This award was provided as part of NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships (SPRF) program and SBE's Linguistics program. The goal of the SPRF program is to prepare promising, early career doctoral-level scientists for scientific careers in academia, industry or private sector, and government. SPRF awards involve two years of training under the sponsorship of established scientists and encourage Postdoctoral Fellows to perform independent research. NSF seeks to promote the participation of scientists from all segments of the scientific community, including those from underrepresented groups, in its research programs and activities; the postdoctoral period is considered to be an important level of professional development in attaining this goal. Each Postdoctoral Fellow must address important scientific questions that advance their respective disciplinary fields. Under the sponsorship of Dr. Jonathan Bobaljik at Harvard University, this postdoctoral fellowship award supports an early career scientist investigating the linguistic ingredients of grammatical gender. The research explores how gender - a property of nouns reflected in agreement with other elements such as adjectives and determiners - is grammatically represented, through three related projects: i) a theoretically-oriented typological study of syncretism (the sharing of forms across categories), ii) a comparative study of morphosyntactic gender 'defaults', and iii) a study of putative gender suppletion (in which pairs of forms such as aunt/uncle have a semantically regular relationship but are expressed by a maximally irregular morphological relationship). These projects are centered around questions of how gender features are decomposed and structured, and how gender features are reflected in morphology and syntax. The objective of this research is to advance our understanding of how gender categories are linguistically defined and how they interact with other components of grammar.
The research synthesizes morphological and syntactic evidence to inform the theory of the featural representation of grammatical gender, and evaluates hypotheses such as featural containment. It also examines the role of grammatical gender in root suppletion. The first project addresses featural decomposition and markedness through the gathering of extensive typological evidence on gender syncretism, which can be used to reveal whether there are generalizations about attested and unattested patterns of syncretism. The research thus complements recent studies of syncretism and suppletion which observe, and propose explanations for, robust cross-linguistic generalizations such as *ABA: the absence of a pattern in which a marked member along some hierarchy shares a form or property with a less marked member to the exclusion of intermediate members. *ABA has been observed in various domains including adjectival grade, clusivity, number, and case, though it has not yet been tested for grammatical gender. This typological evidence can be used to evaluate the viability of a universal theory of gender decomposition and markedness, such as the theory of featural containment. A second component of the research investigates gender markedness through a comparative study of morphosyntactic gender defaults. In particular, the study examines how markedness is reflected in split results for standard gender default diagnostics, when one subset of diagnostics indicates that one gender category behaves as a default, while another subset of diagnostics instead point to the default status of a different gender. Gender markedness is also considered from a different perspective, namely in terms of the role of syntactic licensing. Lastly, the research examines the issue of gender-conditioned suppletion, assessing whether pairs unlike in form have different gender representations while sharing the same 'root'. Novel types of evidence are considered, including conceivable suppletive alternations which may or may not be attested.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.