Rising Stars

Rising Stars: Meet Madison Liotta!

Dear Linguist List Readers,

For this week’s Rising Star, we bring you the impressive work of Madison Liotta, an up and coming linguist studying Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies at Georgia Tech University. Madison has gone above and beyond to participate in the field of Linguistics particularly when considering that Georgia Tech does not even have a full Linguistics major! Just this past Spring, Madison conducted a number of sociolinguistic interviews and took the bus over to Emory University twice a week to take a field methods course on the Tigrinya language of Eritrea. To add to that, Madison was named the Outstanding Senior in Linguistics at Georgia Tech as a junior and has won a President’s Undergraduate Research Award for work on a sociolinguistics project that will continue in the autumn. Earlier in the year, Madison was hoping to conduct field work on the indigenous languages of Central America but this plan has been put on hold due to Covid. Not to be stopped by this however, Madison has currently been working with Dr. Lelia Glass (Georgia Tech) and Dr. Jinho Choi (Emory University) on research projects online. As usual, the list of achievements goes on but we will let you get to this great piece!

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Madison Liotta

With the rise of technology comes the ability to reach and communicate with more and more people and, above all, share knowledge. Given this, there are more opportunities than ever to study understudied languages and other kinds of linguistic diversity and share that information with others. Over the past year, I’ve been able to work on two linguistics projects in different subfields, and I believe parts of both can be combined to further the work done in the field of linguistics. One project is working to study an understudied language, and the other is sharing recordings of speech with the greater research community through Open Science Framework.

Last Spring, I started working with Tigrinya, an understudied Semitic Ethiopic language spoken mainly in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The goal of the project is descriptive in nature and relies on recordings of a consultant who speaks the language. So far, we have gathered about 1,000 one-sentence elicitations from our speaker about a variety of topics in a wide array of grammatical constructions, but there were still many cases where we could not find definitive rules due to a lack of data and minimal previous academic research. In trying to cohesively describe the grammar of the language with a relatively small amount of recorded data, this project got me thinking about the availability of data for similarly understudied languages.

Additionally, I’ve been working on a sociolinguistic project in which we have recorded around 30 students who grew up in Georgia and attend my university. With the permission of these speakers, I posted recordings of them reading a one-page passage on Open Science Framework, which allows other researchers looking for recordings of Southerners to use ours for their own research. These recordings will be used in our own study to investigate the diversity of the Southern accent, and I hope they can one day be used by other researchers studying similar groups of speakers.

Between these two projects, I have learned that digital resources can greatly improve the availability of information, and this is especially helpful for studies of linguistic diversity. An increased amount of shared knowledge in this area would especially benefit the fields of descriptive linguistics and related language conservation and revitalization efforts.

Overall, across all the subfields of linguistics, I believe this sharing of knowledge will become increasingly important to the field moving forward, and I hope to work toward that as I go into graduate school in linguistics. I want to continue to help create digital resources for linguistic diversity by continuing to work with understudied languages like Tigrinya, whether that’s through descriptive linguistics or language conservation and revitalization.

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If you have not yet– please visit our Fund Drive page (https://funddrive.linguistlist.org) 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.

Our sincere thanks,
— The LL Team

 

Rising Stars: Meet Paola Campos!

Dear Linguist List Readers,

For this week’s Rising Star we are proud to present the work of Paola Campos. She is an MA student at La Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo who is currently working on translation studies (among other things). She has one of the most impressive resumés we have seen here at the Linguist List. For her B.A., she graduated with honors for theoretical work on the need for a gradual (and not categorical) consideration between lexical words and grammatical words in Spanish. Furthermore, she published at University of Matanzas, Cuba, a linguistic analysis of 6 translations of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman. For this work, the Faculty of History of the Universidad Michoacana invited her twice to teach a course on academic writing and later the municipal presidency of Huetamo, in México, invited her to teach the same course, for basic and higher level teachers in the region. The achievements do not stop there however as she has given 7 lectures at national and international academic congresses on various topics and has now joined as a professor at the Faculty of Letters at Universidad Michoacana, in México while working on her MA. Quite impressive. A number of other noteworthy achievements had to be left out in the interest of brevity so let us take advantage of that and leave you to read this great piece.

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Paola Campos

When I think about the future of linguistics, two things come to my mind. The first one, an unquestionable path traced by the actual technological necessities and, the second one, a path that I believe some of us, linguists, try to avoid sometimes given the difficulty of its study. In other words: there is a path that I think is definitive and will develop itself –even if I am not part of it– and another which I wish more of us could set a foot on: social implications of language.

Over the past decades, linguistic studies have risen noticeably. Particularly, we can see how computational linguistics have played a central role on the development of new technologies which are related to language processing. To give an example, we can talk about those related to automatic translation. Given the actual situation and the problematics that have come with the raise of the pandemic of COVID-19, I am sure that areas such as cognitive linguistics and computational linguistics will have a major part in the developing of new technologies that are able to respond to the current necessities of the world. We live in a universe that becomes more dependent to technology every day and, as social beings as we are, we are constantly being challenged to create new ways to keep track of our communication. In this sense, I believe, linguistic studies have an immense ocean of opportunities ahead.

However, I also believe there are another kind of problematics to which linguistic studies have to look: social aspects of the language. From my point of view, we need linguists who dedicate their work to the dismantling of prejudices and mistaken concepts of the language. For example, the belief that some varieties of a language are better than others, or that good pronunciation is synonymous with being a good speaker of a second language and, in consequence, having an accent means you are not, among others. All of them are beliefs constantly used against their speakers, they are used as a way of discrimination and they contribute to the perpetuation of systems of oppression which have true consequences in the life of their speakers, from psychological aggression, to social exclusion and even making it impossible for them to access to education or job opportunities. As specialist, we know that all of those beliefs are false and that they are based on a wrong conception of the language. However, there are still institutions that perpetuate such purist ideas of the language, who incentivize some speakers to discriminate those who do not follow the norm and, in definitive, who use language as a form of oppression.

We have treated language as a structure for so long that we have forgotten its implications in everyday matters. I believe that language does play an important role in systems of oppression, whether it is used against some speakers or it excludes some others –for example, by the use of the so-called neutral forms or the universal masculine–. Language represents a crucial factor in whether a person has access to education or a job or not; even more, language has been used as an excuse by some speakers to tell others that they have to leave a country. That is, by following some of these purist ideas, language can be used to regulate the rights that every language speaker is entitled to. The reconstruction of certain social structures or, to be precise, the questioning of the established social structures reflected in language, has brought with it some uncertainty in us, linguists. Nevertheless, it is our duty to recognize language as more than classes of words, rules, structures or, in a certain way, numbers.

Knowledge about the language is of no use if it is kept to those few who can call themselves specialists. Linguistic knowledge needs to be translated to an easier, simpler way of understanding. We need information that people can have access to and, consequently, that can help them understand how language actually works, as well as to understand how it can constitute one more element, another elemental piece, of structural oppression. I believe that there should be a future of linguistics which pursues a more inclusive and less discriminatory use of language. This is the path that I would like to walk on.

My name is Paola Campos, I am a Mexican linguist. My work has mostly been centered on word classification, polyfunctionality, operational linguistics and second language acquisition (SLA). Recently I have developed a particular interest in the social aspects of the language. This is because, since I started working in academic spaces, I have come to realize that mistaken beliefs about language still constitute one of the biggest problems that specialists like me and my colleagues have to work with, especially, because of their real social implications. However, social media has helped me see that this is not only a problem in my country, but rather a universal one.

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If you have not yet– please visit our Fund Drive page (https://funddrive.linguistlist.org) 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.

Our sincere thanks,
— the LL Team

Rising Stars: Meet Hortensia Barrios!

Dear Readers,

For this week’s Rising Star, we bring you the amazing work of Hortensia Barrios. She is an MA Student in Applied Linguistics at the University of Calgary and has done extensive work for the Living Migration Community Research Project which is a project that has helped to make the first-person narratives of immigrants a more valid source of data for researchers. Earlier this year she carried out 5 different 2-3 day long Digital Storytelling Workshops where she taught participants how to produce a well-crafted digital story about their immigrant experience. This was quite an impressive amount of work since the participants came from 5 very different countries but she didn’t stop there. After running those workshops, she also hosted two Digital Storytelling Festivals where the work produced in those workshops was premiered in-person and online to an audience of over 100. For this work she was selected as a winner of the Innovation in Communication prize for the Innovation Untold 2020 contest. As usual, the list goes on but let’s get to Hortensia’s piece.

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Hortensia Barrios

As a sociolinguist, I see that there is a transformation in the way people use languages to address changes. We are all finding ourselves in a world which we were not trained for – regardless of place of birth, race or preferences. We are all being forced to revisit ways of communicating in societies that have been for a long time multicultural and diverse, but that are now facing significant and rapid changes that include interconnectedness, changes in dynamics of nation-state and other international actors, and more importantly, minorities raising their voice and claiming spaces that for years were seized.

People are becoming more aware and starting to have a better understanding of the significance language has in their day-to-day. Now, we see an increase of people trying to understand and navigate the “new normal” – this also includes parents learning with their kids, getting interested in, or struggling with, their children’s learning journey, reading to them, and engaging in practices that incorporate both linguistic and language awareness. From my perspective, this is a fundamental shift that will change the way future generations use and learn languages and also the way we do research.

Digital Storytelling Workshop

My current research focuses on understanding the ways minorities construct their multiple selves in socio-cultural situations through the instrumentality of language. I do so assisted by digital storytelling workshops in which I guided participants to craft individual digital stories that blend oral narratives with compelling visuals and sounds. Through this data collection method, I created opportunities for research participants to interpret, analyze and document their experiences. The data collected during our meetings is currently being analyzed using critical narrative inquiry.

I plan to continue engaging in collaborative, action-oriented, and creative forms of scholarship. I believe that through innovative practices, we can hold space to hear the voices of minorities, to give them the tools to speak up, and to engage in meaningful conversations that can bring about change to the people and communities we research.

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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.

Our sincere thanks,
— the LL Team

Rising Stars: Meet Nick Bednar!

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 present a piece from the outstanding student, Nick Bednar. He is a senior undergraduate at the The Ohio State University who is known for his great work as a research assistant. He has completed multiple research projects with different faculty members including a sociolinguistics project involving eye-tracking and a language acquisition project on child communication. Since he works in a lab within a science museum he has spent many hours doing educational activities about how language works with the museum visitors and is known for doing a fantastic job at this as well. These activities are on top of the fact that he already does great work in his own studies while also being an amazing peer mentor. Nick’s list of accomplishments goes on but let’s get to the piece.

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Nick Bednar

One of the most important emerging topics in language science and linguistics is only adjacent to the field, a consequence of its existence more than a part of its own domain: public outreach and education.

Linguistics is becoming increasingly important to the public and the interests of those otherwise uninvolved. As we continue to develop new ways to interact with technology using natural language, as we continue to challenge the ideas of what language ought to be like, and as we continue to see more modern examples of language contact and change alongside globalization and new avenues of communication, good outreach will cement itself as a primary objective for linguists. Language should be studied for its own sake, of course, and not all future research need concern itself with social issues or the public eye. Yet it will be increasingly difficult to separate this aspect from the field itself. Linguistics can and should find its way into high school classrooms, the conference rooms of policy makers, and into the cultural zeitgeist overall. Not everyone will suddenly become interested in creating syntactic tree diagrams or discussing their language’s phonotactics, but they don’t need to; just creating awareness of the qualities and varieties of language is enough to begin addressing some of these emerging concerns.

In addition to public understanding related to linguistics itself, I also see the scientific study of language becoming a gateway to improving science attitudes, trust, and appreciation in general. Linguistics is inherently interdisciplinary and blended between the concerns of the humanities and the sciences. However, there exists a pervasive assumption that any given subject must fall into one category or the other. Using this middle ground as not an obstacle but a tool can allow us to persuade more individuals into seeing themselves as ‘science people’, and during the ongoing pandemic, this has become a more apparent need than ever.

Though my focus is still on language itself, this side of informal science outreach is just as important to the research I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with. One of the biggest, most important goals of the lab I work for, The Language Pod here in Ohio, is to spread the love of language and get the public involved with the scientific process. We have the incredible opportunity to be operating within the major science museum in the city of Columbus, with the lab sitting right inside of an exhibit and having glass walls that allow passersby to see the work that we’re doing. Researchers can study language with the museum guests as participants while also performing this public-facing duty. My undergraduate thesis work was designed to sit in this same intermediary space between linguistics and science outreach. Over the past summer, the BLNDIY Citizen Science project worked online alongside everyday people to design a full-fledged language science experiment from start to finish. The public suggested and voted on every step along the way, from creating a research question to experimental design to methods of analysis, and we were lucky enough to work with participants from all over the world. I can’t begin to express how exciting this opportunity and work like this are to me. It’s both gratifying and worthwhile to develop outreach demonstrations, new debriefing methods, and unconventional science education opportunities that can show people how wonderful language science is and how they can be scientists in all kinds of different ways.

There’s much work to be done, but in order to progress the field of linguistics and the perception of scientific work in general, I’m going to take that work up with more than a bit of enthusiasm.

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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.

Our sincere thanks,
— the LL Team

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.

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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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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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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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.