Research-based Undergraduate Linguistics Experience (RULE)

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. Examples of past research projects are provided below.

Helen Dominic with Caitlin McDermott on “A sociolinguistic analysis of triadic healthcare interactions”

This project focuses on triadic interactions between physicians, patients with Limited English
Proficiency (LEP), and their family companions. Family companions are often seen as a risky
group of people whose role as interpreters in medical contexts is controversial due to their
possible biasedness. However, LEP patients oftentimes bring a family companion with them to
medical consultations even when a professional translator is present. This project will study audio responses to a web questionnaire to understand the social and linguistic role of companions as nonprofessional interpreters and how they might be perceived by physicians.

Ayşenur Sağdıç with Grant Brown and Charlie Dees on “Learning by stimulating: Second language pragmatic development in a task-based digital simulation game”

While language learners are increasingly required to engage in multilingual and multicultural
interactions, the affordances of technology-assisted language learning only continue to grow.
These realities demand theoretically-sound, data-driven digital instructional responses.
Competent use of a second language (L2) involves not only attending to the explicit rules of the language, but also to its pragmatics, the implicit rules of what to say, how to say it, when, and to whom. Task-based language teaching (TBLT), a learner-centered pedagogy using authentic tasks as the unit of instruction, has been shown to promote second language acquisition (SLA), including pragmatics. Meanwhile, gamified digital simulations have introduced new affordances for language learning by delivering lifelike tasks with individualized feedback and immersing learners in experiences that might otherwise be inaccessible.

To reveal the potential impact of gamified task-based digital simulations for language education, this dissertation study examined the extent to which task-based digital simulation with more and less explicit feedback contributes to L2 learners’ pragmatic development. One hundred thirteen Turkish EFL (English as a foreign language) learners were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups: (a) implicit feedback in the form of clarification requests, (b) explicit feedback with metapragmatic explanation, or (c) control group with no feedback. Learners’ pragmatic learning gains were measured before, immediately after, and one week after simulation practice. These experimental data were triangulated with simulation activity, surveys, stimulated recalls, and interviews to gain insights into learners’ individualized experiences of the practice and feedback. Findings expand the currently limited research on technology-enhanced task-based language education and will provide theoretical, pedagogical, and methodological implications for language learners, instructors, curriculum designers, and digital learning application developers worldwide.

Shira Wein with Calvin Engstrom, Alex Nelson, and Ethan Ricker on “Spanish abstract meaning representation”

The Abstract Meaning Representation (AMR) framework is a graph-based representation of
language, designed to strictly reflect the meaning/semantics of the sentence(s). While AMR was developed for English, the framework has since been extended to a number of languages through annotation schema. Nonetheless, the data available in other languages is limited. This work will constitute the first large-scale annotation project for Spanish AMR, which will enable testing of parsing and generation work in Spanish, and be ripe for use in downstream Spanish applications such as machine translation.

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.