My research program:
My theoretical linguistic research examines understudied effects of tense at the intersection of formal semantics and syntax. This research is supported by my fieldwork on understudied and endangered languages – fieldwork which also fuels my work in language documentation and revitalization. I additionally conduct research in the field of pedagogy, including work on assessment models and inclusive pedagogical methodology for diverse classrooms.
Semantics, as a subfield of linguistics, aims to develop formal models that represent the meanings of natural language expressions. In my research in semantics and its interfaces, I study the effects of tense and how human language encodes information about the timing of states and events. Previously, semanticists modeling tense systems have largely focused on the evaluation times of lexical verbs, i.e., the time at which the verbal event or state occurs. My work demonstrates that the evaluation times of both non-lexical verbs and non-verbal predicates can be equivalently useful for establishing descriptive and theoretical information about tense systems. I have developed novel methods for investigating tense systems via non-verbal predicates, which are useful for fieldworkers and theoreticians alike, as the relationship between tense and verbal evaluation times is often obscured by aspect, mood, or evidentiality. Utilizing additional information from non-verbal predicates allows researchers to more clearly observe the universal behavior of tense.
My dissertation provides clear diagnostics for determining the evaluation times of non-verbal predicates and a theoretical analysis of the effects of tense on these evaluation times. It is widely assumed that tense operators are sentential, scoping over most of the syntactic and semantic content of the sentence, so it is reasonable that non-lexical verbs and non-verbal predicates are affected by tense operators. However, these effects have been obscured in previous data analyses by a number of confounds, ranging from hidden lexical aspect to reconstruction effects to judgments that are just difficult for speakers to evaluate. These interferences have concealed the fact that all evaluation times, not just those of lexical verbs, follow the same systematic patterns. In my dissertation, I unravel these confounds and show that the theories that tense is a scopal and sentential effect are substantially more universal than was previously thought.
My theoretical work on tense is informed by evidence from cross-linguistic data, including data gleaned from original fieldwork on understudied languages such as Tatar, a Turkic language of Russia, and Hän, an extremely endangered Dene (Athabaskan) language of Alaska which has only six remaining native speakers. In addition to informing theoretical research, fieldwork on understudied languages allows a deeper understanding of language diversity and can help to revitalize dying languages and cultures. In my Hän fieldwork, I have begun a substantial revitalization project; I have developed children’s books for the Hän tribal community and am now advising three undergraduate RAs in the creation of teaching materials to help restore the language community.