I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Syntax and Indigenous Languages. My research is focused on variation across human languages, specifically in the domains of syntax (sentence structure) and morphology (word structure). The bigger questions driving my research are: what are the ways that human languages can differ from one another? what are the ways in which they cannot? and what does this tell us about the human capacity for language?
To answer these questions, my research has focused primarily on understudied Indigenous languages of the Americas, which differ in interesting ways from more commonly-studied languages like English and French. I am especially interested in the topics of ergativity, split ergativity, case and agreement systems, hierarchy effects, extraction asymmetries, nominalization, and verb-initial word order.
Much of my work has focused on Mayan languages, in particular Ch’ol (a language of southern Mexico) and Chuj (a language of Guatemala). I have also had the opportunity to work with Mi’gmaq, an Algonquian language of eastern Canada. In addition to theoretical work on these languages, I have worked to build collaborations with the communities of speakers who are working to document, promote, and revitalize these languages. Here at McGill I lead the McGill Linguistics Fieldwork Lab, a venue for students and other local researchers to meet to discuss topics and ongoing projects related to linguistic fieldwork. I am also the current director of the Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative (ISCEI).
While I have so far only worked on human languages, I have had the chance to think and talk about what it might be like to work with aliens––and also to bring visibility to linguistic fieldwork––through my work consulting for the film Arrival.