My research program explores the nature and extent of cross-linguistic semantic/pragmatic variation. I am driven by the desire to understand and formally capture the fact that comparable meanings are realized across languages that have vastly distinct morphological inventories and surface syntactic structures.
An empirical focus of my research is Paraguayan Guaraní, a Tupí Guaraní language spoken in Paraguay and surrounding countries. I've been conducting fieldwork on this language in Paraguay since 2004. Before 2004, I mainly worked on Yucatec Maya, a Mayan language spoken on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.
Here's some information on current research projects on cross-linguistic semantic/pragmatic variation:
- Presuppositions and other projective contents Presuppositions and other projective contents have long fascinated formal semanticists and philosophers of language, but the majority of research on these contents has been carried out on English and is based on data gathered through introspection by native speaker semanticists. The goal of this research project, on which I collaborate with David Beaver, Craige Roberts and Mandy Simons, is to put research on projective contents on a sounder empirical footing (see Tonhauser, Beaver, Roberts & Simons to appear) and to develop an empirically adequate formal analysis of such contents (see e.g. Simons, Tonhauser, Beaver & Roberts 2011). This project is supported by a collaborative research grant from the National Science Foundation (2010-2012). This funding has allowed OSU graduate student Gregory Kierstead to explore projective contents in Tagalog, and to experimentally investigate such contents in English. OSU graduate student Jefferson Barlew is currently funded by a Targeted Investment in Excellence grant to explore projective contents in Mushunguli (Bantu).
- Focus: Prosody and meaning My colleague Cynthia G. Clopper and I collaborate in exploring the prosody-meaning interface in typologically unrelated languages. Our goal is to develop a novel, formal analysis of focus interpretation where both prosody and context, among other factors, contribute to the identification of semantic/pragmatic focus. We have published first results on the prosodic realization of focus in Paraguayan Guaraní (Clopper and Tonhauser 2011, Clopper and Tonhauser in print). We are currently engaged in a research project with PhD students Rachel Burdin, Sara Phillips-Bourass, Rory Turnbull and Murat Yasavul that explores cross-linguistic variation in the realization of focus, using data obtained through an experiment conducted with speakers of American English, Paraguayan Guaraní, K'iche' Maya and Moroccan Arabic.
- Temporal anaphora and temporal reference My research on temporal reference empirically motivates that temporal anaphora may play a central role in determining temporal reference, regardless of the inventory of tense markers realized in a particular language or construction. Once the contributions of context are recognized, the temporal reference of tenseless constructions in (the otherwise tensed languages) Korean and Japanese (Lee and Tonhauser 2010) or in the tenseless language Paraguayan Guaraní (Tonhauser 2011 ) can be adequately accounted for without assuming phonologically empty tense morphemes. In a recent manuscript, "Temporal anaphora of noun phrases", I argue that temporal anaphora also play a role in determining the temporal reference of English noun phrases.
- Semantics/pragmatics of Paraguayan Guaraní My research explores the meaning and use of temporal, aspectual and modal expressions. I have argued that the Paraguayan Guaraní nominal expressions -kue and -rã are nominal aspect/modal markers on the basis of a detailed analysis of their truth-conditional and pragmatic meanings (e.g. Tonhauser 2007). In this research, I also argue that empirically adequate and theoretically rigorous characterizations of semantic/pragmatic categories such as 'tense' and 'aspect' are essential to exploring cross-linguistic variation (e.g. Tonhauser 2008). In other research, I explore the (verbal) prospective aspect/modal suffix -ta of Paraguayan Guaraní (Tonhauser 2011b), the counterfactual suffix -mo'ã (Tonhauser 2009b), the contrastive topic clitic katu (Tonhauser in prep b) and the reportative evidential clitic ndaje (Tonhauser in prep a).
- Empirical methods in semantic/pragmatic research I am dedicated to contributing to the development of empirically sound research methods in formal semantics/pragmatics. My research primarily relies on judgments obtained from linguistically untrained native speakers in one-on-one elicitation and through experiments, but has also made use of a corpus of Paraguayan Guaraní texts and introspection. In Autumn quarter 2011, I taught a seminar on Empirical methods in formal semantic/pragmatic research and I gave a talk on "Exploring presuppositions and other projective contents with linguistically untrained consultants" at a special session on semantic fieldwork organized by Ryan Bochnak and Lisa Matthewson at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the LSA. I was invited to teach a course on "Semantic fieldwork methodology" at the 2013 LSA Institute and am currently working on a manuscript on exploring temporal and aspectual reference with linguistically untrained consultants in collaboration with Rebecca Cover.
Workshops and conferences I have co-organized since coming to OSU:
- Workshop on Prosodic Annotation, with Rachel S. Burdin, Cynthia G. Clopper, Sara Phillips-Bourass, Rory Turnbull and Murat Yasavul, April 13-14, 2012.
- ESSLLI 2011 Workshop on Projective Meaning, August 8-12, 2011, with Craige Roberts.
- "Presupposition, Entailment, Projection and Assertion" (PEPA) III, Rutgers University, with David Beaver, Craige Roberts and Mandy Simons, May 19, 2011.
- Workshop on Evidentials, with Brian Joseph and Craige Roberts, OSU, January 14-15, 2011.
- "Presupposition, Entailment, Projection and Assertion" (PEPA) II, Vancouver, Canada, with David Beaver, Craige Roberts and Mandy Simons, April 28, 2010.
- Cross-disciplinary graduate student workshop on fieldwork, with Cynthia G. Clopper, Galey Modan and Mary Rose, OSU, May 9, 2009
- Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT), with Craige Roberts, April 3-5, 2009.
- "Presupposition, Entailment, Projection and Assertion" (PEPA) I, OSU, with David Beaver, Craige Roberts and Mandy Simons, April 2-3, 2009.
- Into the field: Workshop on methods and rewards in fieldwork, with Cynthia G. Clopper, Galey Modan and Mary Rose, OSU, February 9, 2008
- Ohio research on indigenous languages of the Americas, with Brian Joseph, OSU, January 21, 2008.