My research focuses on linguistic diversity, language prehistory, and language change. I use both traditional linguistic analysis and quantitative methods to investigate patterns of diversity in language and the historical processes that have shaped them.

Patterns of linguistic diversity at multiple spatio-temporal scales

I am interested in the processes by which languages change and diversify on multiple scales, from the microvariation/microevolution reflected in dialect variation to global patterns that reflect deep linguistic prehistory. One question that piques my interest is exactly how dialect level variation leads to the sort of language splitting that is captured in tree-like phylogenies. My work to date in this area has focused on the role of physical contact between populations in determining where and when language boundaries will emerge. However, physical isolation is not strongly predictive of language splitting, and ongoing work takes into account a more complex set of ecological, cultural, and social factors in trying to understand these processes.

Language, culture, and the environment

My current postdoctoral position focuses on both language diversity and the geography and evolution of important cultural practices and norms like subsistence and land ownership. Through this position I have expanded my understanding of human macroecology and cultural evolution, and have honed my skill at using tools from ecology and evolutionary biology to investigate links between language, culture, and the environment. Going forward, I believe it is important to consider both environmental and cultural influences simultaneously in research that attempts to understand how external forces impact language diversity.

Competing pressures on language change

Linguists have long understood that communicative pressures, cognitive constraints, and the design space of grammar all impose limitations on the systems we can and do find in language. My work on color term system evolution demonstrates my interest in testing how cognitive constraints can shape linguistic systems, and my ongoing work exploring the relationships between typological features, the relative stability of different parts of the grammar, and correlated evolution of grammatical features continues to explore how internal pressures impact language change and linguistic diversity.

Languages of North America

My dissertation explored three unresolved issues in California linguistics that look at relationships between languages on three scales: the spatial patterns in dialect diversity within the Eastern Miwok family of the western Sierra Nevada slopes, the phylogenetic evidence for the hypothetical Hokan and Penutian stocks, and the existence of a Northern California linguistic area. I continue to be interested in the languages of California, and in particular in understanding the cultural, ecological, and linguistic mechanisms that drive the patterns of relatedness and diversity that we see in this area. The linguistic diversity of North America more generally is a topic of current research, and though my work to date focuses on understanding the mechanisms that drive spatial patterns in language distributions (or language richness), I plan to expand this research in the future to include more detailed investigations of the structural properties of this continent's languages and take a richer look at the ecology of language diversity in North America.

Cross-linguistic comparision

As a member of the Glottobank Consortium I have been helping to build the Grambank datatbase of structural linguistic features. The process of creating this large, cross-linguistic database has forced me to think carefully about how we encode information about morphosyntactic characteristics of language and how we use cross-linguistic data.

Language mapping

Maps in linguistics vary from paid products like Ethnologue's licence-restricted map datasets to personal projects by individual linguists to map the locations of field sites, dialect areas, and language families. Because linguists have no agreed-upon standards for map metadata and have engaged very little with the theoretical side of mapmaking and usage, spatial information about languages is often misused and linguists rely heavily on data of unknown quality from unknown sources. I am currently working to produce a publicly available digital map of the approximate time-of-contact language ranges of North America, and am using standards for metadata, citation, and open access that will hopefully set the bar higher for language mapping projects.