I’m James A. Crippen, a PhD student in linguistics at the University of British Columbia and previously a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. This is my unofficial personal webpage. I have an official webpage with the UBC linguistics department, but it’s intentionally much less useful.

My training at the University of Hawaiʻi was in language documentation, and this informs my basic approach to linguistics: emphasis on primary data representative of real speech. I believe that linguists have an obligation to produce lasting, useful records of the languages that they investigate, and this obligation is nowhere more strong than for those working on endangered or minority languages. My research at UBC has a strong theoretical emphasis fitting with the basic practices of the department, but rather than being interested in linguistic theories for their own sake I consider theories to be useful tools for discovering new properties about language. My current research focuses on configurationality and dislocation, (scrambling) how asymmetries in syntax establish argument structure and how constituents can be shifted from their expected positions into the left and right peripheries of the sentence.

I work primarily on the Tlingit language which is indigenous to Southeast Alaska and neighboring parts of the Yukon and British Columbia. Tlingit is highly endangered, indeed moribund, with only a few hundred native speakers, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s. There are active efforts to revitalize the language, and there are a growing number of young Tlingit people learning to speak it, but the situation is still quite grim. I am not directly involved in the revitalization of Tlingit but I intend to work more in this area after my doctoral research. People specifically interested in Tlingit language revitalization should contact my friend and colleague X̱ʼunei Lance Twitchell at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.

Tlingit is one of the two highest branches of the Na-Dene language family. It is a cousin of Eyak as well as being more distantly related to the Athabaskan languages such as Navajo, Dëne Sųłiné (Chipewyan), Denaʼina (Tanaina), Carrier, and Hupa. The Dene-Yeniseian hypothesis being developed by Ed Vajda posits a distant relationship with the Yeniseian languages spoken in central Siberia. There are many outstanding problems in the relationship between Tlingit and the Athabaskan–Eyak family, particularly the issue of multiple consonant correspondences between Tlingit and reconstructed Proto-Athabaskan-Eyak, and the difficult correspondences between the morphology of Tlingit verbs and PAE verbs.

Among other interesting facts, Tlingit has four unique sounds documented in no other human language, namely /xʼ/, /xʼʷ/, /χʼ/, and /χʼʷ/. It has very complex morphology, including long-distance relationships between morphemes similar to the sort found in Athabaskan languages. Syntactically it permits all possible permutations of basic phrase order, as Seth Cable has noted in his work on Tlingit syntax. My current model of Tlingit syntax explains this variation by principled dislocation of phrases to the edges of clauses, with this dislocation licensed by discourse properties and by structural considerations. Like other Pacific Northwest languages, Tlingit has some interesting semantic properties, including a complex modality system, a very rich aspectual system, unusual binding and reference behaviour, and poorly understood quantification. Tlingit is an extremely challenging language for linguistic analysis, but the rewards of research are rich and fascinating.

The following are some of my papers and other things that people might find interesting.


Last updated: 12-April-2013