I am an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of New Mexico. My research is centered in Amazonia, one of the most diverse areas of the world. Since 1997, I have conducted several projects to study three typologically distinct languages: Kukama-Kukamiria (Tupían), Secoya (Tukanoan), and Amazonian Spanish. I pursue research in morphosyntax, language contact, and documentary fieldwork.


Research: Morphosyntax

My studies are centered in Amazonia, one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse areas of the world. My research on morphosyntax deals primarily with information structure functions and their morphosyntactic correlates in three typologically distinct languages: Kukama-Kukamiria (Tupían), Secoya (Tukanoan), and Amazonian Spanish. Information structure (IS), the packaging of information to guide the interlocutors about how (segments of) sentences relate to the overall discourse, is one of the central issues in linguistic theory and description. However, much of what we know about IS has been based on familiar Indo-European languages; usually restricted to simple, declarative clauses; and dealing mostly with elicited sentences. An adequate theorization of human language requires a broad sampling of structurally diverse languages. Amazonian languages have been identified as a priority in this respect, since they are both poorly documented and highly endangered. By providing more typologically varied data and analyses, my goal in this line of research is to contribute to advance our understanding of the role of discourse context and social dynamics on how speakers phrase their utterances, and on the varied ways that grammar can emerge from use.

My research is situated within the context of three broader questions: (i) How do languages vary with respect to the formal devices they use to encode IS functions? (ii) How much of sentence-level grammar is sensitive to discourse context and social variables? (iii) What are the mechanisms by which pragmatic and cognitive forces prompt the emergence of morphosyntactic variants? I have addressed these questions in several studies, including focus constructions and subordination strategies in Kukama-Kukamiria, clause chaining in Secoya, and possessive constructions in Amazonian Spanish, among others.

Research: Spanish in contact with Amazonian languages

Peruvian Amazonian Spanish (PAS) coexists with dozens of indigenous languages, Kukama-Kukamiria and Secoya being two of them. This variety displays a set of unique features that sets it apart from other varieties of Spanish, and which are often associated with the extremely complex substrate in the region. Kukama-Kukamiria itself arose from contact between indigenous groups prior to the arrival of Europeans. Secoya is still the dominant language in the Aido Pãi villages, yet bilingualism among kids and young adults is growing quickly. Thus, Amazonian Spanish, Kukama-Kukamiria, and Secoya are excellent case scenarios to test theoretical ideas about contact linguistics.

In that context, I explore the role of contact in the creation of linguistic variants. I currently investigate the expression of possession, the emergence of discourse particles, as well as the social dimensions of morphosyntactic variation attested in PAS. I evaluate the sources of these phenomena and whether language contact plays a role.

PAS also displays a highly recognizable prosody (hear a sample below). But what is the prosodic structure of PAS? What could have motivated the emergence of such a unique pattern? To address these questions, I work in collaboration with professor Christian Koops (UNM). We are: (i) examining the acoustic features of rural and urban varieties of PAS, and (ii) exploring the possibility of substrate effects by contrasting PAS with indigenous languages from the surrounding areas.

Documentary Fieldwork

The applications of linguistic research to real-world issues are what motivate my studies. The overarching principle that guides my research is to document cultural and linguistic phenomena in order to create resources that support communities’ self-determined goals. I do not wish to be a documenter solely in search of “exotic” patterns; I prefer to build strong, long-term relationships with speech communities, engaging them in the collaborative effort to document their language, and supporting language revitalization efforts. Since 1997, I have been engaged in various projects with indigenous people, which include literacy development, teacher training and creation of school materials.

Kukama-Kukamiria (Tupian-based contact)

The Kukama-Kukamiria people live in the Peruvian amazon. They preserve vast knowledge of the forest and the aquatic environment, which allows them to survive in this area of the jungle that is flooded with water almost half of the year. The total ethnic population is approximately 20,000. Nevertheless, their heritage language is highly endangered because the estimated 1000 remaining fluent speakers are elderly people. Although the majority of the population has shifted to Spanish, there are ongoing efforts to revitalize and maintain their language. Working together with community members, we are conducting the Kukama-Kukamiria Language Documentation Project.

Secoya (Western Tucanoan)

The Secoya language is spoken by the Aido Pãi people. The total population is estimated in 1000, 70% of them live in Peru, and 30% in Ecuador. In Peru, they live in seven villages in the Yubineto, Putumayo River, and in one village in the Napo River. The Secoya language is still strong, but bilingualism in Secoya and Spanish is rapidly increasing, particularly among children. I have conducted fieldwork in Secoya villages in October and November 2005, August 2006, and May 2012. I have also carried out multiple follow-up sessions with Secoya speakers in the city of Iquitos, helping them to design an orthography and produce school materials.

Peruvian Amazonian Spanish

The Spanish spoken in the Peruvian Amazon diverges notoriously from pan-Hispanic patterns in various respects. However, this regional variety has barely received any attention in Hispanic linguistics. My interest in Amazonian Spanish derives from my work with bilingual speakers in a number of language development projects. Currently, I am building a corpus for this variety of Spanish. Recent fieldwork has provided data from both monolinguals in Amazonian Spanish, and bilinguals in Kokama/Spanish and Secoya/Spanish. These data are being morphologically and prosodically coded for examination in several studies.

Publications: Peer-reviewed Articles:

Courses at UNM

LING 490/590 Language Contact

In situations of intense language contact virtually any linguistic phenomena can be transferred from one language to another. What then determines the linguistic outcome of language contact? Can “anything happen” language-internally given enough social pressure? What discourse strategies and cultural practices facilitate or block the transfer of features across languages? What happens in situations of linguistic exogamy where people are culturally required to marry outside their speech community (i.e. Vaupés in Amazonia)? What happens when groups of people from very different language backgrounds have to trade (i.e. Pacific Northwest)? What happens when different ethnic groups are forced to live in mission settlements (i.e. Australia)? In this seminar we will explore the origins and development of various outcomes of language contact from both sociocultural and structural perspectives. We will examine the notion of linguistic area or Sprachbünde, and survey well-documented linguistic areas in the world.

LING 412/512 Morphosyntax

This course explores the basic functions that speakers employ in structuring and expressing the content of experience in grammatical constructions. We will learn about the diversity of grammatical constructions expressing those functions across a broad range of languages. One of the goals is to acquire experience in using reference grammars as sources of data and develop analytical skills via critical reading, examination of data sets, and language reports. You will get a chance to see just how different the theoreticians’ view of language and linguistics can be from the view that guides many grammar writers. This exercise will force you to confront issues of terminology, but also issues of substance that underlie the terminological conflicts.

LING 415/515 Survey of Native American Languages

This course provides a survey of the native languages of the Americas. We will look at the structural properties of particular languages from North, Central and South America, but also at issues of importance in Amerindian linguistics in general, including, (i) linguistic diversity, (ii) language structures, (iii) language endangerment and shift, (iv) and language maintenance and revitalization. We will reflect on the implications of conducting linguistic fieldwork in indigenous speech communities, and on the role of Amerindian languages in current debates concerning the development of cross-linguistically valid theories of human language.

LING 301 Introduction to Linguistic Analysis

This class provides an introduction to the field of linguistics. We will discuss how linguists study language at different levels of linguistic structure, including sounds (phonetics, phonology), words (morphology), sentences (syntax), and texts (discourse). Emphasis will be given to the centrality of language to human interaction, how languages are structured, and the relationship between language and culture. We will be looking at data from a variety of languages across the world. Course goals: (i) To stimulate curiosity about language and what it reveals about the human mind. (ii) To provide an overview of the analytical concepts and methods used by linguists to analyze languages. (iii) To increase ability in critical thinking, analysis, problem-solving, hypothesis formulation and evaluation.

SPAN 449/549 Spanish Morphosyntax

This course will examine several major issues in Spanish morphosyntax. The aim of this course is to provide the students of Hispanic linguistics with: (i) a good understanding of key issues in Spanish morphosyntax, and (ii) the essential analytical skills to find patterns in data. Our analysis of Spanish morphosyntax will be informed by an examination of the diversity of grammatical constructions across languages. We will discuss how Spanish word formation strategies, constituent order alternations, clause combining mechanisms, voice constructions, the pronominal system, among others, fit within current morphological and syntactic typologies.

SPAN 549 Spanish Functional Syntax

This seminar offers an examination of the major issues in Spanish syntax from a functional-typological perspective. According to this view, the patterns of language can ultimately be explained with reference to either cognitive functions of communication or to universals in the evolution of grammar. To best understand the grammatical structures of Spanish, our analysis will be placed in the context of the range of variation of the world’s languages, with an eye on what structural generalizations hold crosslinguistically, and what these generalizations tell us about the nature of language. We will also study the functional load and functional extensions of existing constructions, as well as the emergence of new constructions via grammaticalization, pragmaticalization, and insubordination processes.

SPAN 351 Introducción a la Lingüística Hispánica

El objetivo de este curso es proporcionar a los estudiantes el conocimiento básico de la lingüística que les servirá tanto para el estudio de la lengua española como para la enseñanza de la misma. El curso abarca algunas de las subáreas principales de la lingüística: la fonología (el sistema de sonidos), la morfología (la formación de las palabras), la sintaxis (la estructura de las oraciones), la semántica (el significado de las palabras y oraciones), y la situación del español en los Estados Unidos. Al final del curso los estudiantes estarán preparados para explorar con mayor profundidad temas relevantes de la lingüística hispánica contemporánea.