Kamil Ud Deen



Professor and Department Chair

Department of Linguistics

University of Hawai'i at Manoa


Research Interests

My primary interest is in the acquisition of a first language. I have worked on the acquisition of inflection, both morphological and syntactic, including agreement, tense, mood, and aspect. More recently, my interests have focused on the acquisition of reference binding of referential expressions, pronouns and other anaphors.

My perspective on language acquisition is tempered. Some believe that input determines language acquisition, and there is no innate component whatsoever. The opposite view is - that all of language is innate is, quite obviously, equally extreme. While I don't argue that all language is innate (nobody really does), I do think there is a substantial innate component to language that aids the child in the acquisition of language. That does not preclude input as an important factor in acquisition, it simply means that input and innate principals work together in the acquisition of language. This seems like a reasonable position to me.

My own interests focus mostly on two languages: Thai and Swahili. Swahili because it is one of my native languages, and it was the basis for my dissertation, as well as numerous publications. More recently, my work has centered around the acquisition of Thai. Thai is an interesting language for many reasons, not least of which is that Thai supposedly violates Principle C of the binding theory (Lasnik, 1989). Binding is thought to be part of Universal Grammar, and therefore present in all children at birth. Evidence for this comes from a variety of studies that show that children acquiring languages such as English, show evidence of Principle C at the earliest testable ages (see, for example, Crain, 1991). This mismatch between a supposed principle of Universal Grammar and the empirical facts is intriguing to me, and has formed the basis of my work for the last few years.

Besides Thai and Bantu, I have interests that center on the languages of the Pacific. Working with students like Nozomi Tanaka and Ivan Bondoc (Tagalog) and Grant Muagututia (Samoan), my interests have developed to include phenomena that are relevant to these languages (such as ergativity, voice, etc.). I am also interested in Chinese (working with Elaine Lau, Claire Stabile, Li Blake, etc.), Japanese (working with Akari Ohba and Professor Shin Fukuda, EALL), and Korean (Jinsun Choe, Kum Jeong Joo, Professor William O'Grady, and others). I also have experience and interests in the acquisition of various other languages, including: Vietnamese, Serbo-Croatian, and others. And of course, I am always looking for new languages to investigate.

Current Projects

Acquisition of Passive Voice

A long standing interest of mine is how children acquire the passive voice. This isn’t just about the passive voice as a construction, but rather about much meatier issues in human language. The passive presents an interesting case where the agent and theme do not occur in their canonical positions relative to the verb. This poses interesting issues related to whether those canonical mappings interfere with children’s understanding of passive voice, what factors might overcome that tendency, etc. The acquisition of the passive has also been a hot-bed of debate with regard to some interesting grammatical theories of development, such as the A-Chain Deficit Hypothesis (Borer & Wexler, 1992) or the Universal Freezing Hypothesis (Snyder & Hyams, 2015). I am currently working on the passive with numerous students, including Gyu-Ho Shin and Akari Ohba.


Acquisition of Wh-Questions in Tok Pisin

Working with Hiroko Sato (UHM Ph.D., 2013), we are currently investigating the acquisition of wh-questions in Tok Pisin. The language is an in-situ language, though it allows focus clefting of some constituents. We ran a production task with adults and found 100% in-situ wh-questions, but surprisingly, children fronted wh-questions quite often. Moreover, they produced a typology of resumptives in the gap position which are very revealing. We presented our results at the 2018 BUCLD and continue to work on this issue.


Acquisition of Tagalog

Working with William O’Grady, Ivan Bondoc and Nozomi Tanaka, we are investigating various issues in the acquisition of Tagalog. The voice system is the lynchpin that holds the whole system together in Tagalog, and we are looking how children acquire various structures that involve the voice system, e.g., basic transitive sentences, relative clauses, sentences involving reflexives, etc. We have also extended this work to investigating whether patients with aphasia show the same patterns in their speech as children or normal adults.


Intervention and the Acquisition of Ergativity in Samoan
Working with Grant Muagututia and William O’Grady, we are exploring the acquisition of ergativity in Samoan by children and heritage speakers. We are currently conducting intervention experiments on both morphological and syntactic ergativity, with an eye on whether ergativity can be induced, and how that knowledge generalizes to other structures (on which intervention never occurred). 


Acquisition of Inflection
A continuing interest of mine from my dissertation and the last five years of my research. The focus is varied, but I am primarily interested in the variation and similarity exhibited in the acquisition of inflection from language to language.

Intergenerational Transmission
Perhaps the most important factor in measuring the vitality of a language is whether children are acquiring the parental language. This is codified in a number of scales or indices of vitality, e.g., Fishman's GIDS, Lewis & Simons' EGIDS, the 2009 UNESCO Framework, etc. However, in all this work, there is no clear or commonly accepted method by which intergenerational transmission can be measured. Without this, it is hard to make sense of reports on intergenerational transmission. If every researcher or community activist is subjectively gauging whether children are acquiring a language, we really don't have any way to objectively assess the vitality of those languages. A major project we are working on here in Hawaii is to develop a tool to measure intergenerational transmission. To learn more, click here.


Raising in L1 and L2

I’ve had a long standing interest in movement phenomena, including subject-to-subject raising. I continue this interest, working with Jinsun Choe (UHM Ph.D. 2012), currently assistant professor at Korea University of Technology and Education.


Journal Editorial Work




Peer-reviewed Monograph:
Deen, Kamil Ud (2005). The Acquisition of Swahili. Language Acquisition and Language Disorders series (Harald Clahsen & Lydia White, eds). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, November 2005, 241 pages.

Text Book:

Becker, Misha & Kamil Ud Deen (in press). Language Acquisition and Development: A Generative Introduction. MIT Press.

Some Recent Peer-reviewed Publications:


Edited Volumes:
Deen, Kamil Ud, Jun Nomura, Barbara Schulz and Bonnie D. Schwartz (2006). The Proceedings of the Inaugural Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition - North America (GALANA), Honolulu HI. University of Connecticut Occasional Papers in Linguistics, v.4, Storrs, Connecticut. (425 pages).

Some Recent Conference Proceedings Papers:


Invited Addresses:

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2010). Binding in Adult and Child Thai. Invited presentation, Nanzan University, Nagoya Japan. Feb 2010.

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2009). Principle C in Adult and Child Thai. Invited presentation, Colloquium Series, University of Maryland at College park, Department of Linguistics.

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2009). Binding Beyond the Input. Invited presentation at the NSF-funded Workshop on the Input in the Acquisition of Syntax. Department of Cognitive Science, University of California, Irvine. September, 2009.

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2008). Subject Agreement in Indicative and Subjunctive Clauses. Paper presented at the third annual Acquisition of African Languages Conference. Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch South Africa, January 2008.

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2006g). Filler Syllables in Swahili: Distribution, Rates, and Cross-linguistic Measures of Comparison. Invited talk at the 2nd Workshop on Bantu Language Acquisition, Smith College, November 6th, 2006.

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2006e). The Acquisition of Clitics in Swahili. Invited Poster at the Bantu-Romance Connection Workshop, held at the University of Leeds, May 26-27.

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2006d). UG Mediated Errors: Tense as evidence for the effects of Universal Grammar. Invited address to the White Rose Acquisition of Language Forum, University of Leeds, May 25th, 2006.

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2006c). The Acquisition of Inflection: Evidence for the Nature of Language. Keynote Address presented to the International Joint Forum on1st- and 2nd-Language Sciences, Sponsored by the Reading Special Group in JACET. March 04, 2006.

·         Deen, Kamil Ud (2005d). The source of Tense Omission. Invited talk at the Workshop on Bantu Language Acquisition, Smith College, November 7th, 2005.


Book Reviews:


Conference Presentations:


Graduate Advising

Current supervisees: Claire Stabile (co-supervisor: Katie Drager), Akari Ohba


Past Students

Grant Muāgututi’a (co-supervisor: William O’Grady). Doctoral Dissertation: Recovering Ergativity in Heritage Samoan, 2018.

Elaine Lau (co-supervisor: William O’Grady). Doctoral Dissertation: The Acquisition of Relative Clauses in Cantonese: A multifactorial analysis, 2016.

Nozomi Tanaka (co-supervisor: William O’Grady). Doctoral Dissertation: An Asymmetry in the acquisition of Tagalog Relative Clauses, 2016.

Kum Jeong Joo (co-supervisor: William O’Grady). Doctoral Dissertation: Children’s Interpretation of the Korean Reflexive Pronouns Caki and Caki-Casin, 2014.

Tatjana Ilic. Doctoral Dissertation: Modality and Causation in Serbian Dative Anticausatives: A Crosslinguistic Perspective, 2013.

Jung Hee Kim. Doctoral Dissertation: The Intransigence of Inverse Scope: The Effect of Discourse, Priming and Population Differences, 2012.

Jinsun Choe (co-supervisor: William O’Grady). Doctoral Dissertation: Acquisition of Seem-Structures: Raising and Intervention in Child Language, 2012.

Li Wang Blake. Master’s Thesis: Child Acquisition of Mandarin gěi Benefactive Pattern and gěi Lessive Pattern, 2011.



Various Linguistics Courses, including Introduction to Language, introduction to Linguistics, morphology, undergraduate language acquisition, graduate introduction to language acquisition, advanced seminars in language acquisition, language disorders, language and cognition. Classes taught: Linguistics 102 (Intro to language), Linguistics 470 (undergraduate intro to language acquisition), Linguistics 670 (graduate level intro to language acquisition), Various advanced seminars on first language acquisition, Linguistics 617 (Language Acquisition and Revitalization).


Academic Services

2016-present, Chair, Department of Linguistics, University of Hawaii at Manoa

2013-2016, Chair of Graduate Studies, Department of Linguistics, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Fall 2014, College of LLL Faculty Teaching Award Committee
2009-2012, Language Analysis and Experimentation Laboratories Director.
2010-present, Bilinski Foundation Fellowship Administrator
Fall 2010, Acting Chair, Department of Linguistics, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Fall 2008, College of LLL Faculty Teaching Award Committee
2005-2008, Chair of Graduate Studies, Department of Linguistics, UHM
2004-2010, Department of Linguistics 100-level Teaching Assistant Coordinator.
2004, Organizer of the Inaugural Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition - North America (GALANA) conference at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii
2003-present, Organizer of workshop on CHILDES/CLAN every October, open to all members of UHM community.
2002-2005, Linguistics Department Weekly Seminar coordinator
2002-present, Convener, Language Acquisition and Development reading group
2002-present, Governing Committee member, LAE Labs, UHM
2002-2012, Committee member, Linguistics Beyond the Classroom