University at Buffalo
I am Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University at Buffalo – SUNY. I obtained my doctorate from Tilburg University in the Netherlands in 1998. From 1999 until 2003, I was first a postdoctoral and then a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics before joining the Linguistics faculty at the University at Buffalo. I teach Semantics, Linguistic Anthropology, and Field Methods. I specialize in semantic typology, the crosslinguistic study of universals and variation in semantic categorization. Semantic typologists investigate how languages vary and resemble one another in how they represent reality. I have conducted extensive research on the semantic typology of representations of space, time, events, and causality and on the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis, according to which language-specificity in semantics may be a shaping factor in culture-specificity in nonverbal cognition. Since 2007, I have been directing three large-scale collaborative research projects on these topics with the support of the National Science Foundation: Spatial language and cognition in Mesoamerica (‘MesoSpace’; NSF award BCS-0723694; 2007-2014), Spatial language and cognition beyond Mesoamerica (‘MesoSpace’; NSF award BCS-1053123; 2011-2017), and Causality across languages (‘CAL’; NSF award BCS-1535846; 2015-2019). Cumulatively, these projects have brought together some 60 researchers from around the world to date collecting data and jointly advancing analyses. An overarching theme in my research is the role of culture in cognition. I view this interest as part of a broader empiricist turn in the cognitive sciences. This paradigm shift or paradigm maturation process has been leading the field slowly away from its rationalist beginnings, which were heavily invested in assumptions of innateness, symbolic encoding, and modularity, toward a “Cognitive Science 2.0” that embraces individual and cultural variation and brain plasticity. A closely related line of inquiry, which I have been pursuing since the days of my own doctoral research, is the emergence of functional categories in the languages of the world. Across space and time, unrelated languages have been evolving similar functional categories. Yet, the amount of observable crosslinguistic variation in the grammaticalization of such categories discourages simplistic innatist explanations. I have been developing an evolutionary approach that attributes crosslinguistic similarities in functional category systems to processes of cultural evolution responding to pressures of optimizing communication.
semantic typology; linguistic anthropology; language and cognition; semantics and pragmatics; Mesoamerican languages