Home » Research



The research program I pursue falls somewhere between theoretical phonology and language description. I focus on the expression of phonological contrast, specifically exploring how underspecification of distinctive features and linear ordering of phonological constituents in underlying representation can account for surface level variation attested in synchronic phonological systems across speakers of the same language. I primarily conduct research on the Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in China. Projects are summarized by language. Relevant papers and talks can be downloaded on my academia page.

Bái [白语] (Sino-Tibetan, debated classification)

Bái is a Sino-Tibetan language primarily spoken in Yúnnán Province in Southwest China. There is a sizable amount of published research on this language due to the large amount of Chinese-related basic vocabulary in Bái (which is of considerable interest in the field of Sino-Tibetan historical linguistics). However, most of the available references prioritize the ability to transcribe the observed contrastive syllables as distinct from one another instead of offering synchronic phonological analysis of this language. My dissertation, Phonological Contrast in Bai, seeks to fill this gap in the literature.

My phonological analysis of the major varieties of Bái – Ěrhǎi (Dàlǐ), Jiànchuān, and Hèqìng – assumes articulator-based distinctive features, syllable structure, time slots, and other commonly assumed phonological architecture to generate all well-formed phonological representations in this language. The proposal fundamentally differs from prior descriptions in that pre-nuclear glides are consistently treated as constituents of the onset and not as constituents of the rime of the Bái syllable. Along with this fixed syllable structure, underspecification and economy in underlying representations are argued to optimize the ratio of attested-to-possible syllables within the space of predicted syllable types. Furthermore, these principles are suggested to limit the range of surface phonological variation attested across speakers. Specific phenomena addressed in detail include spreading processes (such as palatalization), identification of merged tone categories, representation of the rhotic vowel, and epenthetic segments.

Standard Chinese [普通话] (Sinitic)

I have studied (Modern) Standard Chinese as a second language since 2005. I began studying the structure of the phonology and lexicon of Modern Standard Chinese early in graduate school. My primary research on Standard Chinese analyzes the productive truncation patterns in this language such as gōngjiāo 公交 ( > gōnggòng jiāotōng 公共交通) ‘public transportation’. I have also worked on quantifying the amount of Japanese loanwords in the Modern Chinese lexicon.

Taiwan Hakka [台湾客语] (Sinitic)

My bachelor’s thesis considers variation attested in the phonemics of four dialects of Hakka spoken in Táiwān. This variation is interrelated with the surface realization of the nominal suffix. I argue that the dialect of Hakka spoken in Guānxī township is a hybrid variety of Sìxiàn and Hǎilù Hakka based on its innovative phonemic inventory and the phonetic realization of the nominal suffix. I collected this data in a fieldwork setting in northwestern Taiwan. This work has been cited in Global Hakka: Hakka Identity in the Remaking (Leo 2015).

Sǎméi [撒梅语] (Tibeto-Burman/ Ngwi)

Sǎméi is a variety of Ngwi spoken by ethnic Yí who live in the eastern part of Kūnmíng and scattered throughout neighboring Yíliáng county. Sǎméi was first mentioned as a distinct language from Sāní in Bradley (2005). I have prepared the first basic description of this language, which will appear in next printing of the local almanac for their community. I have also conducted preliminary mutual intelligibility tests on this language and neighboring Samatao and Sangwi; my results suggest no degree of mutual intelligibility.


My qualifying work investigates the process by which English speakers create truncated [qualifier + noun] compounds such as phys-ed for physical education. Three experiments were conducted to investigate this process. It is demonstrated that there are two conflicting forces in compound truncation: the desire to make the truncated compound as short as possible and the pressure for the truncated bases to preserve their primary stresses. These conflicting forces create variability in English truncation (consider co. and corp. as alternates for corporation, for instance).

Other Ngwi Languages

I have always been interested in Nuòsū (the designated standard variety for the Yí ethnic group) but have not conducted any original research on this language. While this language has a written system (which is codified in Unicode), the available references for language study are of very poor quality (although the academic research on this language is reliable). I plan on making an online soundboard of the syllabary for pronunciation practice based on original recordings I collected in Sìchuān in 2015.