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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre


I took my first degrees at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), Ireland, and wrote my PhD thesis on 'Aspect in Old Saxon'. I was a lecturer in German linguistics in Dublin until my move to Cambridge in 1998, where I am now a Senior Lecturer in the German and Dutch Section, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics.


The expression of time within the verb phrase through categories like tense, aspect and Aktionsart; verbal prefixes; the development of the perfect, and other phenomena linked to grammatical change in the older Germanic languages. I have recently published on the diachronic stability of gender as a category in German. I am a member of a Norwegian Research Council-funded collaborative project on the syntax of noun phrases in the older Germanic languages, and a founding member of the group which is working on the Corpus of Historical Low German, centred in Ghent, Belgium. 

Publications (from Symplectic)

Journal articles


  • Watts, S., 2021. The whole world in a book. Dictionaries in the nineteenth century JOURNAL OF HISTORICAL SOCIOLINGUISTICS, v. 7
  • 2000

  • Watts, S., 2000. Teaching Talk: Should Students Learn 'Real German?' German as a Foreign Language, v. 1
  • Book chapters


  • Watts, S., 2019. Gender Stability, gender loss. What didn't happen to German.
  • 2018 (Published online)

  • Farasyn, M., Walkden, G., Watts, S. and Breitbarth, A., 2018 (Published online). The interplay between genre variation and syntax in a historical Low German corpus
    Doi: 10.1075/scl.85.13far
  • 2010

  • Watts, S., 2010. Linguistik Aktuell
  • 2009

  • Watts, S., 2009. Landmarks in the History of the German Language
  • Books


  • Breitbarth, A., Lucas, C. and Watts, S., 2010. Continuity and change in grammar
  • 2009

  • Horan, G., Langer, N. and Watts, S., 2009. Landmarks in the history of the German language
  • Teaching and Supervisions


    I teach on the following undergraduate papers:

    German: A Linguistic Introduction (MML/Linguistics, Part IB/IIA); History of the German Language (MML/Linguistics Part II); Germanic Philology (ASNC/MML/Linguistics Part II).

    I supervise MPhil student in Linguistics on topics in German and Germanic linguistics and am open to enquiries, especially on historical and sociolinguistic topics.

    In summer 2020 I will be teaching on the Historical Sociolinguistics Network summer school on Amrum, in North Friesland.

    Research supervision: 

    I have supervised the following PhD students to successful completion:

    Artūras Ratkus (2010 ) The adjective inflection in Gothic and Early Germanic: Structure and Develpment. 

    Morgan Macleod (2012) The perfect in Old English and Old Saxon: The  synchronic and diachronic correspondence of form and meaning,

    Emma Corteen (2019) The assignment of grammatical gender in German: Testing Optimal Gender Assignment Theory

    I was also a member of the supervisory team of Melissa Farasyn (Gent, 2018) Fitting in or standing out? Subject agreement phenomena in Middle Low German.

    Other Professional Activities

    I am a former treasurer of the Forum for Germanic Language Studies, the UK-based association for German(ic) linguists, and am currently a Council member of the Philological Society. 

    University Senior Lecturer, Department of German and Dutch
    Dr Sheila  Watts

    Contact Details

    Email address: 
    (+44) (0)1223 335062