John M. Ryan

John RyanJohn Ryan joined the Department of Hispanic Studies in 2011 as Assistant Professor of Spanish Linguistics.  John has a single vision in his work as both a researcher and instructor, which is to answer the fundamental questions of not only HOW, but also WHY Spanish works the way it does. To this end, John’s research involves the analysis of Spanish in any of the following forms: 1) that which is produced by children as they are acquiring it; 2) that which is produced by adults learning it as a second language; 3) its evolution throughout different periods of its history; or 4) varieties spoken in different regions of the world, including the United States. As is the case for most linguists, in order to understand better how the primary language you are focused on works, it is often necessary to go beyond that language and to examine the structures of other languages as well. For John,  these other such languages include ones that are most closely (genetically) related to Spanish, like Italian, Neapolitan, Portuguese, and Catalan; but these also include languages which are less closely related to Spanish, but related nevertheless, such as English.

Research projects

When he isn’t teaching or performing service for UNC, John is usually working on one of the following research projects:

The Early Verb Project
 John’s primary area of research has to do with the emergence of verbs in both first and second language learners of Spanish and other languages. His most recent work, the Early Verb Project, is the first comprehensive cross-linguistic study of early verb emergence in children. Thanks to the support of a 2012 UNC Summer Support Initiative Award, a Research Dissemination and Faculty Development Grant, and a Spring 2013 Faculty Reassignment Award, John was able to analyze an additional two databases in Spring of 2013 as well as submit a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation, also in 2013. John has written about his work on verbs in journals such as Hispania, and has more recently published his first book, The Genesis of Argument Structure: Observations of a Child’s Early Speech Production in Spanish. (UNC Michener Library Catalog Number P118 .R92 2012).

The Spanish Diminutive Project
Another area that John is interested in is the relexification of diminutives in Modern Spanish. With the assistance of a 2012 UNC New Project Grant, John has partnered with Victor Parra-Guinaldo, of the American University of Sharjah, and has hired undergraduate research assistants to help catalog the entirety of historically diminutive forms in Spanish that have become relexified, i.e., the diminutive suffix morpheme has lost its separate “diminutive” meaning and has adjoined to the word root, becoming reanalyzed along with that root as an entirely new single word root or morpheme. This two-year project, which is intensively quantitative, analyzes data from Stahl and Scavnicky’s Reverse Dictionary of the Spanish Language (1973), the online Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, as well as the Diccionario Etimológico Crítico Castellano e Hispánico.  The project team anticipates completing the cataloging of data during Fall 2013 semester, after which we will be able to determine frequencies of forms, as well as any correlations with gender, phonological, or other constraints on form. Project results should be ready for presentation in the summer or fall of 2014, with the anticipation of publication shortly thereafter.

A New Holistic and Contextual Grammar of Spanish
The newest project John is currently working on is a future book titled, Gramática contextual y razonada de la lengua española (roughly translated to English as A Holistic and Contextual Grammar of Spanish). This new grammar offers a unique, holistic approach to the teaching of advanced Spanish grammar that draws on scholarship from several areas of linguistics, including but not limited to, historical linguistics, language typology, and an understanding of the basic ways in which all human languages work. The overall goal of the book will be to provide an approachable, up-to-date, one-stop, comprehensive resource for existing or future teachers of Spanish. Work on this book has been and is currently being supported by a UNC 2013 Summer Support Initiative Award as well as a Spring 2014 Faculty Reassignment Award.


In addition to teaching courses as a Hispanic Studies faculty member, John has been separately endorsed as a member of the UNC graduate faculty, as well as that of the School of Education. John teaches two of the required courses for Spanish majors, for both liberal arts and teaching concentrations. These are SPAN 302 (Spanish composition) and SPAN 305 (Introduction to Hispanic linguistics). Every other year, he also teaches the elective SPAN 405 (Spanish phonetics and dialects). 

At the graduate level, John teaches SPAN 581 (Advanced Spanish grammar) for which he is writing the textbook referenced i n the previous section. In addition to SPAN 581, with prior permission of the graduate program director, both SPAN 305 and SPAN 405 may also be taken as graduate courses as well.

For more information about individual courses John teaches, click on any of the following syllabi:

Course Syllabi

Curriculum Vitae



The Genesis of Argument Structure: Observations of a Child’s Early Speech Production in Spanish. Lambert Academic Publications. 2012.


“An Acquisitionist’s Perspective to Teaching Introductory Linguistics.” Under review.

“The Effects of Split Intransitivity in Adult Input on the Emerging Patterns of Intransitive Verbs in Healthy, Monolingual Children Learning Spanish or Italian.” Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Under review.

With Barbara A. Lafford, Ph.D. “The Acquisition of Lexical Meaning in a Study Abroad Environment: The Spanish Prepositions Por and Para. Hispania 78: 528-547. 1995.   

With Barbara A. Lafford, Ph.D. “Acquisition of Lexical Meaning in a Natural Environment: Ser and Estar and the Granada Experience.” Hispania 75: 714-22. 1992

Proceedings and Book Chapters

“To What Extent Does Split Intransitivity of the Adult Target Affect Children’s Emerging Verb Patterns?” Proceedings of the 6th Annual International Conference on Languages & Linguistics, July 2013, Athens Institute for Education and Research. 2013.

“A Child’s Early Overuse of the Imperative to Express Agentivity in Spanish.” Proceedings of the Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition in North America (GALANA) Conference, September 2008, Cascadilla Press. 2009.

Book Reviews   

Bartalesi-Graf, D. Voci dal Sud: A Journey to Southern Italy with Carlo Levi and His Christ Stopped at Eboli. By New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. Pp. 419. ISBN 9780300137446. Appeared on 6/28/12 on eLanguage: Digital Publishing in Linguistics

Clivio, G., Danesi,M., & Maida-Nicol,  S. An Introduction to Italian Dialectology. Munich: LINCOM, 2011. Pp. 216. ISBN 9783862880416. Appeared on 7/4/12 on eLanguage: Digital Publishing in Linguistics

Dworkin, S. A History of the Spanish Lexicon: A Linguistic Perspective. To appear in Diachronica 30.3. In press.

Face, T. Perception of Castilian Spanish Intonation: Implications for Intonational Phonology. LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. 103. ISBN 9783862880461. Appeared on 7/11/12 on eLanguage: Digital Publishing in Linguistics

Mugica, P. de. Gramática del Castellano Antiguo: Primera Parte: Fonética. LINCOM Classica, 2011. Pp.. 96. ISBN 9783862900787. Appeared on 4/12/12 on the Linguist List

Resnick, M. & Hammond, R. Introducción a la historia de la lengua española. By Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011. Pp. 490. ISBN 9781589017320. Appeared on 5/26/12 on eLanguage: Digital Publishing in Linguistics

Torcineau, R.  A Simplified Grammar of the Roumanian Language. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. (LINCOM gramatica 51.) Pp. 79. ISBN 9783862900374. Appeared on 6/19/13 on eLanguage: Digital Publishing in Linguistics

Van Eys.W. J. The Basque Language. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2010. (LINCOM gramatica 13.) Pp. 66. ISBN 9783895861970. Appeared on 3/13/13 on eLanguage: Digital Publishing in Linguistics


Over the years, John has also done considerable work in grant writing and administration for Georgetown and Arizona State Universities with such units as the Hispanic Research Center and the Office of the Vice President for Education Partnerships where he contributed toward the improvement of educational opportunities for the Latino community. John’s work has taken him to such places as Spain, Italy, France, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, where he has made presentations in both English and Spanish. Other positions John has held were undergraduate advisor for Spanish majors at Arizona State University; cultural coordinator for the American Institute for Foreign Study’s Summer Program in Salamanca, Spain; and English instructor for Centro Británico, also in Salamanca. Before attending college, John was one of five winners of the then prestigious Herencia Española National Essay Contest. Since 1981, John has been a member of Georgetown University’s Lamba Beta Chapter of Sigma Delta Pi, the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society.