Portrait photo of peter jenks, a linguistics professor at UC Berkeley.

Research Expertise and Interest

syntax, semantics, morphology, linguistic theory, Thai, sudanese languages, African languages, Southeast Asian languages

Research Description

Peter Jenks is an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics.  He is a syntactician with a primary focus on crosslinguistic variation, particulary with respect to the structure and meaning of noun phrases, as well as the interface of syntax with semantics and phonology. He teaches courses on syntax, semantics, typology, and fieldwork. His research reflects an intellectual commitment to the idea that formal analyses of grammar are indispensable to our understanding of the human language capacity.

He has worked extensively on languages of East and Southeast Asia, particularly on Thai and Mandarin Chinese. His research on those languages has focused on the structure of noun phrases and the syntactic expression of definiteness and quantification, among other topics. His interest in these languages is party personal, as he grew up in Thailand, and intellectual, as such languages reveal the interface between structure of meaning with particular clarity. His research has benefitted immensely from collaborations with Mandarin-speaking linguists including I-Hsuan Chen, Ruyue Bi, Julie Jiang, Jin Jing, and Shi-zhe Huang. His work on Thai would not have been possible without the valuable insight of native speaker collaborators and linguists such as Pittayawat Pittayaporn, Khanin Chaiphet, and Santhawat Thanyawong. 

He has also had the opportunity to collaborate with speakers of several indigenous languages of Africa, including Moro, an endangered Kordofanian language spoken in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. He co-developed the Moro Story Corpus, and he is currently collaborating on a descriptive grammar of Moro together with Sharon Rose and our Moro colleagues Angelo Naser and Elyasir Julima. He has also worked with Himidan Hassen, a speaker of the Tira (Kordofanian) language of Sudan, Rassidatou Konate, who speaks the Marka-Dafing (Mande) language of Burkina Faso, and Emmanuel-Moselley Makasso, a linguistics professor in Yaoundé, Cameroon and an expert of Basaá (Bantu, A.24).

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