Research

Research interests and books

I was trained as a generative syntactician and will never not love X-bar tree diagrams, but over the years I’ve moved towards looking more at the relationship between syntactic patterns, the surrounding text, and register and genre. I have also become more engaged in outreach efforts to show that ‘grammar is not the enemy,’ the theme of the student-led Grammar Badgers website.

New book

My new book, Discourse Syntax: English Grammar Beyond the Sentence, will be published by Cambridge University Press in Fall 2022. This textbook, co-authored with Heidrun Dorgeloh, takes intermediate and advanced students of linguistics ‘beyond the sentence’ to study grammatical phenomena like word order variation (topicalization, inversion, particle shift, passive voice etc.), connectives, ellipsis, and syntactic complexity. It introduces core concepts of discourse syntax, integrating insights from corpus-based research, and invites the reader to reflect on research design decisions. Each chapter begins with a definition of learning outcomes, provides results from empirical articles, and enables readers to critically assess data visualizations. The beautiful cover was designed by Lynn Zhang.

Work on the passive construction

My second monograph, Deconstructing the English Passive (DeGrutyer Mouton 2009) provided an account of the form and the function of the English passive centered on lexical saturation of the external argument (implicit argument). In the course of writing this book I also paid attention to what style manuals have to say about the passive. In a corpus based-case study I showed that stylistic advice to avoid the passive (because it is presumed to be ‘weak’ and ‘wordy’) may actually result in constructions that include no human agent whatsoever (It was shown…vs. The data show...). My interest in the passive and the public perception of the passive have led me to my current book project, tentatively titled Bad Grammar and Metalinguistic Awareness, which will address the role of prescriptivism in language use.

Work on syntax and genre and other collaborations

I  also co-edited two collections on verb syntax and syntactic variation, one focused on Structural Aspects of Semantically Complex Verbs (2002, with Nicole Dehé), the other one on Syntactic Variation and Genre (2010 with Heidrun Dorgeloh). Taken together, these two collections exemplify the shift in my research interests from the relationship between syntax and lexicon to the relationship between syntax and genre. Heidrun Dorgeloh and I also published a chapter on Syntax and Genre in the Oxford Handbook on English Grammar (2020). As part of this shift to more applied topics, I collaborated with Trini Stickle on the grammar of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, resulting in an article on “Transitivity patterns exhibited by persons with dementia in conversation” in Applied Linguistics (2017/2019) and in a chapter in a collection on how to have conversations with individuals diagnosed with dementia geared towards practitioners.

Syntax/Semantics

My first monograph, Verbklassifizierung und aspektuelle Alternationen im Englischen (Niemeyer 2001), was  based on my dissertation and looked at the relationship between verb meaning and grammatical behavior in English. Why is it that a transitive verb like cut allows the intransitive-looking middle construction (This bread cuts easily) but not the superficially intransitive ergative construction (*The bread cut)? I applied the Optimality Theory framework to develop a hierarchical account of linking rules between lexical-semantic structure and argument structure. Constructions looked at in detail included ergatives (unaccusatives), middles, cognate objects, and resultatives.