The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Ellen Woolford


Ellen Woolford received a BA from Rice University, a PhD from Duke University, and subsequently did post-doctoral work in linguistics at MIT. Her dissertation on the grammar of Tok Pisin was based on her fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. She taught in visiting positions at the University of Pennsylvania and MIT before accepting a position as assistant professor in the linguistics program at Penn State University. She joined the Department of Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts in 1992.

Woolford’s specialization is syntax. Although she has published on various topics in syntax including Wh Movement, passives, and object shift, the focus of her current research is case and agreement theory and typology. She is exploring the idea that a division of labor between syntax and morphological spell-out PF is both necessary to capture the intricacies of surface case and agreement patterns, and desirable in that it will allow a much simpler and more restrictive syntax. Her more recent publications include work on portmanteau agreement, the relation between ergative case and transitivity, active-stative agreement systems, split ergativity, hierarchical agreement patterns, locality constraints on case and agreement relations in syntax, and person hierarchy effects at PF. Her current project is to test the typological generalization that if a language has object agreement it also has subject agreement, and to explain why this generalization holds to the extent that it does. 

Research Areas

  • Syntax
  • Typology
  • Agreement
  • Case


  • (2017) Split Ergativity. In Handbook of Ergativity, ed. by Jessica Coon, Diane Massam, and Lisa Travis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • (2016) Two Types of Portmanteau Agreement. In Advances in OT Syntax and Semantics, ed. by Geraldine Legendre, Michael Putnam, and Erin Zaroukian. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • (2015) Ergativity and Transitivity. Linguistic Inquiry 46(3): 489-531.