Research into natural language syntax is a central area of interest at Memorial, overlapping with studies of morphosyntax and syntax-semantics interfaces. Phil Branigan and Julie Brittain are the syntacticians in the department, both of whom work in a minimalist theoretical model. Branigan and Brittain are both centrally concerned with elucidating the structure of Algonquian languages, and much of the graduate research in the department has been focussed on this theme. Dr. Brittain leads a large research team studying the native acquisition of East Cree; this project constitutes the sole concentrated longitudinal study of a children's acquisition of a North American polysynthetic language to date. Another area of concern in syntactic theory which has been explored by Branigan and Brittain include the syntax and morphosyntax of ergative languages, such as Tibetan or Chuckchi. Dr. Branigan also maintains a research program into the theory of clause-structure, particularly the principles which control formation of questions and how their structures vary in the Germanic languages.
Drs. Carrie Dyck and Yvan Rose are leading the phonetics and phonology streams at MUN. At the centre of their research and training activities are current issues in phonological theory pertaining to the nature of phonological representation and the constraints regulating it as well as the formal interface between phonetics and phonology. These questions are addressed based on significant corpora of primary data documenting Aboriginal languages of Canada (Cayuga, Cree), child language development (English, French, Cree; English-French bilingual development) and loanword phonology. A portion of their research is also based in Aboriginal communities of Ontario (Six Nations) and Québec (Chisasibi). Favouring an interdisciplinary approach in addressing theoretically-informed research questions, Carrie and Yvan also work in collaboration with researchers and students in computer science to develop linguistic software applications, in addition to conducting experimental work (acoustics and ultrasound-based articulatory phonetics) in the Speech Science and Language Acquisition Laboratory at MUN.
Departmental work in language variation and change focuses on social and regional variation in language with a focus on quantitative analysis of language data. Faculty member research covers morpho-syntactic and sociophonetic variation and change in a number of English varieties such as African American English, Southern American English, Caribbean Creoles, Quebec English, and Newfoundland English among others. Course selections allow students to explore methodology, language varieties, and sociolinguistic theory relevant to the contemporary study of language variation and change.