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Dunstan Brown investigates autonomous morphology, morphology–syntax interaction, and typology. His recent work has focused on describing and understanding different aspects of morphological complexity. After graduating with a BA in Modern Languages and a Master of Linguistics from the University of Manchester, he completed a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Surrey and worked there for many years before taking up a 50th Anniversary Chair at York in 2012.
I am interested in morphology, because of the particular challenge it represents, being pervaded by irregularity and idiosyncrasy, and yet presenting a system of its own. Together with colleagues at Kentucky and Surrey, my recent work has concentrated on developing a theoretical framework, known as ‘Network Morphology’, to describe the systems of rules which determine the structure of words by construing irregularity as a matter of degree, using examples from a diverse range of languages and phenomena to illustrate. The Network Morphology philosophy promotes the use of computational implementation to check theories so that neat solutions to one problem can be tested to see what ramifications they have for other parts of the morphology. The results of this work have recently appeared in the book Network Morphology: a defaults-based theory of word structure published by Cambridge University Press (with Andrew Hippisley).
Together with Roger Evans (Brighton) I am working on the unsupervised learning of autonomous morphology, such as inflectional classes, which cross-cut the categories typically associated with syntax and cannot readily be accounted for in phonological terms. Because it is difficult to account for this in terms of other linguistic layers, an approach to validation based on independent analysis of the underlying data is of particular interest. In a new project on the Oto-Manguean languages of Mexico I am also working to apply this technique to languages which exhibit a large number of inflectional classes, combining both prosodic and affixal information.
As I am interested in the interaction between morphology and syntax, the Nakh-Daghestanian language Archi provides a rich source of data on this topic, particularly in relation to the role of morphology and syntax in agreement. Working with colleagues in the Surrey Morphology Group I worked on the creation of a dictionary of the Archi language. We have now started a new project on the Archi agreement system. As agreement in Archi is manifested across a wide variety of domains and constructions it is a particularly valuable language for investigating the mechanisms and constraints on agreement.
I am working with colleagues in Fairbanks (Alaska), Leiden (Netherlands) and Surrey on the Alor-Pantar languages of eastern Indonesia. The area I have focused on, with Sebastian Fedden (Surrey), is the pronominal marking system. One of the results of this work is that we have observed differing degrees of arbitrariness in the choice of prefixal marking, something of particular interest for work on how autonomous structure can arise.
Over the years I have also been active in creating a number of databases for investigating specific morphology phenomena.
On current research projects I collaborate with colleagues at Essex, Fairbanks (Alaska), Harvard, Leiden and Surrey.
I would be happy to supervise research projects on morphology, including computational and theoretical approaches, morphology-syntax interaction and typology.
I am currently co-supervising the follow PhD students based at Surrey: