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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