I am primarily interested in language variation and language change. How I came to these interests is a long story but my training with excellent linguists at the universities of Michigan, Mainz, and Tübingen had a lot to do with it. I have studied modern German, Dutch, French and other spoken languages but the dead (or ‘philological’) languages are my forte. My specialty is the older stages of Germanic, specifically, Old High German, Old Saxon, Gothic, Old English, Old Frisian, Old Dutch, Old Norse, including the entire history of German. I study these languages to gain insights into language variation and change. As a side benefit, much can also be gleaned about the history and culture of the people who used these languages and that, too, fascinates me. In addition to my primary appointment in the Department of Germanic Languages, I am also on the faculty for Indo-European Studies at UCLA. The program in Indo-European Studies at UCLA is one of the premier programs, if not thepremier program, in comparative linguistics in the world today.
My first book was An Historical Analysis of Directional Adverbs in Fourteenth Century Southwestern German: A Study in Historical Dialectology. I have also published on theory in reconstruction (in articles and my book, On the Bifurcation and Repression Theories of Germanic and German). And I have published several articles on grammaticalization theory(on modal verbs and affixoids) that try to answer the simple question ‘where does grammar come from?’. Recently, I have become interested in the origin of human language and am preparing a book manuscript on this topic, as well. While we can’t, of course, know precisely how language originated, we are finally at a point where we can say quite a lot about it, and this area has also become a battleground for the formalist vs. functionalist debate in linguistics.
The origin of language is a topic of wide interest to many fields, so I teach it as a lower division, general education course for all to take. All other courses (at the upper division and graduate level) are on the linguistics of German, its history, dialects, sociolinguistics and on theory in language variation and change. I also teach graduate courses on Old High German, Old Saxon and Gothic. For the past few years I have co-directed the UCLA summer Study/Travel program in Vienna, Munich and Berlin, which focuses on the language and culture of these extraordinary cities.