- Syntactic theory
- Language universals and the range of cross-linguistic variation
- Heritage languages and their bearing on linguistic theory
Specific research areas: Syntax-prosody interface, ergativity, long-distance dependencies
Languages: Languages of the Caucasus, Austronesian languages, verb-initial languages
My primary research is centered on syntactic theory, but I situate this work at the intersection of cognitive science and cross-linguistic studies. I am equally interested in language structure and linguistic diversity: I strive to combine both facets in my own work, believing that we cannot understand one without the other. As a result, my “hands-on” research includes both primary fieldwork and full-scale experiments on understudied languages. Although I have worked on several “exotic” languages, my approach to these languages is largely opportunistic; I am drawn to particular phenomena — such as ergativity, or the interaction of word order with prosody, or gender categorization — rather than to particular languages. I consider it the ultimate challenge of linguistics to apply our theories to new data, especially when the data are messy and hard to analyze. Indeed, it’s precisely this challenge that has driven my long-standing interest in heritage languages: they are messy, but they are also lean. If we can figure out what makes them tick, we will have a much better understanding of which components of natural language design are indispensable and which are more fragile. Ultimately, I believe most linguistic work can be enhanced through teamwork and collaboration with numerous scholars, all of whom bring different types of expertise to the table. By working with a diverse range of colleagues and students to investigate novel research questions, I strive to achieve my overall goal of informing central issues in linguistic theory.