Projects

Current Research Projects

Faculty and students in the department engage in research on a broad range of linguistic topics and languages. Much of this research is made possible by our extensive laboratory facilities, as well as other resources available on and off campus. Students and occasionally faculty members and visiting scholars publish ongoing work in our Working Papers in Linguistics. Below are descriptions of some long-term, ongoing, collaborative research projects in the department.

  • Discourse and Prosody in Non-Native Speakers’ Reference Resolution is an NSF-funded project by Amy Schafer and Second Language Studies Assistant Professor Theres Grüter. Pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’ are among the most frequently used words in English. Yet neither a dictionary nor a grammar book will satisfy a learner of English as a second language who is trying to understand their full meaning and use. Pronouns often occur in contexts that contain more than one possible referent. Native speakers accumulate knowledge of patterns in the language that shift the interpretive preference one way or another. One such pattern involves the nature of the event being described: for example, a pronoun is more likely to refer to the doer of the last-mentioned action when that action is incomplete. Another pattern involves prosody, that is, what parts of a sentence receive emphasis. Native speakers deftly integrate such information to unconsciously anticipate how a conversation is going to continue, building expectations about who will be referred to next even before a name or pronoun is heard.This project investigates how Japanese- and Korean-speaking learners of English interpret pronouns, asking specifically whether their interpretation is affected by patterns of event structure and prosody. Early evidence indicates that even when learners have advanced knowledge of English grammar, they may have a reduced ability to generate expectations during language comprehension, resulting in interpretation of pronouns different from that of native speakers. Five experiments will examine how native speakers versus learners continue written and spoken stories with pronouns, and how their eye fixations reveal, in a fraction of a second, which person in a story they think is most likely to be referred to next.

    There are more second language users of English worldwide than there are native speakers as a first language. Understanding the nature of their language comprehension has the potential to improve strategies for successful communication, language teaching techniques, and our general understanding of how the human mind functions.

  • Making Pacific Languages Discoverable is a National Endowment for the Humanities funded project by Andrea Berez and Hamilton Library Pacific Specialist Librarian Eleanor Kleiber. This project will add ISO 639-3 language codes to the nearly 10,000 items in the library’s Pacific Collection that are written in Pacific languages. The Pacific Collection is the premier collection of its kind in the world, and this project will add essential description to the catalog, making items findable by researchers locally and worldwide. This project adds the infrastructure necessary for the Collection to be useful to the broadest possible audience, including linguistic researchers.
  • The HALA Project (Hawaii Assessment of Language Access) uses psycholinguistic techniques to assess language strength/activation in speakers. Its goal is to develop a series of tasks that might be used to detect early signs of language endangerment, differences in language access across communities or language cohorts, the effectiveness of language conservation programs or heritage programs, and the relative language access of individuals.
  • The Endangered Languages Catalogue (ELCat), conceived and spearheaded by our own Dr. Lyle Campbell, is the core resource within the Endangered Languages Project, a joint venture of Google, the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity, UH Mānoa Linguistics Department, and the LINGUIST List (Eastern Michigan University).
  • The Austronesian Comparative Dictionary was funded by the National Science Foundation from 1990-1995, and provided support for three graduate students. Slightly over 2,000 pages of analyzed (but not fully edited) comparative lexical and morphological data were collected during this time. This material represents more than 5,100 proposed cognate sets, including base morphemes, and reconstructable affixed, reduplicated and compounded words. Material is drawn from over 200 languages. Work continues on this project. Even in its current, incomplete form, it probably is the largest comparative dictionary in existence. Principal Investigator: Bob Blust.

Prior Projects

  • The SPOT language-production game-task is a collaborative research project involving researchers in New Zealand and the USA. The project is an investigation of how naive speakers use prosody (speech intonation and rhythm) to clarify the meaning of sentences, and how listeners make use of these cues to recover the intended meaning. The game task allows speakers to produce a range of linguistically interesting sentences in a quasi-spontaneous fashion (instead of reading them aloud, for example). The task also allows manipulation of the likelihood of one sentence interpretation vs. another, for example for investigations of whether players increase their use of prosodic cues in ambiguous situations and decrease them in unambiguous situations. Used in conjunction with head-mounted eyetracking , the task allows assessment of the incremental use of prosodic information during sentence comprehension. Local lead investigator: Amy Schafer
  • Research and resources on Austroasiatic languages – Munda languages of South Asia and Mon-Khmer, Aslian, and Nicobarese languages of South-East Asia – are at the Austroasiatic web site maintained by David Stampe, and Patricia J. Donegan. Our research on Austroasiatic, and particularly Munda, has been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Institute for Indian Studies.