Research

The interaction of Phonology with Morphosyntax

In the current state of the field, where morphology is accepted as a separate component of the grammar, and specific theories like Distributed Morphology make clear the operations that apply during the morphological component, questions arise about how exactly the morphological component interacts with syntax and phonology. My work focuses specifically on the extent to which morhpology and phonology interact, and how to model such interaction. I use typologically diverse data from understudied languages such as Guébie (Kru), Amharic (Ethio-Semitic), and Moro (Kordofanian) to investigate these questions. My dissertation, for example, focuses on process morphology such as scalar tone shift and vowel replacement in Guébie, asking whether morphology, phonology, or the specific interactions between the two modules, are responsible for morphologically conditioned phonological alternations, and proposing a model for such processes.

In addition to my work on Guébie morphology and phonology, I am interested in cross-linguistic prosodic patterns. For example, I have described and analyzed syllable weight and stress systems of Amharic (Ethio-Semitic), and shown that reduplication in Amharic, while apparently weight-dependent, actually targets the stressed syllables at the stem-level of analysis. Such a system depends on stratal phonological evaluation, where the stem is evaluated on its own, before the word as a whole.

Fieldwork

Much of my theoretical research relies on data collected in my original fieldwork on the Kru language Guébie. I have conducted several field trips to Gnagbodougnoa, Côte d'Ivoire, most recently in the summer of 2018. Together with Guébie native speakers, I am working to record a collection of Guébie texts and histories, many of which are available in the Guébie collection of the California Language Archive. Additionally, I have recorded and transcribed hundreds of hours of Guébie word lists and targeted elictation tasks. This is important because prior to my work Guébie had never been documented or described. My work in the village of Gnagbodougnoa over the past four years has given me the opportunity to explore the phonology, morphology, and syntax of the language, in addition to learning to speak the language and experiencing Guébie culture first hand. As a highly tonal, mostly monosyllabic language, Guébie morphology tends to involve systematic phonological changes to verbal and nominal roots, rather than concatenation of roots with affixes. This characteristic of Guébie and other Kru languages is thoroughly investigated in my dissertation. I plan to continue documenting the Guébie language and exploring its linguistic properties for the foreseeable future.

Documenting Guébie is also important for understanding the internal classification of Kru languages. Kru languages as a family are understudied, and the relationship between individual Kru languages is not well understood. Thorough documentation of Kru languages will contribute to a clearer picture of the Kru language-family tree.

Computational tools for Language Documentation

As a linguistic fieldworker, the lack of technologically advanced language documentation tools is quite apparent to me. I am working to fill this gap by creating online database structures useful for my own work, but also available to other linguists. For example, I now use a novel online, searchable, data-entry site to maintain my Guébie (Kru) data. I have also created a readable, searchable, publicly available database of Moro (Kordofanian), which is used by community members and linguists alike. The Moro database code is available on GitHub, and the structure of the site can easily be used to create an online database for any language with data currently stored in FLEx or LingSync/Dative.

Areal linguistic features of Africa (ALFA)

The distribution of linguistic features can tell us much about the interaction of linguistic communities, and the historical relationship between languages and people groups. Together with nine other linguists at UC Berkeley and Princeton University, I am working to create a database of linguistic features, syntactic, morphological, and phonological, in languages throughout Africa. I have been involved specifically in investigating the distribution of certain tonal and word order features in Africa. As part of this project (ALFA), I have collaborated with linguists and computer scientists to create online mapping software, which plots the languages in our database on a map, pulling latitude and longitude, as well as language family information from glottolog. The result is a straightforward method for visualizing the distribution of linguistic features.