My research uses both theoretical and technical tools to study language evolution and synchronic grammar, and in particular I focus on the spatial dimension of language change and synchronic syntax and morphology. My language interests center around California, especially the Eastern Miwok languages (Miwok), Mono (Uto-Aztecan), and Southeastern Pomo (Pomoan).
The Linguistic Geography of the Sierra Nevada and Central California
My dissertation explores the spatial patterns in dialect and linguistic feature distributions in two linguistic groups: the Eastern Miwok languages of the western Sierra Nevada slopes, and Mono, a Numic (Uto-Aztecan) language that is traditionally spoken in both the Eastern Sierra and the southwest slopes of the Sierra Nevada. This project seeks to understand how phonological and lexical innovations and linguistic feature diffusion have influenced the modern linguistic landscape for these two groups. Though temporally shallow linguistic and sociohistorical documentation often prove to be obstacles to studying linguistic prehistory in areas like California, this study exploits known links between society and the physical environment to investigate the historical spread and development of these two linguistic groups. Using archival data and GIS tecnhiques, I analyze the distributions of individual features and the linguistic differences between local speech varieties to better understand the dialect diversity within Eastern Miwok and Mono as well as (pre-)historic spreads of languages and features in the Sierra Nevada. The analytical techniques and spatially-oriented questions about language evolution introduced in this thesis are applicable to many other areas of linguistic research including investigaton of linguistic areas and areal features as well as the roles of language-level contact and diversification in linguistic phylogeny. Future work will explore these phenomena in California languages and in other linguistically diverse regions throughout the world.
I am very interested in statistical methods for detecting and understanding the historical relationships between languages. My paper A Computational Assessment of Deep Relationships among California Languages adapts a unique lexicostatistical method developed by Brett Kessler (2000) to investigate the question of deep relationships between California languages. My ongoing interest in this area focuses on the development of computational techniques for linguistic phylogenetics and understanding the types of historical relationships and processes that can be identified by these methods.
My work on Null Complement Anaphora (NCA) in English shows that the occurrence of NCA is restricted by syntactic constraints, rather than by the semantics of the selecting predicate. My current work on this topic has adopted a minimalist framework, yet my findings are relatively theory-neutral. Further work on this topic will include cross-linguistic comparisons of NCA in pro-drop and non-pro-drop languages as well as corpus and experimental studies.
I am committed to the documentation, analysis, and revitalization of California languages. My work to date has included documentation of Southeastern Pomo and work on language revitalization projects for Southeastern Pomo and Northern and Central Sierra Miwok.