Currently, I'm writing my dissertation on the semantics of object case distinctions in Kwak'wala, an endangered Wakashan language of British Columbia.
At Berkeley, I am affiliated with the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages, a digital and print archive containing materials from indigenous languages of California and the Americas. On Friday afternoons you'll also find me at Syntax and Semantics Circle.
For a current list of my publications, skip ahead to my cv.
Since 2009 I have done fieldwork on Kwak'wala, a Northern Wakashan language spoken on the northwestern area of Vancouver Island and adjacent mainland in British Columbia. While Kwak'wala is an endangered language, meaningful efforts are underway within the Kwakwaka'wakw community to revitalize the language.
Kwak'wala was extensively documented in text-based work by Franz Boas and George Hunt in the early 20th Century, and the language has continued to receive attention from handfuls of community members and linguists since then. Still, there are many aspects of Kwak'wala syntax and semantics that have not been described in great depth, or in a way which community members and linguists can make good use of. My long-term goal is to find an insightful and useful way of defining verb classes in Kwak'wala, and to make this work accessible to the Kwakwaka'wakw community and the community of linguists.
My work to date has been guided by questions like the following: What verb classes does Kwak'wala have? What factors determine how arguments are marked? How flexible is the argument structure of particular verbs? How does Kwak'wala distinguish arguments from adjuncts? Along the way I've also been looking at diachronic aspects of case-marking, possession, indefinite object constructions, weather predicates, expressive clitics, the expression of causation, and the semantic and pragmatic factors underlying the distribution of object case.
How can we learn about meaning in other languages? One way is to engage in semantic fieldwork, which involves using focused interview techniques to discover subtle aspects of word and sentence meaning. A central technique in semantic fieldwork, discussed in a paper by Lisa Matthewson entitled "On the methodology of semantic fieldwork" (2004), is creating "contexts" in which to investigate the meaning of sentences. The linguist starts by setting up a context and then asks the language consultant either for a translation of a sentence that "fits" that context, or for a semantic felicity judgment, relative to that context, of a particular sentence. The idea is that by learning what kinds of world-situations a linguistic form can and cannot be used in, we can zero in on subtle aspects of that form's meaning.
Working "in-context" can be a very effective way of studying meaning in other languages, but can sometimes be challenging for language consultants because it involves having to keep a lot of information in mind. Recognizing some of these challenges in my own fieldwork, I became interested in finding ways to diversify elicitation sessions and make semantic fieldwork easier and funner for consultants. This led me to develop Story-builder, an adaptable set of picture cards that can be used to facilitate creative story-telling in any language. In addition to being useful as a fieldwork tool for presenting visual contexts, the card set can be adapted for use in language teaching and language gaming, and is currently being used in several schools. Story-builder is available for free download at www.story-builder.ca, and extensions to the Story-builder card deck are under development.
Semantic storyboards are another useful tool for semantic fieldwork; having consultants narrate storyboards is an excellent way to elicit relatively constrained semantic distinctions in the consultant's own words, therefore minimizing the use of direct translation. A good online resource for storyboards is the Totem Field Storyboard project at www.totemfieldstoryboards.org; I was involved in the project as one of several illustrators.
When we talk about how the world might be, should be, or must be, we are talking about modality, and the linguistic bits we use to do this are called modals. One crucial aspect of modality is the difference between merely possible states of affairs and more certain states of affairs, a dimension of meaning called modal force or modal strength. English is a language that uses different words like 'must' and 'might' to encode different levels of modal force as part of their lexical meaning.
Since the spring of 2014 I've been investigating modal strength in Turkmen, an understudied Turkic language spoken by approximately 7 million people in Turkmenistan and adjacent regions in Central Asia. Rather than possessing different words that encode different levels of modal strength directly, Turkmen has two base modals from which it derives weaker or stronger modal meanings. In particular, Turkmen uses a future tense/modal to derive weaker modal force, and a morpheme that marks "objective stance" to encode stronger modal force. The Turkmen modal system is interesting, in part, because it illustrates yet another way that languages can encode distinctions in modal force: namely, through semantic composition.
One of the most fascinating questions in cross-linguistic semantics is to what degree languages "carve up" semantic space in the same way. Are mental, cognitive, and emotional states categorized in fundamentally similar ways across languages, or are there significant differences in how this domain is conceptualized? For instance, do all semantic systems discriminate familiar English concepts like thinking, knowing, remembering, forgetting, mind, belief, etc.? And how can we investigate these questions cross-linguistically without getting walled in by our own linguistic categories? Such questions relate not only to the study of semantic universals in language, but also to the study of the mind more broadly. For instance, if we were to find certain mental state concepts that are semantically uniform across all (or nearly all) languages, this might point to there being underlying constraints in the way we experience mental states - that is, to universals in phenomenology.
The domain of mental and cognitive states is an area of semantics which has received relatively little attention cross-linguistically, perhaps in part because of the methodological challenges inherent to studying invisible, subjective concepts in languages that one isn't fluent. In recent work I've been using semantic fieldwork methodology to begin investigating this topic in Turkmen and Kwak'wala.
(2016, Spring) Graduate Student Instructor for Linguistics 120, Introduction to Syntax and Semantics, Prof. Amy Rose Deal.
(2015, Fall) Graduate Student Instructor for Linguistics 121, Logical Semantics, Prof. Amy Rose Deal.
(2016) The semantics of object case alternations in Kwak'wala. Proceedings of Semantics of Under-Represented Languages in the Americas 9.
(2016) Weather predicates in Kwak'wala. Papers for the 51st International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages. Vancouver: UBC Working Papers in Linguistics. [https://lingpapers.sites.olt.ubc.ca/icsnl-volumes/]
(2015) Kwak'wala -mas and event causation. Proceedings of the 20th Annual Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas. UBC Working Papers in Linguistics. [http://epub.linguistics.ubc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/WSCLA20-08-Sardinha.pdf]
(2015) Locus of Causation and by itself phrases: A case study of Russian sam po sebe. Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Workshop on Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics. Michigan Slavic Publications.
(2013) Nominal, verbal, and idiomatic uses of –nukw in Kwak’wala. Papers for the 48th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages. Vancouver: UBC Working Papers in Linguistics. [https://lingpapers.sites.olt.ubc.ca/icsnl-volumes/]
(2011) Prepositional *his and the development of morphological case in Northern Wakashan. Papers for the 46th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages. Vancouver: UBC Working Papers in Linguistics. [https://lingpapers.sites.olt.ubc.ca/icsnl-volumes/]
(2016) "The Semantics of Object Case Alternations in Kwak'wala". Plenary address given at Semantics of Under-represented Languages in the Americas 9, Santa Cruz, CA, May 6.
(2016) "Expressive clitics in Kwak'wala". Group in American Indian Languages, Berkeley, CA, April 27.
(2016) "Expressive clitics in Kwak'wala". Syntax and Morphology Circle (Smircle), Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, March 4.
(2015) "Strong and Stronger Modality in Turkmen." UC Santa Cruz Syntax and Semantics Circle, Santa Cruz, CA, April 24.
(2014) "Semantic fieldwork on cognitive state and process terms". CogNetwork, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, Oct. 1.
(2017) "Kwak'wala's empty root ʔəX- and the semantics of case-marking". 91st Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America, Austin, TX, January 6.
(2016) "The pragmatics of object case-marking with alternating verbs in Kwak'wala". California Universities Semantics and Pragmatics 9, UC Santa Cruz, October 22.
(2015) "Revisiting -lh and controllability in Kwak'wala". California Universities Semantics and Pragmatics 8, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, November 7.
(2015) "Weather Predicates in Kwak'wala." 50th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, August 5.
(2015) “Real and Fictional Referents in Linguistic Fieldwork”. 4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation. Honolulu, HI, February 27.
(2015) “Kwak’wala –mas and Event Causation". 20th Annual Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas. Tuscon, AZ, January 23.
(2014) “Strong and stronger modal force in Turkmen.” California Universities Semantics and Pragmatics 7, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, November 7.
(2014) “Internal causation and event construal: A case study of Russian (sam) po sebe.” Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics, Berkeley, CA, May 3.
(2013) “Nominal, verbal, and idiomatic uses of –nukw in Kwak’wala. 48th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, August 11.
(2013) “Story-builder: Picture Cards for Language Activities”. Poster presented at the 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation, Honolulu, HI, March 2.
(2011) “Prepositional *his and the development of morphological case in Northern Wakashan”. 46th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, August 6.
(2011) “Argument Structure in Kwak’wala” (Co-authored with Henry Davis). 46th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, August 6.
(2011) “Story-builder: picture cards for language activities”. 46th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, August 7.