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:
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


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.


Smith, Chris and Sokhey, Ly and Tijamo, Camille Florence Eder and McLaren, Megan and Free, Caroline and Watkins, Justin and Amra, Ou and Masuda, Chisato and Oreglia, Elisa (2021) 'Development of an intervention to support reproductive health of garment factory workers in Cambodia: a qualitative study'. BMJ Open, (11) 11, pp e049254.

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 Themed Selection of Wa Proverbs and Sayings'. Journal of Burma Studies, (17) 1, pp 29-60.

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 Linguistics 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) 'Mainland Southeast Asia'. In: Gussenhoven, Carlos and Chen, Aoju, (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Language Prosody. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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 (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, Andrew, (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.

Oyètádé, B. Akíntúndé 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]

Watkins, Justin (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 Monday, 23rd May 2022, 04:12 Europe/London.