Linguistics Research

Language Documentation · Syntax/Semantics · Philology · Digital Scholarship

About my research


My primary research interests lie in language documentation and the semantics of under-studied languages. Since 2013, my research has focused on Zapotec, a highly-diversified family of languages indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico. I also collaborate with international teams of linguists, historians, and language activists to support community-led projects aimed at language revalorization and youth empowerment. Much of my research draws on digital scholarship to improve access and communication within the transnational Zapotec community.

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Research with speakers of Tlacolula Valley Zapotec


Temporal-modal semantics in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec

My current research focus is temporal-modal semantics in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. In particular, my PhD Qualifying Paper research analyzed the expression of imperfectives.

  • The imperfective in Central Zapotec: Evidence from Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. Paper presented at the Texas Linguistics Society (TLS) annual meeting, Austin, TX. (2020) [handout]
  • The semantic distribution of Tlacochahuaya Zapotec r-. Paper presented at the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) annual meeting, New Orleans, LA. (2020) [handout]

Archive collections

  • Zapotec Collection of May Helena Plumb. The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America. Access: public. PID ailla:257460. (2019) [archive collection]

Talking Dictionaries

I collaborated on the construction and maintenance of Talking Dictionaries for three Tlacolula Valley Zapotec languages. These multimedia dictionaries include audio recordings, pictures, videos, and embedded tweets, and every dictionary is coauthored with Zapotec collaborators.

  • Tlacochahuaya Zapotec Talking Dictionary, Version 2.1 (Previously Version 2.0, Version 1.0). Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, with Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, Moisés García Guzmán, Kathryn Goldberg, María Mercedes Méndez Morales, Benjamin Paul, Chantel Reyes, and Cecilia G. Williamson. (2019) [website]
  • Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec Talking Dictionary, Version 1.2. Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, with Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, Janet Chávez Santiago, Kathryn Goldberg, Tess A. Harty, Nick Kalivoda, Sam Katz, Teresa Martínez Chavez, Javier A. Pina, Diamond C. J. Ray, Cornelio Santos, and Jamie A. Thomas. (2017; version now outdated)
  • San Lucas Quiavini Zapotec Talking Dictionary, Version 1.0. Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, with Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, Felipe H. Lopez, Pamela Munro, Tess A. Harty, Sam Katz, Javier A. Pina, Diamond C. J. Ray, and Cornelio Santos. (2016; version now outdated)
Zapotec street signs in Santa María del Tule

home of a famous 2,000-year-old yagits (Montezuma cypress) tree

Recording words for a Talking Dictionary

with Janet Chávez Santiago, a language activist & speaker of Teotitlán del Valle Zapotec

Mural in Tlacolula de Matamoros

painted by the Tlacolulokos, a Zapotec street-art duo

Research on Colonial Zapotec


Ticha: A digital text explorer for Colonial Zapotec

I first started studying Zapotec languages as a research assistant on Ticha Project, cataloging and analyzing Colonial Valley Zapotec documents from the 16th- through 18th-centuries. My contributions to the Ticha Project include transcription, linguistic analysis, and XML/TEI encoding.

  • Digital edition of Fray Leonardo Levanto’s 1766 Cathecismo de la lengua Zaapoteca, beta version. Ticha Project, with Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, Claire Benham, Janet Chávez Santiago, Emily Drummond, James Arthur Faville, Avery A. King, Bridget Murray, Tristan Jacobo Pepin, Mindy Renee Reutter, James T. Truitt, Christina Nicole Ulowetz, Mike Zarafonetis, and Ian Fisher. (2017) [website]
  • Ticha: a digital text explorer for Colonial Zapotec. First edition, with Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, George Aaron Broadwell, Michel R. Oudijk, Laurie Allen, and Mike Zarafonetis. (2016) [website]

The Ticha Project team has presented extensively about our methods, particularly in regard to community collaboration and digital scholarship.

  • Humanidades digitales multilingual y multicultural: el caso de Ticha, un explorador digital de texto para el zapoteco colonial. Paper presented at the Encontro de Humanidades Digitales, Mexico City, Mexico, with Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, George Aaron Broadwell, Michel R. Oudijk, Laurie Allen, and Michael Zarafonetis. (2016) [slides]
  • Ticha, un explorador digital de texto para el zapoteco colonial: creando conexiones. Paper presented at the Coloquio sobre Lenguas Otomangues y Vecinas (COLOV) VII: Juan José Rendón Monzón, Oaxaca City, Mexico, with Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, George Aaron Broadwell, Michel R. Oudijk, Laurie Allen, and Michael Zarafonetis. (2016)

Colonial Valley Zapotec grammar & philology

My research with Colonial Valley Zapotec documents including many levels of lingusitics analysis and resulted in conference presentations both in the US and Mexico and publication at IJAL.

  • Conjunction in Colonial Valley Zapotec. International Journal of American Linguistics 85(2), pp. 213–245. (2019) [article]
  • Resumptive subject pronouns in Colonial Valley Zapotec relatives. Paper presented at the Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA) VIII, Austin, TX. (2017) [handout]
  • The pragmatics of conjunction in Colonial Valley Zapotec. Paper presented at theSociety for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) annual meeting, Portland, OR. (2015) [handout]
This philological perspective continues to inform my research on the modern languages. As part of my early graduate fieldwork, I re-elicited a modern Tlacochahuaya Zapotec translation of a Colonial Valley Zapotec will.

  • A modern Valley Zapotec translation of a Colonial Valley Zapotec text. Paper presented at the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA), New York, NY. (2019) [archive deposit]
Reading a Colonial Valley Zapotec document

with María Mercedes Méndez Morales and Soledad Hernández at the Burgoa Archives in Oaxaca City, July 2014 (photo by Brook Danielle Lillehaugen)

Photographing documents for the Ticha Project

with Mike Zarafonetis in the Tlacolula de Matamoros municipal archive (photo by Laurie Allen)

Other projects


Transcribing Mixtec language surveys

In the summer of 2019, I developed a workflow to transform crowdsourced transcriptions of Mixtec syntax surveys into machine- and human-readable corpora. The resulting documents were publicly archived.

Voces del Valle: Empowering Zapotec speakers on Twitter

I served as a volunteer reader on the Voces del Valle project, an initiative to support Zapotec speakers in writing their language on social media. (For background, see Lillehaugen 2016.)

  • Twitter y las lenguas de Oaxaca. Panel discussion at the Coloquio sobre Lenguas Otomangues y Vecinas (COLOV) VIII: Antonio Peñafiel, Oaxaca City, Mexico, with Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, Janet Chávez Santiago, Felipe H. Lopez, Moisés García Guzmán, Yaneth Molina, Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial, and Arnauld Avendano. (2018)