John W. Du Bois



Discourse and grammar; sociocultural linguistics; referential pragmatics; grammaticization and emergence; complex adaptive linguistics; corpus linguistics; transcription; Mayan languages


One of the things that keeps me coming back to language is the way it combines so many different levels of organization into one integrated unit. A simple exchange of utterances between two speakers contains a virtual microcosm of meaning, structure, prosody, pragmatics, interpretation, interaction, cognition--all the issues that linguists have found interesting enough to build disciplines and theories around. Understanding the organization of complexity in language provides deep intellectual challenges. I find it interesting to ask how grammars coordinate different layers of function--expressing semantic relations and managing information, for example--as they co-exist and compete for control of the organization of linguistic structures, like the clause. I see grammar as resolving competing motivations in systematic ways, thus driving the self-organization of grammatical systems and the emergence of complexity in linguistic structure--a really exciting new perspective for linguistics today.

Recently I've been interested in what happens when participants in conversation build off each other, reusing words, structures and other linguistic resources just used by a prior speaker. In dialogic syntax, as I call it, parallelism of structure across utterances foregrounds similarities in function, but also brings out differences. Participants notice even the subtlest contrasts in stance--epistemic, affective, illocutionary, and so on--generated by the resonance between juxtaposed utterances. The theories of dialogic syntax and stance are closely related, and I’m currently working on exploring this linkage--one more example of figuring out how language works on multiple levels simultaneously, uniting structure, meaning, cognition, and social interaction.