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Before I worked in software, I got a Ph.D. in linguistics.

My team believed that curiosity drives conversations. When people interact, we get curious about things together. And when one of us says something, we signal with our grammar and tone of voice how it’s connected to the things the others are curious about — what questions of theirs it answers, what questions it raises. That’s how we connect the things we say to each other’s goals and interests.

Studying this stuff is, no exaggeration, why I’m a good editor. Clear writing happens when you connect to your readers’ goals and interests. Every language gives you tools of grammar and style for making that connection. Really good editing is teaching people to use those tools.

What I studied

I worked on information structure (that’s the fancy name for this stuff) in a few languages: English and French with David Beaver’s research group at the University of Texas, and the Maya language K’ichee’ with Nora England’s research group. Put plainly, my dissertation is on how K’ichee’ speakers signal what information answers a question. Because grammar and speakers’ goals are connected, the answer sheds some light on the grammar of Mayan languages. 1 1 For linguists: I worked on focus movement, which is required for foci in some syntactic positions and optional for foci in others. This follows an ergative pattern paralelling the ergative extraction asymmetries already known in Mayan languages, and there is evidence the pattern holds throughout the Mayan family, with languages that have an ergative extraction asymmetry also having an ergative pattern of optional focus marking.

I also won some grants, gave a lot of presentations, taught some linguists how to program and some programmers how to think about language, and had a lot of fun traveling around Guatemala (where K’ichee’ is spoken) in the backs of pickup trucks.


Some of these works were originally published under a pen name. I have cited them here with my real legal name, which is how I wish for them to be cited going forward.


Chapters and articles