- 2002: Ph.D., UCLA, Applied Linguistics
- 1995: Ed.M., Harvard University, Human Development and Psychology
- 1994: B.A., UCLA, Linguistics
My primary interest is in the acquisition of a first language. I have worked on the acquisition of inflection, both morphological and syntactic, including agreement, tense, mood, and aspect. More recently, my interests have focused on the acquisition of reference binding of referential expressions, pronouns and other anaphors.
My perspective on language acquisition is tempered. Some believe that input determines language acquisition, and there is no innate component whatsoever. The opposite view is – that all of language is innate is, quite obviously, equally extreme. While I don’t argue that all language is innate (nobody really does), I do think there is a substantial innate component to language that aids the child in the acquisition of language. That does not preclude input as an important factor in acquisition, it simply means that input and innate principals work together in the acquisition of language. This seems like a reasonable position to me.
My own interests focus mostly on two languages: Thai and Swahili. Swahili because it is one of my native languages, and it was the basis for my dissertation, as well as numerous publications. More recently, my work has centered around the acquisition of Thai. Thai is an interesting language for many reasons, not least of which is that Thai supposedly violates Principle C of the binding theory (Lasnik, 1989). Binding is thought to be part of Universal Grammar, and therefore present in all children at birth. Evidence for this comes from a variety of studies that show that children acquiring languages such as English, show evidence of Principle C at the earliest testable ages (see, for example, Crain, 1991). This mismatch between a supposed principle of Universal Grammar and the empirical facts is intriguing to me, and has formed the basis of my work for the last few years.
Besides Thai and Bantu, I have interests that center on the languages of the Pacific. Working with students like Nozomi Tanaka (Tagalog) and Grant Muagututia (Samoan), my interests have developed to include phenomena that are relevant to these languages (such as ergativity, voice, etc.). I am also interested in Chinese (working with Elaine Lau, Claire Stabile, Li Blake, etc.), Japanese (working with Professor Shin Fukuda, EALL), and Korean (Professor William O’Grady, and many students). I also have experience and interests in the acquisition of various other languages, including: Vietnamese, Serbo-Croatian, and Pingilapese. And of course, I am always looking for new languages to investigate.
Acquisition of Binding in Thai
This is a currently on-going project being ocnducted in collaboration with Dr. Napasri Timyam of Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand. We are investigating the acquisition of principles B and C in the acquisition of Thai. This research is funded by the National Science Foundation, BCS#0821036, and supplementary grant BCS #0921543.
Acquisition of Inflection
A continuing interest of mine from my dissertation and the last five years of my research. The focus is varied, but I am primarily interested in the variation and similarity exhibited in the acquisition of inflection from language to language.
Perhaps the most important factor in measuring the vitality of a language is whether children are acquiring the parental language. This is codified in a number of scales or indices of vitality, e.g., Fishman’s GIDS, Lewis & Simons’ EGIDS, the 2009 UNESCO Framework, etc. However, in all this work, there is no clear or commonly accepted method by which intergenerational transmission can be measured. Without this, it is hard to make sense of reports on intergenerational transmission. If every researcher or community activist is subjectively gauging whether children are acquiring a language, we really don’t have any way to objectively assess the vitality of those languages. A major project we are working on here in Hawaii is to develop a tool to measure intergenerational transmission.