Research

Typology & Linguistic Theory

My interest in language typology ranges from the broadly theoretical—such as my dissertation on Lexical flexibility in discourse, or my review article discussing Basic Linguistic Theory—to the applications of typology to specific languages—such as my descriptions of ‘Semantic alignment in Chitimacha’, and my M.A. thesis on the discourse functions of prosody in Gusii. My approach to typology is a functionalist one, so that I view the “rules” of language as a set of social conventions rather than algorithmic principles, and language itself as a complex adaptive system with numerous emergent properties.

Digital Linguistics

Digital Linguistics (DLx) is the area of linguistics concerned with the digital storage, representation, manipulation, and dissemination of linguistic data. Along with Patrick Hall and Eric Campbell at the University of California, Santa Barbara Department of Linguistics, I am working to create a standard format for exchanging linguistic data on the web. In addition, we are building a variety of browser-based tools designed to manage, edit, and otherwise manipulate data stored in this format. Because these tools all work in a web browser, they can be used on any platform, and take advantage of the rapidly-growing suite of web technologies. At the same time, these tools can be used offline, and store the linguist’s data on their local computer, making it easy to use these tools where internet is limited. Learn more about DLx here.

Praxeology of Language

Following the Austrian school of economics, I approach the societal aspects of language from a praxeological perspective, i.e., by understanding how language relates to and is shaped by human action, and how it serves as a means to the acting person’s ends. My article ‘Praxeology and language: Social science as the study of human action’ introduces the notion of praxeology and shows how it is relevant to the field of linguistics. Such research is relevant to issues in language planning and policy, linguistic rights and intellectual property in language, and for studying power relations and socioeconomic trends as they relate to language.

Discourse & Prosody

One of the major insights in linguistics in the past forty years is that discourse has structure, and that structure is as systematic and complex as any other component of the grammar. A major focus of my work is to understand how discourse structure interacts with and shapes other parts of the grammar. For example, my M.A. thesis, The cohesive function of prosody in Ékegusií (Kisii) narratives: A functional-typological approach, examines the way that prosodic cues are used to segment discourse and indicate the relationships between those segments. My work on ‘Chitimacha diachrony in areal perspective’ also shows how multilingual speakers influenced the discourse patterns of Chitimacha to completely restructure the language’s grammar.

Documentation & Revitalization

Language documentation is the foundation upon which my other theoretical work is built, so I am deeply involved in the practice and theory of documentation. Through my work at Rosetta Stone’s Endangered Language Program, I helped to create language-learning software for the Iñupiaq, Inuttitut, Mohawk, Navajo, and Chitimacha languages. These projects involved many hours of long-distance and in-person elicitation, followed by an intense process of designing software to teach grammar and vocabulary. I continue to work with the Chitimacha tribe on a grammar and dictionary of the language, based on documentary materials compiled by Morris Swadesh in the 1930’s.

I also work with the Ékegusií Encyclopedia Project to document and revitalize the Ékegusií (Gusii) language of southwestern Kenya. In the summer of 2014 I spent two months in Kisii Town recording traditional narratives, songs, and expository texts in the language, and these constituted the data for my M.A. thesis on the discourse function of prosody.

Finally, my work on Digital Linguistics aims to provide better tools for the management of documentary linguistic data.

Historical Linguistics

Most of my research is informed by historical linguistics. Language diachrony provides insights into both the synchronic description of languages and the functional-historical means by which specific constructions in language or broader typological patterns arise. My dissertation on Lexical flexibility in discourse, for example, examines the way that informational structural tendencies in discourse give rise to lexical categories. My chapter on ‘Category genesis in Chitimacha’ uses the framework of Diachronic Construction Grammar to explain the emergence of the category ‘preverb’ in Chitimacha, and my work on ‘Chitimacha diachrony in areal perspective’ shows the language-internal evidence for contact-induced changes in the grammar of Chitimacha.