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.
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.
The LINGUIST List Team