SOAS University of London

South East Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

Professor Justin Watkins

BA (Leeds), MA, PhD (London)
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Expertise
  • Publications


Justin Watkins
South East Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Professor of Burmese

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Professor of Burmese

SOAS Centre of South East Asian Studies

Academic Staff, Centre of South East Asian Studies

Professor Justin Watkins
Email address:
020 7898 4254
SOAS University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Academic Support Hours:
Monday 4-5, Thursday 3-4, or email for appointment


NB 2018/19 : for Burmese language inquiries email John Okell

I originally did BA in Chinese and Russian at Leeds University, but came to SOAS in 1994 and have never left.  I did an MA in Phonetics here, and soon learnt that SOAS is the best place to be for anyone with an interest in languages beyond European borders.  

I decided to concentrate on experimental and acoustic phonetics while studying for the MA, but at the same time started learning Burmese.  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 for my dissertation. I have been visiting Burma regularly since 1997.  

I first became Lecturer in Burmese at SOAS in 1999, and currently teach a range of courses in Burmese, Khmer and Phonetics.  My current research interests include the Wa Dictionary Project, and the phonetics and linguistics of Burmese and other South-East Asian languages, especially minority languages.  

Most recently, I have become interested in the languages of the Deaf communities in Burma, who use a number of number of interrelated sign-languages, and hope very much to be able to do more research on sign languages in Burma and in South-East Asia in the future.

I welcome anyone interested in coming to SOAS to study any of these subjects, be it at BA, MA or PhD level, to get in touch to find out more.  


Programmes Convened
Modules Taught
Recent PhD Students Supervised
  • ​Yingying Mu (2018) Language choice, Ideologies and Identities in Mengguang, a Multilingual Village in South-Western China.
  • Samuil Marusca (2019) The intonational phonology of Daco-Romance.
  • Chris Button. 2009. A Reconstruction of Proto Northern Chin in Old Burmese and Old Chinese Perspective. "Button's original research on the languages of the Northern Chin group provides a precious body of data for the growing number of scholars working on unravelling the strands of genetic vs. contact relationship in this crucially important linguistic area of the world." - Prof J A Matisoff, examiner.
  • Helga So-Hartmann. A descriptive grammar of Daai Chin. 2008.  Revised thesis published as Volume 7 in the STEDT Monograph Series. "This is the most detailed and sophisticated grammar of a Chin language to have appeared since Eugénie J.A. Henderson’s classic (1965) study of Tiddim (Northern Chin group). The Daai language is an important member of the Southern Chin group, with about 45,000 speakers."


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


For help in contacting SOAS academics and advice on services to business and the community, please contact SOAS Enterprise on +44(0)20 7898 4837 or email
For all press and media enquiries please call +44 (0)20 7898 4135 or email

Available for
  • TV
  • Radio
  • Press
  • Special Study Programmes
  • Short Term Consultancy
Regional Expertise
  • East Asia
  • South East Asia
Country Expertise
  • Burma/Myanmar
  • China
  • Thailand
  • Burmese/Myanmar
  • Cambodian/Khmer
  • Chinese Mandarin
  • Czech
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Khumi Chin
  • Russian
  • Swedish
  • Thai
  • Wa


Authored Books

Watkins, Justin (2013) Dictionary of Wa (2 vols). Leiden: Brill.

Watkins, Justin (2002) The Phonetics of Wa. Experimental Phonetics, Phonology, Orthography and Sociolinguistics. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, The Australian National University.


Watkins, Justin (2013) 'A first account of tone in Myebon Sumtu Chin'. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, (36) 2, pp 97-127.

Watkins, Justin (2013) 'A first look at tone in Myebon Sumtu Chin'. SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics, (16), pp 79-104.

Watkins, Justin (2003) 'Tone and Intonation in Burmese'. Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, pp 1289-1292.

Watkins, Justin (2001) 'Pitch-phonation correlations in Sgaw Karen'. SOAS Working papers in Linguisitics and Phonetics, (1), pp 31-44.

Watkins, Justin (2000) 'Notes on creaky and killed tone in Burmese'. SOAS Working papers in Linguisitics and Phonetics, (10), pp 139-149.

Watkins, Justin (1997) 'Can phonation types be reliably measured from sound spectra? Some data from Wa and Burmese'. SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics and Phonetics, (7), pp 321-339.

Edited Books or Journals

Vittrant, Alice and Watkins, Justin, (eds.), (2019) The Mainland Southeast Asia Linguistic Area. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. (Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs; 314).

Watkins, Justin, (ed.), (2005) Studies in Burmese linguistics. Canberra: Pacific linguistics, Research school of Pacific and Asian studies, The Australian national university.

Book Chapters

Brunelle, Marc and Kirby, James and Michaud, Alexis and Watkins, Justin (2020) 'Prosodic systems: Mainland Southeast Asia'. In: Gussenhoven, Carlos and Chen, Aoju, (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Language Prosody. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Forthcoming]

Vittrant, Alice and Watkins, Justin (2019) 'Introduction: Languages of the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area – Grammatical Sketches'. In: Vittrant, Alice and Watkins, Justin, (eds.), The Mainland Southeast Asia Linguistic Area. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton, pp 1-11.

Watkins, Justin (2019) 'Wa (Paraok)'. The Mainland Southeast Asia Linguistic Area. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton, pp 432-474.

Watkins, Justin (2013) 'Grammatical aesthetics in Wa'. In: Williams, Jeffrey P., (ed.), The Aesthetics of Grammar: Sound and Meaning in the Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 99-117.

Watkins, Justin (2007) 'Burma/Myanmar'. In: Simpson, A., (ed.), Language & National Identity in Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 263-287.

Watkins, Justin (2005) 'Constituent Focus in Burmese: A Phonetic and Perceptual Study'. In: Watkins, Justin, (ed.), Studies in Burmese Linguistics. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics (The Australian National University), pp 27-331.

Oyetade, Akin and Hayward, K. and Watkins, Justin (2003) 'The Phonetic Interpretation of Register: Evidence from Yoruba'. In: Local, J. and Ogden, R. and Temple, R., (eds.), Phonetic Interpretation. Papers in Laboratory Phonology IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 305-321.

Watkins, Justin (1999) 'Closed quotient of laryngeal gestures and settings in Wa'. Proceedings of the XIVth Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Univ of California, pp 1017-1020.

Conference Items

Watkins, Justin (2010) 'Topicalisation, focus-clefts and stranded prepositions in Wa' In: 20th Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, 10-11 June 2010, University of Zurich. [Unpublished]

Justin, Watkins (2010) 'Sign language in Burma: two Burmese finger spelling systems used in Yangon' In: Burma Studies Conference 2010: Burma in the Era of Globalization, 6-9 July 2010, Université de Provence, Marseille, France. [Unpublished]

Watkins, Justin (2009) 'Quelques observations sur les langues des signes en Birmanie' In: Atelier Birmanie: atelier interdisciplinaire sur le thème "Réflexions sur la Birmanie comme lieu de disparités et de convergences", 18-20 June 2009, IRSEA, Université de Provence, Marseille, France. [Unpublished]


This list was last generated on Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 14:46 Europe/London.