I am an associate professor of linguistics in the Department of Languages and Cultures at the University of the Ryukyus. As a linguist, I am in the business of figuring out how languages work, with a focus on cross-linguistic semantics, pragmatics, and descriptive/documentary fieldwork.

Some Recent Projects and Interests

Honorifics across languages

This project aims at elucidating the semantics and pragmatics of honorific systems across a range of languages. Davis 2021 examines subject oriented honorifics in Yaeyaman and Japanese, focusing on what happens with plural subjects of mixed honorific status. Sunwoo Jeong and I are now experimentally examining this issue in Korean, with the aim of understanding cross-linguistic and inter-speaker variation in how competing pressures on honorific marking are resolved. We presented some preliminary results from this work here. I am also working with Rajesh Bhatt on honorific marking in Hindi, which involves plural agreement with singular subjects; preliminary results are presented here. Earlier work with Elin McCready looked at subject-oriented anti-honorific verbal morphology in Japanese, with a particular focus on what happens with non-referential subjects. I am also working on so-called ``speech levels'' in Javanese, which you can read about here and here.

Slurs and invocations

Elin McCready and I have been developing a theory of what we term invocational meaning (Davis and McCready 2020, McCready and Davis 2017), whereby discourse effects are achieved by the mere mention of a slur term. In current work (in preparation), we argue that slur terms rely both on invocational and indexical meaning (in the sense of third-wave sociolinguistics) in achieving their effects. Both kinds of meaning rely for their impact on background facts about the social categories of the speaker, audience, and the group picked out by the slur term itself. Slurs are distinguished from neutral category terms in that they explicitly invoke and bring to contextual salience the evaluative/normative status that the targeted category has (or at least is supposed by some to have) within the larger social structure in terms of which it is defined.


I began doing fieldwork on the Yaeyaman language in 2011. Yaeyaman is part of the Ryukyuan language group, a sister language family of Japanese. Spoken from Amami island in the north to Yonaguni island in the southwest, Ryukyuan is a highly diverse language family, with a large number of subvarieties with varying degrees of mutual intelligibility and complex and as yet not fully resolved historical relationships with one another and with Japanese. A UNESCO classification sorts Ryukyuan into 6 distinct languages, but even within these languages, there is a great deal of variation. Yaeyaman is one of the three languages comprising the Southern Ryukyuan branch.


Christopher Davis
Associate Professor
University of the Ryukyus
Department of Global and Regional Studies
1 Senbaru, Nishihara
Okinawa, Japan 903-0213

Send email correspondence to one of the following addresses:

cmdavis AT grs.u-ryukyu.ac.jp

cmdavis.linguist AT gmail DOT com