Syntactic researchers in the Department ask how syntactic patterns are shaped by and shape communicative practice, focusing on construction-based grammatical explanation, the origins of grammatical patterns and the use of syntax in conversation. Research projects rely on data obtained from fieldwork, behavioral experiments, corpus studies and video capture of conversation.
Prof. Barbara Fox explores the strategies that speakers use to manage the activity of conversation, including the manner in which they deploy gaze, repair, intonation and gesture.
Prof. Laura Michaelis, working within the framework of Construction Grammar, uses conversational speech to study how language users develop and adapt grammatical routines (constructions) to solve common communicative problems (e.g., signaling a topic shift), how they creatively extend the combinatoric potentials of words and how they vary their intonational and grammatical productions according to perceived requirements of the context.
Prof. Bhuvana Narasimhan uses conversational data and experimental methods to explore children’s early descriptions of events and objects in a variety of languages—including Hindi, Tamil, German and English—in order to examine those areas in which children’s semantic representations of grammatically relevant distinctions differ from those of adults.
Prof. Zygmunt Frajzyngier studies the emergence of grammatical structures in understudied, and frequently endangered, languages of Chad and Cameroon. He uses these findings to model the evolution of grammatical structures and the interface between meaning and grammatical form.