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Syntactic theory and description; experimental syntax; language acquisition; Korean and Jejueo, heritage languages; language revitalization

Moore Hall 564
Phone: (808) 956-3228

Academic Background:

B.A. University of Prince Edward Island
M.A. Université Laval
M.Ed. Harvard University
Ph.D. University of Chicago

What follows:

  1. A brief summary of my principal interests
  2. A list of books
  3. A curated list of materials relating to emergentism,  language revitalization (inluding Jejueo), and other topics

1.  Interests:

My primary research interests fall into several areas, including syntactic theory, language acquisition, Korean, and heritage languages. Most recently, I have become interested in language-related AI, with special attention to  its relevance to the syntax, semantics and acquisition of natural language and vice versa.

My work on syntactic theory and on language acquisition focuses on emergentism—the idea that the complex systems are best understood by investigating the interaction of more basic forces and propensities. In the case of language, these factors seem to consist largely of processing pressures, which play a key role in shaping the properties of grammatical systems, the manner in which those properties emerge in the course of development and are lost in the case of impairment, and the way in which they are distributed cross-linguistically. They may well also be relevant for  the creation of more ‘natural’ AI-based language models.

Syntactic Carpentry (published in 2005 by Erlbaum) provides an outline of an emergentist approach to syntax, illustrating how many core grammatical phenomena can be traced to the operation of an efficiency-driven processor whose primary goal is simply to reduce the burden on working memory. This theme is pursued and refined in several of the papers that can be downloaded from this site. The Handbook of Language Emergence (Erlbaum, 2015), co-edited with Brian MacWhinney, offers a broader perspective on emergentist work in cognitive science in general. A new book on this subject, Natural Syntax: An Emergentist Primer, is available for downloading from this site (see below).

My research on Korean is relatively wide-ranging, beginning with Categories and Case (1989). I maintain an ongoing interest in case-related phenomena as well as processing and acquisition, and I have co-authored (with Miho Choo) a bilingual ‘root dictionary’ of Korean (The Handbook of Korean Vocabulary, University of Hawai‘i Press, 1996) as well as a book on Korean phonology (The Sounds of Korean, University of Hawaii Press, 2003). I have also co-authored a book on Jejueo, the language of Korea’s Jeju Island (with Changyong Yang and Sejung Yang).

Finally, I have a strong interest in the acquisition and maintenance of ‘heritage languages’—a broad category that includes both the family languages of immigrants to America (e.g., Korean) and endangered indigenous languages around the world. I am particularly devoted to the preservation and revitalization of Jejueo.

2. Publications (books)

  • Natural Syntax: An Emergentist Primer (3rd ed.) Available for downloading from this site; see below.
  • Jejueo: The Language of Korea’s Jeju Island. (co-authored with Changyong Yang & Sejung Yang). Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. 2019.
  • Jejueo-1 (an introductory textbook for teaching and learning Jejueo, co-authored with Changyong Yang & Sejung Yang). Seoul: Kyobo, 2017. [Available at:]
  • Handbook of Language Emergence. (co-edited with Brian MacWhinney). Boston: Wiley. 2015
  • Syntactic Carpentry: An Emergentist Approach to Syntax. Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum, 2005.
  • How Children Learn Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Contemporary Linguistic Analysis: An Introduction (co-edited with J. Archibald). Ninth edition. Toronto: Pearson-Longman, 2021. (The U.S. edition of this book, co-edited with J. Archibald, M. Aronoff & J. Rees-Miller and entitled Contemporary Linguistics, is published by St. Martin’s Press.)
  • The Sounds of Korean: A Pronunciation Guide (co-authored with M. Choo). Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2003.
  • Studies on Korean in Community Schools (co-edited with D.-J. Lee, S. Cho, M. Lee, & M. Song). Technical Report 22. Honolulu: Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center, 2000. (This is a collection of reports, written in Korean by my then students, summarizing our research on ‘heritage learners’ of Korean in the United States.)
  • Syntactic Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  • Handbook of Korean Vocabulary (co-authored with M. Choo). Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1996.
  • Categories and Case: The Sentence Structure of Korean. Philadelphia & Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1991.
  •  Principles of Grammar and Learning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

3. A curated list o f papers and a book available for downloading as PDF files (see also and

3.1 If you’re interested in emergentism:

This following monograph draws on materials from my classes, talks and publications, as well as on new ideas that reflect my current thinking about language and emergence.

Natural Syntax – An Emergentist Primer (3rd ed., 2022)

Intended for a quite general audience, it consists of 15 short chapters, each focused on the role of emergence in shaping language and its acquisition.  This  latest edition incorporates a number of revisions and clarifications, especially in chapters 11 and 12 and in the appendix on the that-trace effect.

An introductory talk on the book was presented as part of the ABRALIN lecture series on October 18, 2021. It can be accessed here:

An article summarizing some of the book’s key points appears in The Cambridge Handbook of Working Memory and Language (2022).

Working Memory and Natural Syntax (2022)

The following two published papers focus on typology – the first on ‘alignment’ (the contrast between accusative and ergative language) and the second on symmetrical voice (a defining property of many Austronesian languages).

The Syntax of Alignment (2022-R)

Symmetrical Voice in Western Subanon (2019-R, co-authored with Sharon Bulalang)

For those working in the field of second language acquisition, the following paper (published in 2022 in a volume honoring the late Michael Long) may be of interest. The central thesis of the paper is that transfer is best seen as a processing-driven strategy that seeks to minimize the burden on working memory: L2 learners transfer operations from their L1 to the L2,  unless those operations are more costly in the L2 than in the L1.

A Calculus for L1 Transfer (2022)

The following older papers, some of which were written for a general audience, may also be of some interest:

  • **Processing determinism. This paper, which appeared in Language Learning 65 in early 2015, outlines an emergentist, processing-based approach to understanding linguistic development.
  • Does emergentism have a chance? This is my plenary talk to the 32nd Boston University Conference on Language Development (November 2007) as it appeared in the Proceedings. It focuses almost entirely on the problem of first language acquisition.
  • Interview on emergentism. This interview, conducted by Mei Yang of South China University of Technology, appeared in Chinese in The Foreign Modern Language Quarterly, 32.4, 121-28 in 2009.

3.2 If you’re interested in Jejueo or language revitalization, the following material may be helpful:

For a quite detailed description of Jejueo, you may wish to read the chapter (co-authored with Sejung Yang and Changyong Yang) that appears in The Cambridge Handbook of Korean Linguistics (2022). The chapter includes  a sketch grammar, and explains why Jejueo is a distinct language, not a dialect. It draws heavily on the material in our 2020 book, Jejueo: The Language of Korea’s Jeju Island,, published by the University of Hawai’i Press.

Jejueo – Korea’s Other Language (2022)

A 2018 interview on the plight and future of Jejueo that appeared on the Arirang network can be found here:

A 2023 talk on Jejueo at the Nam Center for Korean Studies at the University of Michigan can be found here:


Language revitalization is a very challenging enterprise, and often falls short of the community’s wishes even when immersion programs are established.  For a discussion of a very serioius challenge confronting immersion programs, see the paper below, which focuses on Māori, Kaqchikel (a Mayan language), and Western Subanon (a Philippine language). The paper is co-authored with Raina Heaton, Sharon Bulalang and Jeanette King.

The Role of Input in Language  Revitalization (published in Language Documentation and Conservation, 2021)

Some other papers on Jejueo and language revitalization

3.3 Other papers on various topics  (those preceded by a double asterisk have a specifically emergentist focus):

3.4 Papers specifically on Korean 

Some dissertations that I have supervised:

  • Fahn, Sharon. 1993. The acquisition of Mandarin Chinese BA-constructions.
  • Gibson, Robert. 1993. Palauan causatives and passives: An incorporation analysis.
  • Kao, Rong-Rong. 1993. Grammatical relations and anaphoric structures in Mandarin Chinese.
  • Choo, Miho. 1994. A unified account of null pronouns in Korean.
  • Cho, Sungdai. 1995. On verbal intransitivity in Korean: With special reference to middle constructions.
  • Clausen, Josie. 1995. The taxonomy, semantics, and syntax of Ilokano adverbial clauses.
  • Izutani, Matuzo. 1995. Against a subjacency account of movement and empty categories in Japanese.
  • Kim, Seong-Chan. 1995. The acquisition of wh questions in English and Korean.
  • Yamashita, Yoshie. 1995. The emergence of syntactic categories: Evidence from the acquisition of Japanese.
  • Yoshinaga, Naoko. 1996. Wh-questions: A comparative study of their form and acquisition in English and Japanese.
  • Lim, Kihong. 1998. A split analysis of caki-binding in Korean.
  • Wong, Cathy Sin-Ping. 1998. The acquisition of Cantonese noun phrases.
  • Cho, Sookeun. 1999. The acquisition of relative clauses: Experimental studies on Korean.
  • Suzuki, Takaaki. 1999. Two aspects of Japanese case in acquisition.
  • Lee, Miseon. 2000. On agrammatic deficits in English and Korean.
  • Chang, Jung-hsing. 2001. The syntax of event structure in Chinese.
  • Kim, Kyoungkook. 2001. Korean negation and the licensing condition on negative polarity items.
  • Nakamura, Michiko. 2003. Processing of multiple filler-gap dependencies in Japanese. (co-supervised with Amy Schafer)
  • Tsang, Chi Chung Aaron. 2003. Transitivity in Cantonese.
  • Song, Min Sun. 2003. The first and second language acquisition of negative polarity items in English and Korean.
  • Lee, Sun-Young. 2003. Argument/adjunct asymmetry in the acquisition of inversion in wh-questions by English-speaking children and Korean learners of English: Frequency account vs. structural account.
  • Lee, Mijung. 2004. Resultative constructions in Korean.
  • Timyam, Napasri. 2005. The interaction of linguistic, pragmatic and social factors: The case of datives and ditransitives in Thai. (co-supervised with Ben Bergen)
  • Kim, Jae-Yeon. 2005. L2 acquisition of transitivity alternations and of entailment relations for causatives by Korean speakers of English and English speakers of Korean.
  • Shin, Kyung Sook. 2007. Processing nominal reference in English and Korean: Data from first and second language acquisition.
  • Hwang, Hui-hua (Jessie). 2008. Serial verb constructions in Chinese.
  • Lee, Sunyoung. 2009. Interpreting scope ambiguity in first and second language processing: Universal quantifiers and negation.
  • Kwak, Hye-Young. 2010. Scope interpretation in first and second language acquisition: Numeral quantifiers and negation.
  • Hunter, Hatfield. 2010. Temporal expectancy and the experience of statistics in language processing.
  • Kim, So-Young. 2011. Focus particles at syntactic, semantic and pragmatic interfaces: The acquisition of only and even in English.
  • Kang, Sang-Gu. 2011. English attrition in Korean-English bilingual children.
  • Hattori, Ryoko. 2011. Preverbal particles in Pingelapese: A language of Micronesia.
  • Kim, Jinsook. 2012. Comprehension of elided phrases in Korean and English: VP-ellipsis, null object constructions, and one-substitution.
  • Choe, Jinsun. 2012. Children seem to know raising: Raising and intervention in child language. (co-supervised with Kamil Deen)
  • Ko, Insung. 2012. The articulation of Korean coronal obstruents: Data from heritage speakers and second language learners. (co-supervised with Ho-Min Sohn) 
  • Kim, Chae-Eun. 2013. Asymmetries in the production of relative clauses: First and second language acquisition. 
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