Category Archives: Fieldwork

Kimberly Johnson to Receive NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant


We’re delighted to share the news that Kimberly Johnson’s application for an NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant will be officially recommended for funding by the NSF Linguistics Program.

Kimberly’s project will be focused on the documentation and analysis of the complex tense system of Mvskoke (Creek), investigating three phenomena central to current debates surrounding cross-linguistic variation in tense semantics: (i) graded tense, (ii) tense & evidentiality, and (iii) nominal tense. In addition to advancing our theoretical understanding of these three interlocking phenomena, Kimberly’s project will contribute significantly to the documentation of this highly endangered language, producing in particular a rich corpus of dialogs between Mvskoke elders and between elders and learners.

Congratulations, Kimberly!

Keshev and Pizarro-Guevara to UMass

We’re very lucky to welcome two post-doctoral scholars to the department in the upcoming academic year!

Maayan Keshev (Ph.D. 2020) is coming to us from Tel-Aviv University, where she is currently a student in Aya Metzler-Asscher’s lab. Maayan is a psycholinguist with special expertise in real-time sentence processing in Hebrew. She has worked on processing filler-gap and presumptive pronoun dependencies, probabilistic noisy-channel processing, and verbal and reflexive agreement, with a special focus on Hebrew. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to do post-doctoral research at UMass Amherst, where she will focus on developing her skills in eye-tracking and sentence processing.

Jed Sam Pizarro-Guevara (Ph.D. 2020) is currently finishing his dissertation in the Department of Linguistics at UC Santa Cruz, where he is working with Matt Wagers and Sandy Chung. Jed is a psycholinguist and experimental syntactician, with a focus on Austronesian languages (Tagalog and Dabaw Bisaya). He has particular expertise in field psycholinguistics, research that balances traditional, community-oriented fieldwork with real-time processing methodologies from experimental psycholinguistics. Using this approach, he has worked on processing relative clauses in Tagalog, the impact of Austronesian voice on real-time dependency formation, individual variation in the grammars of extraction in Austronesian, and the role of animacy in real-time comprehension in Santiago Laxopa Zapotec. At UMass, he will be working on eye-tracking in the visual world and the processing of pronouns in English and Tagalog.

A huge welcome to both Maayan and Jed: We’re looking forward to seeing you before long!

Faruk Akkuş to UMass

We are delighted to welcome Faruk Akkuş to UMass Linguistics. He will be starting as Assistant Professor in Fall of 2021. He is currently finishing up his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. He describes his research interests as follows (

“My work is at the intersection of theoretical syntax and its interfaces with morphology and semantics, with a focus on endangered and un(der)studied languages. I study cross-dialectal variation in sentence structure, building primarily on data collected through fieldwork on un(der)documented languages. I specialize in Arabic dialects—particularly the so-called peripheral varieties, Turkish, Mutki Zazaki and Cherokee.”

Yu in Taiwan for Spring 2020 sabbatical

Faculty member Kristine Yu will be on sabbatical and conducting research supported by a grant from Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology during the Spring 2020 semester. She’ll be hosted by and collaborating with faculty at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, including Sang-Im Lee-Kim (Lecturer at UMass, 2014-2015) and Ho-hsien Pan.

UMass at RecPhon 2019

Many UMass folks past and present were at RecPhon 2019: Recursivity
in phonology below and above the word, 21-22 November 2019, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra. A number of former UMass visitors were co-organizers: Eulàlia Bonet, Joan Mascaró, Francesc Torres-Tamarit.

Invited speakers and UMass alumni Junko Ito and Armin Mester presented Recursivity in phonology below the word, while invited speaker and UMass alumna Emily Elfner presented Match Theory and Recursion below and above the word: Evidence from Tlingit. Faculty member Kristine Yu presented Computational perspectives on phonological constituency and recursion and graduate student Leland Kusmer presented Minimal prosodic recursion in Khoekhoegowab. Former visitor Gorka Elordieta presented joint work with emeritus faculty member Lisa Selkirk: Phrasing unaccented words in a recursive prosodic structure in Basque.

UMass folks at RecPhon 2019

Eulàlia Bonet, Armin Mester, Emily Elfner, Junko Ito, Kristine Yu, Leland Kusmer, Gorka Elordieta, Joan Mascaró

UMass folks at RecPhon 2019

Francesc Torres-Tamarit, Emily Elfner, Junko Ito, Armin Mester, Kristine Yu, Leland Kusmer, Gorka Elordieta

SENSUS at UMass, April 18-19, 2020

UMass is hosting “Sensus: Constructing meaning in Romance” on April 18-19, 2020. This is a conference on the formal semantics and pragmatics of Romance languages.

Areas: theoretical semantics and pragmatics and their interfaces with other domains, experimental methodologies, fieldwork, the study of variation and computational approaches

Venue: Integrative Learning Center at UMass Amherst (the ILC is a fully accessible building)

Invited speakers:

Luis Alonso-Ovalle
(McGill University)

Mariapaola D’Imperio
(Rutgers University)

Donka Farkas
(UC, Santa Cruz)

Organizers: Ana Arregui, María Biezma, Vincent Homer and Deniz Özyıldız

Event sponsored by the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures of UMass Amherst

Contact us at

Details can be found here:

Cable at Berkeley

Seth Cable gave a colloquium talk last Monday, October 21 at UC Berkeley, titled “Two Paths to Habituality: Tlingit Habitual Mode and English Simple Verbs”. Various folks have asked to send along their hellos to the department, including: Amy Rose Deal (of course), Larry Hyman, Peter Jenks, Keith Johnson, and Ken Wexler.

McPherson colloquium Friday Nov 1 at 3:30

Laura McPherson, Dartmouth College, will present “Decoding surrogate speech: Phonetic and phonemic levels in musical surrogate languages” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Fri. Nov 1. An abstract follows. All are welcome!


Many cultures around the world have traditions of musical surrogate speech, i.e.communication using a musical instrument to encode linguistic structure. Stern (1957) identifies two major types of systems, so-called “abridging” systems that represent elements of phonemic structure and “lexical ideogram” systems that represent concepts directly. This talk focuses on the former. Drawing on case studies from the literature and original fieldwork, I demonstrate that decoding an abridging system means determining not only what contrasts are encoded but also at what level. Remarkably, in many systems, phonemic structure is not encoded uniformly. In the West African Sambla balafon system, for instance, tone is encoded at a morphophonemic level, eschewing postlexical processes common in the spoken language, but rhythmic encoding shows evidence of surface phonetic gradience. A similar situation holds for the Amazonian Bora drumming system, with phonemic encoding of the two tone levels but a tight correlation between interstrike duration and spoken V-to-V intervals. Languages with surrogate systems on more than one instrument offer an opportunity to determine which factors influence how a contrast will be encoded. Yòrubá, for instance, can be encoded on at least two types of drums, the tension drum (“talking drum”) dùndún and a double-headed barrel drum ensemble known as bàtá. The dùndún encodes tone at a surface level, while the bàtá encodes less phonetic detail for tone but encodes more information about vowel quality. In this talk, I show how musical surrogate languages reflect the practitioner’s nuanced understanding of their language’s sound system and offer a preliminary account of how linguistic, instrumental, and cultural constraints shape surrogate encoding.

UMass at NWAV 48

UMass linguistics has been at NWAV 48 at the University of Oregon this weekend!

Faculty members Lisa Green, Kristine Yu, grad students Ayana Whitmal, Anissa Neal, and Deniz Özyıldız, and collaborator Alejna Brugos from Boston University presented
a talk: The prosody and meaning of BIN constructions in African American English.

Our Fulbright scholar Kamil Kazmierski from Adam Mickiewicz University presented two posters: one with his collaborator Michaela Hejná from Aarhus University on preaspiration in American English, as well as another one with his university colleague Krzysztof Urbanek on Variability in word-final /r/-vocalization in Providence: Evidence from Crimetown.

Here’s Kamil and his collaborator Michaela.

Our recent PhD recipient Tracy Conner, currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Santa Barbara, co-organized A workshop for inclusion in sociocultural linguistics with her UC Santa Barbara colleagues.

And alum Elliot Moreton (Professor, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill) gave a talk on Abstract factors in English diphthong raising in a Mississippi dialect.