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Linguistics and Cognitive Science

Click to watch Anna Bax '13 discuss her research project.

Out With the New, In With the Old: Topic-Controlled Object Marking in Manyika

Anna Bax ('13); Mentor: Michael Diercks

Abstract:  Manyika is a Bantu language spoken by over one million people in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.  Despite its large number of speakers, no formal research has ever been undertaken on it.  This summer, I conducted interviews with a native Manyika speaker to document and investigate syntactic patterns in the language.  In particular, I focused on object marking patterns.  In English, verbs agree with their subjects - I walk, but John walks - whereas Manyika verbs can also show agreement with different classes of noun objects.  Bantu languages differ vastly in their parameters for object agreement.  Interestingly, my data indicate that Manyika shows object agreement exclusively on topics (old, previously known information), as opposed to focus (new) information.  This pattern has not previously been observed, and therefore it has fascinating implications for our knowledge of agreement in Bantu languages.
Funding Provided by: Aubrey H. and Eileen J. Seed Student Research Fund  

The Creation of Stimuli for Audio/Visual Processing Experiments of Bilinguals vs. Monolinguals

 Alejandra Fabian ('12); Viorica Marian,*; Lucica Iordanescu*;  Sarah A. Chabal*; Mentor: Mary Paster
*Northwestern University

Abstract:  While working at the Bilingualism and Psycholinguistics Laboratory at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, I helped prepare and design two new experiments. My main role as a research assistant was to create stimuli for experiments that test the ways in which knowledge of one language affects the processing of words in another language in bilinguals. For these experiments, four pictures will be displayed in the four corners of a computer screen divided into nine grids. The participant is asked to listen to a word or hear a sound and than match that to the corresponding image on the screen. Using an eye-tracking device, the researcher is able to tell where the participant looks while completing the task and thus how the different words/images impacted the person’s processing. Analysis of the eye-tracking data will show whether the participants’ second language interferes with the participants’ ability to identify words in their first language.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP  

A Purloined Letter: Why Do We Miss Things Right Before Our Eyes?

Anna Gibson ('12); Elizabeth Graham*; Mentor: Deborah Burke
*Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA

Abstract:  Inattentional blindness is when a person fails to notice an unexpected stimulus in clear view during an attention-demanding task.  Graham and Burke (2011) found that older adults have much higher rates of inattentional blindness than younger adults. Previous research has correlated a measure called working memory capacity (WMC) with the likelihood of a person noticing the unexpected stimulus. According to one theory of cognitive aging, a person’s WMC may decrease over the  years. Therefore, in an attention-demanding task, there may be  insufficient attention available for an older adult to notice the  unexpected stimulus. In this experiment, we varied the difficulty of  the primary attention demanding task and of noticing the unexpected stimuli to obtain equivalent numbers of noticers across age. We found that young and older adults who noticed tended to have higher scores  on a test of attentional capacity, suggesting that attentional capacity is related to noticing.
Funding Provided by: Norris Foundation  

The Low-Down on High Tones: Verbal Tonology in Manyika

Martha Johnson ('13); Mentor: Mary Paster

Abstract:  Tones occur in half the world's languages and can determine both word meaning and grammatical structure.  Manyika is a tonal Bantu language spoken by over one million people in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, yet it remains poorly documented.  My research goals were to fill an empirical gap by systematically collecting data on over 20 different verb tenses and to analyze the tone patterns on the verbs. The data revealed an unusual pattern, where tone varies depending on the number of syllables in the verb. A combination of two phonological rules explain the phenomenon: first, that low-toned syllables change to high after a high-toned syllable within a high-toned stem, and second, that all syllables up to the penultimate syllable change to high after any high tone. This analysis is consistent with Autosegmental Phonology, a theory frequently used to describe tonal systems.
Funding Provided by: Faucett Family Foundation (MJ) Pomona College Dept.ment of Linguistics & Cognitive Science 



Research at Pomona