My dissertation and subsequent work addresses the problem of verb-initial word order (V1) from the perspective of prosody. Drawing primarily from Niuean (Polynesian) data, I argue that VOS can arise in an otherwise VSO language in order to satisfy a prosodic well-formedness constraint, which I call the Argument Condition on Phonological Phrasing. I also discuss the benefits of assuming that V1 word order in Niuean is always derived by head raising, even in VOS structures.
Jessica Coon and I replicated the Niuean study for Ch'ol (Mayan), where we find that the verb and the object form a prosodic constituent in VOS structures. We've developed a head raising account of Ch'ol V1 that is consistent with morpheme order in the verb stem, the distribution of preverbal arguments, and VSO/VOS alternations in Ch'ol. More recently we are working on connecting the availability of VOS and the way roots become affiliated with particular lexical class, cross-linguistically.
(Other) experimental work on Mesoamerican languages
Jessica Coon, Carol-Rose Little, Jamilläh Rodriguez, Morelia Vázquez Martínez, and I are studying the interaction between focus movement and the prosodic encoding of focus in Ch'ol (Tila and Tumbalá). We are in the process of analyzing naturalistic data from ~3o speakers. Our experimental materials include illustrations by Blare Coughlin, which are free to use with credit to Blare.
UAlbany undergraduate students Zena Zimmerglass, Mónica De Jesus Ramírez, and Samantha Lefavour and I are in the process of replicating the Ch'ol focus experiment (above) on Copala Triqui, a verb-initial language of the Otomanguean family. As with the Ch'ol experiment, our materials include illustrations by Blare Coughlin, which are free to use with credit to Blare.
Fellow University at Albany linguist, Lee Bickmore, and I are studying the distribution of high tones in the Bantu language Rutooro. We have found interesting parallels between the prosodic phrasing in the clausal and nominal domains, and that the distribution of the high tone offers a window into the syntactic structure of Rutooro's relative clauses.
Rebecca Tollan and I are developing an account of case in Niuafo'ou, Niuean, and Tongan (Polynesian), which relies on an absolutive inversion approach to case assignment to explain why Tongan and Niuafo'ou (but not Niuean) displays syntactic ergativity and why Tongan and Niuafo'ou (but not Niuean) allows both VSO and VOS in fully transitive clauses.
George Aaron Broadwell, Jamilläh Rodriguez, Michael Stoop, and I are documenting the verbal inflection in the speech of a young, bi- and trilingual population of Copala Triqui speakers. While the tonal aspects of the inflectional system are largely intact, segmental change is more common. This would be surprising if knowledge of Spanish and English were the primary force behind the change. Instead, we argue that lexical frequency is the primary factor in explaining the changes that are underway.