Dr Hannah Gibson

Senior Lecturer
Department of Language and Linguistics
Dr Hannah Gibson
  • Email

  • Telephone

    +44 (0) 1206 872204

  • Location

    4.317, Colchester Campus

  • Academic support hours

    Wednesday 11-1 (4.317) or email for an appointment.



I am a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and teach on a range of modules in our Department of Language and Linguistics. My research is concerned with linguistic variation, particularly why and how languages change. Much of my work explores the syntax and semantics of the Bantu languages, with a focus on languages spoken in Eastern and Southern Africa. I am also interested in language and identity, language use in urban contexts and the relationship between linguistics and social justice. My theoretical work is articulated from the perspective of the Dynamic Syntax framework – a parsing/production-oriented approach to natural language processing which aims to capture the way in which meaning is established in real time. Prior to joining Essex, I was a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science postdoctoral researcher at Osaka University and a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at SOAS University of London. I have previously worked as a Policy Researcher at the Westminster-based think tank Africa Research Institute, and have taught Swahili at SOAS and University College London, as well as the adult education college CityLit. I am PI on the Leverhulme Trust funded project 'Grammatical variation in Swahili: contact, change and identity' (2021-2025), working with colleagues at SOAS, Kenyatta University (Kenya) and the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). I am also PI on the AHRC-DFG funded project 'Microvariation and youth language practices in Africa' (2022-24). I was a Co-Investigator on the British Academy Global Challenges Research Fund project entitled 'Bringing the outside in: merging local language and literacy practices to enhance classroom learning and achievement' (2019-2022) with colleagues at University of Essex, University of Zambia, University of Botswana and University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). I am Co-Investigator (with Nancy Kula, University of Essex) on the British Academy Small Grant Project 'Dialectology in Bantu Languages: Variation in Bemba across phonology and morphosyntax' (2021-2023). I welcome enquires for doctoral supervision relating to topics including, linguistic variation, language contact and change, pidgins and creoles, African languages, Bantu languages, urban youth languages, the syntax-sematics interface.


  • Phd in Linguistics SOAS, University of London,

  • MA in Linguistics SOAS, University of London,

  • BA Swahili and Law SOAS, University of London,


University of Essex

  • Lecturer in Linguistics, University of Essex (8/1/2018 - 30/9/2020)

Other academic

  • Postdoctoral Researcher, Graduate School of Language and Culture, Osaka University (1/10/2017 - 1/1/2018)

  • British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Linguistics, SOAS University of London (1/10/2014 - 1/9/2017)

  • Visting Professor, Ghent University (1/2/2018 - 30/9/2018)

Research and professional activities

Research interests

Syntax-semantics interface

Open to supervise

Bantu languages

Open to supervise

African languages

Open to supervise


Open to supervise

Language contact

Open to supervise

Language change

Open to supervise

Language description

Open to supervise


Dialectal variation

Contact languages


Publications (2)

Sandstrom, GM., Carter, A., Croft, A. and Gibson, H., People draw on gender stereotypes to judge question-askers, but there is no such thing as a gender-stereotypic question

Gibson, H., Jerro, KJ., Namboodiripad, S. and Riedel, K., Towards a decolonial syntax: Research, teaching, publishing

Journal articles (27)

Gibson, H., Githiora, C., Kanana Erastus, F. and Marten, L., Morphosyntactic retention and innovation in Sheng: an urban youth language of Kenya. Studies in Language

Reilly, C., Costley, T., Gibson, H., Kula, N., Bagwasi, M., Dikosha, D., Mmolao, P., Mwansa, J., Mwandia, M., Mapunda, G. and James, E., (2023). Emerging principles for researching multilingually in linguistic ethnography: Reflections from Botswana, Tanzania, the UK, and Zambia. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 44 (8), 689-701

Skirgård, H., Haynie, HJ., Blasi, DE., Hammarström, H., Collins, J., Latarche, JJ., Lesage, J., Weber, T., Witzlack-Makarevich, A., Passmore, S., Chira, A., Maurits, L., Dinnage, R., Dunn, M., Reesink, G., Singer, R., Bowern, C., Epps, P., Hill, J., Vesakoski, O., Robbeets, M., Abbas, NK., Auer, D., Bakker, NA., Barbos, G., Borges, RD., Danielsen, S., Dorenbusch, L., Dorn, E., Elliott, J., Falcone, G., Fischer, J., Ghanggo Ate, Y., Gibson, H., Göbel, H-P., Goodall, JA., Gruner, V., Harvey, A., Hayes, R., Heer, L., Herrera Miranda, RE., Hübler, N., Huntington-Rainey, B., Ivani, JK., Johns, M., Just, E., Kashima, E., Kipf, C., Klingenberg, JV., König, N., Koti, A., Kowalik, RGA., Krasnoukhova, O., Lindvall, NLM., Lorenzen, M., Lutzenberger, H., Martins, TRA., Mata German, C., van der Meer, S., Montoya Samamé, J., Müller, M., Muradoglu, S., Neely, K., Nickel, J., Norvik, M., Oluoch, CA., Peacock, J., Pearey, IOC., Peck, N., Petit, S., Pieper, S., Poblete, M., Prestipino, D., Raabe, L., Raja, A., Reimringer, J., Rey, SC., Rizaew, J., Ruppert, E., Salmon, KK., Sammet, J., Schembri, R., Schlabbach, L., Schmidt, FWP., Skilton, A., Smith, WD., de Sousa, H., Sverredal, K., Valle, D., Vera, J., Voß, J., Witte, T., Wu, H., Yam, S., Ye, J., Yong, M., Yuditha, T., Zariquiey, R., Forkel, R., Evans, N., Levinson, SC., Haspelmath, M., Greenhill, SJ., Atkinson, QD. and Gray, RD., (2023). Grambank reveals the importance of genealogical constraints on linguistic diversity and highlights the impact of language loss. Science Advances. 9 (16), eadg6175-

Bernander, R., Devos, M. and Gibson, H., (2023). Bantu negative verbs: a typological-comparative investigation of form, function and distribution. Linguistique et langues africaines. 9 (1)

Gibson, H. and Belkadi, A., (2022). The development of the encoding of deictic motion in the Bantu language Rangi: Grammaticalisation and change. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 42 (1), 1-32

Bernander, R., Devos, M. and Gibson, H., (2022). Modal auxiliary verb constructions in East African Bantu languages. Journal of African Languages and Literatures. 3, 22-85

Reilly, C., Bagwasi, MM., Costley, T., Gibson, H., Kula, NC., Mapunda, G. and Mwansa, J., (2022). ‘Languages don’t have bones, so you can just break them’: rethinking multilingualism in education policy and practice in Africa. Journal of the British Academy. 10 (s4), 1-20

Mapunda, G. and Gibson, H., (2022). On the suitability of Swahili for early schooling in remote rural Tanzania: do policy and practice align?. Journal of the British Academy. 10 (s4), 141-168

Bernander, R., Bloom-Ström, E-M. and Gibson, H., (2022). Post-verbal negative particles in Southern Tanzania: form, distribution and historical development. Africana Linguistica. 28 (2022), 55-113

Furumoto, M. and Gibson, H., (2022). Variation in Kimakunduchi and Standard Swahili: Insights from verbal morphosyntax. Linguistique et Langues Africaines. 8 (1), 1-61

Onwukwe, C. and Gibson, H., (2022). Migrant identities in multilingual contexts: Nigerian migrants' language use in public spaces in Cape Town. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 1-13

Edelsten, P., Gibson, H., Guérois, R., Mapunda, G., Marten, L. and Taji, J., (2022). Morphosyntactic variation in Bantu: Focus on East Africa. Journal of the Language Association of Eastern Africa. 1 (1), 1-22

Howes, C. and Gibson, H., (2021). Dynamic Syntax: The Dynamics of Incremental Processing: Constraints on Underspecification. Journal of Logic, Language and Information. 30 (2), 263-276

Gibson, H., (2020). The grammaticalisation of verb-auxiliary order in East African Bantu: from information structure to tense-aspect. Studies in Language. 43 (4), 757-799

Gibson, H., Mapunda, G., Marten, L., Shah, S. and Taji, J., (2020). Variation in double object marking in Swahili. Swahili-Forum. 26, 142-165

Gibson, H., Mapunda, G., Marten, L. and Taji, J., (2020). Ulinganishi wa mofolojia na sintaksia baina ya lugha 19 za Kibantu za Afrika Mashariki [A morphological and syntactic comparison of 19 East African Bantu languages]. Kiswahili. 82 (2019), 1-13

Gibson, H. and Marten, L., (2019). Probing the interaction of language contact and internal innovation: four case studies of morphosyntactic change in Rangi. Studies In African Linguistics. 48 (2019), 63-92

Roth, T. and Gibson, H., (2019). Differential diagnoses of language change in Ngoreme, a Bantu language of Tanzania. Africana Linguistica. 25, 281-319

Gibson, H. and Yoneda, N., (2018). Functions of verb reduplication and verb doubling in Swahili. Journal of Asian and African Studies. 96, 5-28

Chatzikyriakidis, S. and Gibson, H., (2017). The Bantu-Romance-Greek connection revisited: Processing constraints in auxiliary and clitic placement from a cross-linguistic perspective. Glossa. 2 (1), 1-39

Gibson, H., Guérois, R. and Marten, L., (2017). Patterns and developments in the marking of diminutives in Bantu. Nordic Journal of African Studies. 26 (4), 344-383

Seraku, T. and Gibson, H., (2016). A Dynamic Syntax modelling of Japanese and Rangi clefts: parsing incrementality and the growth of interpretation. Language Sciences. 56, 45-67

Gibson, H., (2016). A unified dynamic account of auxiliary placement in Rangi. Lingua. 184, 79-103

Marten, L. and Gibson, H., (2016). Structure building and thematic constraints in Bantu inversion constructions. Journal of Linguistics. 52 (03), 565-607

Gibson, H. and Wilhelmsen, V., (2015). Cycles of negation in Rangi and Mbugwe. Africana Linguistica. 21 (1), 233-257

Gibson, H., (2015). The Dynamics of Structure building in Rangi: At the syntax-semantics interface. Cambridge Occasional Papers in Linguistics. 8, 41-55

Gibson, H., (2013). Auxiliary placement in Rangi: A case of contact-induced change?. SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics. 16, 153-166

Books (1)

Gibson, H., (2018). Building meaning in context: A dynamic approach to Bantu clause structure. Wiley Blackwell. 9781119532255

Book chapters (12)

Gibson, H., Kula, N., Marten, L. and Taji, J., Suffix order restrictions in Bantu. In: The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Morphology. Wiley Blackwell

Marten, L., Gibson, H., Guérois, R. and Poeta, T., Content words and contextual meaning: Lexical NPs as discourse anaphora in Makhuwa and Cuwabo. In: The Bantu NP: Issues and Perspectives. Editors: Achiri-Taboh, B., . Routledge. 9781032183633

Chetty, R., Gibson, H. and Reilly, C., Decolonising methodologies through collaboration: reflections on partnerships and funding flows from working between the ‘South’ and the ‘North’. In: Decolonizing Linguistics. Editors: Charity Hudley, A., Mallinson, C. and Bucholtz, M., . Oxford University Press

Bernander, R., Devos, M. and Gibson, H., (2022). The negative existential cycle in Bantu. In: The Negative Existential Cycle from a historical-comparative perspective. Editors: Hamari, A. and Veselinova, L., . Language Science Press. 59- 113. 978-3-96110-339-3

Gibson, H., Marten, L., Mous, M. and Riedel, K., (2022). Valency and saliency in Bantu applicatives: A diachronic reanalysis. In: Applicative Morphology: Neglected syntactic and non-syntactic functions. Editors: Pacchiarotti, S. and Zúñiga, F., . De Gruyter Mouton. 163- 188. 9783110777949

Khuna, KJ., Gibson, H., Joeng, K., Nyambi, B. and Khoza, SS., (2021). Siswati (S43). In: Descriptive materials of morphsyntactic microvariation in Bantu vol. 2: A microparametric survey of morphosyntactic microvariation in Southern Bantu languages. Editors: Lee, SJ., Abe, Y. and Shinagawa, D., . Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa

Guérois, R., Gibson, H. and Persohn, B., (2021). Associated Motion in Bantu languages. In: Associated Motion. Editors: Guillaume, A. and Koch, H., . DeGruyter Mouton. 569- 609. 9783110692006

Gibson, H., Guérois, R. and Marten, L., (2019). Variation in Bantu copula constructions. In: The Grammar of Copulas Across Languages. Editors: Arché, M., Fábregas, A. and Marin, R., . Oxford University Press. 213- 242. 9780198829850

Wald, B. and Gibson, H., (2018). Swahili and the Bantu languages. In: The World's Major Languages. Editors: Comrie, B., . Routledge. 903- 924. 9781138184824

Gibson, H., Koumbarou, A., Marten, L. and van der Wal, J., (2016). Locating the Bantu conjoint/disjoint alternation in a typology of focus marking. In: The Conjoint/Disjoint Alternation in Bantu. Editors: van der Wal, J. and Hyman, L., . Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. 61- 99. 3110490838. 9783110490831

Gibson, H., Koumbarou, A., Marten, L. and Wal, JVD., (2016). 3. Locating the Bantu conjoint/disjoint alternation in a typology of focus marking. In: The Conjoint/Disjoint Alternation in Bantu. De Gruyter. 61- 99

Gibson, H. and Marten, L., (2015). Variation and grammaticalisation in Bantu complex verbal constructions: The dynamics of information growth in Swahili, Rangi and siSwati. In: Approaches to Complex Predicates. Editors: Nash, L. and Samvelian, P., . Brill. 70- 109. 9004307095. 9789004307094

Other (2)

Gibson, H., (2021).Review of Anne Breitbarth, Christopher Lucas & David Willis, 'The history of negation in the languages of Europe and the Mediterranean, vol II: Patterns and processes'. Journal of Linguistics. 57(3),Cambridge University Press

Gibson, H., (2016).Review of: Colonialism and missionary linguistics. Journal of Linguistics. 52(1),Cambridge University Press (CUP)

Grants and funding


Decentering knowledge and training opportunities: Supporting the development of the next generation of researchers in African linguistics

British Academy

Linguistic injustice and inequality in the public domain

British Academy


Multilingualism and structural change: insights from past histories and present realities

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

Supporting Multilingualism in Practice: Resource co-creation in primary classrooms in Tanzania

British Academy


Grammatical variation in Swahili: contact, change and identity

Leverhulme Trust

Microvariation and youth language practices in Africa

Arts and Humanities Research Council


Eroding dichotomies: description, analysis and publishing in African linguistics

British Academy

Visiting Fellowship for Professor Rajendra Chetty

University of Essex (GCRF)

Dialectology in Bantu Languages: Variation in Bemba across phonology and morphosyntax

British Academy


Bringing the outside in: Merging local language and literacy practices to enhance classroom learning and achievement

British Academy


Variation in Sesotho and Setswana as spoken in the Free State

British Academy

+44 (0) 1206 872204


4.317, Colchester Campus

Academic support hours:

Wednesday 11-1 (4.317) or email for an appointment.

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