My research in field-based psycholinguistics addresses two fundamental questions in linguistic theory and language processing:

  1. How universal is linguistic theory, and how can we account for the wealth of crosslinguistic variation?
  2. How is language-specific information integrated into in real-time incremental language processing?
I investigate these questions using an interdisciplinary and crosslinguistic approach involving quantitative methods and a focus on an under-represented language.

Number marking: Variation in syntax and processing
In many languages, there is evidence that the plural marker heads the Number Phrase (e.g. Ritter 1991, Bernstein 1991, inter alia). Wiltschko (2008) proposed that languages can vary in where and how plural morphology merges. In Butler (under review), I present evidence that the plural morpheme in Yucatec Maya is a syntactic adjunct to the Determiner Phrase, providing diagnostics for the DP-plural type predicted by Wiltschko (2008). In Butler (2012), I present unique experimental evidence for the DP-adjoined plural hypothesis for Yucatec Maya, and I further discuss the typology of plural marking. The implication of this research is that the similar concepts across languages can have different syntactic representations. In Butler et al. (to appear), we investigate other syntactic and semantic influences on the use of number marking and number agreement in sentence processing in Yucatec Maya.

Conceptual accessibility, discourse and word order variation
Conceptual accessibility, or the ease of lexical retrieval (Bock and Warren 1985) has been shown to influence word order variation across languages. Whether the influence of conceptual accessibility is indirect (mediated by assignment of subject function (Bock and Warren 1985, Bock 1986, Aissen 2003)), direct (subverting function assignment for direct positional processing (Ferreira and Dell 2000)), or both (Prat-Sala and Branigan 2000, Tanaka et al. 2011) is unclear. Languages with flexible word order in which sentence-initial constituents can be non-subjects have provided evidence for the direct account. In Butler et al. (in prep), we find a significant effect of animacy on word order variation in Spanish and Yuatec Maya. When we manipulated topicality as well, we found that the effect of animacy was no longer significant in Spanish and that it was mediated by topicality in Yucatec Maya. The implication of this research is that what we call conceptual accessibility may be built into the grammars of languages to different degrees and subject to crosslinguistic variation.