Linguistics faculty research

The research interests of the linguistics faculty at Wayne State are wide and varied, reflecting the scope of the field.

Arabic linguistics

Professor Muhammad al-Sharkawi's main research interest is in the history and development of the Arabic language. He publishes on the internal linguistic and external ecological factors that influence the development, spread and acquisition of Arabic in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. The focus is on the structural and functional development of linguistic features and change in the communicative spheres of varieties of Arabic. In addition to many articles on the history of Arabic, Professor al-Sharkawi has recently published two books, one in 2010: The Ecology of Arabic: A Study of the Development of Arabic (Leiden: Brill) and one in 2007: Arabicization in the First Century of the Islamic Era (Cairo, Supreme Council for Culture). In addition, he published in 2014 and 2016 histories of Modern Standard Arabic and pre-Islamic Arabic in monographs, which came along with several articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Chinese syntax

Professor Haiyong Liu does research on Chinese syntax and first, second and incomplete language acquisition of Mandarin Chinese.

For example, he is interested in the derivations and connections of Chinese nominal (e.g., classifier and quantification), verbal (e.g., aspect and complex predicate), adjectival (e.g., intensification and comparative) and negation (e.g., expletive negation and scope) structures and how Chinese children, English-speaking adults and Chinese-English bilingual heritage learners acquire these structures. His research interests also extend to the subjecthood and reflexives in Mandarin.

In addition, Professor Liu has published on topics related to teaching Chinese as a foreign language, more specifically, classroom non-verbal communication and advanced writing. He is currently the director of the linguistics program.

First language acquisition

Professor Natalia Rakhlin studies language acquisition in typically developing children and children with developmental disorders of idiopathic (unknown) origin, such as SLI, speech sound disorders and developmental dyslexia.

Her research is aimed at understanding how the patterns of language impairments we observe in children with these disorders can provide insights into the organization of human language faculty, mechanisms of language acquisition and sources of individual differences in language development.

Her work has been published in Language Acquisition, Journal of Child Language, Journal of Neurolinguistics, Applied Psycholinguistics, Scientific Studies of Reading, Annals of Dyslexia and other journals. Her recent work on the language development of internationally adopted children will appear in a special issue of the Journal of Communication Disorders.

Language evolution

Professor Ljiljana Progovac specialist in theoretical syntax, Slavic syntax and the evolution of language has worked on negative concord and negative polarity, reflexive binding, aspect, determiner phrase, nonessentials and the reconstruction of proto-grammars in language evolution.

These research interests are reflected in the four books that she authored: Positive and Negative Polarity (CUP, 1994); A Syntax of Serbian (Slavica, 2005); Evolutionary Syntax (OUP, 2015); and A Critical Introduction to Language Evolution (Springer Expert Briefs, 2019). She has published 25 journal articles, including in journals such as Linguistic Inquiry, Linguistics and Philosophy, Biolinguistics and Frontiers in Psychology.

In the past two years, she has presented her work on language evolution at various venues, including at MIT; Harvard; USC, Los Angeles; Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan; Leipzig, Germany; Poznań, Poland; Pavia, Italy; Crete, Greece. From 2007 to 2017, Professor Progovac served as director of the Linguistics Program and is currently serving as M.A. advisor.

Linguistic anthropology, numeral systems and literacy

Professor Stephen Chrisomalis' research focuses on the relationship between language and mathematical cognition, the social and cognitive importance of notation and writing cross-culturally and the language-culture interface in general.

His book Numerical Notation (Cambridge, 2010) is a cross-cultural history of over 100 graphic numerical notations used over the past 5000 years. For the past four years he has been doing long-term fieldwork with the Math Corps program in Detroit investigating the role of language in the acquisition of mathematical knowledge among students. He is currently initiating a new major project on the historical sociolinguistics of the English number system.

Medical communication and medical rhetoric

Professor Ellen Barton is a specialist in discourse analysis, with research focuses on medical communication and medical rhetoric. She recently received the WSU Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award, as well as the Braddock Award for the Best Article in College Composition and Communication for "Further Contributions from the Ethical Turn: Analyzing Ethics in Interaction."

She serves as associate provost and associate vice president for academic personnel. Her recent publications have appeared as chapters in edited collections with University of Colorado Press, Utah State University Press and Routledge and journal articles have appeared in Journal of Writing Assessment, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, BioMed Central (BMC) Cancer, Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Patient Education and Counseling, Health Expectations, Communication & Medicine and the Journal of Rhetoric and Health in Medicine.

She has been an invited speaker at Purdue University, Indiana University-Purdue, Dartmouth College, Temple University and Illinois State University. She reviews for many journals and presses, including the University of Chicago Press, Rutledge and Communication & Medicine.


Professor Lara Jones' research interests include the use and valence perception of emojis, the representation of relations and relational roles in conceptual combination and verbal analogy, the influence of individual differences (e.g., creativity) in verbal analogy, the activation of directly and indirectly related concepts (i.e., semantic priming and mediated priming), metaphor comprehension and how narcissism and self-esteem are related to the linguistic content of autobiographical memories.

Her work has been published in several prestigious journals including the Journal of Memory and Language, Thinking and Reasoning and Memory. Professor Jones' most recent paper "Sex differences in emoji use, familiarity and valence" was published in the July 2020 issue of Computers in Human Behavior.

Sociolinguistics and dialectology

Professor Walter Edwards is a specialist in sociolinguistics, dialectology, African American Vernacular English and pidgin and Creole languages. His notable publication is the co-edited book Verb-Phrase Patterns in Black English and Creole. Professor Edwards is the former director of the Humanities Center at Wayne State University.

Spanish linguistics, the syntax-information structure interface and bilingualism

Professor Eugenia Casielles is the author of The Syntax-Information Structure Interface: Evidence from Spanish and English, published by Routledge and has published articles in journals such as Revista Española de Lingüística, Hispania, The Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Historiographia Linguistica and BUCLD, among others.

She is one of the co-editors of The Syntax of Nonsententials: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, published by John Benjamins and is currently investigating bilingual language development and intra-sentential code-switching.