Michael Flynn's Homepage

Mike and MurasakiMichael Flynn
Professor of Linguistics
Director, Linguistics Program
Carleton College
Northfield, MN 55057
(507) 222-4020


I was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1952. The Chicago White Sox won the American League Pennant in 1959, and as a result, I have been a White Sox fan virtually all of my life. (See E.H. Hess (1973) Imprinting. New York: Van Nostrand Rheinhold.) In 1974, I graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in English Literature. I earned my Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1980. My thesis, directed by Professor Barbara Hall Partee, was about a reformulation of the system called "categorial grammar" first invented by the great Polish logicians who were so productive between the two world wars, and utilized around 1970 with great insight by the UCLA logician Richard Montague. The thesis was published by Garland Press under the title Structure Building Operations and Word Order, and is now mercifully out of print.

Around the time I was finishing my degree, I began a series of teaching and research positions. In the fall of 1979, I was a visiting assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire. That spring, I taught at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. The following year I spent finishing my thesis and teaching at Hampshire College in Amherst. In the fall of 1981, I left the United States for a Fulbright Foundation fellowship to the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands. It was during this year that I met my wife, Angelique Dietz, who is a Dutch citizen. The following year I spent a few months at the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen (The Netherlands) and hanging out in Amsterdam with Angelique.

We were married in Amsterdam in the summer of 1983, and a week later left for a year's stay at Nankai University in Tianjin, The People's Republic of China, where I taught linguistics and logic. The PRC had only recently reopened to the West after the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution. It was a very exciting time to be there. In 1984, I returned to the States, to be a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The following year, I taught linguistics at the University of Arizona at Tucson. Finally, in the fall of 1986, I arrived at Carleton, where I have been on the faculty ever since.

Carleton offered me the chance of a lifetime, which was to build a linguistics program as I saw fit, in the context of a wonderful liberal arts college, students who are bright, energetic and kind-hearted, and a supportive administration. The Linguistics Program you can examine on our website is of my design and mostly my implementation, so if there is something there you object to, you know who to contact.

Teaching and Research

Over the years, I have taught courses on many subjects. In the early years, the program grew naturally out of my interests from graduate school, namely, syntax, semantics, formal foundations of linguistics, the philosophy of linguistics, and the application of linguistic theory to the analysis of literary texts. During the past few years, my interests have shifted somewhat. I am still very interested in literature, and regularly teach Linguistics and the Literary Art. But I have moved away from syntax and semantics and now my research is focused on two main areas.

The first of these is acoustic and articulatory phonetics, in particular I am trying to understand how the enormously complicated systems for producing and recognizing speech could have evolved in the human species. I regularly teach a course on this topic called Language, Speech, and Evolution.

My other obsession these days is with Japanese, and Japan in general. In 2000-2001, I was fortunate to be the Resident Director of the Japan Study Program, a off-campus studies program jointly sponsored by the Great Lakes Colleges Association and the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. During this time I was a visiting professor of linguistics at Waseda University in Tokyo. In the spring of 2003, I was a visiting professor of linguistics at Keio University, also in Tokyo. At Keio, I taught (in English) a course on the evolution of speech, and I also tried to get better at speaking and reading Japanese. At Carleton, I teach a course called The Structure of Japanese.

Carleton Committes

I have served on a large number of committees at Carleton, work I must admit I have enjoyed, for the most part. I have been on the Faculty Personnel Committee, which makes recommendations to the Dean and President about tenure decisions and other personnel matters. I was elected to the Faculty Affairs Committee twice, and also to the Educational Policy Committee. For about ten years I was Carleton's Fulbright Advisor, when I had the chance to work closely with many of our brightest students. During this period, Carleton led all liberal arts colleges in the nation in Fulbright awards several times. I am currently the Faculty Athletics Representative. For an example of the kinds of things I think about in this capacity, see my essay about postseason play in Division III.