Russell Gray completed his Ph.D. at the University of Auckland in 1990. He spent four years lecturing at the University of Otago, New Zealand, before returning to the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and has been awarded with several fellowships, as well as the inaugural Mason Durie Medal for his pioneering contributions to social science.
Russell Gray's research spans the areas of linguistics, animal cognition, philosophy of biology and the evolution of human and animal behavior. He pioneered the application of computational evolutionary methods to questions about linguistic prehistory. This work has helped advance the 200 year-old debate on the origin of Indo-European languages, dubbed “the most recalcitrant problem in historical linguistics”. More recently, he used sophisticated Bayesian phylogenetic methods to test hypotheses about the sequence and timing of the peopling of the Pacific. In collaboration with colleagues in Europe Professor Gray has extended this evolutionary approach to test hypotheses about the fundamental constraints on linguistic variation. In contrast to the claims of some generative linguists the analyses revealed striking language family specific dependencies. His work on New Caledonian crows has revealed that their remarkable tool manufacturing skills are the product of a lengthy learning period and are underpinned by brains with large associative regions and the ability to make causal inferences.
Russell Gray has published over 100 journal articles and book chapters including eight papers in Nature and Science.
In 2014, Russell Gray spoke at the Nijmegen Lectures, an annual event that showcases the best research in linguistics worldwide. He covered a range of his studies from tool use by New Caledonian Crows to quantitative work on historical linguistics to charting the evolution of political systems. Video recordings of all three lectures can be found here.