Rising Stars

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!

******************************************************************

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.

******************************************************************

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…

******************************************************************

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.

******************************************************************

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 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!

******************************************************************

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.

******************************************************************

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 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…

******************************************************************

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!

******************************************************************

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…

******************************************************************

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.

******************************************************************

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 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…

******************************************************************

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.

******************************************************************

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.

Rising Stars: Meet Jennifer Hu!

Dear Readers,

For several years, we have featured linguists with established careers and interesting stories to tell. This year, we will also be highlighting “Rising Stars” throughout our Fund Drive, undergraduates who were 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 excited to share with you the perspective of Jennifer Hu, a senior at Harvard University. Jennifer studies Linguistics and Mathematics, and is highly involved in several research projects. Her own honors thesis focuses on cross-linguistic investigation of Bayesian models of pragmatics.

******************************************************************

With the recent revolution in robotics and machine learning, linguistics is playing an increasingly important role as we develop and interact with systems of artificial intelligence. Just as we communicate with other humans through language, it is most natural for us to communicate with robots and other automated systems through speech, text, and sign. These new types of interactions will demand a robust understanding of linguistics, as language processing poses many unique challenges for machines.

We have already made significant progress in developing systems for speech recognition, question answering, and other language processing tasks. If one analyzes the errors produced by state-of-the-art systems, however, one finds that many of these models – while obtaining high performance on the tasks for which they are designed – are not fully capable of language understanding. For example, the Story Cloze Test requires a system to choose the correct ending to a simple four-sentence story as a way of approximating understanding of causal relationships between events. The best model achieves an impressive 75% accuracy on the Story Cloze Test, but is able to achieve 72% accuracy without even being exposed to the stories! These results suggest that the success of the model might not reflect genuine understanding of the events in the stories, but other confounds latent in the task. This should lead us to inquire whether other models have truly learned the linguistic abilities that their tasks were designed to measure. Similarly, the type of training data that these models require to achieve reasonable performance is cognitively implausible, given what we know about the input to which human learners are exposed. With very little exposure to negative data, children produce linguistic errors in a systematic, predictable way. These two issues in the design of current models suggest that knowledge of the theoretical underpinnings of language can help bring us closer to building systems that truly approximate human intelligence.

There is no better time for linguists to take advantage of and contribute to concurrent advances in the computer and cognitive sciences. With increasing large-scale datasets, computing power, and understanding of the human brain, linguists have more tools than ever to pursue the scientific study of language. In the coming years, I expect and hope to see growth in the subfields of computational linguistics and psycholinguistics. I am excited by the prospect of being able to reverse engineer our capacity for language, and through collaboration with computer science and cognitive science, I believe we can achieve this goal in the coming decades.

By studying linguistics, we can not only develop new insights into the structure of language, but also shape the way humans will interact with systems of artificial intelligence in the years to come. I plan to continue contributing to this exciting field by obtaining a PhD and ultimately pursuing a career focused on research, education, and outreach.

******************************************************************

If you have a student who you believe is a “Rising Star” in linguistics, we would love to hear about them! We are still accepting nominations for exceptional young linguists. Please see the call for nominations for more information.

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.

Gratefully,
The LINGUIST List Team

Rising Stars: Meet Maja Ina Ruparčič!

Dear Readers,

For several years, we have featured linguists with established careers and interesting stories to tell. This year, we will also be highlighting “Rising Stars” throughout our Fund Drive, undergraduates who were 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 words of Maja Ina Ruparčič, a second-year undergraduate at the University of Ljubljana. She is most interested in syntax, semantics, and contrastive analysis. Her independent research includes survey- and corpus-based inquiry into the expression “it is (high) time” and speakers’ choice of the verbal expression following.

******************************************************************

We Odd Wugs

As David Crystal so eloquently put it at a conference I attended recently, ‘we linguists are sad people.’ A quote that resonated with me, for like Professor Crystal, I too have spent many an hour digging through dictionaries and corpora for reasons that might appear trivial to the average individual. As a second-year undergraduate currently pursuing my studies at the University of Ljubljana, I have had the chance to immerse myself in the world of language, literature, and research with special focus on English and French. Considering the wide array of possibilities that a linguistics related major offers, I find it challenging to choose a clear-cut path that fully echoes my interests, which might, like language, evolve over time and away from my current predisposition for theory.

Crystal himself can be considered one of the revolutionaries that have popularised linguistics as a scientific field and, to a certain extent, helped mollify the rigid prescriptivist perception of modern language change. For this reason, I suspect future trends will chiefly relate to its practical usefulness rather than theory – a phenomenon neatly illustrating the interplay between the call for utility and its influence on the rapidly changing society. I am not surprised by the flourishing status of fields such as computational linguistics, sociolinguistics, intercultural communication, and (foreign) language acquisition. These echo the current political and economic situations all around the globe. Our world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and language has had to accommodate to its needs; the demand for a politically correct, inclusive language, as well as new word formations due to the emergence of social networks and technological advances are just some examples of this phenomenon. Moreover, the process of globalisation has established the supremacy of English in all areas, often at the expense of impoverishing weaker languages, which makes the preservation and investigation of endangered tongues one of the quintessential tasks for any future linguist.

Despite the many strata of applied linguistics being so en vogue and necessary at present, my own fields of interest mainly (but not exclusively) cover theoretical studies. Although I will readily admit the value and necessity of applicability, this somehow represents too utilitarian an approach to language study for my liking. An overly traditionalist attitude, perhaps; but even we odd birds must exist to ruminate on the philosophical and other abstract aspects of language that, so it seems sometimes, do not excite my peers all that much. More specifically, I like to delve into the realms of syntax, semantics, and contrastive analysis (examining structural differences and similarities between English, French, and my native Slovene, for instance). My university courses often provide me with food for thought when it comes to examining language variation, language attitudes, and various sorts of analyses – I have, for example, been intrigued into writing a short paper on language change addressing the verbal form after the expression ‘it is (high) time’, which was immensely entertaining and something I can see myself doing time and again.

Although I doubt translation, sociolinguistics, fieldwork, and similar practical, hands-on areas of linguistics should fall into my primary scope of interests, I do not intend to neglect them in my research work altogether, but will rather attempt to link the two evoked spheres of language study in the years to come. Building on the knowledge I acquire at university, I hope to learn through my own contributions as well (including but not necessarily limited to paper writing and participating at student conferences).

Every eager young linguist hopes to fill in the blanks, resolve the controversies, and bring about a revolutionary breakthrough – and it can be discouraging to discover how much information is yet to be acquired in order to make relevant contributions. My personal inclination for theory should not be regarded as an appeal for a backward step to the glorification of it and the neglect of practical use; instead, odd wugs such as myself could bring young, fresh ideas into the community to re-evaluate the unsolved problems and suggest innovative answers.

******************************************************************

If you have a student who you believe is a “Rising Star” in linguistics, we would love to hear about them! We are still accepting nominations for exceptional young linguists. Please see the call for nominations for more information.

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.

Gratefully,
The LINGUIST List Team

 

Rising Stars: Meet Becca Peterson

Dear Readers,

For several years, we have featured linguists with established careers and interesting stories to tell. This year, we will also be highlighting “Rising Stars” throughout our Fund Drive, undergraduates who were 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 featuring Becca Peterson, a sophomore at Northeastern Illinois University with a special interest in sociolinguistics and language attitudes. She is the author of the award-winning short play “Talking the Talk,” whose story hinges on “socioeconomic, racial, class, and regional communication disconnects (and connections) among four speakers of differing varieties of American English.”

******************************************************************

There are already numerous linguistic shifts and notions of awareness in terms of political correctness that pertain to the English language. We see this awareness when we think about the heightened awareness of gender as a non-binary entity of the human condition and the increased use of gender neutral pronouns. Many people are practicing these linguistic changes based on their own value of inclusivity that in turn shape language. In decades to come, my conjecture would be that a normalization of gender-neutral pronouns will occur not only in English but in some other languages as well.

A linguistic ‘hot topic’ that I personally would like to see emerge is how sexism is ingrained into the English language, both colloquial and formal. In the media and in casual conversations, it is often normalized to refer to women using animalistic terms such as ‘chicks’ and ‘bitches,’ or infantilizing terms like ‘doll.’ We often hear of both men and women being referred to by the term ‘bitch’ when that person exhibits a particular state of emotionality; but having emotion is a human characteristic and not one exclusively of women. However, people use the term in a derogatory sense to shame men and women for displaying emotion by using a strictly female term, as ‘bitch’ refers to a female dog. Many times, also, women’s occupational titles include their gender – such as with the terms ‘actress’ or ‘waitress’ – which seems to me irrelevant to a woman’s ability to hold and excel in any occupation. I do not believe that it is at all necessary to make the distinction that the person holding the job is a woman.

Another topic in linguistics that I feel is very important is the dismantling of the idea that certain dialects are considered to be more standard or have greater prestige compared to others. Dialects, regardless of which, have a structure and certain logic to them that makes each unique and conveys a sense of identity about the speakers of that dialect. There is no ‘standard’ English dialect, and believing that there is such a thing perpetuates stigmas against speakers of other varieties. Prescriptivist attitudes of language emerged in order to separate social groups and assign a greater value to individuals who learned, wrote, and spoke using prescriptive grammar. I would like to see this fallacy that speakers of certain varieties are inherently uneducated fall off and for a more descriptive view of English grammar to be accepted, particularly in academic environments where students’ adherence to prescriptive grammar is often held to a greater importance than students’ ideas and creative accomplishments.

As a creative writer myself, I attempted to bring this destigmatization of so-called ‘non-standard’ dialects to light in a play that I wrote called “Talking the Talk.” In the play, there are two characters in a hospital waiting room, one who speaks African-American English dialect and one who speaks a variety of Appalachian English. While both characters speak the same language, they have trouble communicating with and understanding one another due to their dialectical differences, particularly in terms of the slang they use. At the end of the play, the doctor’s character, who speaks in some highfalutin medical jargon, is introduced to give the impression that she is highly educated, but then she ends up making some very miniscule grammar mistakes that prescriptivists would criticize. I think the meshing of these three characters in the end conveys my point that dialect is not an indication of education or prestige.

I am an aspiring English teacher and I am fortunate to be able to work in an environment where these conversations about language are relevant. Having an awareness of how language might convey certain values is important, and the great thing about the English discourse is that if the language we use does not match our own values, we can modify our language use and in turn shape the language. Languages naturally evolve in order to reflect the people who speak it as well as their morals and values, so the power is not in the language itself but in the speakers of the language. I intend to instill in my students a sense of awareness and mindfulness regarding language.

******************************************************************

If you have a student who you believe is a “Rising Star” in linguistics, we would love to hear about them! We are still accepting nominations for exceptional young linguists. Please see the call for nominations for more information: https://linguistlist.org/issues/29/29-831.html

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.

https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/

Gratefully,
The LINGUIST List Team

Rising Stars: Meet Carlotta Hübener

Dear Readers,

For several years, we have featured linguists with established careers and interesting stories to tell. This year, we will also be highlighting “Rising Stars” throughout our Fund Drive, undergraduates who were 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 featuring Carlotta Hübener, a senior at the University of Hamburg. She is most interested in morphology and syntax, having written her BA thesis on the German linking element -s- and its role in disambiguating compounds.

******************************************************************

Carlotta Hübener

The importance of language

Language has fascinated me ever since I started to talk; however, the immense importance of language did not become clear to me until I started my university studies. Human language is an incredibly valuable asset, particularly with regards to its cognitive, social, cultural and historical aspects. Language allows us to make inferences about how human thinking is organized. Syntactic regularities often reflect human priorities. A striking example of this is the influence of the animacy hierarchy in various grammatical areas. Frequently, animate or even human referents assume a special grammatical role, for example, they may be preferred to inanimate referents in syntactic orders. (Conventionalized) metaphors are another example for the interplay of language and cognition. It is believed that they reflect existing presumptions or human thinking, and vice versa, shape human perception.

My personal interest: Grammar

So far, my studies have been focused on grammar from a diachronic and a synchronic perspective. My particular interests are morphology and syntax, together with their interfaces. Empirical methods are indispensable to investigate these subjects. It is invigorating to learn more about the way people use linguistic structures, how they are modified over time and how people generalize over them or render them unproductive. In addition, linguistically doubtful cases are highly appealing to me as they often indicate language change, and point out limitations to the production and processing of language.

I would like, with my work, to contribute to bringing syntactic irregularities into sharper focus. In this way, new perspectives may be opened on linguistic phenomena which were previously neglected or even considered as fully discussed. It is really exciting to investigate how prototypically transitive scenarios are morphologically reflected. In my undergraduate thesis, I was able to show, with the use of a questionnaire, that the linking-s in newly coined German compounds has a disambiguating effect because it supports transitive interpretations.

Perspectives to linguistics

The ever-increasing production of written language data, such as online magazines, forum discussions, chats etc. will extend the possibilities of corpus linguistics. These empiric resources will allow researchers to use digital corpora more comprehensively than before. Advances in computational linguistics will hopefully allow automatic tagging systems to be improved. This will, in turn, simplify the processing of large amounts of linguistic data. Large and current corpora will allow the change in language to be recognized faster and to be described more accurately. This may also serve as a starting point to examine rare linguistic phenomena, which may otherwise have been overlooked.

Interactive end devices are, increasingly, becoming a part of daily life. Their use leads to an increasing demand on communication. The most immediate form of communication still is human language, hence, computational linguistics is increasingly being challenged to simplify natural man-machine communication, i.e. making it as easy as communicating with other humans. To this end, language must be represented digitally. Like that, digital avatars and machine-translation systems could be substantially improved.

As a whole, linguistic research and its subdisciplines encompass countless interesting possibilities. Surely, interdisciplinary research will become increasingly important for further progress. Science and particularly language belong to the general public. Access to current scientific results must be simplified. This includes digital provisioning of results as well as matching their formal complexity to the needs of the general public. Naturally, this should lead to an increasing exchange of ideas between researchers and the interested public. In this way, linguistics will continue to contribute to enlightenment and hinder potential misuse of the force of language as commonly found in hate speeches and fake news.

******************************************************************

If you have a student who you believe is a “Rising Star” in linguistics, we would love to hear about them! We are still accepting nominations for exceptional young linguists. Please see the call for nominations for more information.

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.

https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/

Gratefully,

The LINGUIST List Team