Jens van Gysel (PhD Candidate)

Jens's main research interests are language description, documentation, and revitalization of South American indigenous languages, language typology, and morphosyntactic phenomena such as alignment. He has studied the hierarchical alignment systems of the Guaykuruan languages spoken in the South-American Chaco region (his IJAL paper can be accessed here). He is currently working on a documentation and description project of Sanapaná (Enlhet-Enenlhet, Paraguay). His MA Thesis (Leiden University) can be found here).

Ivette González (PhD Student)

Ivette's research focusses on language description, documentation and revitalization. She is engaged in collaborative projects to document the Paipai language (Yuman, ISO code ppi) spoken in the peninsula of Baja California, Mexico. With only ~200 members and less than 50 fluent speakers, this language is considered to be severely endangered. Outcomes of her work will contribute valuable resources for comparative studies among languages in the Pai branch (Yavapai, Havasupai and Hualasupai), and among Yuman languages in general.

Daven Hobbs (PhD Student)

Daven is interested in historical linguistics. He is conducting a diachronic analysis of subordinate clauses in Nheengatu, a Tupí-Guaraní language. Nheengatu descends from Old Tupi, a language that was spoken along the Brazilian coastline at the time of the Europeans’ arrival into the Americas in the early 15th century. Old Tupi was fairly well documented by Jesuit missionaries, thus Nheengatu is unique among most Amerindian languages in having documentation of its lineage in texts that go back several centuries. For his dissertation, Daven plans to compile a corpus of Tupi texts from different periods and use that to investigate change in different areas of grammar.

Josefina Bittar (PhD, 2021)

Josefina's focuses on Guaraní as spoken in Paraguay. Her main interests are: language contact and bilingualism, language attitude and language ideology, language documentation and revitalization, language policies and language acquisition. Her MA thesis is entitled "A variationist perspective on Spanish-origin verbs in Paraguayan Guarani". For her dissertation, Josefina examined a long standing assumption in language contact theory, that lexical borrowing is different from grammatical borrowing. Following a constructional, cognitive perspective, she studied the semantic nuances of particular grammatical patterns involving Spanish-origin loan verbs in Paraguayan Guarani. Josefina is currently an Assistant Professor of Languages and Applied Linguistics at the University of California in Santa Cruz.

Keiko Beers (PhD, 2020)

In her dissertation, Exploring Language Endangerment and Language Change in Tohono 'O’odham, Keiko investigates how the grammar of one specific endangered Native American language spoken in Arizona (US) and Sonora (Mexico) has changed over approximately the last 100 years. She presents the results of a comparative analysis of two features, progressive constructions and demostratives, in oral data produced by fluent speakers of O'odham from three different points in time – the early 1900s, the mid 1900s, and the early 2000s. The most pervasive finding is that both progressive constructions and the myriad functions demonstratives play either tend to change in predictable ways or remain stable over time. Keiko is a participant of the O'odham Language Revitalization Project.

Taegyeong Lee (MA, 2019)

Lee’s research interests include typology and documentary linguistics. She graduated from UNM with a BA in Linguistics in the Fall of 2019. Her MA thesis, A Cross-linguistic Typology of ‘Take’ Serial Verb Constructions, examines ‘take’ SVCs in 45 languages from 17 language families over four macro geographic areas. The main results of her study show that, in fact, valency-increasing ‘take’ exhibits the most distinct genetic and areal influence, compared to the other meanings documented in the language sample.

Kafda Vergara (MA, 2018)

Kafda is a Panamanian linguist, poet, and currently a professor at the University of Panama. She works with different ethnic groups, including the Ngäbe and the Nasa. She also researchs Spanish in contact in bilingual populations. Her thesis “El español en el pueblo ngäbe: Factores fonológicos y morfológicos” examines features involved in the realization of plural marking –s in nominal phrases in the Spanish spoken by the Ngäbes.


LING 435/535: 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 413/513: Linguistic Field Methods

This course introduces students to linguistic field methods, the study of a language by means of direct interaction with native speakers. Student gain first-hand experience gathering, organizing, and analyzing the primary data on which linguists base their theoretical claims. Attention is paid to methodological issues such as the nature of elicitation, types of data, corpus building, grammaticality judgments, variation across speakers, and the ethics of field research. Some instruction in various software possibilities is included at various stages. The language studied in Spring 2020 will be Kalanga, a Bantu language spoken in Botswana and Zimbabwe. A language consultant will be available for in-class elicitation and discussion, as well as for out-of-class elicitation.

LING 415/515: 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 548: Grammaticalization

This course acquaints students with theory and research methods for the study of the development of grammatical morphemes and constructions. Students participate in updating a crosslinguistic database for the study of common paths of change. Through readings they acquire the necessary background for formulating hypotheses about specific and general developments that can be tested on the database. The final project describes the hypothesis and the results of the test of it on the database. Upon successful completion of this course, students are able to engage in research that relates to grammaticalization using the methods covered in the class. (Co-taught in Spring 2018 with Joan Bybee)

LING 490/590: Language Documentation

Languages are central to the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication and social integration, but also as a repository for their unique identity, collective memory, and cultural history. But despite their value, languages around the world continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Language documentation emerged as a response to the increased awareness of this loss, and to support communities’ language reclamation efforts. This course discusses critical topics in language documentation, including language endangerment, on-site fieldwork, and collaboration with speech communities. We explore the challenges and opportunities surrounding documentary fieldwork, and engage in hands-on projects using various tools and software for documentation.

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.