Language and Space in Austronesian Languages
Space is a fundamental part of the human experience; it impacts a speaker's language, cognitive mapping, social behavior, and relationship with the world. Languages around the world employ specific lexical units that help speakers talk about objects in space (English uses terms like 'left' and 'right' and 'north', 'south,' 'east,' and 'west'). Spatial language serves a variety of functions including situating objects, managing discourse, navigating social hierarchies, and categorizing topographic features and named places. Studying spatial language provides a window into how speakers of a language conceptualize and in turn, interact with their environment. I primarily focus on the space of Austronesian languages with two focuses:
The typology of language and space in Austronesian languages: Much of this work has been completed in collaboration with Gary Holton and Alexander Mawyer. This work aims to identify patterns as well as variation in how spatial language is manifested throughout Austronesian languages. We intend to bring attention to prevalent patterns in the study of space in Austronesian languages that are often overlooked in broad discussion of the discipline.
The multi-modal study of space in Hawu: This work on an Austronesian language of eastern Indonesia is the core of my dissertation. As a multi-modal study of spatial language, it will observe spatial language through three interconnected mediums: discourse, temporal metaphor and gesture. Based on this information, it will discuss the cognitive models of space that are in use by Hawu speakers and the nature of their interaction. In order to complete this project, high-quality audio and video recordings of natural speech, elicitation sessions, and task completion across a diverse set of speakers will be collected in accordance with the goals and desires of the Hawu-speaking community.
Language Documentation and Description
The world has approximately 7,000 languages, and it is estimated that around half of those languages will no longer be spoken in the next century. I thus believe it is a moral imperative to contribute to the documentation and description of any language I work on. I believe that all language work can contribute to the broader goal of language documentation, and in order to understand the vast diversity of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in particular --- some of the first knowledge to disappear when a language is endangered --- we must document various genres and cultural information for posterity.
Gesture is rarely studied as a central part of language, but I believe that gesture should be considered a crucial part of linguistic analysis. As a largely unconscious contribution to speech, gestures can reveal people’s thoughts that are not included in speech. Gesture can manage a conversation by contributing pragmatic information, or it may contribute to the content of the conversation. It may also give information about stress, spatial deictic systems, and object representation. While I am primarily interested in gesture as it contributes to spatial language, I am also interested in broadening our typological understanding of gesture.
Phonetics and Phonology
I am very interested in the research edges between phonetics and phonology and using quantitative phonetic analysis to inform phonological theory. I have conducted this kind of work on Sasak, a language of West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, where I identify mid-vowels to be in an intermediate phonological relationship. I am incorporating similar work on Hawu into my dissertation work. I am looking in particular into the nature of its glottalized consonants, vowel and consonant length, and stress.