Kevin Ryan is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics specializing in phonology, which concerns the patterning of speech sounds and sound-related phenomena in human languages and verbal arts. He received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from UCLA in 2011 with a dissertation entitled Gradient Weight in Phonology. Prior to UCLA, he studied linguistics at UC Berkeley and Stanford, having earned his B.A. from the former with majors in Linguistics and South Asian Studies. As his vowels and consonants continue to reveal, he is originally from Wisconsin.
Dr. Ryan has published articles in top journals in his field and subfield, including Language (2010, `Variable Affix Order: Grammar and Learning') and Phonology (2011, `Gradient Syllable Weight and Weight Universals in Quantitative Metrics'). His awards include a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship, two Linguistic Society of America Institute fellowships, and the annual Departmental Citation from Berkeley Linguistics.
Dr. Ryan's current research focuses on models of gradience and variation in phonology and morphology (the latter addressing the internal structure of words). This research draws upon data from three sources, namely, corpus analysis, experimentation, and typological inquiry (including linguistic fieldwork).
For example, as part of his dissertation, he analyzed hundreds of thousands of lines of metered poetry in several languages, demonstrating for every tradition that the poets' treatment of syllable weight is more complex than previous accounts acknowledge: Rather than being exclusively binary (heavy or light), weight is often treated as a continuous variable, with varying degrees of polarization towards binarity. Experimental results corroborate this conclusion. For instance, while weight in English's stress system is usually assumed to be binary, Ryan argues that it must be more finegrained to motivate signifcant trends both in the existing lexicon and in speakers' assignment of stress to new (made-up) words. Across languages and modes, these weight scales are tightly correlated, supporting and freshly illuminating a universal phonology of weight as part of the human language faculty.
While Dr. Ryan's theoretical research addresses properties of human language in general, he has also worked on a number of individual languages in depth. He is currently co-PI of a fieldwork project to document Senaya, an endangered Neo-Aramaic language formerly of Kurdistan but now spoken primarily in California. In past years, he investigated Santiago Matatlan Zapotec, a largely undescribed language of Oaxaca. Finally, since majoring in South Asian Studies in college, he has had an abiding interest in Indo-Iranian (e.g. Sanskrit) and Dravidian (e.g. Tamil) linguistics, philology, and poetics.
In part due to these language interests, much of Dr. Ryan's linguistic research strives to synthesize the rigor and depth of traditional philology with the power and breadth of emerging computational and statistical methods. This emphasis can be seen, for example, in his papers presented at the most recent meetings of the American Philological Association (`Gradient Syllable Weight in the Homeric Hexameter and Tragic Trimeter') and UCLA Indo-European Conference (`Hiatus Avoidance and Metrication in the Rig-Veda', with Dieter Gunkel). These projects probe what verbal arts reveal about the structure of human language competence.