I am a linguist who studies syntax (sentence structure) and semantics-pragmatics (meaning). In general terms, my research addresses the following questions: What sentence structures can a language have? What meanings can the speaker of a language express? What sentence structures can the speaker of a language use to express these meanings? I work towards finding answers to these big questions by studying a small number of individual languages in great detail, mostly languages that have historically been understudied, using data collected through interviews with native speakers and from corpora of spontaneously produced speech.
More specifically, my research explores how speakers convey meaning in discourse by recruiting grammatical properties of their language and general pragmatic principles, comparing languages like Northern Paiute, Persian, or Zapotec to languages we know more about. For instance, a recent paper on clause chaining investigates how Northern Paiute, a language that lacks coordinators and subordinators, uses verbal morphology expressing relative tense, along with pragmatic enrichment in narrative discourse, to convey temporal relations between clauses. This line of inquiry is a development of my dissertation on coordination and discourse structure, as well as earlier work on VP-ellipsis and sluicing and focus.
My theoretical research is guided by fieldwork, primarily on two indigenous American languages — Northern Paiute, a language of the Great Basin, and Santiago Laxopa Zapotec, a language of Oaxaca, Mexico — though, as a student, I also worked on the language of the Zoroastrians of Yazd, Iran. As a fieldworker, I am interested in these languages and the language families they belong to as a whole, as well as in their historical and social contexts. For Zapotec, I have an ongoing project to understand its elaborate system of clitics (see, for instance, this paper). For Northern Paiute, I have (co-)authored papers on the phonetics of the Mono Lake dialect, the history of the Numic language family, and the dialectology of the Western Numic languages.
Since Northern Paiute and Zapotec are, like many languages, endangered, I am committed to making the results of my research accessible not just to linguists, but also to language communities. With the Northern Paiute community, I have been building an online audio dictionary and text database for the Mono Lake dialect and other varieties. This fully searchable web interface can be used by community members for learning or teaching their language and by linguists for answering research questions. In addition to creating a similiar documentary resource for Santiago Laxopa Zapotec, I have been involved in the organization of Nido de Lenguas, a series of events for the public to learn about the indigenous languages of Oaxaca.