I view linguistic variation as an important component of the documentation of a language. Synchronic variation provides a window into ongoing processes of language change and also the social meaning of language. My dissertation documents and analyzes such variation in contemporary Navajo through an investigation of sociophonetic, morphosyntactic, and discourse-level variation. Of particular interest is how speakers variably use Navajo verbal morphology. For this project I combine fieldwork methods from variationist sociolinguistics and language documentation to record data from speakers who represent the diverse linguistic and social background of the Navajo-speaking community.
My master's thesis was a corpus-based analysis of the Navajo enclitic lá, a polysemous morpheme marking both mirativity and constrative focus/interrogatives. I argue that the two pragmatic uses are connected in their function of providing meta-discourse commentary through contrastive focus on the unexpectedness of a proposition, a meaning that potentially developed from an earlier interferential form. A pdf of the thesis can be found here.
I am interested in applying the tools of acoustic phonetics to address different descriptive and theoretical questions. For instance, in my second qualifying paper, I investigated the acoustic correlates of prosodic units in Navajo personal narratives. Results from that project showed evidence for both intonational units marked by final syllable lengthening and also larger prosodic sentences cued by pauses and pitch reset. These data suggest that Navajo has systematic prosody, a previously unresolved question, but the cues may only be identifiable in larger stretches of connected speech. I presented results from this research at ASA 2016 and SSILA 2017. For more information, check out my handout from SSILA.
A component of my dissertation will be a sociophonetic analysis of three variables to be explored through quantitative acoustic analysis. The targeted variables include vowel space, realization of affricates, and sibilant harmony.