Spike Gildea

Department of Linguistics

University of Oregon


Spike Gildea                                                      

Professor and Department Head


Office: 381 Straub Hall, University of Oregon

Head’s office: 171 Straub Hall, University of Oregon

541-346-0480 (don’t leave messages)


My primary interests are descriptive and documentary fieldwork, historical/functional/typological syntax, historical/functional phonology, and languages of South America, especially of the Cariban language family.

I have been working in South America with languages of the Cariban family since 1988, when I began fieldwork on Panare in Venezuela. In all, I have worked with speakers of 15 Cariban languages, collecting comparative wordlists and morphosyntactic information for all 15, working (off and on) towards descriptive grammars of three (Katxuyana, Akawaio, and †Tamanaku), and serving as dissertation advisor for four students working with Cariban speech communities: Meira’s 1999 reference grammar of Tiriyó, Fox’s 2003 sociolinguistic/anthropological study of Akawaio, Tavares’ 2005 reference grammar of Wayana, and Yamada’s 2010 thesis on collaborative language documentation and revitalization in the Aretyry Kari’nja (a.k.a. Carib of Suriname).  I have also served as an outside member on the dissertation committee for Souza Cruz’s 2005 reference grammar of Ingarikó (Free University of Amsterdam) and Cáceres’ 2011 grammatical description of Ye’kwana (Université Lumière, Lyon 2).

Outside the Cariban family, I have worked briefly on Rama (Chibchan), Kiché (Mayan), Lhasa Tibetan and Kurtoep (Tibeto-Burman).  I have served as dissertation advisor for Guirardello's 1999 reference grammar of Trumai (isolate), Fleck’s 2003 reference grammar of Matses (Panoan), Oliveira’s 2005 grammar of Apinajé (Jê), and Vallejos’ 2010 reference grammar of Kokama-Kokamilla (possible Tupían creole), and Valdez’ 2013 description of main clauses in Urique Tarahumara (Uto-Aztecan).

My historical and comparative work is primarily in the Cariban family, with brief forays into the Tupí-Guaraní family, northern Jê (in collaboration with Flávia Castro Alves), Sahaptian (in collaboration with Joana Jansen), and internal reconstruction of main clause grammatical pattern in two South American isolates, Trumai (in collaboration with Raquel Guirardello) and Movima (in collaboration with Katharina Haude).

My current obsessions are the methodology of reconstructing grammar, serving as Series Co-Editor (with Fernando Zúñiga) for Typological Studies in Language and thinking about the notion of diachronic typology, especially of voice and main clause alignment patterns like ergative and hierarchical alignment — i.e., the origins and evolutionary pathways by which ergative and hierarchical grammatical patterns come to exist in main clauses.