Tyler Peterson

Asst Professor
TEMPE Campus


My personal and professional roots are in the Pacific northwest of Canada. I did my dissertation with Lisa Matthewson on the Gitksan language (Tsimshianic) at the University of British Columbia. I am an assistant professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University. Although my professional home is in an English department, my work is focussed on the documentation, revitalization, and maintenance of endangered indigenous languages, primarily in the Americas and Oceania. I have a special interest in exploring how everyday technology and contemporary media can be used as a tool for language documentation and engaging the language learner, as well as developing teaching resources in these areas. My research as a linguist involves the theoretical and empirical approaches to the study of meaning (semantics and pragmatics). Previous to my position at ASU I was visiting lecturer at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. In this part of the world I have a number of currently active language documentation and research projects that brings my interests together. One of these projects is on Cook Islands Māori, which includes a component dedicated to language revitalization, maintenance and literacy.

Being situated in Arizona, I have experience working with the indigenous communities and languages in the southwestern United States. I was the interim program coordinator of the Native American Masters Program (NAMA). NAMA is a specialized MA degree that is oriented towards training indigenous language educators and activists in linguistics, language maintenance, revitalization and policy. In addition to my various research projects in linguistics, I am also active in outreach, teaching and developing curricula for the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), an independent program within the College of Education at the University of Arizona. AILDI is one of the longest continually running organizations dedicated to providing critical training to indigenous language educators and community activists.


PhD. Linguistics, 2010 (University of British Columbia); Dissertation: Epistemic Modality and Evidentiality in Gitksan at the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface

B.Mus. (Major: music theory; Minor: Russian literature), 1999 (University of British Columbia)

Google Scholar


Books and edited volumes

To appear in 2018. The Language of Surprise: Linguistic and Psychological Perspectives on Mirativity. Cambridge University Press (under contract)

2010. Evidence from Evidentials. T. Peterson & U. Sauerland (eds), Vancouver: University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics (UBCWPL), Volume 28.

2005. ICSNL XL: Proceedings of the 40th Int’l. Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, J.C. Brown., M. Kiyota & T. Peterson (eds), Vancouver: UBCWPL

2004. ICSNL XXXIX: Proceedings of the 39th Int’l. Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, J.C. Brown & T. Peterson (eds), Vancouver: UBCWPL


Articles and chapters (peer reviewed)

Pérez-Leroux, A., T. Peterson, A. Castilla, S. Béjar, D. Massam, and Yves Roberge. to appear. “The Acquisition of Recursive Modification in NPs” in Language. [2nd author]

Peterson, T. to appear. "Semantics" in Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. T. Shackelford and V. Weekes-Shackelford (eds), Springer.

Celle, A., L. Lansari, A. Jugnet, and T. Peterson. accepted with revisions. "Surprise and Extended Interrogatives in English" In A. Celle and N. Depraz (eds.) Consciousness and Emotion. Benjamins. [alphabetical authors]

Peterson, T. to appear. "Mirativity in Morphology" in Oxford Encyclopedia of Morphology, Oxford: OUP

Peterson, T. 2018. “Epistemic Modality and Evidentiality in Gitksan” in Handbook of Evidentiality. A. Aikhenvald (ed.), Oxford: OUP. pp.463-489

Peterson, T. 2018. “On the Status of Applicatives in Tsimshianic” in Matthewson, Lisa, Erin Guntly and Michael Rochemont (eds.) Wa7 xweysás i nqwal'utteníha i ucwalmícwa: He loves the people's languages. Essays in honour of Henry Davis. Vancouver, BC: UBC Occasional Papers in Linguistics vol. 6.

Peterson T. 2017. “Problematizing Mirativity” Review of Cognitive Linguistics 15(2), 312--342 (special volume on surprise and mirativity)

Peterson, T. 2017. “Alignments Across Tsimshianic” in Handbook of Ergativity. D. Massam, J. Coon, and L. Travis (eds), Oxford: OUP. pp.1007-1034.

Pérez-Leroux, A., A. Castilla-Earls, S. Béjar, D. Massam, and T. Peterson. 2017. “Strong continuity and children's development of DP recursion” in Recursion across Domains. In T. Roeper, A. Nevins, L. Amaral, M. Maia (eds), Cambridge: CUP

Brown J., T. Peterson, K. Craig. 2016. “Belief, Evidence, and Interactional Meaning in Urama” Oceanic Linguistics. 55(2), 431-448

Peterson, T. 2016. “Mirativity as Surprise: Evidentiality, Information, and Deixis” Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. 45:1327--1357; doi: 10.1007/s10936-015-9408-9

Peterson T. 2015. “The Semantics of Grammatical Evidentiality and the Unprepared Mind” Review of Cognitive Linguistics, 13(2), 314-352. doi 10.1075/rcl.13.2.03pet [reprinted in Benjamins Current Topics (2017) vol. 92, pp.51-89]

Peterson, T. 2012. Book review: About the Speaker: Towards a Syntax of Indexicality. Alessandra Giorgi. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2010); 2012. Lingua 122(8)

Brown J. and T. Peterson. 2007. “Grammaticalization And Strategies In Resolving Subject Marking Paradoxes: the Case of Tsimshianic” in Studies In Natural Language And Linguistic Theory. Vol. 72, de Hoop, Helen; de Swart, Peter (eds), Dordrecht: Springer pp. 223-245 [alphabetical co-authors]

Peterson, T. and G. Picanço. 2007. “Dynamic Correspondences: An Object-Oriented Approach to Tracking Sound Reconstructions” in Proceedings of the 9th Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics – Special Interest Group in Computational Morphology and Phonology, J. Nerbonne, T. M. Ellison and G. Kondrak (eds). ACL. pp. 126-133 oai:CiteSeerX.psu: (peer reviewed proceedings)

Peterson, T. 2006. “Issues of Morphological Ergativity in the Tsimshian Languages: Determiners, Agreement and the Reconstruction of Case” in Case, Valency and Transitivity (Studies in Language Companion Series, 77). L. Kulikov, A. Malchukov, and P. de Swart (eds), Amsterdam: John Benjamins pp. 65-90. DOI: 10.1075/slcs.77.06pet


Papers in conference proceedings (peer reviewed by abstract)

2015. “Structural Complexity and the Acquisition of Recursive Locative PPs” in Proceedings of the 45th Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society [first co-author; with A.T. Pérez-Leroux, A. Castilla-Earls, D. Massam, and S. Béjar]

2012a. “Some Remarks on the Morphosemantics of Multiple Causative Sequences” in Papers from the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.

2012b. “The Role of the Ordering Source in Gitksan Epistemic Modals” in Proceedings of Semantics of Under-Represented Languages in the Americas (SULA 6), Amherst: GLSA.

2010. “Perfective aspect and actuality entailments: a cross-linguistic approach” in Proceedings of the Semantics of Under-represented Languages in the Americas (SULA 5), Amherst, Mass: GLSA Publications. [alphabetical co-authors Henry Davis, Meagan Louie, Lisa Matthewson, Ileana Paul, Amelia Reis Silva].

2010. “Introduction: Evidence from Evidentials” in Evidence from Evidentials. T. Peterson and U. Sauerland (eds), Vancouver: UBCWPL. [alphabetical co-authors: R.M. Déchaine, U. Sauerland]

2010. “On the Semantics of Conjectural Questions” in Evidence from Evidentials. T. Peterson and U. Sauerland (eds), Vancouver: UBCWPL. [alphabetical co-authors: P. Littell, L. Matthewson]

2010. “Examining the Mirative and Non-literal Uses of Evidentials” in Evidence from Evidentials. T. Peterson and U. Sauerland (eds), Vancouver: UBCWPL (paper presented at GLOW 31)

2004a. “The (Re)organization of Semantic Roles in Tsimshian Connectives” in ICSNL XXXIX: Proceedings of the 39th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages, J.C. Brown & T. Peterson (eds), Van: UBCWPL pp. 323-340

2008. “Pragmatic Blocking in Gitksan Evidential Expressions” in Proceedings of the 38th Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society, A. Schardl, M. Walkow, M. Abdurrahman (eds), Amherst, Mass: GLSA Publications

2007a. “Minimality and Syllabification in Kabardian” in Papers from the 39th Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society, J. Cihlar, A. Franklin, and D. Kaiser (eds), Chicago: University of Chicago pp. 215-235

2007b. “Analytical Database Design: Approaches in the Mapping between Cognate and Semantic Sets” in Proceedings of the Seventh International Workshop on Computational Semantics IWCS-7, J. Goertzen, E. Thijsse, H. Bunt, A. Schiffrin (eds). Tilburg: Tilburg University Dept. of Communication and Information Sciences. pp. 359-361

2004b. “Theoretical issues in the representation of the glottal stop in Blackfoot” in Proceedings from the 7th Workshop on American Indigenous Languages, Vol. 15, L. Harper and C. Jany (eds). Santa Barbara: SBPL pp. 106-121

Research Activity

“Modality in Cook Islands Māori”

2017-2018: Faculty Research Development Fund (University of Auckland)

The goals of this project are twofold: the first is to provide the first empirical study of its kind on how modality is linguistically realized in Cook Islands Māori (CIM). This is a novel undertaking in CIM language and linguistic studies, and ideally we can both enrich the existing linguistic record of CIM and add detail to our relatively nascent understanding of the typology (the study cross-linguistic generalizations) of modality. The second goal seeks a theoretical explanation of the CIM facts by bringing this primary linguistic data to bear upon the predominant theories of modality. This will be done by implementing a formal semantic (logical) analysis of the primary language data that tests the several (often untested and competing) predictions that are made by the contemporary theoretical approaches to modality.


“Documenting the Nasioi Language for Cultural Preservation and Maintenance”

2017-2019: Christensen Fund (Co-PI; PI: Jason Brown, University of Auckland)

The aim of this project is to enrich understanding and appreciation of the Nasioi cultural group (Melanesian, eastern Papua New Guinea), to enrich understanding about how languages and different systems of knowledge work, while bringing critical attention to the struggle to preserve biocultural diversity on Bougainville. The ultimate aim is to encourage younger generations of Nasioi to engage their cultural/linguistic heritage and contribute to the preservation of culture and languages on Bougainville. The net result is a defense against the steady erosion of diversity by Western culture and the English language since the turn of the 20th century.


“Linking the Psychological, Linguistic and Probabilistic Aspects of Surprise from a Cross-linguistic Perspective”

2016: The University of Paris (Diderot-Paris 7) 
Link to the lecture series associated with this project 

The aim of this project is to explain the linguistic and cognitive properties of utterances that reveal the ‘unprepared mind’ of the speaker. The world is a dynamic place, and the processing of new information is a function of every day life. However, new information that is not easily assimilated into a person's current situational awareness is often linguistically coded differently than that which can be adapted into this awareness. This coding, referred to in the linguistics literature as 'mirativity', is the linguistic reflex of what we commonly interpret as surprise. Exclamatives can be considered typical miratives: 'what perfect timing you have!' is a specific kind of construction and intonational pattern used by a speaker to register her surprise when faced with new information she was not mentally prepared for, such as the unexpected arrival of a friend at a party. What is known about surprise comes mainly from research programs in psychology and the cognitive sciences, where it claimed to be one of the core human emotions, along with happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. However, little is known about the role the language plays in the presentation of surprise. Likewise, mirativity is a linguistic universal: all languages have the means for coding surprise. There are numerous descriptions of mirativity in the linguistics literature, yet only recently a basic understanding of the common features that underpin mirativity is starting to emerge, and there exists no theoretical explanation mirativity as a linguistic phenomenon. Although this is primarily a linguistics project, it has a very strong interdisciplinary orientation to it, one that seeks to connect theories of both language and cognition, but also drawing upon the psychology of surprise. As such, the central goals of this project are twofold. One is to present the first empirical study and theoretical analysis dedicated to mirativity. The other is to create an interface that connects both research streams, such that the experimental and theoretical tools used to test the cognitive explanation of surprise can be used to test its linguistic realization. In turn, the linguistic study of mirativity can be brought to bear on how surprise is modelled in psychology and the cognitive sciences. The results of this project are now being synthesized in a book I'm currently working on for Cambridge University Press.


"Assessing and Documenting the Vitality of Native American Languages"

2016-17: Documenting Endangered Languages (NSF-NEH DEL BCS # 1601738) 

This pilot project responds to the fact that there is not a current systematic assessment of the Native American languages of the United States. As such, the initial step is to create a model for grass-roots assessment that can be shared with tribal communities throughout the U.S. This project departs from traditional language documentation research in that it will lead to the documentation of language status, aiming to meet a national need. This aim will be achieved in collaboration with Native American community-based researchers in Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico. Working together with specialists in qualitative and quantitative data analysis and processing, a model of language vitality assessment will be developed and piloted creating a cohort of community researchers versed in research protocol, assessment design and implementation, data collection and management, data storage and use of assessment data for grant-writing. In doing this we broaden participation and empower the community language practioner.


Spring 2018
Course Number Course Title
ENG 414 Studies in Linguistics
LIN 510 Linguistics