Professor Nigel Fabb

Professor Of Literary Linguistics


Personal statement

In 2022 I published my eleventh and twelfth books.  One is a book which emerged from a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship and has been published by Anthem Press, called A Theory of Thrills, Sublime and Epiphany in Literature.  The other is an edited book with Venla Sykäri,  Rhyme and Rhyming in Verbal Art, Song and Language, published by Studia Fennica Folkloristica in December 2022 and free to download.

A Theory of Thrills, Sublime and Epiphany in Literature offers a psychological account of thrills (goosebumps and tears), of the epiphanic experience of seeing ordinary things in a profoundly new way, and of the experience of the sublime.  The unifying characteristic of these 'strong experiences' is that they all begin with surprise.  They are important in literature: literature is about these experiences, and literature can cause these experiences.   This book offers an overview of theories of these kinds of experience, and of what might cause them to happen. In the final chapter, various literary strategies are explored as possible causes.  The book draws on psychological accounts of surprise, and of emotion, and cognitive approaches to what knowledge is, why it is possible to have feelings of profound knowledge, and why what we know can someties not be put into words.

I also continue to work on poetic form, and the setting of poetry to music in songs. I teach a class on songs, have published and continue to work on Australian Aboriginal songs with Myfany Turpin (Sydney), and recently gave a paper on Robert Browning, metre and music with Kristin Hanson (Berkeley). Kristin and I are publishing that paper on Robert Browning, metre and music in PLSA. I was interviewed by Mark Dow on theory of poetry for PN Review (March 2022).

My tenth book was What is Poetry: Language and Memory in the Poems of the World (Cambridge 2015); the book argues that the added forms of poetry such as metre, rhyme, alliteration and parallelism depend on the division of a text into sections short enough to be held in working memory.  My book with Morris Halle, Meter in Poetry: a New Theory (Cambridge 2008), argues that counting is the basis of all metrical poetry, and rhythm is derived from the counting mechanism.  My book Language and literary structure: the linguistic analysis of form in verse and narrative (Cambridge 2002) argues that form can hold of a literary text by inference.

BA English from Cambridge (Kings, 1980).  PhD in linguistics from MIT (1984) supervised by Noam Chomsky. Edited Journal of Linguistics (1997-2014). Head of department (2002-5). Acting dean during the first two months of the new Faculty in 2010. Vice-dean for research (2010-13). Harkness Fellow (1980-82). Leverhulme Fellow (2014-17). An editor of the Literary Universals Project.  I am quoted three times in the Oxford English Dictionary, and have an Erdös-Bacon number of 9. 


Rhyme and Rhyming in Verbal Art, Language, and Song
Sykäri Venla, Fabb Nigel
Studia Fennica Folkloristica Studia Fennica Folkloristica, Vol 25 (2022)
Rhyme and alliteration are significantly different as types of sound patterning
Fabb Nigel
Rhyme and Rhyming in Verbal Art, Language, and Song (2022) (2022)
Rhyme in the languages and cultures of the world : an introduction
Fabb Nigel, Sykäri Venla
Rhyme and Rhyming in Verbal Art, Language, and Song (2022) (2022)
Sykäri Venla, Fabb Nigel
Rhyme and Rhyming in Verbal Art, Language, and Song (2022) (2022)
When words stop : omission in songs
Fabb Nigel
Symbolism An International Annual of Critical Aesthetics (2022) (2022)
"Non-linguistic" Browning : meter and music in "Pietro of Abano"
Hanson Kristin, Fabb Nigel
Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America Vol 7 (2022)

More publications

Professional activities

Linguistic Society of America 2022
The inexpressible, expressed
PALA (Poetics and Linguistics Association)
IGEL: International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature
Linguistics Association of Great Britain
Invited speaker
The 16th IGEL conference

More professional activities


Epiphanies in literature: a psychological and literary linguist account
Fabb, Nigel (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2014 - 31-Jan-2017
A pilot database of rules for verse in the languages of the world BA SRG
Fabb, Nigel (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2010 - 31-Jan-2010

More projects