198. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2020.0198.
  • 2021. Urban, Matthias and Steven Moran. Altitude and the distributional typology of language structure: ejectives and beyond. PLOS ONE, 16(2): e0245522. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245522.
  • 2020. Moran, Steven, Eitan Grossman and Annemarie Verkerk. Investigating diachronic trends in phonological inventories using BDPROTO. Language Resource and Evaluation. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10579-019-09483-3.
  • 2019. *Blasi, Damián E., *Steven Moran, Scott R. Moisik, Paul Widmer, Dan Dediu and Balthasar Bickel. Human sound systems are shaped by post-Neolithic changes in bite configuration. Science, 363, 6432. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aav3218. *Shared first authorship.
  • 2018. Benitez-Burraco, Antonio and Steven Moran (eds). The Adaptive Value of Languages: Non-Linguistic Causes of Language Diversity. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01827.


Academic bio

In 2020, I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Language and Space Lab at the University of Zurich. There I worked on the SNSF project Non-randomness in Morphological Diversity: A Computational Approach Based on Multilingual Corpora with Dr. Tanja Samardžić (PI) and colleagues. For this project, I developed a database of text corpora from a sample of 100 languages that maximizes both genealogical and areal diversity. We then applied information theory, statistical modelling and machine learning to study language adaptation in the multilingual corpus database.

From 2014 until December 2019 I worked with Prof. Sabine Stoll and colleagues on the European Research Council (ERC) funded ACQDIV project. For ACQDIV, I developed a state-of-the-art database comprised of longitudinal child language acquisition corpora from 15 typologically maximally diverse languages. We used this dataset to shed light on what the underlying processes are that make first language acquisition possible given the remarkable diversity of linguistic structures in the world's languages.

From late 2012 until December 2019 I was also an assistant in the Department of Comparative Language Science at the University of Zurich. In collaboration with Prof. Balthasar Bickel, my research focused on quantitative issues in phonological typology, including approaches to dimensionality reduction, estimating diachronic preferences in phonological systems, and measuring complexity in phonology. During this time, I also greatly extended my work on PHOIBLE, a repository of cross-linguistic phonological inventory data from more than 2000 languages.

From 2010 to 2014 I worked with Prof. Michael Cysouw (PI) and colleagues on the ERC-funded research unit "Quantitative Language Comparison'' in the Deutsche Sprachatlas Forschungsgruppe at the University of Marburg. Our focus was on creating quantitative approaches for historical linguistics. Among other publications, this work resulted in our monograph The Unicode Cookbook for Linguists.

I received my PhD in 2012 from the Department of Linguistics at the University of Washington in Seattle under the supervision of Professors Emily Bender (Computational Linguistics) and Richard Wright (Phonetics and Phonology). My PhD dissertation involved the creation of PHOIBLE, the world's largest database of phonological inventories.

I am also an active field linguist in West Africa. I cut my teeth in the UWR of Ghana in 2003, working with speakers of Western Sisaala, an unwritten language spoken by a few thousand individuals in and around the village Lambussie near the Burkina Faso border. In my MA thesis, A Grammatical Description of Isaalo (Western Sisaala), I describe Isaalo's phonology and provide an overview of its morphology. Works in progress include a full grammar and a bilingual English-Isaalo dictionary.

Since 2005 I have worked with Jeffrey Heath (U. Michigan) on the Dogon Languages Project, which has been funded through several US National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and US National Science Foundation (NSF) grants. I began by developing technological infrastructure for the pan-Dogon project, which included several fieldworkers who lived in geographically dispersed locations. In 2009 and again in 2013, I took several-month fieldwork trips working with speakers of Sangha So (Toro So) in Mali, and during the more recent rebellious times, in Burkina Faso. Works in progress include a grammar of Toro So, a trilingual Toro So-English-French dictionary, and the application of quantitative methods to disentangle the genealogical relatedness of the Dogon languages. We have also edited and contributed to Tsammalex, a multilingual lexical database on plants and animals that includes linguistic, anthropological and biological information.

From 2001 to 2005, I was an editor and research assistant for The Linguist List


Curriculum Vitae

PDF of CV.



Google scholar profile.

Steven Moran

Assistant Professor 

Université de Neuchâtel
Institut de Biologie
Cognition Comparée
Rue Emile-Argand 11
2000 Neuchâtel


+41 32 718 24 30

Room B035 (Bâtiment G)