Comparative Syntax/Parameters

One of the central questions in Linguistics is "what is a possible human language?". This requires careful investigation into how languages are similar and how languages are different. I'm particularly interested in this second problem. Traditionally, linguists have supposed that there are a handful of dimensions of variations, or "parameters", underlying language variation. On this view, the language learner only needs to "set" a few parameters to arrive at her target grammar. However, we now know the range of phenomena in languages can be quite vast, implying hundreds if not thousands of "parameters". How do we make our theory of language variation flexible enough to characterize the languages of the world, but still restrictive enough to explain how children figure out their own language's grammar? I approach this problem as a traditional syntactic theorist, as well as a psycholinguist interested in language acquisition.

Grammar and Parser

In day-to-day conversation, we typically understand one another with apparently little effort. Traditional linguistic theory reveals that language trucks in detailed data structures, and psycholinguistics reveals that language users leverage memory, attention, and prediction systems to quickly compute these data structures. What is the relation between these cognitive systems and linguistic structures? Some work implies that users are typically quite nimble in using grammatical knowledge in sentence processing, only considering "good" parses. My work has investigated the relation between fine-grained syntactic relations and the mechanisms used to process them. Do all dependencies of the same type show similar processing profiles? This work is heavily cross-linguistic, since a productive strategy for investigating this is comparing whether superficially similar structures show the same processing profile in similar experimental paradigms. So far, the answer seems to be "it depends".

Languages of Interest

Between cross-linguistic psycholinguistics, comparative syntax, and occasional field methods courses, I've had the pleasure of working on a wide-variety of languages: 
  • Amharic
  • Bengali/Bangla
  • English
  • Ewe
  • Hindi
  • Hmong
  • Japanese
  • Newari/Newar Bhasa
  • Ojibwe
  • Oromo
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • Vietnamese
  • Zazaki
I hope that the variety only gets wider.