Psycholinguistics of Pronoun Comprehension

My second qualifying paper is supervised by Matt Wagers. This project is concerned with the conceptual information cognitively activated during or because of pronoun comprehension. I've completed one probe recognition experiment, which investigates how pronoun comprehension primes conceptual information in contexts with multiple antecedents (a name and a description). I'm also currently running a probe recognition study that investigates whether information outside of the antecedent, but associated with the referent of the pronoun, is primed. Lastly, I'm running an experiment that aims to replicate a previous eye-tracking-while-reading study on pronoun comprehension in the Maze paradigm.

Identificational Appositives

My first qualifying paper was supervised by Maziar Toosarvandani. It investigates a class of expressions in English that show prototypical grammatical properties of both appositives and regular restrictive modifiers: like appositives, they modify referring expressions; like restrictive modifiers, they are involved in the determination of reference.

(1) Marie here is my best friend.
(2) John's mother, with the white hair, is staying at my place.

I present a significant amount of evidence that these modifiers are, in fact, appositives, and thus that the notion of 'restrictivity' should be considered a pragmatic phenomenon, not a grammatical one. The majority of the project presents an analysis of how these appositives can restrict the reference of the modified noun, arguing (drawing ideas from Onea & Ott (2022)) that they are fragment answers to implicit questions licensed by the modified noun. New in my proposal is substantive evidence that these modifiers have the structure of equative copular clauses and that the questions they answer are questions of identification (QoIs). This evidence motivates the development of a dynamic theory that aims to model how referring expressions can license QoIs, providing evidence in support for particular models of the discourse context, and a particular conception of how definite expressions interact with the common ground.

I presented some ideas from this paper at NELS 54 @ MIT: [poster].

I presented an earlier version of this work at the California Universities Semantics and Pragmatics colloquium (CUSP) in spring of 2022. This earlier version uses Aloni (2001)’s theory of conceptual covers to derive one semantic puzzle discussed in the paper. The handout from this conference is linked here: [handout].

First and Second Person Pronouns in Q’anjob’al (Maya)

My B.A. thesis focused on the morphosyntax, semantics, and pragmatics of first and second person pronouns in Q’anjob’al, a Mayan language. This project was done in collaboration with a speaker of the language and under the supervision of Scott AnderBois. I discovered these "pronouns" actually represent grammatically distinct paradigms that are derived historically from person marking on three distinct morphemes: a preposition, an existential marker, and a focus-marking particle. The paper focused most significantly on the paradigm derived from the focus particle (the "emphatic" pronouns), determining the exact constraints on context that lead to their acceptability. This research culminated in a formal analysis of one set of the emphatic pronouns that can be used as either a focus or contrastive topic. I used the formal system of Constant (2014), which analyzes contrastive topic as a focus-semantic phenomenon, to model the compositional semantics of sentences containing emphatic pronouns. This particular analysis was also able to derive the unacceptability of contrastive topics with wh-questions in the language, treating this unacceptability as a species of focus intervention effects (Beck 2006).

The thesis is linked here in full: [thesis].

Other Projects

Since January 2023, I have been involved in the Zapotec Language Project, working with speakers of a particular variety of Zapotec spoken in Santiago Laxopa, a village in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. I have worked both as a researcher in Santa Cruz and Santiago Laxopa, helping run experiments and performing elicitations. As part of this work, I have also been involved in Nido de Lenguas, a collaboration between the UCSC Linguistics Department and Senderos, a local nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the Oaxacan diaspora community.

Lastly, I have worked on the interpretation of anaphora in coordinated questions with Haoze Li, and on the real-time processing of focus in discourse with another graduate student, Morwenna Hoeks, supervised by Amanda Rysling.