Famous 20th Century Linguists

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky
19
Famous As: The Father of Modern Linguistics
Birthdate: December 7, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Regarded by many as the father of modern linguistics, Noam Chomsky has authored over 100 books on varied topics, such as politics, linguistics, and war. A multi-talented personality, Noam Chomsky is considered a popular figure in analytic philosophy. Apart from influencing a wide array of academic fields, he has also contributed to the development of cognitivism.

 2 Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker
6
Famous As: Psychologist
Birthdate: September 18, 1954
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Montreal, Canada

Steven Pinker is a Canadian-American linguist, cognitive psychologist, and popular science author. He is also a supporter of the computational theory of mind and evolutionary psychology. His works have earned him awards from organizations like the National Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the American Humanist Association. In 2013, he was named in Prospect magazine's World Thinkers list.

 3 Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci
4
Famous As: Marxist philosopher, Journalist
Birthdate: January 23, 1891
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Ales, Italy
Died: April 27, 1937

Antonio Gramsci was an Italian politician, journalist, philosopher, linguist, and writer. A founding member of the Communist Party of Italy, Gramsci went on to serve as the leader of the party before he was arrested by Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime. Since his death, Antonio Gramsci has been the subject of several plays and films.

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 4 Julius Nyerere

Julius Nyerere
4
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: April 13, 1922
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Butiama, Tanzania
Died: October 14, 1999

 5 Katharine Gun

Katharine Gun
8
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: 1974 AD
Birthplace: Taiwan, Taiwan

 6 John McWhorter

John McWhorter
8
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: October 6, 1965
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Philadelphia

 7 Charles Sanders Peirce

Charles Sanders Peirce
4
Famous As: Scientist, Philosopher
Birthdate: September 10, 1839
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Died: April 19, 1914
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 8 Jamie Hyneman

Jamie Hyneman
12
Famous As: Television presenter, Journalist, Linguist, Wrangler, Machinist
Birthdate: September 25, 1956
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Marshall

 9 Enoch Powell

Enoch Powell
13
Birthdate: June 16, 1912
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Birmingham
Died: February 8, 1998

Enoch Powell was a British politician, linguist, classical scholar, philologist, and poet. Also a soldier, Powell served in World War II, reaching the rank of brigadier. His political career is remembered for his iconic and infamous Rivers of Blood speech, which was interpreted as a demonstration of racism. The speech became the subject of a play titled What Shadows.

 10 Muhammad Asad

Muhammad Asad
4
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: July 2, 1900
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Lviv, Ukraine
Died: February 20, 1992

Austro-Hungarian journalist Leopold Weiss was a descendant of rabbis and ran away from home in his teens, taking up odd jobs, before finally becoming a journalist in Germany. His work took him to the Middle East, where he converted to Islam and adopted the name Muhammad Asad.

 11 Zhou Youguang

Zhou Youguang
4
Famous As: Chinese economist and linguist
Birthdate: January 13, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Changzhou, Jiangsu, Qing dynasty Qing Empire
Died: January 14, 2017

Best remembered for creating a new writing system that allows Mandarin to be written in Roman alphabets, Chinese economist Zhou Youguang started working on the project in 1955, reaching his goal after three years of labor. Known as Father of Pinyin, he has also authored forty books, most notable among them being The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts.

 12 J. L. Austin

J. L. Austin
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: March 26, 1911
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Lancaster, England
Died: February 8, 1960

Philosopher J. L. Austin is remembered for his study on ordinary-language philosophy and is also considered a pioneer of the theory of speech acts. His lectures at Harvard were later collected in How to Do Things with Words. He died of cancer while developing a theory on sound symbolism.

 13 Roman Jakobson

Roman Jakobson
4
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: October 11, 1896
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Moscow
Died: July 18, 1982

 14 Luce Irigaray

Luce Irigaray
4
Famous As: Philosopher, linguist, Feminist
Birthdate: May 3, 1930
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Bernissart, Belgium

 15 Anne Carson

Anne Carson
3
Famous As: Linguist, Poet, Translator, Writer, University teacher, Literary critic
Birthdate: June 21, 1950
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Toronto

Born to a banker in Toronto, Anne Carson grew up to study Classics and later taught at institutes such as Princeton University. Her signature style consists of a mix of prose and poetry. One of her notable works, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, was inspired by Greek mythology.

 16 Robert Bly

Robert Bly
3
Famous As: Linguist, Poet, Translator, Writer
Birthdate: December 23, 1926
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota, United States

 17 Jon Elia

Jon Elia
4
Famous As: Linguist, Philosopher, Poet, Literary critic
Birthdate: December 14, 1931
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Amroha
Died: November 8, 2002

Jon Elia was a poet, biographer, philosopher, and scholar. Best remembered for his unconventional ways, Elia is widely regarded as one of the most important modern Urdu poets. Apart from writing in Urdu, Jon Elia was also fluent in several other languages including Sanskrit, Hebrew, English, and Persian.

 18 Lin Yutang

Lin Yutang
3
Famous As: Inventor, Linguist, Novelist
Birthdate: October 10, 1895
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Banzai, Fujian, Zhangzhou, China
Died: March 26, 1976

Son of a Christian minister, Lin Yutang was initially supposed to join the ministry but later rejected Christianity to become a professor. His works include several Chinese and English books, such as Moment in Peking. He also introduced the concept of satire magazines in China with Lunyu banyuekan.

 19 William Labov

William Labov
3
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: December 4, 1927
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Rutherford, New Jersey, U.S.

 20 Ferdinand de Saussure

Ferdinand de Saussure
4
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: November 26, 1857
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Geneva, Switzerland
Died: February 22, 1913

Known as the father of linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure laid down the concept of semiotics. He distinguished between parole and langue, leading later thinkers to explore structuralism. His only book was his dissertation on vowels in Indo-European languages, with the rest being collections of his lectures.

 21 J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee
4
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: February 9, 1940
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cape Town, South Africa

Nobel Prize- and two-time Booker Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee had started his career as a Fulbright scholar. After teaching English in the U.S. and South Africa, he now lives and teaches in Australia. He is best known for his colonial settings in novels such as Waiting for the Barbarians.

 22 Michel Thomas

Michel Thomas
3
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: February 3, 1914
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Lodz, Poland
Died: January 8, 2005

 23 Girish Karnad

Girish Karnad
4
Famous As: Linguist, Author, Film director, Actor, Translator, Screenwriter
Birthdate: May 19, 1938
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Matheran, Maharashtra, India

Actor, film director and playwright, Girish Karnad was also a Rhodes Scholar with a Masters degree in philosophy, political science and economics. A prolific writer, he authored scores of plays in Kannada, which were later translated into other languages. Also an eminent actor, film director and screenwriter, he was conferred with numerous awards including the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan.

 24 Valentin Inzko

Valentin Inzko
3
Famous As: Linguist, Diplomat
Birthdate: May 22, 1949
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Klagenfurt

 25 Sol Plaatje

Sol Plaatje
3
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: October 9, 1876
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Boshof, South Africa
Died: June 19, 1932
South African writer and journalist Sol Plaatje, known for his novel Mhudi, was well-versed in a number of languages, apart from his native Tswana. He founded what later became the African National Congress and made people across the globe aware of the plight of black Africans in his country.

 26 Amos Oz

Amos Oz
4
Famous As: Writer, Linguist, Journalist, Novelist, Translator, Essayist, Educationist, University teacher, Children's writer
Birthdate: May 4, 1939
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Jerusalem

Originally called Amos Klausner, Oz Amos was an Israeli short story writer, novelist, essayist, and educator, known for his advocacy of two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Professor Hebrew literature at Ben-Gurion University, he wrote forty books, many of which have been translated into forty-five languages, earning him  numerous international awards and honors, including Legion of Honour of France.

 27 Michael Halliday

Michael Halliday
4
Famous As: Linguist who developed the internationally influential systemic functional linguistics (SFL) model of language
Birthdate: April 13, 1925
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Leeds, England
Died: April 15, 2018

British linguist Michael Halliday is best remembered for his neo-Firthian theory of language. Born to a dialectologist father and an English teacher mother, Halliday naturally developed a love for languages. An expert in Chinese language, he has conducted research on child language development and the theory of grammar.

 28 George Lakoff

George Lakoff
0
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: May 24, 1941
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Bayonne, New Jersey, United States

 29 Niki Karimi

Niki Karimi
7
Famous As: Actor, Linguist, Film director, Translator, Screenwriter
Birthdate: November 10, 1971
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Tehran

 30 Paul Grice

Paul Grice
0
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: March 13, 1913
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Birmingham, England
Died: August 28, 1988

 31 Zellig Harris

Zellig Harris
5
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: October 23, 1909
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Balta, Ukraine
Died: May 22, 1992

 32 Otto Jespersen

Otto Jespersen
3
Famous As: Former linguist who specialized in the grammar of the English language
Birthdate: July 16, 1860
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Randers, Denmark
Died: April 30, 1943

Otto Jespersen was a Danish linguist best remembered for his expertise in the English language and its grammar. Counted among the greatest language scholars of his generation, Otto Jespersen played a prominent role in the international language movement. He also served as a professor at the University of Copenhagen between 1893 and 1925.

 33 S.I. Hayakawa

S.I. Hayakawa
5
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: July 18, 1906
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Died: February 27, 1992

 34 Yuri Knorozov

Yuri Knorozov
3
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: November 19, 1922
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Kharkiv, Soviet Union
Died: March 31, 1999

 35 Dell Hymes

Dell Hymes
3
Famous As: Linguist, Anthropologist
Birthdate: June 7, 1927
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, United States
Died: November 13, 2009

Dell Hymes was part of some of the pioneering studies on linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics, and later focused on ethnopoetics and the SPEAKING model. He also founded the journal Language in Society and served as its editor. In his later career, he was accused of sexual harassment.

 36 Joseph Greenberg

Joseph Greenberg
3
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: May 28, 1915
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: May 7, 2001

 37 Teun A. van Dijk

Teun A. van Dijk
3
Famous As: Linguist, University teacher, Sociologist
Birthdate: May 7, 1943
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Naaldwijk

 38 Michael Witzel

Michael Witzel
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: July 18, 1943
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Swiebodzin, Poland

 39 Nikolai Trubetzkoy

Nikolai Trubetzkoy
3
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: April 16, 1890
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
Died: June 25, 1938

 40 Fatana Najib

Fatana Najib
3
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: August 9, 1953
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Baghlan, Afghanistan

 41 Robin Lakoff

Robin Lakoff
0
Famous As: Linguist, Professor
Birthdate: November 27, 1942
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States

 42 Heinrich Zimmer

Heinrich Zimmer
3
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: December 6, 1890
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Greifswald, German Empire
Died: March 20, 1943

 43 Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri

Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri
3
Famous As: Founder of Minhaj-ul-Quran International and Pakistan Awami Tehreek.
Birthdate: February 19, 1951
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Jhang, Pakistan

Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri is a Pakistani–Canadian Islamic scholar who founded the non-governmental organization Minhaj-ul-Quran. A former politician, he is also credited with founding a political party called Pakistan Awami Tehreek. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri has also served as a professor of constitutional law at the Punjab University in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan.

 44 John Rupert Firth

John Rupert Firth
3
Famous As: Linguist
Birthdate: June 17, 1890
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Keighley, England
Died: December 14, 1960

 45 Alexander Argüelles

Alexander Argüelles
1
Famous As: Linguist, Philologist
Birthdate: April 30, 1964
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States

 46 Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Guillermo Cabrera Infante
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: April 22, 1929
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Gibara, Cuba
Died: February 21, 2005

Guillermo Cabrera Infante was a Cuban novelist, essayist, translator, and screenwriter. He initially planned to become a doctor but ditched his plans to become a writer instead. He had a successful career and eventually became the editor of the magazine Carteles and director of the Instituto del Cine. He received the Premio Cervantes in 1997. 

 47 Ghil'ad Zuckermann

Ghil'ad Zuckermann
1
Famous As: Linguist, Philologist
Birthdate: June 1, 1971
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

 48 Arthur Waley

Arthur Waley
3
Famous As: Translator
Birthdate: August 19, 1889
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England
Died: June 27, 1966

 49 Gregory Rabassa

Gregory Rabassa
2
Famous As: Translator
Birthdate: March 9, 1922
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Yonkers, New York, United States
Died: June 13, 2016

 50 Yuri Lotman

Yuri Lotman
1
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: February 28, 1922
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: October 28, 1993