My research uses both theoretical and technical tools to study language evolution and, to a lesser extent, synchronic grammar. I am broadly interested in the mechanisms of language change and the adaptation of phylogenetic methodologies for use in linguistics. In particular, I am fascinated by the spatial heterogeneity of linguistic diversity, the causes of these spatial patterns, and their impact on linguistic evolution. A central theme in my work is the exploration of genealogical and geographic signals in linguistic phylogenetics and integrating spatial information into studies of linguistic history.
My language interests center around California, especially the Eastern Miwok languages (Miwok), Mono (Uto-Aztecan), and Southeastern Pomo (Pomoan).
Hunter-Gatherer Language Change
As a Postdoctoral Associate working on the Dynamics of Hunter-Gatherer Language Change project, I have been investigating processes of language change in languages associated with hunter-gatherer subsistence patterns, and in particular differences that are hypothesized between the development of these languages and agriculturalist languages. To date this work has included work on borrowing and inheritance of ethnobiological terms and patterns in wanderworter spread in Australian, North American, and South American languages.
Topics in the History and Geography of California Languages
My dissertation explores three unresolved issues in California linguistics: 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. The first study in this thesis seeks to understand how phonological and lexical innovations and linguistic feature diffusion have influenced the modern Eastern Miwok linguistic landscape. 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 Eastern Miwok varieties. 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 its development. Another theme of the thesis is the detection of very deep genealogical relationships between California languages. The second component of the dissertation explores the evidence for Hokan and Penutian stocks in a statistical framework. At an even greater time depth and broader geographic scale, the thesis examines evidence for a linguistic area or sprachbund in Northern California, as proposed by Haas (1976). Using GIS analysis to examine the spatial distribution of proposed Northern California areal features, this study finds evidence for smaller sub-areas of feature diffusion and overlaps with the periphera of other lingusitic areas, but no evidence for diffusion of linguistic features across Northern California itself. The analytical techniques and spatially-oriented questions about language evolution introduced in this thesis are applicable to many other areas of linguistic research and reflect my interest in understanding the roles of vertical (genealogical) and horizontal (areal) transmission in linguistic phylogenies.
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 work in this area explores the use of Bayesian inference techniques adapted from fields such as evolutionary biology to understand linguistic history and the integration of geographic modeling in lingusitic phylogenetic 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.