Research

Language resource development

Like most indigenous languages of North America, Gitksan (the language on which my research efforts are focused) is highly endangered and severely under-resourced. I am committed to developing resources that community members can easily access and use in language learning and teaching, and primarily do so in collaboration with the UBC Gitksan Research Lab, with which I have been affiliated since 2011.

I am the project lead on transcribing and interlinear-glossing our multi-dialect collection of Gitksan stories/narratives, and am in the process of developing an online story collection to host these materials and others. I am also developing a morphological analyzer which can be used to search for a word regardless of how it might be inflected, and plan to use this to identify new words out of the text collection. I am also involved in the ongoing development of our online talking dictionary, and in the near future, I plan to focus on pedagogical materials development (e.g. a learners' grammar).

  • Tsimshianic [handbook chapter] (Forbes TA, The languages and linguistics of Indigenous North America)

  • Three Gitksan texts (Forbes et al. 2017, ICSNL)

  • Book of 36 stories (in progress)

  • Finite-state word analyzer (Forbes et al. 2021)

Gitksan/Tsimshianic morphosyntax

Agreement, case, and licensing

I am interested in the complex agreement system of the Tsimshianic languages, especially Gitksan. These languages are morphologically ergative and syntactically tripartite (most likely), with a phi-agreement system that splits into different patterns based on clause type and nominal type. In joint work with Henry Davis, we argue that these languages have no morphological case but rather a system of agreement that feeds morphophonologically-conditioned variation on otherwise case-invariant proper-common noun class particles. This means that ultimately it takes some detective work to understand the surface-opaque system of agreement in Gitksan. My dissertation presents an analysis of ergative and split-absolutive agreement in Gitksan taking into account this opacity, which extends well to related Coast Tsimshian and its particular variations, situated within a probe-goal framework for Agree.

I make claims about the structure of the Gitksan clause and the position of agreement markers within the clausal structure that I intend to revisit in future work. This includes a structure for verb-initial order via VP-remnant raising--I am deeply interested in the various theories that have been proposed to generate V1 order crosslinguistically. It also includes a system of WH anti-agreement that becomes apparent when examining the range of A'-extraction constructions. I aim to further explore how nominal licensing works in the Tsimshianic languages, both syntactically and morphologically; in my analyses, Gitksan phi-agreement is unconnected to abstract Case, but may be affected by properties of the linear string.

  • Nominal types in Gitksan split-absolutive agreement (Forbes 2020; NLLT)

  • Persistent ergativity: Agreement and splits in Tsimshianic (Forbes 2018, dissertation)

  • Extraction morphosyntax and wh-agreement in Gitksan: The case for accusativity (Forbes 2017, CLA)

  • Connect Four! The morphosyntax of argument marking in Tsimshianic (Davis & Forbes 2015, ICSNL)

Argument structure morphology

My postdoctoral project is on morphological reflexes of argument structure: the many morphological cues to transitivity and thematic role in Gitksan, and how these prefixes, suffixes, and preverbal elements are linearized with respect to the verb. I am currently focused on identifying the syntactic and semantic properties contributed by the suffixal causative and middle/passive morphemes. This will feed into a larger project on the differences between prefixal and suffixal morphology, their interactions with various types of preverbs and clausal modifiers, and the overall contributions of various morphological classes to syntactic structure of the clause and semantic interpretation of the event.

  • The structure of transitivity in Gitksan (Forbes 2019, ICSNL)

Nominal structure and categories

I have on and off worked on projects involving plurality and the structure of DPs and pronouns in Gitksan. Different types of plural markers and plurality appear in Gitksan noun phrases, and I am interested in how these operations parallel operations in the verbal domain, e.g. in pluractional marking, and more broadly in transcategorial morphology and operations.

  • Number, names, and animacy: Noun classes and plural interactions in Gitksan. (Forbes 2018, Gender and noun classification)