She received her BA in mathematics in 1970 and her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures in 1973, both from Harvard University, then did a postdoctoral year in Linguistics at MIT. She has since taught linguistics at Smith College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Georgetown University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Swarthmore College. It was at UM that she earned tenure (in 1981) and became a full professor (in 1984). She has held visiting positions at the University of Newcastle (England), the University of Queensland (Australia), the University of Geneva (Switzerland), Capital Normal University of Beijing (China), University of Venice at Ca' Foscari (Italy), and the University of Santa Catarina (Brazil), as well as lectured at the University of Sydney (Australia), Macquarie University (Australia), the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa), and the St. Petersburg State University (Russia). She was a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Newcastle (England) in 2010. She was a Long Room Hub Fellow at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) in 2012, in both her capacity as a linguist and her capacity as a fiction writer. She was a Fulbright Scholar at Siena School for Liberal Arts (Italy) in 2015. She was a Fulbright Specialist at the University of Göttingen (Germany) in 2018. She has been an international scholar participant in CNPQ grant to the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Brazil since 2019.
In the area of linguistics she has authored five books (one of which is translated into Korean), co-authored six (one of which is in Italian), edited one, and co-edited five, ranging from theoretical linguistics to practical matters in language structure and use, including matters of interest to deaf people. She has published over 100 academic articles, many in top journals in linguistics, cognitive science, and medicine. She has held grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the Fulbright Program. She is a Fellow of the Linguistics Society of America.
In the area of novel writing, she held a grant from the American Association of University Women for research pursuant to fiction writing. For a list of her major awards, go to the Home page.
In the area of short story writing, she has two retellings of Italian tales: "Sweet Giongio" in DIANE GOODE'S BOOKS OF SILLY STORIES & SONGS, Dutton, 1992, pp. 41-48 (ISBN 0-525-44967-1) and "Little Lella" in DIANE GOODE'S BOOK OF GIANTS AND LITTLE PEOPLE, Dutton, 1997, pp. 48-53 (ISBN 0-525-45660-0). She also has the story "So many first kisses" in Cylin Busby's (ed.) FIRST KISS (THEN TELL) anthology, Bloomsbury, 2008, pp. 193-201 (ISBN 978-1-59990-199-2), the essay "Choose well" in Dan Gutman's (ed.) RECYCLE THIS BOOK: 100 TOP CHILDREN'S AUTHORS TELL YOU HOW TO GO GREEN, Random House, 2009, pp. 246-247, and the story plus recipe "Bagna cauda Louise" in Jane Martellino's (ed.) ALL BECAUSE OF GRACE: REFLECTIONS AND RECIPES, Yes! Grace Rocks, Inc., 2010, p. 19.
In the area of poetry, she has contributed poems to seven anthologies by linguists and been coeditor of five. She has a poem for children, "Twelve", in ON HER WAY, edited by Sandy Asher, Dutton, 2004, pp. 84-85 (ISBN 0-525-47170-7), and another poem for the youngest crowd, "Roar", in ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME, edited by Kenn Nesbitt, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016. A chapbook of her poems, BRING WINE AND CRUSTY BREAD, was put out in 2012 by Bartley Press in Chicora, PA, where the poems were chosen by Nicole Bartley: available at or call Nicole at 724-496-8584.
She has written several essays about children's literature and writing for children. She has also written book reviews about children's fiction.