Research (phd)

Integrating Romance philology and dialectology with insight from pioneering linguistic theory alongside my own original empirical data, my research documents and explains the structure of the Ibero-Romance language family from an internal, comparative and cross-linguistic basis.  A corollary of my research is the recording of Ibero-Romance dialect structures, contributing to the protection and preservation of the Iberian Peninsula’s linguistic and cultural legacy. I am also interested in the development of empirically-sound, qualitative methodologies for generative research.

My PhD questions previous thinking in the language sciences that assumes speech-act information (speaker, addressee, conversational turn-taking) is divorced from syntax. Adducing novel data and diagnostics, my thesis provides evidence from Ibero-Romance languages showing that this divide is not absolute. Specifically, it demonstrates that there are profound syntactic differences between the uses of que (‘that’), an element normally employed to subordinate a sentence (e.g. Spanish dijo [que llegaron bien], ‘He said [that they arrived safely]’), when it appears in everyday conversation in non-subordinate contexts:

  1. Ai, que [≈!!!] estou cansada!
    ‘Oh I’m tired!!!’ (Brazilian Portuguese)
  2. Que [≈quotation] no se t’escucha ná
    ‘[I said] we can’t hear you’ (Extremeñu)
  3. Fe-lo ya, que [≈for] creyes que tiango tó ro diya?!
    ‘Do it now, do you think I’ve got all day?!’ (Aragonese)

Crucially, hitherto-unexplored interpretational and structural differences (e.g. (in)compatibility with embedding) between non-subordinate uses of que reveal that Ibero-Romance, and therefore human language more generally, must encode speech-act information in its syntax: i.e. rather than being an ‘add-on’ within our wider communicative apparatus, our conversational signposting is in some sense ‘hardwired’ into the grammatical core of human language (via so-called ‘utterance syntax’; see also Haegeman & Hill 2013; Wiltschko & Heim 2014).

Redressing the lack of detailed comparative work across Ibero-Romance and the complete omission of syntax from earlier dialect studies, my current project (Pembroke College, Cambridge, 2016-2019) is a comparative, dialectal study of Ibero-Romance morphosyntactic (micro-)variation. Such variation can be considerable: witness the various strategies for distinguishing calls/vocatives from ‘regular’ nouns by particlesÔ, truncationv, vowel-loweringø, and non-use of the articleñ:

Nominative Call/vocative
Latin seruus (the slave) serue! (o slave!)
AlguerésÔ,v Firumèna O Firumè!
AsturianÔ,(ñ) (El) Lluis À Lluis!
Extremeñuø,ñ El Pepi Pepe!
Catalanñ El Joan Joan!
Portugueseñ O João João!
Spanishñ El idiota ¡Idiota!

Conversely, certain typological features are said to uniquely distinguish Ibero-Romance from the rest of Romance, e.g. Ibero-Romance exhibits two ‘to be’ verbs (ser, estar), allowing these languages to distinguish, in simplified terms, between permanent (ser e.g. es guapa ‘she’s pretty’) and temporary (estar e.g. está guapa, she’s looking pretty [currently]’) states.

Yet, closer inspection shows these ‘Ibero-Romance’ features themselves vary within the family, as illustrated by the variation in conveying temporary versus permanent location: whereas Portuguese and Spanish use the temporary verb  estar to encode temporary location, Catalan, contra to expectation, uses the permanent verb (ser) in this context:

  1. Estou em Barcelona. (Pg)                       [estar]
  2. Estoy en Barcelona. (Sp)                         [estar]
  3. Sóc a Barcelona. (Cat)                             [ser]
    ‘I am in Barcelona [at the moment]’

To complicate matters further, only Portuguese uses the permanent verb ser to describe permanent location. By contrast, Spanish and Catalan use the temporary verb estar to encode permanent location, a usage which in Catalan takes on the special meaning of ‘to reside’:

  1. O edifício é nesta rua. (Pg)                      [ser]
  2. El edificio está en esta calle. (Sp)           [estar]
    ‘The building is [permanently located] on this street’
  3. La María està en aquest carrer. (Cat)    [estar]
    ‘Maria lives on this street’

To verify the extent of grammatical convergence and divergence across the Ibero-Romance language family, I will undertake as part of the project a comprehensive cross-dialectal survey to collect data (such as those illustrated above) reflecting Ibero-Romance homogeneity and diversity across standard and non-standard varieties. In so doing, the project aims to:

  1. produce a complete empirical mapping of the parameters of Ibero-Romance’s morphosyntactic variation;
  2. determine what – beyond geography and genetics – distinguishes the Ibero-Romance branch from other Romance language families;
  3. establish in what way, if at all, the term ‘Ibero-Romance’ is contentful from a grammatical perspective.

Research projects: The blueprint of Ibero-Romance: grammatical variation across Iberian languages and dialects (2016-2019; funded by the Drapers’ Company Research Fellowship at Pembroke College, Cambridge); Border talk: mapping the grammatical landscape of North-West Spain (2017-2018); Reconsidering evidentiality (2017, joint project with Jamie Williams, University of Manchester); and Ibero-Romance and the syntax of the utterance (2013-2016, funded by the Leslie Wilson Research Scholarship at Magdalene College, Cambridge).

Research interests: comparative Romance syntax, Romance dialectology, comparative Ibero-Romance syntax, Ibero-Romance dialectology, the syntax-pragmatics interface.

Theoretical interests: the architecture of the clause, in particular the hierarchy of the left periphery and the availability of dedicated positions for structural elements; the syntax-pragmatics interface; the demarcation of the TP/CP boundary; the notion of subjecthood and ‘expletives’; complementisers, complementiser systems and the status of left-peripheral elements. As a Romance linguist, I am, unsurprisingly, generally interested in the null subject parameter and its typology.

Si hablas una lengua/habla que procede de la Península Ibérica, sobre todo si no tiene estatus oficial o está amenazada, por favor, documenta tu lengua aquí.

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