Discourse and cognition
This is my main interest in linguistics that I have been pursuing for a number of years. Somewhat differently from the mainstream cognitive linguistics, I am more interested not in lexicon and storage of knowledge but rather in the on-line information processing by the speaker. I call this direction of thinking “Cognitive discourse analysis”; for a summary of my approach see Kibrik 2003 [pdf]. I am working on a textbook in linguistic discourse analysis, approached from a cognitive viewpoint. Related to this academic activity are organizational efforts in establishing an interdisciplinary community of cognitive scientists in Russia: I am involved in organizing a series of Cognitive Science conferences, see the webpage of the Russian Association for Cognitive Studies [link]. I believe that progress in linguistics is not possible, unless we take seriously what our colleagues from psychology, neurophysiology and other fields of cognitive science can tell us. One example of such attempt for interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge was the Workshop on segmentation of behavior (link) held as a part of the 2nd International Conference on Cognitive Science. Also see Kibrik and Podlesskaya 2006 [pdf] on segmentation of spoken Russian discourse. One area in cognitive discourse analysis I have been particularly interested in is the study of reference in discourse Reference in discourse: Cognitive and typological aspects and Multi-factorial modeling of referential choice
Present-day linguistics is primarily oriented towards written language. This practice is deeply rooted in the traditions of Western civilization. However, any unprejudiced person must recognize that spoken language is the primary and fundamental kind of language use – in phylogeny, in ontogeny, and quantitatively in the experience of any individual. When one looks at spoken language, with its prosody, pauses, hesitations, false starts, and very different grammar, one feels that linguistics must be significantly recast if it wants to reflect what language is in reality. Interplay of grammar and prosody, as well as the principles of discourse transcription, have been considered in the framework of the Night Dream Stories project Night Dream Stories and discourse transcription; see Kibrik and Podlesskaya 2006 [ppt]. I attempted to apply the principles of discourse transcription – developed on Russian data – to a less known language Pulaar (Atlantic, West Africa), see Kibrik and Koval 2006 [pdf]. Also, not just verbal and prosodic material, but visual component as well must be taken into account in realistic models of discourse, see the project on multimodality Multimodal approach to discourse and grammar.
Nowadays, there are at least two understandings of what linguistic typology is. The first understanding suggests that it is necessarily a cross-linguistic study based on language samples representing a variety of languages comparable to that of the whole world. The second understanding is less rigid and recognizes that in addition to such large-scale typology, there exists a small-scale, in-depth typological work. I am personally interested in the latter kind of research since I prefer to use first-hand knowledge rather that crucially rely on how other people interpret languages (or still other people’s writings). So my approach to the languages I am familiar is is to look at the data from a typological perspective. This is contrasted to a variety of language- (or language family-) internal approaches analyzing particular languages only within the tradition associated with it historically. My studies in grammatical typology, such as the studies of propositional derivation (see Kibrik in press [pdf]) and of role marking (Kibrik 2006 [pdf]), are primarily based on first-hand knowledge of languages and a typologically-oriented view of their data. Much of my typological work was devoted to referential devices, see the project on reference in discourse Reference in discourse: Cognitive and typological aspects.
I am very interested in this fascinating emerging discipline combining three more traditional linguistic fields: linguistic typology, genealogical (historical-comparative) linguistics, and areal linguistics. I have not done research in the latter two fields but I teach a course in linguistic diversity [link] and am preparing a textbook “Languages of the world and language areas”. I am particularly interested in native North American languages, some West African languages, Turkic languages, and Caucasian languages.
Athabaskan languages constitute one of the largest native families of North America. They are spread through much of western North America, from Alaska and Canada to the Mexican border. These languages are typically North American in being highly polysynthetic and verb-centered; see Kibrik 2001 [pdf], 2002 [pdf]; Kibrik 2004 [link]. In other ways they are very special. In particular, they are extraordinarily prefixal, and the ordering of prefixes goes counter to cross-linguistics tendencies. I have done field work on Navajo, an Athabaskan language of the American Southwest, and, at a more limited scale, on a Californian language Hupa. Since 1997, I have been studying Upper Kuskokwim (Kibrik 1998 [pdf1], [pdf2]), a language of central Alaska.
Linguistic study of Russian Sign Language
I have done very limited research in sign linguistics myself, but I encourage my students to investigate the Russian Sign Language. This is one of the major languages of Russia spoken by dozens of thousands of people. However, this language is not officially recognized and is not listed as one of the languages of Russia, for example, in censuses. I find it very important to promote linguistic studies of RSL, following comparable studies of other sign languages. So far, most success was achieved by my graduate student Evgenija V. Prozorova (the title of her 2006 M.A., or dipoma, thesis, was: “Referential properties of the noun phrase in Russian Sign Language”); also see Kibrik and Prozorova 2007 [pdf].
Languages of Moscow
Moscow, as other metropolitan cities, is a site of incredible linguistic diversity. And this diversity is largely unknown both to linguists and to a broader public. The reasons for this lack of information are various, including legal and political. But the main reason is absence of curiosity on the part of the linguistic community. Many languages spoken in Moscow for decades go unnoticed by linguists. It is very important to uncover the actual status of linguistic diversity in this city, for the benefit of linguists and other researchers and for information of the public. This area of research is still at its infancy. Just several surveys have been done by students.