Courses

*For information regarding courses taught during the present semester, please visit the ‘For Current Students’ page.

I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in linguistics, with a focus on language variation, contact, and change. I also teach courses in Hispanic linguistics, which are taught in Spanish. Short descriptions and sample syllabi follow. Please feel free to contact me regarding any of my courses. 

Language, Race, and Gender  (LX 342/642) – At first glance, it may not be apparent that language plays a central role in establishing our  identities. But, if we stop to give this idea the attention it is justly due, and if we examine it through the proper lense, we are soon overwhelmed by the ways in which we create and sustain our personalities and negotiate our place in the world through language use. In this course, we will examine this notion from the perspective of sociolinguistic theory, with a special focus on how the social categories of race and gender can be seen to condition, predict, and explain patterns of language use both in the United State and across the globe. We will examine differences between men and women in conversational practice, identifying patterns in such behaviors as turn-taking, complementing, story-telling, gossip, swearing, and boasting. We will also rely on the notions of overt and covert prestige to assess phonological, syntactic, and lexical variation in a host of speech communities and communicative contexts, including the relatively new domain of online communication. Within this framework, we will also asses and in some cases challenge traditional conceptions of sex, gender, race, and ethnicity on linguistic grounds, asking what it takes to be considered be an ‘authentic’ speaker of a particular code or linguistic variety.

Quantitative Methods in Linguistics (LX795) – Modern linguistic research is increasingly making use of quantitative methods to analyze linguistic behavior, including aspects that were (or still are) considered to be categorical. Quantitative methods are helping us answer longstanding questions about the way language works and are also shaping the formulation of new questions. This course will guide students through quantitative approaches to examining linguistic data, including various types of data visualization, hypothesis testing, and data modeling. Along the way, students will gain proficiency in R, an open-source statistical environment. By the end of the course, students will know the logic behind a wide range of data science techniques and the practical skills required to use them appropriately.

Language Contact  (LX345/645) – Where does one language end and another begin? Can we neatly box in one linguistic system and seal it off from another? While we often associate particular languages with specific countries or regions of the world, the truth is that linguistic and national frontiers very rarely overlap in either time or space. Indeed, languages do not require passports, and they routinely travel, mix, and interact with each other across permeable borders on both micro- and macroscopic scales. The goal of this course is to examine the mechanisms and outcomes of such language contact by surveying cases around the globe from the past and present. We will focus our attention on common, relatively superficial processes of language contact such as lexical-borrowing and code-switching as well as remarkable contact events such as wholesale death language and the emergence of entirely new linguistic systems. We will investigate whether certain levels of linguistic structure, such as sounds, words, or sentences, are more susceptible to contact-induced language change than others. We will examine the relationship between individuals and groups in situations of language contact and explore the idea that a single person might be able to accelerate or stall rates of linguistic change. We will consider language contact within bi- and multilingual minds. Finally, we will determine the extent to which the outcomes of language contact are universal and inevitable, and, conversely, the ways in which each contact situation must be understood uniquely as the complex result of interacting social, political, linguistic, and historical factors.

The Evolution of Human Language – This seminar examines the leading proposals for the evolution of human language. It is guided by three research questions:  First, how does language compare with other animal communication systems? To what extent to we find similarities and differences? Second, if we decide that language is different in certain ways from all other animal-communication systems, what special pressure in our evolutionary history broke the mold? Was it, as some have proposed, the inevitable result of other, independent adaptations such as increased brain size coupled with bipedalism and a better sweating system? Or, was it something else that sparked language? Tool-making perhaps? Or gossip? What about cooperative hunting? Singing? Distance-running? Power-scavenging? A genetic mutation? In one form or another, all of these have been proposed as the catalyst for language in our species. The third and last question we will explore is perhaps the hardest: whatever forces brought it into being, what was language like when it first appeared? Did it burst forth fully formed? Were the first words like our own, richly infused with information about when, how, where, why, or what exactly happened? Or, instead, did language slowly grow from a protolanguage into the kind of language we have today? Here too, experts disagree.

 Courses in Spanish Linguistics –  I typically offer one course annually that serves as a general introduction to the linguistic analysis of the Spanish language. These courses are taught in Spanish:

The Sounds of Spanish (LX383/683/LS507) – The goal of this course is to introduce students to the linguistic analysis of speech, with a focus on the Spanish language. We examine the vowels and consonants of Spanish from the perspective of articulatory and acoustic phonetics. In addition, the course introduces core concepts in phonological analysis, surveying the phonemic inventory and phonological organization of Spanish. We also investigate a range of regional variation demonstrated by so-called ‘dialects’ of Spanish, with an emphasis on the historical and social significance of such variation in Spain, Latin America, and the United States. In summary, this course aims to examine the sounds of Spanish as physical, mental, and social phenomena.

The Structure of Spanish (LX384/684/LS 508) – The goal of this course is to introduce students to the structure of the Spanish language, with a focus on its morphology and syntax. We examine the internal structure of words and the inflectional and derivational processes that constrain them. In addition, the course introduces key concepts such as morpheme, affix, grammatical class, linguistic gender, nominalization, and verbalization. We also investigate fundamental principles of syntactic theory and analysis, with an emphasis on the hierarchical relationships among words at the phrasal level.  We use naturalistic speech data, collected from around the Spanish-speaking world, to critically examine key assumptions and tools of contemporary syntactic theory, including X-bar theory, binary branching, thematic role assignment, and the concept of the sentence. We give special attention the notion of ungrammaticality as it relates to syntactic and morphological variation and change.

Spanish in the United States  (LX381/LS 420) – Of the 60 million people in the U.S. who speak a language other than English, roughly 40 million are Spanish speakers. This group of Americans is larger in number than the individual populations of 15 different countries in Spanish-speaking Latin America, and it is roughly equivalent in size to the entire populations of both Spain and Colombia. The goal of this course is to examine this immense speech community from the perspective of linguistics, focusing on a range of questions: What is the historical and current demographic profile of Spanish in the US? Where, when, and by whom is Spanish spoken? Is Spanish maintained across generations, or are the large numbers of speakers sustained primarily by immigration? How does Spanish spoken in the United States compare to that of Latin America and Spain? In particular, what aspects of its structure – its lexicon, morphology, syntax, and phonology – may be experiencing substantial changes under the dual pressures of dialect and language contact? Might the interaction of Spanish speakers with diverse linguistic backgrounds be promoting the emergence of a uniquely ‘US Spanish’? We will examine these questions within the framework of modern sociolinguistic theory, focusing on the quantitative analysis of natural language data and the role of social factors in conditioning language variation and change. We will pay special attention to Spanish as it is spoken in the urban U.S., reviewing research conducted in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and New York City. We will also consider the ways in which such research may be applicable to the relatively understudied population of Spanish speakers in Boston.