Whitman's main interest is the problem of language variation: its limits (how much specific subsystems can vary across languages) and predictors (what typological features co-occur systematically). Exploration of this general problem has led him to work on historical linguistics and language acquisition in addition to his central interest in synchronic syntactic variation across typologically similar languages.
He works mostly on Japanese, secondly on Korean. He has also done research on Australian languages and German. In the general area of syntax, Whitman has been involved in the configurationality debate, an ongoing discourse which began 15 years ago with the widely held assumption that languages may vary radically in the degree of articulation of their syntactic structure. A truly remarkable result of research on this topic is that variation is much more limited than syntacticians were once willing to believe. Most recently, he has worked on the relationship between phrase structure and word order, structural universals in relative clause structure, and crosslinguistic parallels in rightward movement.
In the area of historical phonology, Whitman has recently completed work on the development of verbal conjugations in Japanese and Korean and their relation to transitivity. He is interested in the typological implications of developments like these, as well as their factual implications for the history of these two languages. His interests in Japanese historical linguistics are summarized here.
- East Asian Linguistics
- Problem of Language Variation
- Historical Linguistics
- Language Acquisition
Publications on Syntactic Variation:
- Uncertainty in processing relative clauses across East Asian languages. (2015). with Yun, J., Chen, Z., Hunter, T., & Hale, J. Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 24(2), 113-148.
- Iwayuru ajia-siki kankeisetsu ni tsuite いわゆるアジア式関係節について [On so-called Asian-type relative clauses]. (2015). In Fukuda, S., Nishida, K., and Tamura, T. (Eds.), Gengo kenkyū no shiza 言語研究の視座 [Perspectives of Linguistic Research]. Tokyo: Kaitakusha, 188-203.
- The prehead relative clause problem. (2013). In Özge, U. (Ed.), Proceedings of the 8th Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistic (pp. 361-380). Cambridge, MA: MIT Working Papers in Linguistics.
- Postpositions vs. prepositions in Mandarin Chinese: The articulation of disharmony. (2013). with Djamouri, R. & Paul, W. In Biberauer, T (Ed.) Theoretical approaches to disharmonic word orders, 74-105. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Introduction: Nominalizations in syntactic theory. (2011). with Kornfilt, J. In J. Kornfilt & J. Whitman (Eds.), Lingua, 121(7), 1160-1163.
- Afterword: Nominalizations in syntactic theory. (2011). with Kornfilt, J. In J. Kornfilt & J. Whitman (Eds.), Lingua, 121(7), 1297-1313.
- Applicative structure and Mandarin ditransitives. (2010). with Paul, W. In Huidbro, S. et al (Eds.) Argument Structure and Syntactic Relations, 261-282. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- The classification of constituent order generalizations and diachronic explanation. (2008). In J. Good (Ed.), Linguistic universals and language change, 233-252. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Shi… de focus clefts in Mandarin Chinese. (2008). with Paul, W. The Linguistic Review, 25(3-4), 413-451.
- Expletive and thematic applicatives. (2008). with Georgala, E. & Paul, W. In Proceedings of WCCFL 26, 181-189.
- Ditransitives and applicative structure in Greek. (2007). with Georgala, E. In Proceedings from the Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society 43.1, 77-91. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.
- Preverbal elements in Korean and Japanese. (2005). In G. Cinque & R. Kayne (Eds.), Handbook of Comparative Syntax, 880-902. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Kayne 1994: p. 143, fn. 3. (2001). In G. Alexandrova & O. Artunova (Eds.), The Minimalist Parameter, 77-100. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- A type of head-in-situ construction in English. (2000). with Tsubomot, A. Linguistic Inquiry, 31(1), 176-183.
Publications on Diachronic Topics:
- Comparative consequences of the tongue root harmony analysis for proto-Tungusic, proto-Mongolic, and proto-Korean. (2014). with Ko, S. & Joseph, A. In M. Robbeets & B. Bickel (Eds.), Paradigm Change: In the Transeurasian languages and beyond (pp. 141-176). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- The diachronic consequences of the RTR analysis of Tungusic vowel harmony. (2012). with Joseph, A. In Özge, U. (Ed.), Proceedings of the 8th Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics, Cambridge, MA: MIT Working Papers in Linguistics.
- Misparsing and syntactic reanalysis. (2012). In A. van Kemenade & N. de Haas (Eds.). Historical Linguistics 2009: Selected Papers from the 19th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, 69-87. John Benjamins Publishing.
- Syntactic change in Chinese and the argument-adjunct asymmetry. (2013). with Djamouri, R. & Paul, W. In G. Cao, H. Chappell, R. Djamouri, & T. Wiebusch, Breaking down the barriers: Interdisciplinary studies in Chinese linguistics and beyond (557-594).
- Introduction. (2012). with Jonas, D. & Garrett, A. Grammatical change: origins, nature, outcomes (pp. 1-12). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- The formal syntax of alignment change. (2012). with Yanagida, Y. In C. Galves, S. Cyrino, R. Lopes, F. Sandalo, J. Avelar (Eds.), Parameter theory and dynamics of change, 177-195. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Reanalysis and conservancy of structure in Chinese. (2005). with Paul, W. In M Batlori (Ed.), Grammaticalization and parametric change (pp. 82-94). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Relabeling. (2001). In S. Pintzuk, G. Tsoulas, & A. Warner (Eds.), Diachronic Syntax: Models and Mechanisms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Publications on Japanese Synchrony:
- Gengo shigen toshite no Nihongo (Japanese as a linguistic resource). (2011). with Kinsui, S., Shimizu, Y., & Yada, T. KinIn Bungaku (Iwanami Shoten), 12(3), 2-51.
- Prenominal complementizers and the derivation of complex NPs in Japanese and Korean. (2011). with Frellesvig, B. In W. McClure (Ed.), Japanese/Korean Linguistics, 18, 73-87. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
- Clefts in Japanese and Korean. (2008). with Cho, S. & Yanagida, Y. In Proceedings from the Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, 44(1), 61-77. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.
- Give as a Higher Verb: Reassessing Nakau. (2001). In Minoru Nakau Festschrift Editorial Committee (Eds.), Imi to katachi no intaafeesu (The interface of meaning and form) (pp. 445-470). Tokyo: Kuroshio Press.
- Right dislocation in English and Japanese. (2000). In K. Takami & J. Whitman (Eds.), Syntactic and Functional Exploration: In Honor of Susumu Kuno (pp. 445-470). Kuroshio Press.
- Gojun to kukōzō 語順と句構造 [Word order and phrase structure]. (1998). In Takezawa, K. and J. Whitman, Kaku to gojun to tōgo kōzō 『格と語順と統語構造』[Case, word order, and syntactic structure]. Nakau, M. (Ed.), Nichieigosensho 『日英語選書 9』. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
Publications on Japanese Diachrony:
- Raten-go kyōten no dokuhō to butten no kundoku ラテン語教典の読法と仏典の訓 (The reading of sacred texts in Latin and vernacular reading of Buddhist texts). (2015). In Niikawa, T. 新川登亀男 (Ed.) Bunmei idō tosite no "bukkyō jō : Zōkei, gengo, moji 『文明移動としての「仏教」上〜造形・言語・文字』(Buddhism as movement of civilization: The plastic arts, language, and writing). Tokyo: Benseisha.
- A Korean grammatical borrowing in Early Middle Japanese kunten texts and its relation to the syntactic alignment of earlier Korean and Japanese. (2012). with Yanagida, Y. In S. Nam, H. Ko, & J. Jun (Eds.) Japanese/Korean Linguistics, 21. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
- The relationship between Japanese and Korean. (2012). In D. N. Tranter (Ed.), The Languages of Japan and Korea, 24.
- Genesis of indefinite pronouns in Japanese and Korean. (2011). with Kinuhata, T. In W. McClure (Ed.), Japanese/Korean Linguistics, 18, 88-100. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
- Hiteikōzō to rekishiteki henka – shuyōbu to hitei kyokusei hyōgen o chūsin ni (The structure of negation and historical change – with a focus on headedness and negative polarity expressions). (2010). In Y. Katō et al (Eds.), Hitei to gengo riron (Negation and linguistic theory) (141-169). Tokyo: Kaitakusha.
- Ninshō to kakkaku ruikei – Jōdai Nihongo no daimeishi taikei no kanten kara (Person and active typology – from the standpoint of the pronominal system of Old Japanese). (2009). with Yanagida, Y. In A. Tsubomoto et al (Eds.), Uchi to soto no gengogaku (The linguistics of “inside” and “outside”). Tokyo: Kaitakusha.
- Alignment and word order in Old Japanese. (2009). with Yanagida, Y. Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 18(2), 101-144.
- Proto-Japanese: Issues and Prospects, 294. (2009). with Frellesvig, B. John Benjamins Publishing.
- The Japanese/Korean vowel correspondences. (2008). with Frellesvig, B. In M. E. Hudson et al (Eds.), Japanese/Korean Linguistics, 13, 15–28. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
- Evidence for seven vowels in proto-Japanese. (2008). with Frellesvig, B. Proto-Japanese (15-41). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- The source of the bigrade conjugation and stem shape in pre-Old Japanese. (2008). In B. Frellesvig & J. Whitman (Eds.), Proto-Japanese, 159-174. Amsterdam, John Benjamins.
- The vowels of proto-Japanese. (2004). with Frellesvig, B. Japanese language and literature, 281-299.
- Personal pronoun shift in Japanese: A case study in lexical change and point of view. (1999). Function and Structure: In Honor of Susumu Kuno (pp. 357-386). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Publications on Korean:
- Old Korean. (2015). In L. Brown & J. H. Yeon (Eds.), The Handbook of Korean Linguistics (pp. 421-438). London: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Subject-object asymmetries in Korean sentence comprehension. (2010). with Yun, J. & Hale, J. In Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
- The syntax of overmarking and kes in child Korean. (2009). In C. Lee et al. (Eds.) The Handbook of East Asian Psycholinguistics (221-230). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Licensing of multiple negative polarity items. (2004). with Kuno, S. In Y. Kim-Renaud & J. Whitman (Eds.), Studies in Korean Syntax and Semantics by Susumu Kuno, 207-228.
- Direct movement passives in Korean and Japanese. (2003). with Park, S. D. In W. McClure (Ed.), Japanese/Korean Linguistics, 12, 307-321. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
- The proto-Korean shape of ha-‘do'. (2003). In S.O. Lee (Ed.), Pathways into Korean Language and Culture: Essays in Honor of Young-Key Kim-Renaud (pp. 463-470). Seoul: Pajigong Press.
- The ubiquity of the gloss. (2011). Scripta, 3, 95-121.
- Northeast Asian linguistic ecology and the advent of rice agriculture in Korea and Japan. (2011). Rice, 4(3-4), 149-158.
- Toward an international vocabulary for research on vernacular readings of Chinese texts (漢文訓讀 Hanwen Xundu). (2010). with Alberizzi, V. L., Tsukimoto, M., Kosukegawa, T., Takada, T., Oh, M., & Park, J. Scripta, 2, 61-83.
- Kokugogaku versus Genogaku: Language process theory and Tokieda’s construction of Saussure sixty years later. (2009). In M. Bourdaghs (Ed.), The Linguistic Turn in Contemporary Japanese Literary Studies: Textuality, Language, Politics. Michigan: University of Michigan Center for Japanese Literary Studies.
- [Review of A history of Korean, by K.M. Lee & S.R. Ramsey]. (2013). In Korean Linguistics, 15(2).
- [Review of The Role of Contact in the Origins of the Japanese and Korean Languages, by J. Marshall Unger]. (2010). The Journal of Asian Studies, 69(4), 1268-1270.
- [Review of Issues in East Asian Language acquisition, by M. Nakayama (Ed.)]. (2006). Language, 82(3), 662-665.
- [Review of Ruins of identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands, by M. Hudson]. (2002). Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 62(1), 256-265.