Randy Harris


Randy Harris
PhD, Rensselaer
MSc, Rensselaer
MSc, Alberta
MA, Dalhousie
BA, Queen's

Extension: 45362
Email: raha@uwaterloo.ca



I was born in the new hospital in Kitimat, BC, jaundiced, bald, underweight, and, quoting my father now, "ugly as sin." Understandably, nothing much happened after that until I found myself by sheer chance at the University of Lethbridge 20 years later, only to discover I was pretty good at schoolwork, something neither I nor anyone else had noticed up to that point. I transferred to Queens after two years, though it recognized only about half my courses, and none toward the major, so I ended up taking nothing but historically based English literature classes for the next two and a half years. The Victorian novels course alone almost killed me. I lived in the library. I loved it. There followed a string of different academic preoccupations, at a variety of institutions, as I dabbled in every passing fancy (literary theory, linguistics, cognitive science, professional communication, graphic design, rhetorical theory) over the next dozen years. But, miraculously, I was employable anyways, and I have been toiling joyfully at Waterloo ever since, still dabbling.


Editor, with Jeanne D. Fahnestock. The Routledge Handbook of Language and Persuasion. London: Routledge, 2023. 

The Linguistics Wars. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022. 

Editor. Landmark Essays in Rhetoric of Science: Case Studies.  2nd ed. , 2017, and Landmark Essays in Rhetoric of Science: Issues and Methods, 2020 London: Routledge.

Editor, with Shelley Hulan and Murray McArthur. Literature, Rhetoric and Values: Selected Proceedings of a Conference held at the University of Waterloo, 3-5 June 2011. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013.

Editor. Rhetoric and Incommensurability. Parlor Press, 2005.

Voice Interaction Design: Crafting the New Conversational Interfaces. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann, 2005. 

Acoustic Dimensions of Functor Comprehension in Broca's Aphasia. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club, 1988.

Selected Keynotes

"Rhetorical schemes and algorithms." Logic and Algorithms in Computational Linguistics 2021 (LACompLing2021). 16 December 21.

“'You can take the linguist out of MIT, but you can’t take MIT out of the linguist:' Construction Grammar and Rhetorical Schemes." LACUS 2019. St. Jerome's University, Waterloo, 23 July 19.

"Form-Function dyads and computational rhetoric." CMNA XVII - Computational Models of Natural Argument, 16 June 17. Strand campus, King's College, London.

"Chiasmus, Cognition, Computation; Computation, Cognition, Chiasmus," at Computing Figures, Computing Figures II, 12 August 16. University of Waterloo.

"The antimetabole construction." The 12th Argumentation Dialogue Persuasion Conference. 21 May 14. Staszic Palace, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland. 

"Rhetoric, incommensurability, and the curious case of David Brewster." Incommensurability 50, 3 June 12. National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan.

"The return of the body." 20 March 10, Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin, Germany.

"Cognitive rhetoric and the genesis of genetics." 10 January 07, Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

Fellowships & Awards

  • University of Waterloo Arts Award for Excellence in Research, 2023

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, elected 2022

  • Co-operative and Experiential Education Employer Impact Award, for the Rhetoricon Database Project, 2021
  • Award of Excellence in Graduate Supervision, University of Waterloo, 2019
  • Outstanding Performance in Research Awards; University of Waterloo, 2005, 2019
  • Izak Walton Killam Memorial Post-doctoral Fellowship; University of Alberta, 1990-92
  • SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1985-87
  • Sir James Lougheed Award of Distinction; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1985-87
  • Rensselaer Scholar Fellowship; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1985-86
  • Province of Alberta Scholarships; University of Alberta, 1982-83, 1983-84
  • Izak Walton Killam Memorial Pre-doctoral Scholarship; Dalhousie University, 1980-81.


  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant, " Gamesourcing a rhetorical figure ontology”; University of Waterloo, 2018-2021, 2022-2027
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership-Engage Grant, 2020-2022
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant, " Gamesourcing a rhetorical figure ontology”; University of Waterloo, 2018-2021
  • Network on Aging Research Catalyst Grant, 2018-19
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant, "Computational Rhetoric"; University of Waterloo, 2015-2018
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Standard Research Grant, "Cognitive Rhetoric"; University of Waterloo, 2010-2013
  • University of Waterloo 4A Scholar Grants, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010.
  • Mitacs - Accelerate Grant, "Large Inbox Voice Interaction,"  2009
  • Learning Initiatives Grant; University of Waterloo, 2005
  • SSHRC Standard Research Grant, "Rhetoric and Incommensurability"; University of Waterloo, 2002-2004

Current research

I am currently preoccupied with the way in which rhetorical figures reflect brain structure. (You want to remember a phone number? Repeat it over and over. Hey! That's ploke! You want to structure a list in the most cognitively efficient way? Arrange the phrases into parallel syntactic patterns. Hey! That's parison! You want to learn something new? Compare it to something you already know. Hey! That's simile!) This study, the study of the mental correlates of figuration and other aspects of argumentation, aesthetics, and persuasion, is Cognitive Rhetoric. I am also increasingly interested in the computational investigation of figures: on the one hand, building an ontology of figures to model the cognitive landscape of figuration; and on the other hand, charting the way individual and clustered figures can signal genres, authorship, sentiment, and argumentation in discourse.

Areas of graduate supervision

  • Rhetoric (especially computational and cognitive rhetoric, rhetoric of science, history and theory of rhetoric)
  • Professional communication (especially document design, usability, and multimedia)
  • Interaction design (especially speech), and linguistics (especially cognitive linguistics and history of linguistics)
  • Cognitive Poetics (especially the affective dimensions of linguistic and textual form in literature)
  • Construction Grammar (especially the intersection of everyday expressions and rhetorical schemes)