Author: Everett Green

Some Post Fund-drive Words and a Final Rising Star: Meet Anastasia Panova!

Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for your contributions this year. It is true that the fund drive is over but you can always donate by visiting our donation page here and searching for the the “Linguist List Discretionary Fund.”

As a post-fund-drive treat we have one final rising star to present. Meet Anastasia Panova! She is a 4th year BA student in the Linguistic Convergence Laboratory at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and has done substantial work. She is involved in a field project for the documentation of Abaza, a Northwest Caucasian language, and has published a great journal article comparing morphologically-bound complementation in several languages of Eurasia and the Americas. She has also co-authored several talks given at international conferences. In her lab, she has assisted by compiling a corpus of Russian as it is spoken in Daghestan, developing a web interface for this data and also manages online access to the data. These are only a few of the many technical solutions that she has provided for the lab. On top of all this, according to her mentors she is also an excellent team worker. With all of that said… lets get to her piece.

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Anastasia Panova

What all linguistic theories as well as computational technologies face at some moment is linguistic diversity. A formal theory designed on the basis of well-described languages may be unable to adequately account for data from little-known languages whose good descriptions are either lacking or have appeared only recently. Likewise, NLP tools are hard to imagine working with all existing languages with equal ease. I am especially sorry for psycho- and neurolinguistics where all studies are still limited to a very small range of languages. Even typologists are not able to build databases covering more than half of all existing languages due to the lack of data, and usually their samples contain only about 200 languages. I think that if we want to do more than just investigate the most widespread or best described languages but rather to understand something about the boundaries of linguistic diversity (if any) and in the end about Language in general, then the first thing that we still need to do is high-quality language documentation and description.

Language description is not only extremely important but also really interesting. Perhaps we can compare linguists to astronomers who also are still able to study only a small part of the universe, and every new piece of data appears to be a discovery. A crucial difference is that linguistic fieldwork is mostly not about technical measurements but about interaction with living people. What will end up being written in the grammar of the language one is working on largely depends on one’s interaction with the native speakers and on one’s interpretation of the results thereof. That’s why any fieldworker has a great responsibility towards those who will rely on her data. I admire linguists who spend months and even years in the field and work on the documentation of the whole language alone, but I also really appreciate the Russian tradition of collective fieldtrips where students are allowed to work in the field on a par with professional linguists. For many of our students, the real interest in linguistics began with fieldwork.

Talking about my current research interests, I must admit that I certainly cannot name the closed list thereof. At the School of Linguistics of the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow, where I am finishing my BA studies, all BA students at some moment have to choose between two profiles: theoretical linguistics and computational linguistics. Forced to somehow define my research interests I have chosen theoretical linguistics, but, fortunately, I still have a lot of opportunities to learn computational tools for linguistic analysis and these skills help me a lot in my theoretical studies.

I also have been lucky to be involved in several scientific projects carried out at my university. First, I am working with great scholars such as Johanna Nichols at the Linguistic Convergence Laboratory, where I do corpus linguistics. We collect recordings of different varieties of the languages of Russia, compile spoken corpora of these varieties (some corpora are already available online at https://ilcl.hse.ru/en/corpora/) and then use them to investigate the processes and mechanisms of language contact. Second, I am a member of the research team studying Abaza, a polysynthetic language spoken by approximately 50,000 people in the Russian North Caucasus and in Turkey and currently the least studied language of the Northwest Caucasian family. We are indebted to the people in the village Inzhich-Chukun (Abazinsky district, Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Russia) where our team has been working on the description of Abaza during last three years thanks to their extraordinary hospitality and tireless efforts to facilitate our research. Recently, we have just returned from another field trip to Inzhich-Chukun, where I had been collecting data for my BA thesis. This thesis is the accumulation of the results of my fieldwork on the aspectual, modal and evaluative verbal suffixes of Abaza, whose order in the wordform presumably results from their scopal relations and compatibility restrictions. In my thesis, I elaborate this approach on the basis of my analysis of the interaction of the semantics of these suffixes, many of which are polysemous, with the event structure of verbs. I hope that my study of Abaza suffixation will contribute both to the description of this fascinating language and to the deeper understanding of the workings of polysynthetic morphology in general.

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Thanks so much for all of your support and donations during this year’s fund drive. Have a great summer!

Rising Stars: Meet Sean Lang!

Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Today we share with you the cutting-edge work of Sean Lang. He is a Senior at the University of Michigan where he is a double major in Spanish and Neuroscience. He is currently a member of the University of Michigan Speech Lab where he is working on analyzing a corpus of data from the Afrikaans-Argentine bilingual community that resides in Patagonia, Argentina. His work has ramifications for the Afrikaans language as a whole since the last group of Afrikaans-Spanish bilingual speakers resides in Patagonia, thus making the particular language variety an endangered one. He has received very high praise from his mentors and his work quality is said to be among that of the top undergraduates ever to work in the lab. He has even been interviewed by NPR! While doing all of this great work, Sean has also still found the time to be a mentor and thesis advisor to younger students. And with that… we introduce Sean’s work!

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Between 1902 and 1906, approximately 600 Afrikaans speakers migrated to Chubut Province, Argentina from South Africa. Over the course of the 20th century, the community gradually shifted from Afrikaans-dominant to Spanish-dominant. The year 1954 marks the first record of a church service held in Spanish, though Afrikaans was still the dominant language through the 1960s. In May of 2014, a team of University of Michigan faculty was sent on a fieldwork trip to visit the community and interview its members, a subset of whom were (indeed, still are) Afrikaans-Spanish bilinguals.

Anthropologically and linguistically speaking, this community presents as a unique case, especially the oldest living generation, individuals who learned Afrikaans as a first language (L1) and later, when they entered school, began learning Spanish as a second language (L2). Now, though, as these speakers enter their 70s and 80s, they have been dominant speakers of Spanish (over Afrikaans) for the last 50 years or more, to such a degree that many of them have suffered partial attrition of their L1 Afrikaans.

Studying the many facets of the individuals living in the community has become an active collaboration between historians, anthropologists, and linguists. Specifically, though, my work over the past year has focused on the cross-language influence between the L1 Afrikaans and L2 Spanish of these Argentine bilinguals, with attention to filled pauses in particular. Past studies of the influence between bilinguals’ languages has shown, as we might intuit, an influence of an L1 on an L2. However, there also exists a body of research evidencing the influence of an L2 on an L1, also suggesting that this influence is greater in cases of increased exposure to and proficiency in the L2. We elected to focus on filled pauses because, as discourse byproducts of lexical retrieval and syntactic planning, they constitute an informative feature through which to understand second-language fluency.

An analysis of over 3,000 filled pauses produced by the Afrikaans-Spanish bilinguals, Afrikaans monolinguals, and Spanish monolinguals suggests that filled pauses are multi-faceted, and that their various facets may pattern independently. For example, Spanish monolinguals and the bilinguals while speaking Spanish produced three types of filled pauses: vowel-only (e.g., “uh”, “eh”), vowel followed by nasal consonant (e.g., “um”, “em”), and nasal consonant-only (e.g., “mm”). Meanwhile, Afrikaans monolinguals and bilinguals while speaking Afrikaans only produced two types: vowel-only and vowel followed by nasal consonant. Essentially, that the bilinguals are target-like in their filled pause “inventories” suggests a lack of influence between languages.

However, gradient analyses of the formants, F1 and F2, in Praat of the vocalic segments of filled pauses showed evidence of robust bidirectional influence between the languages of the bilinguals. The two monolingual groups fell on extreme ends of the continuum, while bilinguals occupied an intermediate space between the two. The vowel durations of the filled pauses also suggested bidirectional influence, while the nasal consonant durations suggested unidirectional influence of the L1 Afrikaans on the L2 Spanish.

All taken together, these results suggest that filled pauses are multifaceted. Furthermore, those facets are capable of patterning independently, which is analogous to what occurs with “regular” lexical items, suggesting that filled pauses belong to the same grammar as those lexical items.

As a final note, the study described above constituted my undergraduate honors thesis, which has provided me with great challenges, fulfillment, and myriad opportunities to grow over the last eight months. Following my graduation (May 2019), I will be flying to Guatemala to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years, after which I plan to apply to PhD programs.

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If you have not yet– please visit our Fund Drive page to learn more about us and why we need your help! The LINGUIST List relies on your generous donations to continue its support of linguists around the world.

Rising Stars: Meet Tyler Kibbey!

Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

For today’s post we come to you with a great contribution from Tyler Kibbey. He is an MA student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Kentucky, a co-convener of the LSA Special Interest Group on LGBTQ+ Issues in Linguistics, and an affiliate of the upcoming Linguistics Institute at the University of California, Davis. His work applies Conceptual Metaphor Theory to religious language and ideology with the aim of mitigating anti-LGBTQ+ religious violence. His recent work has also explored the moral responsibilities of linguists beyond the descriptivist framework. According to his mentors, he has gone far above and beyond the requirements of the normal MA student. He has presented research on metaphors in very conservative religious language, on language ideologies within the discipline, and on the use of religious discourse in political contexts among other issues. Keep up the great work, Tyler! Now lets move on to his piece…

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In this historical moment, one of the most important areas of linguistics is the study of extremist language as it structures and creates systems of violence which affect marginalized groups the world over. New perspectives on the role of linguists as moral agents in society, rather than being simply indifferent observers, is breaking new ground in how the discipline should approach issues of violence wherein such acts are related to language. Specifically in the case of the many manifestos and articles of extremist propaganda that have found wider circulation in the modern age of communication, the role of linguists in attempting to understand and mitigate these acts of linguistic violence is paramount to the responsibility of language experts in contemporary research. Whereas humanity has a terrifying capacity, if not proclivity, for violence, the next wave of modern linguistics must seek to account for how language can be used to promote intolerance in our communities and to develop evidence-based programs for the pursuit of peace on all fronts.

In the coming decades, one area where linguistics will once again be required to apply itself is the domain of religion. Though the subdiscipline of theolinguistics has long since fallen apart, current research in cognitive linguistics and the scientific study of religion is continuing to unveil the ways in which language facilitates religious experience, ideology, and all too often violence. One current line of thought, Conceptual Metaphor Theory, is well situated for undertaking these tasks. The semantic representations of religious objects of faith, such as supernatural agents or deities, are often conceptualized as beyond the limits of human understanding, and thus, neither true nor false. Within various theological traditions, this has often caused doctrinal shifts between viewing religious language as either highly metaphorical or fundamentally literal, which has further caused problems for linguists seeking to place religious language within a bivalent framework of truth. This has also allowed individuals of faith to arrive at their own determinations of the meaning of religious language and conceptual frameworks. Admittedly, this is not immediately concerning at face-value. However, when the dramatic flourishes of religious rhetoric encompass the semantic domains of war, morality, or sovereignty, language can galvanize an individual’s perception of the world and allow them to justify tremendous acts of violence in the name of faith. Language is fundamental to this process, and it is through linguistics that religious violence can be successfully understood and hopefully mitigated.

This is ultimately the line of research that my own work assumes in attempting to understand religious violence, principally, and anti-LGBTQ+ violence, generally. Over the last five years, I have conducted critical metaphor analysis on white supremacist manifestos,  Westboro Baptist Church sermons, ISIS propaganda, and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the hopes of understanding how language facilitates these systems of violence, as well as their linguistic positioning within universal cognitive processes. As an organizer, I have also worked to promote LGBTQ+ equality within the discipline, founding the Linguistic Society of America’s Special Interest Group on LGBTQ+ Issues in Linguistics in 2017 and organizing LGBTQ+ Linguistics events at various conferences and institutions. In line with my research and organizational work, I sincerely believe that linguistics has the potential to effect real change in contemporary society and that together we can pursue peace through the study of language.

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If you have not yet– please visit our Fund Drive page to learn more about us and why we need your help! The LINGUIST List relies on your generous donations to continue its support of linguists around the world.

Staff Letter: Everett Green

Hello Linguist Listers,

I hope my message finds all of you well. This is Everett Green checking in. I’m the calls and conferences editor for the LINGUIST List. If you have sent a conference call, program or announcement through our website, it was almost certainly posted by me. I’m also responsible for editing submissions to FYI’s, Media, Software, Discussions, Queries and Summaries. This may seem like a disproportionate amount of work but these areas don’t receive quite as many submissions as Calls & Conferences, hence my being responsible for all of them at once. I have had very pleasant interactions with many of you in emails and I always enjoy helping top-notch researchers like yourselves in getting the word out about your conferences, calls for papers and other important pieces of information.

At the office.

Working on conferences gives me a very interesting snapshot of the kinds of work that people are doing within linguistic sub-fields and in interdisciplinary spaces. I must say that the sheer breadth and scope of the work being done is quite vast. So vast in fact, that a person could easily dedicate their life to studying the topics and questions addressed at a single, very specialized conference, not to mention any of the more broadly focused conferences which can cover countless numbers of topics. This bird’s eye view of the field of linguistics is an unofficial perk of the job since it has very much assisted me in deciding which area of research I would like to contribute to. Though I have not fully committed to a particular subject of study (there are so many interesting fields!), I have been able to narrow my preferences down in very meaningful ways thanks to my job here at the LINGUIST List.

Outside of the LINGUIST List, I am a dual PhD student in Computational Linguistics and Cognitive Science. I have currently been studying how artificial neural networks can be used for better natural language processing and how we can apply that language processing to give our computers a superior understanding of natural languages. Ideally, in the future, we would be able to interact optimally with our computers(or robots) through natural language alone. This wouldn’t just make things more convenient for the average computer user but it would also increase accessibility for those who cannot currently use computers due to disabilities.

Hopefully I’ll have more time for these one day…

In terms of recreation, I have many interests though most have been shelved in the pursuit of higher goals. The interests that have managed to survive the culling are music and video games which fit together quite well since music is integral to video game development. The latter subject actually has minor applications for my research as well. Before attending graduate school, I had done some recreational video game design with my friends and gained some useful programming skills in the process. As duolingo has shown, gamification of language acquisition is quite popular among the general public and I believe that it is another tool that can be leveraged to help researchers collect data and publish more robust studies when utilized carefully.

I will have worked at the LINGUIST List for two years come May and I can easily say that it is one of the best jobs that I have ever worked in. None of it would be possible without the donations that all of you provide us with and I sincerely thank all of you for your continued support of our work. I only hope that I can repay the favor by contributing research that makes all of your lives healthier and happier. If you haven’t donated and you would like to, you can find our donation page here. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to read about me and I hope to keep assisting all of you in whatever way that I can here at the LINGUIST List.

元気で
Everett Green

Rising Stars: Meet Sarah Lapacz!

Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

For today’s post we proudly present the thoughtful work of Sarah Lapacz. She is currently an MA student at the University of Bonn in Germany. Her research interests range from forensic linguistics to teaching English as a foreign language and she is very active in the community. Sarah has already co-authored a published article, written blogs on various linguistic topics and presented papers and posters at several conferences and workshops. As a member of the LETS (Linguistics of English and Translation Studies) team, she is also currently assisting with research on sociocultural impact on recent language change in the UK, US and Germany. As is always the case with our Rising Stars, Sarah’s list of accomplishments is much longer than we have room for in this post so let’s move on and hear what she has to say!

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I have always been fascinated by languages other than my mother tongue, German. Whenever we went on vacation, I was puzzled by the local languages and the people who spoke them. All these strange sounds and melodies intrigued me. Even though no one in my family spoke the local language, my mother was able to converse with people in English to order food, buy medicine, or ask for directions. Only later, during my BA studies, did I realize that I was indeed not fascinated by languages, but rather by language itself and how it works, or sometimes simply just does not work.

I was fortunate enough to have been accepted into the MA Applied Linguistics program at the University of Bonn where I found myself in the position to answer my questions while receiving the best support and guidance. It did not take long for me to identify my research interest in taboo language and forensic linguistics. While one field is hopefully finally able to overcome its own taboo status, the other one is a rather young field, that is increasingly gaining importance though.

Taboo language makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. Yet it can be found in every culture and language and is part of daily life, as it is, e.g., a means of venting our emotions. Taboo terms and their effect intrigue me. Most of my research projects so far have focused on these terms and their use and perception, which took me from looking into responses to insults from a cross-cultural viewpoint, to the use, perception, and code-switching of taboo terms by English as Lingua Franca speakers, or the translation of taboo terms by language learners. Previous research by Jean-Marc Dewaele, Jonathan Culpeper, and Benjamin Bergen has greatly inspired me along the way. I was able to present my research at various conferences, nationally and internationally, something for which I am most grateful. All this made me realize that there are so many more questions to be answered.

As I mentioned, I am also interested in the area of forensic linguistics. At the start of my MA studies, I was introduced to the Germanic Society for Forensic Linguistics (GSFL) which led me to become more actively interested in the field. The GSFL has also enabled me to participate in the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course in Forensic Speech and Audio Analysis at the University of York on a scholarship. This experience has sparked an additional interest in forensic phonetics in me. I will investigate taboo language in a legal context for my PhD project where I will have a closer look at hate speech at the intersection of forensic linguistics and forensic phonetics.

My current MA thesis under the supervision of Gaby Axer and Prof. Svenja Kranich, however, focuses on another matter close to my heart. As we linguists are aware, language shapes our world. With this in mind, it becomes clear that this could pose a problem when an extralinguistic context depends on the language we use to describe an action or situation. This is the case in legal settings. For my MA thesis, I try to gain some more insight into the linguistic side of the phenomenon of victim blaming in rape cases and the effect it might have, especially when it appears in witness statements.

I think that with current movements such as #metoo and the overall political climate, research in the areas outlined above will increasingly gain relevance and importance. The goal with all my research projects is to raise more awareness towards the complexities of taboo language (especially its perception), the influence of specific linguistic behavior which discriminates others and puts them at a disadvantage, and the need for a more reliable and effective framework when it comes to hate crimes. I hope that I will have plenty of opportunity to get immersed in the necessary research and I am excited about the amazing insights the future may bring.

After another cup of tea.

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If you have not yet– please visit our Fund Drive page to learn more about us and why we need your help! The LINGUIST List relies on your generous donations to continue its support of linguists around the world.

Music and Language Revitalization

Music can takes us to exotic locales, different time periods, and acquaint us with foreign cultures. Art by Aeon Lux.

 

Hello Linguist Listers,

Previously my fellow colleagues wrote about Language Revitalization in the context of modern-day technologies and cinema. These are both powerful methodologies for galvanizing interest in foreign languages and subsequently assisting with language revitalization efforts. Today I would like to talk about language revitalization in the context of one more medium and that is music. As we all know music is one of the most powerful tools for evoking emotion in our fellow humans. From rousing classical symphonies like Beethoven’s 5th to more ambient, future-oriented electronic pieces, music can evoke, not only a wide range of emotions, but also specific times and places in the minds of listeners. These qualities make music a perfect vehicle for expressing oneself and also a great way of expressing one’s language and culture. As a matter of fact, music is so good at this that it has already shown results in sparking interest in foreign languages. “A desire to learn the lyrics of K-Pop hits like Gangnam Style has boosted the Korean language’s popularity in countries like the US, Canada, Thailand and Malaysia” reads the opening line of an article from the BBC. This article details the increase in interest in the Korean language as it has grown in recent years. It is true that Korean is not an endangered language but this is an example of the kinds of media that help to get people interested in languages and the cultures that they are tied to.

One more example of this is the current most-played song in the history of YouTube which is Despacito by Luis Fonsi. Its lyrics are written completely in Spanish and it is not just the most-played song on YouTube but it is also currently the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Period. I did not find articles detailing the impact of this song on Spanish language learning in my quick search but I suspect that it has a similar effect to what we see with Korean and K-pop music. To speak momentarily from personal experience, I have always had a latent interest in the Japanese language. This interest was almost undoubtedly sparked by my early exposure to anime which is a form of Japanese animation that has gained a large following in the West. When I was a child, my Father would watch the shows with my younger brother and I and we always thoroughly enjoyed the opening and ending themes to the shows. These musical pieces were frequently sung in Japanese and over time I began to enjoy the songs in their own right. The tools to learn Japanese were not quite as easily available at the time but, as my colleague mentioned, the technology of today is central to language learning and it has allowed me to indulge my interest in the language (when I have free time, which is a rare occurrence lol).

Example of the Anime Art Style

All-in-all, I believe that music and other art forms offer a powerful method for exposing people to foreign cultures and languages and that we should leverage these as much as we can in order to prop up, protect, and revitalize as many endangered languages as possible. These languages are disappearing at an alarming rate and this is just one of the many ways in which we can promote linguistic and cultural diversity in a world that definitely needs it.

Thanks so much for reading our blog and keep doing great work!

Sincerely,

Everett G.

Rising Stars: Meet Elizabeth Pankratz!

Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

Today we happily present to you the perspective of Elizabeth Pankratz. She is currently an MA student at Humboldt University, Berlin. She has published a paper on digital lexicography for endangered languages in Canada, she has work published in the Journal “Morphology” and she is currently working on a thesis on the diachronic development of morphological productivity. That’s a lot of achievement! Her excellent track record even allowed her to work at Freie Universität, Berlin and the Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS) simultaneously as a student assistant. Furthermore, her work with the good people at ZAS lead to another high profile publication in the Journal of Memory and Language. She has received the highest of praise from her mentors and probably has a long list of accolades about which we could continue writing but that might take all day! Without further delay here is her Rising Star piece…

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I see the field of linguistics becoming increasingly relevant, largely because of its applicability in modern technology. Our society is constantly encountering more and more opportunities to converse with machines, and these machines have to be able to recognise what we’re saying and respond in kind. My current interests lie in how our research into language is applicable in tech, both in deep learning systems and in language revitalisation work, and I’ll talk about these two points here.

First, for instance, many linguists (myself among them) believe that cognitive language processing happens probabilistically, and most machine learning techniques are also based on probabilistic assumptions. But how comparable are the two sorts of processing? I think that we will be asking ourselves this more as work on deep learning with language progresses. Can we create machines that actually have the same intuitions about language that we do? Should we? If we make machines that can generate language that, to us, sounds just like language produced by another human, can the way these machines conceptualise and use language tell us anything about the way that we do?

Making machines that use language in a way that reflects human intuition means that we need to understand human intuition in the first place, which is where our work as linguists enters the bigger picture. Discovering and understanding systematic behaviour of phenomena that look arbitrary or unpredictable at first glance is naturally valuable for the science of linguistics as a whole, but I find it so exciting that there are also applications outside of our immediate field. Some of my research aims to discover this kind of underlying systematicity. For example, together with Roland Schäfer at the Freie Universität Berlin, I showed that conceptual plurality in a German compound word makes the appearance of a linking element with the same form as the plural suffix of the first noun more likely (e.g. Bild ‘picture’ in Bildersammlung ‘picture collection’ is conceptually plural – you can’t have a collection with only one picture – while Bild in Bildrahmen ‘picture frame’ is not, and the pluralic linking element -er- is more probable in the first type of compound than the second). This finding indicates that German linking elements do contribute something to the semantics of compounds, which has been a point of disagreement among morphologists of German. This work has been published in Morphology as Schäfer & Pankratz (2018), a paper I’m incredibly proud of. We combined the automatic processing of large amounts of data with linguistic theory-building supporting a probabilistic approach, moving linguistic methodology forward. Another current project of mine investigates the conditions under which anaphoric reference to non-head constituents of compound words in English and German can succeed (like in the sentence “It’s deodorant season, wear it!”).

These are tricky and very specific phenomena, like much of what linguists deal with. However, machine models will only be able to generate, say, fully natural-sounding compounds in German or correctly resolve non-standard anaphoric reference if they can deal with these borderline cases. This is why our research into the fine details of language is incredibly important, not just for our field but for all fields that build on the study of language. The modern tech world doesn’t just need software developers and engineers, it also needs linguists.

I’ll just briefly touch on the second point about tech in language revitalisation, since it was also recently discussed on this blog by Nils Hjortnaes. Developing an understanding of these tricky phenomena in large, well-researched languages opens methodological doors to pursuing them in smaller, lower-resource languages, where the importance of high-quality language resources for teaching and learning is even greater, especially if the language in question is endangered. Again, we can extend our gaze outside of the doors of our field and use our knowledge about language to fulfill social responsibilities, too.

I look forward to being part of this really exciting field for hopefully many years to come, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to share my thoughts here with you!

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If you have not yet– please visit our Fund Drive page to learn more about us and why we need your help! The LINGUIST List relies on your generous donations to continue its support of linguists around the world.

Rising Stars: Meet Hanna Bruns!

Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

Today we are proud to present the work of Hanna Bruns. She is a currently an MA student at the University of Bonn in Germany. Hanna is known by her Professors for being highly proficient at just about anything she does. These activities range from conducting her own research studies, presenting at conferences nationally and internationally, writing term papers/blog articles to even helping coordinate her University’s Empirical Research Centre. Did we mention that she is a big fan of the color pink? Well, the list goes on but we won’t keep you waiting…

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I think my journey into the world of linguistics is a very typical one: I started studying my B.A. in English without ever having heard the term ‘linguistics’ but quickly realised that the field is able to answer questions which I had already been thinking about for years. In Bonn, where I am currently doing my M.A. in Applied Linguistics, I have been very lucky to find people who support me and my ideas and who are just as excited about researching language as I am. Because of this, I have been able to travel to several conferences, present my work, and network with great scholars. Moreover, I have been encouraged to develop my skills and find out which topics interest me.

If there is one main conclusion which I have drawn from my studies this far, it is the following: While language is all around us and one of the most important features that define each person’s life, most people do not pay attention to it and the way they use it! So they are oblivious to the power that lies within language, even just single words.

Language has the power to (re)produce stereotypes, and therefore discrimination, against certain identities, for instance women and people whose identity falls outside the normative ideals of binary gender and heterosexuality. This is why I am interested in language production at the interface of identity and ideology, particularly concerning gender and sexuality. While engaging in research on these issues, I have increasingly come to realise that, while we live in a very advanced world, people are still discriminated against based on their gender and/or sexuality. And language is a big part of that.

Which other reason could there be for the fact that women still suffer from sexist verbal abuse every day, that (mostly) men are called ‘girl’ or ‘gay’ as an insult, that gender-neutral language is still judged as exaggerated and unnecessary, or that the US-American administration was reported wanting to redefine the word ‘gender’, basically rendering transgender people non-existent (per definition) and stripping them of their rights, only a few months ago!

These are only a few of the reasons why I believe that research into these areas is of immense importance. Currently, I am in the process of writing my master’s thesis, which is supervised by Dr Stefanie Pohle and Dr Lal Zimman. It deals with the topic of normative ideals within the transgender community and how they can be challenged, looking at YouTube vlogs from the perspective of positive discourse analysis. My research is largely informed by queer linguistics, an up and coming field of which I am convinced that it will gain more and more importance over the next decades as recognition of these social issues rises. Research in this area can guide us towards being more conscious of what kind of language we use in everyday life. Bringing awareness to the language surrounding these social issues is bringing awareness to the issues themselves. Furthermore, I am fascinated by language use on social media, since there is an interesting interplay of different cultures to be found, which are mixing in a new virtual space, forging new communities, and creating new (language) practices.

I plan on continuing my education by doing a PhD at my university, and I am hoping to be able to do more research into the areas of queer linguistics and computer-mediated communication in the future, since these fields combine both my academic and my personal interests. This makes the study of language not only my chosen career path, but also my passion.

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Rising Stars: Meet Loretta Gasparini!

Dear Readers,

This year we will be continuing our Rising Stars Series where we feature up and coming linguists ranging from impactful undergraduates to prolific PhD candidates. These rising stars have been nominated by their mentors for their exceptional interest in linguistics and eager participation in the global community of language researchers.

Selected nominees were asked to share their view of the field of linguistics: what topics they see emerging as important or especially interesting, what role they see the field filling in the coming decades, and how they plan to contribute. We hope you will enjoy the perspectives of these students, who represent the bright future of our field.

Today we are happy to share the work of Loretta Gasparini. Loretta is a polyglot world traveler with an exceptionally strong interest in language and how different groups and individuals use it. She is one of the most active students in the highly selective EU-wide joint-degree EMCL+ Master’s program in clinical linguistics. Without further ado…

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Loretta Gasparini

I have always been interested in languages and studied both German and Italian in secondary school, but my passion for Linguistics arose when I began studying German through my Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne. I became fascinated with English and German’s common ancestry and how this can be seen in the similarities of their vocabularies and so I completed a double major in German and Linguistics/Applied Linguistics. I went on to undertake an Honours degree in which I wrote a thesis under the supervision of Dr Barbara Kelly, examining the narratives of 4- and 6-year-old Australian children and how they temporally related, evaluated and structured events in their narratives. During my Honours degree I also completed a coursework subject in which we studied the application of qualitative methods in the context of “communication in healthcare settings”. In my final paper I applied adapted Conversation Analysis techniques to analyse the collected audio- recordings of genetic consultations and explore how clinical geneticists overcome asymmetrical knowledge states or differences in opinions with their clients, the parents of children with undiagnosed developmental disorder. After support from and collaboration with my teachers Professor Lesley Stirling and Dr Jean Paul, in June 2017 I presented this paper at the Communication, Medicine and Ethics (COMET) Conference at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis.

After graduating from my Honours degree in 2016 I worked as a Research Assistant in the School of Languages and Linguistics (University of Melbourne), transcribing and coding videos for research on family interactions and pretend play in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as transcribing interviews for sociolinguistic research on Irish and Chinese migrants’ adoption of Australian English. In 2018 I worked at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute as the Data Partnerships Research Assistant of Generation Victoria (GenV), a longitudinal study planned to commence in 2021 as one of the world’s largest birth cohorts, making use of existing bio-specimens and health, education and social data. My tasks included consulting with experts and finding relevant research articles to identify and collate the core exposures and outcomes necessary for epidemiological research. In order to determine how GenV could capture such data, I also scoped and documented relevant state and federal government and health data sources to gain an understanding in how different data sources and custodians interrelate in the context of using population data for public-good research and policy development.

These various experiences working amongst the intersections of language, education, health, development and research ethics highlighted to me the importance of interdisciplinary, holistic research. As such, in September 2018 I commenced the Erasmus+ Mundus Joint Master Degree programme in Clinical Linguistics (EMCL+), which entails completing one semester each at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, University of Groningen and University of Potsdam respectively, followed by an internship at a partner institution. During my first semester I gained skills in research methods, statistical analysis, programming and speech analysis methods, and now in my second semester we are focussing on agrammatic aphasia and language testing during awake brain surgery. I am excited to continue this degree

as I pursue a career in academia. Currently my main interests include pragmatic and discourse competence in individuals with language and communication difficulties, such as ASD, schizophrenia or aphasia, as well as understanding how semantic networks are cognitively represented with respect to prelinguistic conceptual knowledge. I hope to continue working in research in ways that inform speech and language therapists, educators and policymakers who have the opportunity to create change in healthcare, education, childcare and community.

In my personal life I have been able to take advantage of my interest in languages, including living for a year in Berlin during my undergraduate degree while I studied German, and a few years later traveling in South America, in which time I challenged myself to learn Spanish. By doing so, I was certainly able to gain more cultural and social opportunities that are available when living or traveling in a foreign country. Indeed, recognising how my access to languages and literacy over my lifetime has provided me with various academic, professional and personal opportunities underpins my ongoing motivation to work in areas that improve individuals’ access to language and literacy, whether that be through therapy, education, community resources or otherwise. The field of Linguistics is in perfect stead to support such initiatives, as the way to give a voice to oppressed individuals and groups is to literally give them a voice. This can include conducting research in speech and language disorders and developing therapy and educational programs to assist affected individuals achieve communicative effectiveness for their personal and professional lives; or supporting language revival projects, especially for Indigenous communities worldwide (for example, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages). While linguists have much to offer in these areas, I believe it is important to remember that we also have a lot to learn. I hope to see the research field continue to guide and be guided (methodologically and content-wise) by other disciplines such as psychology, medicine, statistics and philosophy, as well as non-academic expertise: disability activists, Indigenous folks, community groups and others who have a stake in our work.

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If you have not yet–please visit our Fund Drive page to learn more about us and why we need your help! The LINGUIST List relies on your generous donations to continue it support of linguists around the world.

Amazon Smile: 10x Donation Rate!

Hello Linguist Listers!

We just wanted to let you know that Amazon Smile is currently running a limited time promotion by offering 10x the usual donation rate. If you haven’t signed up for Amazon Smile already, just know that it doesn’t cost you a thing and helps us out any time you make purchases on Amazon.com. So if you had any online shopping that you were planning to do, then you can help us out by doing it on Amazon before November 2 since the promotion only lasts through then. Thanks again for all of your contributions to the linguistics community.

Sincerely,

The LINGUIST List Team

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