Research

My principle research interests are Vulgar Latin, corpus linguistics, and the (very early) history of Christianity.

The short version of all this can be found on my CV.

Vulgar Latin

Vulgar Latin is a non-prestige dialect that is very poorly attested. We know it existed because all the Romance languages descended from it, but we don't have many sources for it. Simply put, people who actually wrote Latin (at least the sort of thing that lasts for centuries so that it was handed down to us) was educated enough to use the prestige dialect called Classical Latin. The only evidence for Vulgar Latin that we have comes from graffiti, the letters of half-educated legionaires stationed in the East, and one very special work of fiction called the Cena Trimalchionis.

The Cena is a work of satire which vividly characterizes the sort of 'half-educated' people alluded to above; if the author's ear for language was good enough, then the Cena is our most extensive piece of evidence for Vulgar Latin. In my research I use a combination of literary criticism and statistical analysis to demonstrate the reliability of the Cena as source material. Basically I use literary criticism to predict patterns of Vulgarism which should appear if the author's ear for language is perfect, then use statistical methods to test those predictions.

My work on the Cena will serve as my Master's Thesis at UB and will be submitted for conference presentation/publication Fall 2013.

Corpus Linguistics

I am currently a Research Assistant on the Tesserae Project, an interdisciplinary project spanning the departments of Classics and Linguistics at UB and the department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Quoting from the Tesserae website: "Comparison of different texts has been fundamental to the analysis of literary and linguistic meaning since antiquity. It is now possible to envision a computing interface that will allow us to view and navigate through the landscape of similarities between texts. Drawing on the fields of literary studies, linguistics, and computing, we aim to make such a tool freely available online. This site currently offers an early-stage version, along with the most recent results of our ongoing study of the nature of intertextuality."

My largest contribution to the project to date is the scoring system which ranks allusions detected by Tesserae according to the rarity and distance of words flagged by the algorithm. This system effectively reproduces the rankings created by human researchers who examined 3,000 allusions detected by Tesserae, as seen in this lovely graph courtesy of my fellow research assistant, Chris Forstall:


My work on the Tesserae project has been presented in poster sessions at the 2012 Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities and Computer Science and the 2013 Digital Classics Association in Buffalo.

(Very Early) Christianity

My interest in Christian origins and corpus linguistics has led me to study a very early (possibly pre-gospel) text called "The Teaching of the Lord through Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles," or simply The Didache. The Didache is a short document that includes a catechetical manual (like a handbook for new converts), a church rule (a handbook for running a Christian community) and an apocalypse (a foretelling of the advent of God's Kindgom). This document gives two very interesting instructions to its community:
  1. Teachers of Christianity should not be trusted if they ask for money or refuse to find work while teaching.
  2. Teachers of Christianity deserve a salary solely for their teaching and should be given all the 'first-fruits' of the community's harvest of oil, grain, and wine; they also should be given silver and any other thing they request.

Obviously something strange is going on here. Theologians have gone to great length to reconcile these two apparently contradictory instructions, but I propose a simpler explanation: they were written by two different people, at two different stages of the church's development. I'm not the first person to say so, but I am (to my knowledge) the first person to use the techniques of stylometric analysis to demonstrate a significant difference between the authorship "fingerprints" of these two sections of the document, supporting the split-authorship hypothesis experimentally.

My work on the Didache formed my Master's thesis project at NYU and was presented at the Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting 2011 in London.