Mike completed his BA in German, Linguistics and Computer Science in 2005 at Queen Mary University of London. After working in administration for a couple of years, realised his passion lay elsewhere, and in 2007 started the MA in Language Documentation and Description at SOAS.
After completing his dissertation entitled "Indirect Possessive Hosts in the Languages of Vanuatu" he felt that more research was needed into possessive structures in Oceanic languages and embarked on a PhD in Field Linguistics funded by ELDP. Mike spent a total of 15 months of fieldwork describing the previously undocumented language of North Ambrym in Vanuatu. His thesis, entitled ‘Possessive Classifiers in North Ambrym, a Language of Vanuatu: Explorations in Semantic Classification’, was submitted in September 2012 and is abstracted below.
Mike is now employed as a teaching fellow within the department of linguistics at SOAS and is lecturing the MA field methods class, the combined BA/MA morphology class and the BA general linguistics course. Mike is also tutoring BA intermediate syntax using the theory of LFG. He is also working on depositing his recordings of the North Ambrym language with ELAR.
Mike has also been awarded a Christensen Fund grant to work on literacy development in primary education in the North Ambrym language, which will start in June 2013. This project aims to help safeguard the traditional ecological knowledge of the North Ambrymese by ensuring these topics are covered in the first two years of primary school education.
North Ambrym, an Oceanic language spoken in Vanuatu, exhibits the two common Oceanic possessive construction types: Direct and Indirect. This thesis focuses on the indirect construction which occurs when the possessed noun refers to a semantically alienable item. In North Ambrym the indirect possessive is marked by one of a set of possessive classifiers. The theory within Oceanic linguistics is that the possessive classifiers do not classify a property of the possessed noun but the relation between possessor and possessed (Lichtenberk 1983). Thus it is the intentional use of the possessed by the possessor that is encoded by the possessive classifier in that an ‘edible’ classifier will be used if the possessor intends to eat the possessed or use the ‘drinkable’ classifier if the possessed is intended to be drunk. This thesis challenges this theory and instead proposes that the classifiers act like possessed classifiers in North Ambrym and characterise a functional property of the possessed noun. Several experiments were conducted that induced different contextual uses of possessions, however this did not result in classifier change.
Each classifier has a large amount of seemingly semantically disparate members and they do not all share the semantic features of the central members, thus an analysis using the classical theory of classification is untenable. Instead the classifier categories are best analysed using prototype theory as certain semantic groups of possessions are considered to be more central members. This hypothesis is supported by further experimentation into classification which helps define the centrality of classifier category members. Finally an analysis using cognitive linguistic theory proposes that non-central members are linked to central members via semantic chains using notions of metaphor and metonymy.