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Research Interests

Linguistic Historiography / Sociolinguistics / Phonology / Applied Linguistics / Syntax

Linguistic Historiography

Colonial Latin American grammars and dictionaries.  My dissertation examines four Nahuatl grammars from the 18th century from a critical linguistic perspective.  In my thesis I argue that the work on Nahuatl during the colonial period in Mexico constitutes a unique linguistic tradition, based on but by no means a rote copy of the Latinate tradition in Europe. I am also interested in the place that Nahuatl and other "major" indigenous languages such as Otomí, Maya, Purépecha, etc. occupied in colonial Mexican society. I became interested in colonial grammars through my work with the UCLA Center for Studies of Colonial Latin America.

Colonial-era grammars of native Californian languages. Although there has been much interest among linguists in the languages of native California, little work has been done on the earliest descriptions of those languages, those done by Spanish missionaries.

Comparisons of early grammars from different traditions. I am also interested in comparing those grammars produced in New Spain and elsewhere in the Spanish empire with early grammars of the English and French traditions, including those written in the colonies that would become the United States and Canada.


Language and language policy in Latin America. My interest in language and language policy in Latin America stems from my work on colonial grammars of indigenous languages. I am particularly interested in the cultural and political status of Native American languages in Latin America, and how it has evolved from the colonial era to the present day.

Language contact and cultural semantics. I am interested in using the theory of cultural semantics as described by Claudia Parodi in various articles to model language contact and language change. With my colleagues at the UCLA Center for Studies of Colonial Latin America, I have worked on a project to anaylze the lexicon of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas' Historia de la Indias from the viewpoint of cultural semantics, in order to reconstruct the cultural and linguistic changes brought about by the Spanish expeditions in the Caribbean.

Language contact in the Andes. One area of language contact that is of particular interest to me is that of Andean Spanish and Quechua.  The large numbers of bilingual speakers in the Andean region and the relative stability of this bilingualism across generations make this an especially interesting area to study.

Bilingualism and trilingualism in Hispanic populations in the U.S. As an ESL teacher to migrant workers during college, I became interested in the use of indigenous languages along with Spanish in these communities. I would like to study the extent of bilingualism (Spanish and the indigenous language) and trilingualism (Spanish, English, and the indigenous language) in these groups. Specifically, I would like to look at when each language is used, and what the speakers' attitudes are towards the three languages.

Sociolinguistics in Optimality.  I have always found it unfortunate that generative linguistics seems at times so divorced from sociolinguistics, especially considering the progress that has been made in both fields over the past three decades.  I would therefore like to investigate how the findings of modern sociolinguistic research could be integrated into an OT model of grammar.


Optimality-theoretical models of language change, especially as they pertain to "sporadic" and irregular sound changes. I am interested in testing the adequacy of OT models of sound change to explain both "regular" and "irregular" sound change.  Authors such as MacMahon (2000) have used language change to challenge the very premises of Optimality, concentrating on changes which are often classified as irregular or sporadic.  I have examined some instances of metathesis and analogy in the development of Spanish which prove that on the contrary, irregularities in sound change are relatively easy to handle in OT as compared to previous theories of language change. 

Positional Faithfulness and its limitations.  I have been working on an analysis of coda resolution in Brazilian Portuguese, and the results of this research seem to indicate that Positional Faithfulness constraints are inadequate to account for the facts.  I would like to further explore the analysis of processes such as epenthesis and metathesis when these occur in order to place a given segment in a position of relative prominance. 

Loan Word Phonology. My work on Brazilian Portuguese draws heavily on an analysis of loan words in the language, as certain phonological processes are seen only in loan words. The fact that loan words can contain structures not found in native words means that studying the adaptation of these words can help to define the phonology of the borrowing language. At the same time, it is important to ask whether loan words and native words are even analyzed using the same system; in other words, is there a separate phonology for loan words?

The stress system of Modern Spanish.  Can Optimality make some sense of it?  I think so, and I would like to work on an OT analysis at some point. 

Applied Linguistics and Language Pedagogy

Acquisition of language variation.  I believe that by the time we acquire our native language, we have also acquired knowledge of the variation existent in that language, such as differences of style and register, and possibly regional differences as well.   What I think deserves further study is how a child learns this variation, and how (s)he discerns between variation that carries social connotations and the free variation that is also charateristic of human language.  Beyond this, I am interested in how acquisition of variation contributes to language change.

Language variation in the classroom.  How can language variation can be taught to second-language learners?  For example, what is the best way to introduce regional variation in both pronunciation and grammar, and at what point in the instruction?  How should stigmatized forms be dealt with, especially when used by heritage speakers?  These questions are of special relevance for teachers of Spanish in the United States, who are often faced with a curriculum which emphasizes the standard peninsular dialect and with heritage speakers from a variety of Latin American countries.


Topic, Focus, and word order in Romance, specifically in Spanish.  I became interested in the analysis of Topic and Focus, particularly in Romance, after taking a seminar at UCLA with Prof. Luigi Rizzi.  What intrigues me most is that this seems to be an area in which syntax and phonology meet and even interact. 

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