[The photo above is from May 2016. I was in a boat 25 miles offshore from the Florida keys, and an American Redstart landed on my hand. If you know my book ALBERT, you can imagine how thrilled I was.]
- Publications [pdf]
- Downloadable Publications
- Curriculum Vitae complete [pdf]
- Writer Website
- TedX presentation "What children (and everyone else) need to read"
I am a linguist down to my toes, and I am honored and grateful to be a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America (inducted in 2015) and the recipient of the LSA's Mentoring Award (in 2020) and of the LSA's Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award (in 2014). I haven't met an area of linguistics yet that doesn't fascinate me.
For years I analyzed the syntax of Italian, with happy detours into other components of the grammar and sometimes other spoken languages (one of the most delightful on Chinese tonal poetry). But when I came to Swarthmore to set up a curriculum in linguistics (a curriculum that became tri-college, with our first graduate in 1993), I needed to teach across the board. That wide responsibility plus student interest led me down new paths. Now I work on whatever languages present an intriguing phenomenon I think I have the tools to grapple with. I have published on all components of grammar, in synchronic and diachronic perspectives.
Much of my recent work is on sign languages and more broadly cognitive issues that arise from their analysis. There are hundreds of sign languages, some indicated on this map:
These days most often I work with collaborators (some are alums of Swarthmore). My focus is largely on modality effects, such as how iconicity is pertinent to the syntax/semantics interface and how biomechanics affects the lexicon and enlightens us about diachronic change. I'm presently studying how considerations of visual perception affect movement choices within the frozen and productive lexicon across sign languages . In 2022 a team I work with finished a comparative study of mouth articulations in narratives in American Sign Language, Libras (the sign language of Brazil), and German Sign Language (this was part of my work as an international scholar participant in a CNPQ grant from Brazil), and we immediately began a follow up study on new questions that arose from that work. I hope to do a study of the timing of breaths and its relationship to syntactic boundaries in Swiss German Sign Language (three collaborators and I are discussing this). In other words, it's all beautiful to me.
I'm on a team that works to protect deaf children's right to language. We publish mostly in medical journals. You can access our articles here. This work has taught me about first language acquisition and honed my advocacy skills.
And I am engaged in developing materials to encourage shared reading between deaf children and their parents (see below). This is part of a larger effort to promote literacy skills via convincing parents to give their deaf children a rich and firm first language foundation and convincing teachers (through journal articles aimed at them) of the efficacy of fun and humor in the inclusive classroom. Prof. Gene Mirus of Gallaudet University and I are presenting our project (RISE) at the World Literacy Summit in Oxford, UK, in spring 2023.
With respect to literacy skills, I am also engaged with a research team at Università degli Studi Roma Tre. We are looking at whether the use of gestures during shared reading activities promotes acquisition of a second L1 for immigrant children in Italy and speeds up their developing literacy skills. This is new work for me (I became involved only in late 2022), but it feels like a natural extension of my commitment to language acquisition and literacy rights in general. Right now I am engaged in preparing reading materials for the children that will be participants in the study, and instructional materials for their teachers.
Beyond mainstream linguistics, I'm interested in how linguistic theories and methodologies can be applied to analyze body articulations in yoga and dance. This work is part of SUPERLINGUISTICS: I gave the first presentation in a series on SUPERLINGUISTICS at the University of Oslo in January 2019. In spring 2017, I co-taught a course on corporality in storytelling in which we examined silent narrative in films, stage plays, mime, stand-up comedy, sign language visual vernacular, and dance. My partner was Elizabeth Stevens of the Department of Theater. In spring 2021, I co-taught a course on innovations in dance in the past century with comparisons to innovations in sign literature in the same period. With regard to signing, attention was on the semantics of phonetics (Ha! If you're a linguist reading this, I bet that surprised you). My partner on this was Olivia Sabee of the Dance Program. In spring 2022, I co-taught a course on creating narratives in clay and in language (both spoken and sign). My partner was Syd Carpenter of the Art Department. These co-taught courses were capstone seminars for the program in Interpretation Theory. Olivia Sabee and I will be co-teaching the dance-sign one again in spring 2024.
I also analyze linguistic innovations in poetry, story-telling, jokes, and taboo language. I organized a conference on Disrespected Literatures at the college in spring 2017; you can see a short (3 minute) video about it here. I co-edited an issue of the Italian online journal Altre Modernità (published by the University of Milano) devoted to disrespected literatures (December 2019, here). I've published work on what sign language literature can tell us about sign language structure; I integrate analysis of sign language literature into Linguistics 63/Theater 33; and I teach Linguistics 29/Comparative Literature 29, on sign language literature from a linguistics perspective (first taught in fall 2021, next offered in fall 2024) .
The Linguistic Society of America did a spotlight interview with me in April 2017.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science did a spotlight interview with me in February 2022.
I also write books (fiction and nonfiction) for children. Since September 2020, I have worked leading writer workshops and giving critiques for the "Telling Feminist Stories Initiative" of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The launch of the first volume of stories -- titled Awake Not Sleeping: Reimagining Fairy Tales for a New Generation --was 18 November 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey. I gave the keynote address; the link in English is here. My keynote starts around -1:45 and ends around -1:31. I return later near the end of the video, as I moderate a session on why fairytales matter. I am now involved in helping prepare writers for the second volume of stories.
In fall 2021, Shepherd "best books" asked me to recommend five books on a topic of my choice in exchange for promoting one of my fiction books. Deaf culture was my choice of topics; In a Flash was my fiction book.
Very odd detail: In 2019, then-SWAT-student Alex Kingsley asked me to play a part in Episode One of their film series Restless Writers' Retreat. I never acted before -- know nothing about acting. But the part made me laugh, so I did it. The series came out in September 2020. Alex is a wickedly good writer -- keep your eye on them. Here's the first episode. And here's a podcast of their new sci-fi comedy podcast called The Stench of Adventure.
As of fall, 2018, I changed from being Professor of Linguistics to Professor of Linguistics and Social Justice. I am also delighted and humbled to have been appointed the Maurice Eldridge Faculty Fellow starting in fall 2021, an appointment I am trying my best to merit.
Since 2013, my students and I have been collaborating with Prof. Gene Mirus and his students at Gallaudet University on producing bimodal-bilingual video-books, in 32 sign languages with the print of the ambient spoken language. We've produced over 100 video-books.
For a discussion of how and why we do what we do, go here. For a college article about our project, go here.
In spring and summer 2020 our students (past and present) worked with many countries to make bimodal-bilingual video-books about COVID-19, with the director of technology being Melissa Curran (our past and beloved student, class of '19). That work led to associations with deaf groups in many countries, groups we continue to work with.
In summer and fall 2021 our students worked on translating texts from English into Spanish and making new productions of some of our ASL video-books so that they now have Spanish text with English subtitles, to meet the needs of deaf children in North America whose family home language is Spanish. This work is in response to a request from a deaf school in North Carolina.
Public activities in 2022-2023
Publications in 2022 -2023
Courses I am scheduled to teach:
Linguistics 54/Education 54 (Wednesday from 1:15 to 4): How children talk to each other: Oral and written language. We examine children's dialogue and its rendering in children's literature. Each student will pick an age group to study. There will be regular fiction-writing assignments as well a primary-research assignments. This course is for linguists, educators, writers of children's fiction and anyone else who is strongly interested in child development or literacy. It is a course in which we learn through doing.