Mike Putnam


My primary research and teaching interests are in the areas of linguistics and cognitive science. I’m fascinated with the structural properties of human language (e.g. syntax and morphology) and their intersection with other modules of grammar (e.g. phonology, pragmatics, and semantics). From a theoretical perspective, one of the goals of my research program is to refine and develop a restrictive theory of grammar. To achieve this goal I am open to the investigation of human languages from various theoretical frameworks and perspectives.

Germanic dialects and languages past and present are the predominant focus of my research. In this language family, I harbor a particular interest for heritage languages, i.e., speakers of dialects and languages that are disconnected from their origin. A primary objective of my current research is arriving at a better understanding of the grammar of these heritage speakers. The majority of these grammars have been “incompletely acquired,” i.e. the acquisition of these languages has been disrupted by the introduction of robust data from a second language prior to the complete acquisition of the first language. Some of my most recent projects focus on the (morpho)syntax of German-language heritage dialects in the Midwestern United States and North American Icelandic. In this area, I am currently working on the status of null elements (e.g. gapping structures) in the syntax of heritage speaker grammars and what the results of this research can tell us about the potential complexity of this incompletely-acquired grammars.  

In connection with my research on heritage language speakers my research program investigates theoretical implications for learnability.

Outside of linguistics, I investigate the study of popular music as a reflection of societal opinion and change. In this area, I have published articles and book chapters on German hip-hop, Krautrock, and the band Rammstein, showing how these genres of music can inform us about trends and develops in modern German culture.

Welcome to my homepage

Assistant Professor of German & Linguistics

Penn State University

Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures

417 Burrowes Building

University Park, PA 16802

Email: mtp12 (at) psu (dot) edu

Phone: (814) 863-2138