I am a linguist who studies syntax (sentence structure) and semantics (meaning). My research addresses the following questions: What sentence structures can languages have? What meanings can languages express? What sentence structures can languages 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, using data collected through interviews with native speakers and from corpora of spontaneously produced speech.
In much of my research, I explore how sentences are syntactically and semantically related to one another in discourse, comparing two relatively understudied languages — Northern Paiute and Persian (Farsi) — to languages we know more about. For instance, in a recent paper on clause chaining, I investigate 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 arises from my dissertation on coordination and discourse structure, as well as my earlier work on ellipsis and focus in Persian — see this paper on VP-ellipsis or this one on sluicing.
Since 2005, I have been doing fieldwork in eastern California on Northern Paiute, a Numic (Uto-Aztecan) language spoken across the western United States. As a fieldworker, I am interested in the language as a whole, not just its syntax and semantics, as well as its relationship to other Numic languages. I have (co-)authored papers on the phonetics of the Mono Lake dialect of Northern Paiute, the history of the Numic language family, and the dialectology of the Western Numic languages. I have similar interests in the Iranian languages, arising from my work on Persian and my fieldwork on the language of the Zoroastrians of Yazd, Iran in 2004–2007. I have explored several topics in Iranian linguistics, most recently nominal concord in Zazaki.
Language documentation is integral to my theoretical research. I have been collaborating with members of the Northern Paiute language community to create an online documentary resource for the dialect spoken at Mono Lake (Lee Vining, California) and to the north in Bridgeport and Coleville, California and Sweetwater, Nevada. We are recording words, sentences, and stories in the language to build an integrated audio dictionary and text database. This documentary resource has a web interface that is accessible to community members who are learning Northern Paiute or creating teaching materials. It is also fully searchable, so that linguists can use it as a corpus for answering questions about the structure of the language.