Dr. Robyn Orfitelli

Lecturer in Linguistics


Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA


I joined the School of English as a lecturer in the fall of 2014. Prior to that, I did my undergraduate work at Harvard University (BA in Linguistics and Biochemistry, 2006), and my graduate work at UCLA (PhD in Linguistics, 2012), with Professor Nina Hyams as my advisor.

Following my PhD, I was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa from 2013-2014.


My research is focused on the intersection between first language acquisition and generative syntactic theory. I use a variety of corpus and behavioral measures to experimentally analyze children’s acquisition of complex syntactic phenomena.

Recently, I have been interested in understanding the acquisition of a range of A-movement phenomena related to voice, including subject-to-subject raising, passives, and middles. I am working to link patterns in acquisition to systematic cross-linguistic differences in the representation of these structures.

Other current or recent topics of interest include the Null-Subject stage in first and second language acquisition, word-level prosody in Samoan, and the syntax-prosody interface in language development.


I convene the following undergraduate modules:

  • ELL 113 - Structure of English
  • ELL 221 - Syntax
  • ELL 226 - First Language Acquisition


I welcome PhD students in any of the areas of my research.

  • Zuraw, K., Yu, K. & R. Orfitelli. 2014. The word-level prosody of Samoan. Phonology 31, 271-327.
  • Orfitelli, R., & T. Grüter. 2014. Do null subjects really transfer? In J. Cabrelli-Amano, T. Judy, and D. Pascual y Cabo (Eds.) Proceedings of the 12th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
  • Orfitelli, R., & M. Polinsky. 2013. Is it Processing all the way down? Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 3(3), 335-340.
  • Orfitelli, R., & N. Hyams. 2012. Children‟s grammar of null subjects: Evidence from comprehension. Linguistic Inquiry 43 (4), 563-590.
  • Orfitelli, R. 2012. 'Experiencing' a slight delay: Intervening arguments and the acquisition of subject-to-subject raising. In N. Danis, K. Mesh & H. Sung (Eds.) Proceedings of the 36thBoston University Conference on Language Development, vol. 2, 335-346. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.