Austronesian Historical Linguistics
I am interested in the comparative study of Austronesian languages. I have published papers dealing with subgrouping and diachronic phonology at all levels, from higher-order subgrouping to the evolution of specific modern Austronesian languages.
Diachronic and Metrical Phonology
I am fascinated by the history of phonological change, and how languages get to be the way they are. I am particularly interested in the link between stress type and syllable structure, with a focus on word-final stress in Austronesian and drift towards complex syllables and monosyllabic or sesquisyllabic word-shapes. In my view, historical change can be elegantly captured in the framework of Diachronic OT, which couches sound change in a theory of constraint reranking.
I maintain an active fieldwork schedule in Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I employ documentation methods in my fieldwork, and use primary data in virtually all aspects of my research.
My dissertation, titled The languages of Borneo: a comprehensive classification, is the largest single comparative study of the languages of Borneo ever compiled and includes data and analysis from 78 linguistic communities where primary research and fieldwork were conducted. It is concerned with the historical development and subgrouping of all languages of Borneo, the world's third largest island and an area of considerable linguistic diversity. The dissertation covers a range of topics, but important contributions are: a complete subgrouping of the languages of Borneo, the historical phonologies of all subgroups in Borneo, identifying and explaining historical zones of linguistic contact, and a linguistically-informed hypothesis on historical population movements demonstrating how local testimony and linguistic evidence complement each other in this area.
My recent paper, The Western Malayo-Polynesian problem, addresses a discrepancy between the archaeological history of the expansion of Austronesian-speaking people into Island Southeast Asia and the current linguistic model which assumes a Malayo-Polynesian family tree with two primary branches. In short, Island Southeast Asia was settled quite rapidly by Austronesian bearers of Neolithic culture. This implies that the languages of Island Southeast Asia will be related to each other in a rake-like structure, not the binary structure we see in the commonly cited binary branching model. My paper uses linguistic arguments to show that this discrepancy is best resolved by dismantling the Malayo-Polynesian family tree and rebuilding it with at least 9 primary branches of Malayo-Polynesian, rather than two. My research in historical linguistics regularly takes an interdisciplinary approach, and incorporates anthropological and archaeological evidence in an effort to explore the close link between linguistic and human histories