I am a theoretical and experimental linguist, specializing in morphosyntax and Georgian. Currently, I’m a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Southern California. My research integrates formal syntactic and psycholinguistic theory to better understand the nature of grammatical relations, how comprehenders process them in real time, and what pressures explain their crosslinguistic variation. Ongoing projects of mine focus on:
Verb finality and case–role ambiguities: A verb-final sentence forces comprehenders to maintain arguments in memory before being able to integrate them into the verb’s lexical semantics. Absent top-down evidence, they rely on cues like case, word order, and animacy to predict what grammatical role a preverbal argument bears in relation to its predicate. Georgian, a verb-final split-ergative language, provides a rich testing ground for theories of how this is accomplished in real time. A recently submitted manuscript argues that Georgian comprehenders prioritize prototypically transitive parses when processing temporary case–role ambiguities. Results from three L-Maze experiments show that indirect objects are always difficult to process, as are noncanonical agents in scrambled sentences. This project develops Chapter 2 of my thesis, which investigated ergative case and animacy.
Socio-psycholinguistics of singular they: Cataphoric pronouns trigger an active search for a postcedent with compatible features. How might this search be modulated by comprehenders’ experience with innovative pronouns uses, like nonbinary singular they? A manuscript recently submitted for review, coauthored with Byron Ahn, reports a Maze study addressing this question. Results show that cataphoric they evokes weaker expectations for a plural postcendent among younger comprehenders, suggesting their greater familiarity with singular they. There is also a temporal asymmetry in the evaluation of licit postcedents to s/he compared to they. We presented initial findings as a poster at HSP ’23.
Morphological variation and innovation: A collaboration with Nino Amiridze investigates dazzling inflectional variation in the placeholder verb construction emerging in colloquial Georgian. A manuscript in progress reports an acceptability judgement experiment, offers structural analyses accounting for idiolectal variation, and muses on locality conditions on allomorphy in compounds.
Grammatical relations, case, and agreement: What formal mechanisms govern the mapping between abstract argument structure and surface morphosyntax? A recent manuscript argues that those mechanisms must be rather powerful, presenting Georgian dative-subject constructions as a case study. Taking into account passivization, applicativization, voice-sensitive allomorphy, and PCC effects, I advocate for a theory where grammatical relations are spelled out via rules sensitive to the configuration of arguments and functional heads.
Previous research topics: Information theory and morphosyntactic typology; pronominal cliticization and Person–Case Constraints in Sierra Zapotec; processing animacy and verb initiality in Santiago Laxopa Zapotec; the syntax and real-time processing of (cor)relative clauses in Georgian; phi-agreement in the languages of the Caucasus; morphological conspiracies and optimization.
Miscellaneous: I prefer they/them pronouns, and accept he/him. Check out my visual art — collage, drawings, calligraphy — on Instagram. I also occasionally post videos about linguistics and conlanging on YouTube.
Contact me at: foleys at usc dot edu