My dissertation and subsequent work addresses the derivation of verb-initial word orders 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.
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 Mayan V1 that is consistent with morpheme order in the verb stem, the distribution of preverbal arguments, and VSO/VOS alternations in Ch'ol and other languages in the family.
Looking at Niuafo'ou, Niuean, and Tongan (Polynesian), Rebecca Tollan and I apply an absolutive inversion approach to case assignment to explain why Tongan and Niuafo'ou (but not Niuean) display syntactic ergativity and why Tongan and Niuafo'ou (but not Niuean) show true VSO~VOS alternations.
Extending our account of syntactic ergativity beyond the Polynesian languages, we developed an account of syntactic ergativity based on the grammaticalization of a processing constraint against crossing dependencies (Kuno and Robinson 1972). We propose that restrictions on the A'-movement of the ergative subject arise because such movement would cross the prior A-movement path of the absolutive object.
Paper in preparation
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.
University at Albany graduate student Jamilläh Rodriguez and I are developing an account of compounds in Copala Triqui (Otomanguean) that relies on tone overlay—a productive system in which the lexical tone melody of a target item is overriden in a syntactically defined context.
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.
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 ~30 speakers. Our experimental materials include illustrations by Blare Coughlin, which are free to use with credit to Blare.
Together with University at Albany undergraduate students I am in the process of replicating the Ch'ol focus experiment on Copala Triqui. As with the Ch'ol experiment, our materials include illustrations by Blare Coughlin, which are free to use with credit to Blare.