About Maria Luisa

Maria Luisa Zubizarreta was born and raised in Asunción, Paraguay. She obtained her Maîtrise de Linguistique Générale from L’Université de Paris 8 in 1978, and her PhD in Linguistics from M.I.T. in 1982. From 1983-85, she was a post-doctoral researcher at the Laboratoire de Psychologie Expérimentale at L’Université Paris 5/CNRS (France). In 1985-86, she was a Visiting Professor at Tilburg University (The Netherlands). In 1987-88, she was an Assistant Professor at the Linguistics Program and the Department of Spanish & Portuguese at University of Maryland, College Park, MD. In 1988, she joined the Linguistics Department at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) as an Associate Professor and in 1998, she was promoted to Full Professor. She is a life member of The Linguistic Society of America.



Maria Luisa Zubizarreta is interested in linguistic theory as a model of human's mental competence and performance. This research program consists in investigating the abstract principles that underlie human languages and the set of parameters that account for linguistic variations. This is achieved by detailed and in-depth comparative investigation of the grammar of different languages. Within this general program, she has focused on the following research areas:

  • The lexicon and its relationship to syntax
  • The syntax and semantics of the definite determiner, inalienable constructions, and generics 
  • The relation between nuclear stress, focus, and word order
  • Clitics and the Left Periphery of the Clausal Structure
  • The logical structure of informational and contrastive focus
  • The syntax and prosody of focus.

More recently, ML Zubizarreta has extended her empirical research to the study of transfer in second language acquisition across different age groups. The motivation of such research is two-fold:

  • it can serve as a window into the mental grammar of the learner's developing interlanguage and, indirectly, of the learner's L1,
  • and it can reveal how grammatical micro-variations affect the acquisition of a second language across age groups.

ML Zubizarreta directed the Second Language Acquisition Laboratory (2003-2013).



ML Zubizarreta teaches syntax at the graduate and undergraduate level, as well as a course on Language Contact and Language Acquisition.


Curriculum Vitae