Skip to main content Start main content
Professor William Shiyuan WANG
PolyU Scholars Hub

Professor William Shiyuan WANG

Chair Professor of Language and Cognitive Sciences

  • Academician of the Academia Sinica


Professor William Shiyuan Wang is Chair Professor of Language and Cognitive Sciences at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a world-renowned expert on linguistics and natural language processing. After graduating from Columbia University and obtaining a PhD from the University of Michigan, he conducted early research on natural language processing at the esteemed IBM Research Center (Yorktown Heights) and the Research Laboratory of Electronics of MIT.

To understand language change, I drew insights from biological evolution. These insights led to a theory called Lexical Diffusion, where each language is full of variant constructions competing with each other and the winning variants survive to the next generation of speakers.

Professor William Shiyuan WANG

Wang Shiyuan_Quote_v2_pic

He was appointed Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley in 1966, where he worked for 30 years. While continuing his research on natural language processing, he began to focus on the evolutionary bases of language structure and language change. A paper he published in 1969 proposed a new theory of how language changes, called lexical diffusion. His team created the first linguistics database for some 20 Chinese dialects, which provided ample support for the theory of lexical diffusion. This theory has since received confirmation in many other languages, and the seminal paper has been cited well over 1000 times, according to Google Scholar. His approach to research has always been multidisciplinary, having co-authored papers with leading geneticists, mathematicians, and psychologists.

Wang Shiyuan_text_picIn 1973, he was invited for a series of lectures at Peking University, which made him an Honorary Professor of the university in 2010. Also in 1973, he founded the Journal of Chinese Linguistics, and the journal celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. In 1992, the International Association of Chinese Linguistics was formed in Singapore, and he was elected Inaugural President. That same year, he was elected Academician of Academia Sinica, where he served as Chair of the Advisory Committee which helped create its Institute of Linguistics. Other prestigious honours he has received include: an award from the Guggenheim Foundation, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anthropological Society of Shanghai, Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from University of Chicago and Doctor of Humanities honoris causa from University of Macau, Honorary Professor from several universities, including Peking University, and Fellowship from the Linguistic Society of America. He has also held Resident Fellowships at advanced research institutes at Stanford, in Sweden, in Kyoto, and in Bellagio, Italy. As a leading scholar in the linguistics field, he continues to have a substantial impact on the study of language and communication.

Your browser is not the latest version. If you continue to browse our website, Some pages may not function properly.

You are recommended to upgrade to a newer version or switch to a different browser. A list of the web browsers that we support can be found here