Michael T. Putnam

Michael T. Putnam

Professor of German and Linguistics
Director of Linguistics Program
Associate Director of the Center for Language Science



Research Group: 

Morphology Circle @ Penn State

Our research focuses on issues relate to ‘words’ and the mental lexicon and the syntax-morphology interface. We adopt a decompositional approach to the formation of these structural units. Along these lines, we understand ‘morphology’ to be distributed across differ modules of grammar rather than housed in any particular domain. From a more experimental perspective, we investigate issues related to the storage and computation of lexical items in an attempt to better understand the general properties of the mental lexicon. Although we collectively work on issues related to morphology and its interfaces, we individually have diverse interests in comparative, contact, diachronic, and experimental approaches to morphology.

Research Interests: 

I am profoundly interested in the structure of language, specifically morphology and syntax, especially as this concerns the structure of ‘words’. Although they often appear smaller on the surface than other units of language (such as sentences and phrases), words contain a fair amount of complexity and rich information that warrant serious study. My research is guided by some of these ‘big questions’:   

  • How do elements of sound, meaning, and structure intersect and combine with one another? How can we best investigate these issues in real-time? ​
  • How can theoretical models interface with behavioral and experimental techniques in cognitive neuroscience?
  • How do notions such as categories, words, and constructions emerge over time? How can we capture and model their dynamic and variant nature in a restrictive, internally-constrained system?
  • How do bi/multilinguals juggle these patterns and preferences, (especially in naturalistic (contact) settings)?
  • What lessons can we learn through the intense study of contact varieties of a particular language family across time and space?

Empirically, I work on Germanic languages past and present, with a focus on heritage and contact varieties of German and Norwegian and Pennsylvania Dutch.  

Sample publications:
Heritage languages and syntactic theory. (edited with Roberta D’Alessandro & Silvia Terenghi). in press. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
The linguistic diversity of German: Sociolinguistic and structural variation in Europe and the diaspora. (with Joshua Bousquette, Josh Brown, & Joseph Salmons). under contract. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
An introduction to Language Attrition: linguistic, social, and cognitive perspectives. (with David Natvig & Nora Vosburg). under contract. London: Routledge.
2020   Passives and middles in Mainland Scandinavian: Microvariation through exponency.[Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs.] (with Antonio Fábregas). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
2020   Unbounded dependency constructions: Theoretical and experimental perspectives. [Oxford Surveys in Syntax and Morphology]. (with Rui Chaves). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2020   The Cambridge Handbook of Germanic Linguistics. (edited with B. Richard Page). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2013   The structural design of language. (with Thomas S. Stroik). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Articles & book chapters:
2024 The importance of features and exponents: Dissolving Feature Reassembly. (with Terje Lohndal). Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 14(1): 1-36.
2024 Filler-gap dependencies in bi- and multilingual grammars: Findings, challenges, and unknowns. (with Silvia Perpiñan). Second Language Research, 40(1): 3-17.
2024 When covert modality sneaks into your grammar: wh-infinitives in American Norwegian. (with Åshild Søfteland). Second Language Research, 171-194.
2024 Modeling multilingual grammars: Constraints and predictions. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 14(1): 105-115.
2023 Stability in the integrated bilingual grammar: Tense exponency in North American Norwegian (with David Natvig & Alexander Lykke). Nordic Journal of Linguistics, First View.
2022 Islands, expressiveness, and the theory/formalism confusion. (with Rui P. Chaves). Theoretical Linguistics, 48(3-4): 219-231.
2022 Why is inflectional morphology difficult to borrow? – Distributing and lexicalizing plural allomorphy in Pennsylvania Dutch. (with Rose Fisher, David Natvig, Erin Pretorius, & Katharina Schuhmann). Languages 7, 86.
2022 Mismatches at the syntax-semantics interface: The case of non-finite complementation in American-Norwegian. (with Åshild Søfteland). 45(3): 310-347 . Nordic Journal of Linguistics
2021 The tale of two lexicons: Decomposing complexity across a distributed lexicon. (with Terje Lohndal). Heritage Language Journal 18(2): 1-29.
2021 Overextension in Gottscheerisch (negative) imperatives: Proclisis at the edge of the first phase. (with Andrew D. Hoffman). The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 24(2): 185-219.
2021 Addressing challenges in formal research on moribund heritage languages: A path forward. (with Roberta D’Alessandro & David A. Natvig). Frontiers in Psychology, 12:700126.
2020 How wide the divide? – Theorizing ‘constructions’ in generative and usage-based frameworks. (with Antonio Fábregas & Matthew Carlson). Frontiers in Psychology, 12:601303.
2020   Redefining language death: Evidence from moribund grammars. (with Joshua Bousquette). Language Learning 70(S1): 185-228
2019   Language attrition and the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis. (with Silvia Perez-Cortes & Liliana Sánchez). In The Oxford Handbook of Language Attrition (ed. M. Schmid & B. Köpke), Oxford: Oxford University Press: 18-24.
2019   Derivational complexity vs. transfer effects: Long-distance-wh-movement in heritage and L2 grammars. (with Holger Hopp & Nora Vosburg). Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 9(3): 341-375.
2016   Co-activation in bilingual grammars: A computational account of code mixing. (with Matt Goldrick & Lara Schwarz). Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 19(5): 857-876.
2013   What’s so incomplete about incomplete acquisition? A prolegomenon to modeling heritage language grammars. (with Liliana Sánchez). Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 3(4): 478-508.