Emily Elfner’s research studies the use of rhythm, pitch, and intonation in spoken language, and in particular, how these aspects of language – referred to as prosody – are used in natural communication to convey information about sentence structure and meaning.
Emily’s current project focuses on the documentation of prosody and intonation in Kwak’wala, a critically endangered First Nations language spoken in British Columbia. Like many of Canada’s First Nations languages, Kwak’wala is in danger of losing its last fluent native speakers within a generation. While prosody and intonation are an integral component of learning to speak and revitalize an endangered language, these aspects of language are often overlooked in descriptive work in linguistics and as a result, very little is known about how prosody and intonation are used in languages other than better-studied languages like English.
Emily previously held a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship in the First Nations and Endangered Languages program from 2014-2016. She has a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an MA and BA (honours) in Linguistics from the University of Calgary. She also held a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Linguistics at McGill University from 2012-2014. In addition to her current research on Kwak’wala, she has also worked extensively on the phonology and prosody of two other endangered languages, Irish and Blackfoot.