School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences

Eve Vivienne Clark

Eve Clark, Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University, was drawn to language from a young age having grown up speaking English and French. A PhD Linguistics graduate, she shares her many memories of living and working in Scotland.


Eve Vivienne Clark (née Curme)

Degree Course

MA Hons French & PhD Linguistics

Year of Graduation

1965 & 1969

Eve Clark

Your time at the University

I chose Edinburgh in part because I was from a Scots family (my grandparents were in Banffshire) and in part, because I could spend time in France (Université de’Aix-en-Provence) as well as Scotland doing my degree. I had lived in France when young and became fascinated by the language and by moving between two languages.

My Edinburgh memories include being a member of the fencing team (with an excellent coach); living on Calton Hill; a flat shared with good friends in Newington; cycling on icy cobblestones (not a good idea); concerts in the Usher Hall; the Scottish National Gallery; the Institut Français; South Queensferry; walking in the Pentlands; early morning hikes up Arthur’s Seat; the Ski Club; and expeditions to the Cairngorms.  Most of my summer jobs were for an agency that supplied emergency help: I looked after babies, I picked fruit, I cooked in a kosher kitchen, and I kept house way out in the country. Each of these jobs earned me enough money to go travelling to France, Austria, Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia in the late summers before the October term began.

As a postgraduate, I shared a house in Ratcliffe Terrace and then found a top-floor flat in Buccleuch Place, opposite the old Linguistics Department where I began work on my PhD. This allowed me to see all the changes in the David Hume Tower and the building of the new Library in George Square.

Find out what you enjoy doing, the kinds of puzzles you enjoy, and look for settings where you can do this.

Eve Vivienne Clark

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University

I taught French for two years at the University of Pittsburgh when I first moved to the US (after I married an American). Then, once I had finished my PhD, I joined a research project on language universals at Stanford University in northern California. Two years later, I was appointed as an Assistant Professor of Linguistics there, and Stanford University has been my academic home ever since. I have also spent several sabbatical years at the Max-Planck-Institute for Psycholinguistics in The Netherlands, where my son first learned Dutch at age 4, then re-learned it at age 11. In fact, learning Dutch was a challenge after specializing in Romance languages as a French speaker. I also spent a couple of years in London at University College and have frequently taught courses in summer schools in Europe, so I managed to come back pretty regularly to the UK and to France for work as well as family visits.

During my career, I have focussed on how young children learn a first language and in particular how they attach meanings to words. I studied this through experiments to check on what they knew, as well as by observing how they used language in various settings. I have looked at how they add and change meanings, the kinds of inferences they make from early on, what they know about how to coin words, and how they are helped in acquisition by interacting with more expert speakers. This work is represented in many journal articles and in a number of books, the most recent being 'First Language Acquisition' (third edition 2016, Cambridge University Press) and a short introduction for 'Language in Children' (2016 Routledge). My first book, though, was a collaboration with my husband, a cognitive psychologist who works on language:  'Psychology and Language: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics' (1977 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), a book that established us both in the field of psycholinguistics. Language, from whatever angle, presents many intriguing puzzles, especially when one asks questions about how children acquire it, how adults understand language as they hear it (or read it), and how speakers plan utterances when they talk. All these topics present many puzzles, some that psycholinguists have solved, and many that must still be tackled.

Alumni wisdom

Find out what you enjoy doing, the kinds of puzzles you enjoy, and look for settings where you can do this. All the better if some of your work has practical applications and benefits.

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