Undergraduate Research in Linguistics and Cognitive Science

In the Linguistics and Cognitive Science Department, students are encouraged to undertake research projects, making new explorations into this field. Below is a sample of completed Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) projects from our students.

Language Learning in Virtual Reality

Brendan Ly ’22; Advisor: Franny Brogan

Virtual reality (VR) has vast potential for language learning because VR has the ability to simulate an educational and social learning environment without requiring a teacher facilitator. While VR programs focused on second language acquisition (SLA) have been developed, to the best of our knowledge scholars have yet to evaluate their efficacy through the lens of contemporary SLA literature. This project assesses the successes and failures of VR in simulating conditions, tasks, and/or environments that are conducive to language learning, as set forth by contemporary research in SLA (e.g. Myles 2002, Richards 2006). This body of literature provides a foundation for juxtaposing VR-based language learning programs with successful real-life and online learning models, allowing ease of comparison and analysis between existing models and their VR counterparts.

In addition to evaluating the current landscape, this project suggests ways in which VR-based programs can improve and even offer a better alternative to their non-VR counterparts. For example, VR can simulate the cultural context of a language without the need to travel. However, despite its potential, VR technology is still in infantile stages. Although there are immediate improvements that can be made for current programs, the future prospects are unclear. Despite this, studying examining SLA and VR in tandem is paramount in testing these limits and determining these future prospects.

“Don’t Take That Tone With Me”: Linguistic Variation and Disciplinary Action on African American and Latinx Children in Educational Settings

Emily Vomas ’22 and Jade Hill ‘20; Advisor: Nicole Holliday

African American and Latinx children are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled from school for “subjective behavioral infractions” such as being “loud, unruly, or unmanageable” (Crenshaw et. al 2015). This research project aims to understand how and why black and Latinx students are subject to such linguistic discrimination that leads to discipline by addressing the following:

  1. What patterns of ethnolinguistic feature use exist for a community of 14-18 year old black and Latinx high school students? In what ways do patterns of use of several AAL and Chicano English (CE) features vary systematically?
  2. What is the relationship between use of such features and experiences in school disciplinary systems?

In order to obtain data for exploring both production and perception, we collected data from 28 high school students who participated in the PAYS program at Pomona. Participants were recorded in casual situations as well as in reading tasks, and their salient ethnolinguistic features were identified. They were interviewed about their attitudes towards school and experiences with discipline inside and outside the classroom. This data was then qualitatively coded to examine student experiences of linguistic discrimination, then quantitatively coded for features of AAL and CE. Preliminary results indicate a relationship between use of such features and experiences of linguistic discrimination in school.