Heriberto Avelino
Research Interests

I am interested in the analysis and description of natural languages. I work or comparative and typological aspects of language.

I am a fieldworker. Most of my work relies on first-hand gathered data. This often entails taking the lab to the field. Thus, in my research I integrate field work with theoretical principles, as well as experimental methodologies to give a more complete account of the language faculty.

I have worked on languages of Mesoamerica, Amazons and Kalimantan in topics ranging from phonetics/phonology to morpho-syntax. Currently I am working on the analysis and documentation of Amazonian languages.

The other area of my interest is cognitive neuroscience. As a natural consequence of my education in experimental and data oriented approaches to linguistics I am interested in investigating the processing and use of language and their brain bases. I am currently conducting a series of behavioral experiments in less known languages.

Some of the topics and languages I have worked on before include the following:


  • Phonation

    • Acoustic, aerodynamic and physiological (electroglottography) correlates of phonation in natural languages

      • Mesoamerican Non-modal phonation

      • Pathological voice quality

  • Tone

    • Phonetic evidence of phonemic and morphophonemic processes

  • The phonetics of floating tones

  • Pitch realization in non-modal voice

  • Glottalized segments

    • Acoustic-Articulation mapping of glottalized sonorants

  • Vowel space

    • Dispersion/Focalization in Mixe vowel systems

  • Articulation-Acoustics mapping

    • Articulation and acoustics of coronals in Pima and Zapotec

  • Phonetic Structures of endangered languages

Experimental Phonetics-Phonology

  • Tone Perception

    • I did a series of experiments dealing with the perception of Yalalag Zapotec tone

      • Categorical perception of phonemic tone

      • Functional specialization of tone processing as indexed by dichotic listening

      • Perceptual constancy and contextual enhancement

    • I adapted the experiments so that they could be carried out in fieldwork

Cognitive Neuroscience

  • Neural Correlates of Linguistic Functions.

    • I was a visiting researcher at the Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Risto Näätanen's lab, at the University of Helsinki in 2005. I am studying event-related potentials (ERPs) and magnetic fields elicited by human brain activity. I am investigating the neural correlates of phonemic functions.


  • Spanish Intonation

    • I am interested in the prosodic patterns associated to syntactic structures and semantic information

    • I studied the intonation of focus in Mexican Spanish in collaboration with Sahyang Kim

  • Spanish Phonetics

    • I am working on a phonetic description of Mexico City Spanish

    • I collaborated as an evaluator of a Spanish Intelligibility Test for aphasic patients in the Speech and Hearing Clinics at Los Angeles county.

    • I have been an expert witness identifying Spanish speech for the court in Los Angles.

Phonetic Correlates of Emotion


  • Humans have an extremely sensitive capacity to detect the emotional states of individuals. From very early ages we are able to perceive and discriminate a wide speactrum of emotions in our interlocutors. It takes just a few words to know whether they are happy, sad, angry, afraid or borred. There are multiple sources for this capacity, visual, kinetic, for instance; however the main source of this ability comes from the linguistic processing of speech

  • With the collaboration of my students at Stanford Olga Dmitrieva, Lauren Hall-Lew, Yuan Zhao we are investigating the phonetic correlates of emotional states which are retrieved by a listener.

Colonial Philology

  • Trilingual Dictionary Otomi-Nahuatl-Spanish, 1605 by Alonso Urbano. I developed the taste for Colonial Philology while working as an undergraduate assistant for Thom Smith-Stark. I entered about 85% of the vocabulary in a database and produced a morphological segmentation-analysis of the Otomi entries. I hope I could revisit this monumental work in the future.

Northern Pame:
(5) + Add3 / Mr 8 Add

Central Pame:
(5) + Add2 / Mr1 8 Add1/ 10Mr 2, 3 Add / Mr 20 Add

Southern Pame:
(5) + Add2/10Mr 2, 3 Add / Mr 20 Add


  • Pamean number systems

    • Pamean have one of the most unusual number systems of the world's languages: Base 8. In Northern Pame is completely productive, in Central Pame is productive in low numbers and is combined with Bases 10 and 20, In Southern Pame, there are only traces of Base 8, while bases 10 and 20 are the most prodcutive.

    • The Pamean number systems give evidence of the limits of Mesoamerica as a linguistic area.

Analysis and Description of Indigenous Languages

  • Phonology-Morphology interface

    • The role of tone in the noun and verb inflection of Pame and Zapotec

    • Consonant mutation as morphosyntactic marking mechanism in Pame

    • Non modal phonation in the voice system of Yucatec Maya

  • Lexicography

  • Collection of texts

    • I collected a series of traditional myths in Pima

    • I collected a series of traditional narratives in Pame


  • Yalalag Zapotec/Di'll Wra'll. (Otomanguean, Zapotecan) I have worked with Zapotec immigrants to the US and in Yalalag since 1999.

    • My dissertation is an account of the phonetic structures of the language.

    • I studied the acoustics of non-modal phonation, currently I am investigating it with electtroglottographic techniques.

    • I found very interesting morpho-syntactic problems as long as I worked out the dictionary and texts.

    • I started training speakers of Yalalag Zapotec with the aim that they can participate in and produce their own documentation projects.

  • Northern Pame/Xi'iui. (Otomanguean, Otopamean). Cuesta Blanca, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. 1993-1997.

    • I finished my BA dissertation on the phonology and morphology of Northern Pame.

    • It was the first descritpion of the language.

    • Northern Pame has a fascinating system of floating tones and consonant mutation processes nasalized vowels, non-modal phonation.

    • I also collected data from Alaquines and Pastora, perhaps I recorded the last speaker of Pastora Pame.

    • I took my 1995 field methods class to the Norhern Pame area.

  • Central Pame/Xi'ui. (Otomanguean, Otopamean). Santa Maria Acapulco, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. 1994-1996.

    • I did fieldwork in the Central Pame area, Santa Maria Acapulco, Las Jaritas and Paso de Botello.

    • Central Pame has puzzling series of consonant clusters in onsets and codas, complex segmental inventory, which includes a series of ejectives and palatalized consonants, and series of oral and nasal vowels.

    • I also took my 1996 field methods class to the Central Pame area.

  • Pima. (Uto-Aztecan, Piman) Gila River, Arizona 200-2004.

    • I worked on Pima first as part of a field methods class and continued with weekly sessions for three more years, with my Pima teacher Mr. Virgil Lewis.

    • I worked on causative constructions and started recording texts.

    • I did fieldwork in Gila River to collect articulatory and acoustic data.

  • Ayuuk/Mixe. (Mixe-Zoquean).

    • I did fieldwork in Winter 2004 and Summer 2005. I gathered data from Alotepec, Tlahuitoltepec and Ocotepec Ayuuk languages.

    • I am working on the phonetics and perception of the of the strinkingly different vowel systems.

    • Ayuuk languages have pervasive palatalization processes used to express grammatical categories. Research in collaboration with Silke Hamann.

  • Lowland Chontal. (Isolate) San Pedro Huamelula, Mexico. 2004.

    • It is a very endangered language. I did an intensive fieldtrip in Winter 2004.

    • There are unusual series of glottalized consonants, both obstruents and sonorants.

  • Matlatzinca. (Otomanguean, Otopamean).

    • I did fieldwork in 1996-1997.

    • I worked on some aspects of the morphology and tone inflection

    • I took my 1997 field methods class to San Franciso Oxtotilpan..

  • Chichimec/Uza. (Otomanguean, Otopamean).

    • I have been acquainted with the Chichimec community since 1991, but it was only until recently that I started formal fieldwork.

    • In December 2004 and Summer 2005 I collected data to produce phonetic analyses. I am particularly interested in the aerodynamics of nasality, i.e. vowels, nasal fricatives, and fortis-lenis sonorants.

  • Yucatec Maya. (Mayan)

    • My students at Stanford University and I went to a fantastic fieldwork trip to Quintana Roo, Mexico. There are several interesting projects and dissertations on Yucatec Maya going on right now at Stanford.

    • With my class at UC Berkeley (Eurie, Christian, Sam, Reiko and Jeff) we are investigating the phonetics of 'rearticulated' vowels and the issue of tonogenesis in Yucatec Maya. The only Mayan language which has developed tone.