Research-based Undergraduate Linguistics Experience (RULE) Project

Each semester, multiple students carry out original research in the lab. Starting Fall 2018, the Linguistics Department has launched the Georgetown Undergraduate Linguistics Research Apprenticeship Program (GULRAP), where undergraduate research assistants are paired with graduate students carrying out original research projects. Currently, these partnerships are no longer through GULRAP but are in association with the RULE course where undergraduates can work as research assistants for selected current doctoral students – for either 1, 2, or 3 course credits. Below are some of the research projects happening now.

RULE Projects:

Lydia Felice with Jessica Cusi on “Plural Strategies and Nominal Morphology in Kabyle Berber”

This work will contribute to a chapter in a dissertation about morphological theory. The focus of this chapter is nonconcatenative morphology– morphology that does not involve the linear concatenation of morphemes– which is also referred to as ‘templatic morphology’ or ‘root-and-pattern morphology’. This type of morphology is characteristic of Afroasiatic languages. It has been well-documented that languages may employ a number of strategies to derive plural nouns (Kramer 2016 for Amharic, McCarthy & Prince 1990 for Arabic). As a simple example, English has the regular plural suffix -s and some irregular plurals (child ~ children, moose ~ moose). Berber languages have been described as having three plural strategies (Idrissi 2000). Plurals may be formed by the addition of a plural suffix -n, by manipulating the vocalic pattern of the stem (afrux ~ ifrax ‘ox ~ oxen’), or both. This project will systematically describe and analyze the plural strategies utilized in Berber languages, which are understudied and have yet to be treated in modern morphological frameworks. Currently, nouns are being coded according to their morphological properties. The goal at this stage of the project is to answer questions such as: 1. How are nominal features, including gender, number, and case, morphologically expressed? 2. How should the Berber plural strategies be characterized morphologically? 3. Is the plural strategy predictable (either semantically or by a phonological feature of the nominal stem)? In addition, Berber data and the answers to the above research questions will be employed in order to explore models of nonconcatenative morphology and inform a syntax-based theory of morphology more broadly.

Arianna Janoff with Annie Lubin and Anna Prince on “National identity construction on the 2019 Democratic Party presidential debate stage”

This is my dissertation project for my doctoral degree in sociolinguistics. I am examining the Democratic Party primary debates that took place in 2019 at three levels: the video recordings, transcripts published of the debates, and news media reporting on the debates. I am interested in themes of “us vs. them”, American vs. immigrant, and English speaker vs. non-English speaker. My goal is to use discourse analysis to investigate ways that candidates position certain people as “Americans” and others are positioned as “non-Americans”. 

Jordan MacKenzie with Natalia Porras and Hannah Song on “ ‘Special Characters’ and the Sociolinguistics of (Digital) Writing”

My project consists of two sub projects which both concern the use of special characters in writing systems. The first project looks at the history and current use of modified letters in Latin-script writing systems of Africa, such as letters that feature diacritics. The aim of the project is to develop a robust bibliography of primary source material spanning the 20th century and the series of conferences and protocols that led to the implementation of these letters, as well as finding examples from various texts that attest to their use (or disuse). The second project concerns the innovative use of numbers in online writing (e.g. l33t speak, faux Cyrillic, number / letter substitutions, etc.) This project is much more broad than the first and draws upon data from a variety of languages. My hope is to find more representative data and better situate this kind of writing in digital contexts. 

Nick Mararac with Nicole Rybak and Jacob Burger on “Constructing institutional identities: How veterans talk about transitioning from military to college”

This study investigates how veterans, in describing their experiences transitioning from the military to college, use language to construct their intersecting identities and depict aspects of their acculturation into college life. Current research on veteran populations tells us little about veteran identities and how individual veterans verbalize their experiences. To investigate this, I apply a discourse analytic approach, specifically interactional sociolinguistics (Gumperz, 2015; Schiffrin, 1996; Tannen, 2008). In this approach, I draw on theories such as positioning theory to elucidate identity construction in talk and intertextuality to connect the local discourses (i.e. interactional interview data) with broader institutional discourses.

Christiana McGrady with Sarah Reed and Cassandra Caragine on “Phonetics and Phonology of Alaskan Russian”

The research is my dissertation project exploring the phonetics and phonology of Alaskan Russian – the dialect that emerged when employees of the Russian-American Company (RAC) married mostly Native Alaskan women and settled in Alaska around the mid-1800s. These communities remained very isolated until around WWII, resulting in a unique dialect of Russian with influences from contact with the Alaska Native languages Aleut, Alutiiq, and Dena’ina. Despite the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867, many speakers of Alaskan Russian had no exposure to English before attending school in the 1930s. Russian was typically the primary home language, and several speakers were bilingual in Russian and either Aleut or Alutiiq. Sadly, American educational reforms in the 20th century forbade use of any language other than English in schools, which had devastating linguistic and cultural impacts on languages used in Alaska. Today, Alaskan Russian is moribund and will probably no longer have a living speaker by 2030. Thus, this project will help to document a language that tells a historical story of contact and isolation before it disappears. 

Logan Peng with Kaylee Villani-Stanzioni on “Computational discourse and document structure annotations for English and Chinese”

In computational Linguistics, Rhetorical Structure Theory is a framework that annotates discourse relations, such as “elaboration”, “concession”, etc., between clauses or sentences. On the other hand, documents can be analyzed as topic segments or paragraph subgroups. This project looks into the correlation between micro-level discourse relations and macro-level paragraph segments. Through annotating data from English and Chinese for various genres, this project questions whether document structure can help discourse parsing.