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Department of Linguistics

Department of Linguistics, Cornell Univeristy Cornell Univeristy Cornell Univeristy Department of Linguistics

John Whitman


John Whitman - Professor

Ph.D., Harvard (1985)John Whitman
209 Morrill Hall, 255-0737 [vivo]


My main interest is the problem of language variation: its limits (how much specific subsystems can vary across languages) and predictors (what typological features co-occur systematically). Exploration of this general problem has led me to work on historical linguistics and language acquisition in addition to my central interest in synchronic syntactic variation across typologically similar languages.                        

I work mostly on Japanese, secondly on Korean. I have also done research on Australian languages and German. In the general area of syntax, I have been involved in the configurationality debate, an ongoing discourse which began 15 years ago with the widely held assumption that languages may vary radically in the degree of articulation of their syntactic structure. A truly remarkable result of research on this topic is that variation is much more limited than syntacticians were once willing to believe. Most recently, I have worked on the relationship between phrase structure and word order, structural universals in relative clause structure, and crosslinguistic parallels in rightward movement.

In the area of historical phonology, I have recently completed work on the development of verbal conjugations in Japanese and Korean and their relation to transitivity. I am interested in the typological implications of developments like these, as well as their factual implications for the history of these two languages.  My interests in Japanese historical linguistics are summarized here.

Selected Publications

Publications on Syntactic Variation:

Publications on Diachronic Syntax:

  • Reanalysis and conservancy of structure in Chinese, (with Paul Waltraud) in Grammaticalization and Parametric Change, M. Batlori (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Relabeling, in Diachronic Syntax: Models and Mechanisms, S. Pintzuk, G. Tsoulas, A. Warner (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Publications on Japanese Synchrony:

  • Give as a Higher Verb: Reassessing Nakau (1973), in Imi to katachi no intaafeesu (The interface of meaning and form), Minoru Nakau Festschrift Editorial Committee (eds.), Tokyo: Kuroshio Press, 445-470, 2001.
  • Right Dislocation in English and Japanese, in Syntactic and functional explorations: A festschrift for Susumu Kuno, K. Takami, A. Kamio, J. Whitman (eds.), Tokyo: Kuroshio Press, 445-470, 2000.
  • Kaku to gojun to tôgo kôzô (Case word order and syntactic structure), (with K. Takezawa), in Nichieigosensho, vol. 9, M. Nakau (ed.), Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 1998.

Publications on Japanese Diachrony:

  • 2012, to appear.  The relationship between Japanese and Korean.  In: Tranter, David N. (ed.) The Languages of Japan and Korea.  London: Routledge.
  • Proto-Japanese, B. Frellesvig and J. Whitman (eds.), Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2008.
  • The Japanese-Korean vowel correspondences, (with B. Frellesvig) in Japanese/Korean Linguistics 12, M. Endo Simon and P. Sells (eds.), Stanford, CSLI, 2005.
  • The vowels of Proto-Japanese, (with B. Frellesvig) in Japanese Language and Literature, special edition dedicated to Samuel Martin, S. R. Ramsey and J. Ungar (eds.), 281-300, 2004.
  • Review of M. Hudson (1999) Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands, in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 62.1, 256-265, 2002.
  • Personal pronoun shift in Japanese: A case study in lexical change and point of view, in Function and Structure: A festschrift for Susumu Kuno, A. Kamio and K. Takami (eds.), Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 257-386, 1999.

Publications on Korean:

  • Direct movement passives in Korean and Japanese, (with S.-D. Park) in Japanese/Korean Linguistics 11, W. McClure (ed.), Stanford, CSLI, 307-321, 2003.
  • The proto-Korean shape of ha-'do', in Pathways into Korean Language and Culture: Essays in Honor of Young-Key Kim-Renaud, S.-O. Lee (ed.), Seoul, Pajigong Press, 463-470, 2003.

Publications on Language Acquisition:

  • Tongsa KulcOl-O mi suptmk kwa paltal mi pulyOnsoksong (Acquisition of verbal inflection and discontinuities in development), in Ingan un ono lul otohke sutuk hanun ga (How do human beings acquire language?), S.-K. Cho (ed.), Seoul, Akhanet Publishers, 173-192, 2000.