Department of Linguistics

Professor Justin Watkins

Key information

Department of Linguistics Professor of Burmese Professor of Burmese Academic Staff, Centre of South East Asian Studies
Department of Linguistics
BA (Leeds), MA, PhD (London)
Russell Square: College Buildings
Email address
Telephone number
020 7898 4254
Support hours
On leave until Feb 2022; online by appointment


After completing a BA in Chinese and Russian at Leeds University, I came to SOAS in 1994 to study for an MA and then a PhD in Phonetics and have never left. SOAS is the best place to be for anyone with an interest in languages beyond European borders. As part of the MA in Phonetics, I studied experimental and acoustic phonetics with Katrina Hayward, and at the same time started learning Burmese with John Okell. The phonetics of Mon-Khmer language Wa was the subject of my PhD research, and I spent time in Yunnan and in Burma doing fieldwork. I have been visiting Burma regularly since 1997.

I first became Lecturer in Burmese at SOAS in 1999, and became Professor of Burmese and Linguistics in 2015. Over the years I have taught a wide range of courses in Burmese, Khmer, Phonetics and Linguistics. During my time at SOAS I have been Head of the Department of South East Asia and served in a wide range of administrative roles and committees at Departmental and School level. In 2021 I took up a new role as Knowledge Exchange Fellow within which I will be promoting language projects and learning outside SOAS, in particular through online learning.

My research focuses on the phonetics, linguistics and lexicography of Burmese and other South-East Asian languages, especially minority languages of Myanmar such as Wa, Sumtu and Sgaw Karen.  The data from my AHRC-funded Wa Dictionary project is available online here. I have also worked on the signed languages of the Deaf community of Yangon.

I welcome anyone interested study, research or projects relating to any of these subjects to get in touch to find out more by emailing

Research interests

Burmese languages and Burmese linguistics; experimental and acoustic phonetics; computer lexicography; minority languages of South East Asia; Mon-Khmer and Tibeto Burman languages; tone languages. Sign languages in Burma and South East Asia. See also AHRC-funded Wa Dictionary Project & SOAS Burmese language pages


Contact Justin