Mauricio Navarro '14 discusses his 2013 linguistics and cognitive science Summer Undergraduate Research Project, which he undertook under the mentorship of Professor David Divita. He conducted in-depth interviews with 7 transfeminine-identified people in Guadalajara, Mexico, as a basis for a fuller sociolinguistic analysis.

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

Pomona Passions. "There are plenty of research opportunities that I've had here...because I've been encouraged to carry out [my] ideas and projects."


"I've Code-Switched on Behalf of the Black Student Population": Linguistic Insecurity Among Black Students at HWIs

Mary Paster and student Rodrigo Ranero work to Reclaim the Rumsen Language. 

Lemuel Lan ’20
Advisor(s): Missing Advisor

Orren Arad-Neeman '16 discusses her Summer Undergraduate Research Project

At historically white institutions (HWI), Black students are burdened with social/emotional labor (Wallace and Bell 1999; Craig 2014; Harper 2013) as they are stereotyped from negative association with African American English. This study explores how language relates to other elements of black students’ experiences in HWIs and linguistic diversity in higher education. We interviewed 15 self-identified Black students from a university in the Midwest. The interviews lasted an hour each with 20 open-ended questions that had participants reflect on four broad topics: linguistic background, language in the classroom, language elsewhere on campus and navigating the university. The students consistently told stories around the following themes:

  1. Stereotype threat: Students perceived a risk of appearing lazy/uneducated if people heard them using AAE
  2. Perceived incompetence: Students felt the need to prove their intellectual merit; both peers and faculty questioned their belonging
  3. Bifurcated sociolinguistic identities: Students reported having “black spaces” on campus where they could “relax”/use AAE; they monitored themselves and used Standard English elsewhere

These accounts reveal the daily linguistic labor these students perform as they navigate a campus environment that fosters sociolinguistic prejudice. Our study highlights complex interactions between racism and linguistic discrimination, providing a starting point for addressing linguistic inequality at universities

Funding Provided By: Mr. & Mrs. Richard N. Frank

Cognitive Processing of Heavy Noun-Phrase Shift

Sadaf Khan ’20
Advisor(s): Laura Johnson

Time perception studies find that processing of complex stimuli diverts attention from the passage of time, resulting in reduced estimates for the duration of a given time period. Subjective time perception can thus be utilized as a measure of processing complexity of a stimulus. Heavy Noun-Phrase Shift (HNPS) is a linguistic phenomenon wherein longer, more syntactically complex noun phrases move to a later position in a sentence after a prepositional phrase. Previous research suggests that this occurs due to production demands on working memory as opposed to core grammar requirements. Although the effects of HNPS on listeners’ attentional resources is far less studied, we hypothesized that participants would produce shorter time estimates for non-shifted than shifted sentences due to the increased processing complexity. Twenty-three participants read noun-phrase shifted and non-shifted versions of the same sentences, and then attempted to reproduce the reading time period for each sentence. The results revealed that participants consistently spent longer reading non-shifted than shifted sentences, and that their reproduced time periods were significantly shorter compared to actual reading times for non-shifted than for shifted sentences. Both of these findings suggest that non-shifted sentences increased processing demands and reduced time estimates; as such, the findings lend support to the theory that parsing demands are also eased by HNPS.

Documenting Wanga Syntax

Felicity Walston ’20
Advisor(s): Michael Diercks

Wanga is a Luyia-Bantu language spoken by approximately 309,000 people in Western Kenya. Our work this summer builds upon previous SURP projects and Pomona College student theses, all related to a broader project funded by a National Science Foundation grant with two other institutions. The purpose is to document the lexicon and grammar of four Luyia-Bantu languages, including Wanga. This summer, we conducted research on grammatical topics by reading existing literature and transcripts of interviews and narratives in Wanga. We held elicitation sessions with a language consultant who produced forms and confirmed our suspicions of underlying phenomena in the language. We composed chapters outlining twelve specific grammatical features that we investigated in Wanga; those include negation, anti-agreement effects, clause-chaining, copulas, discourse particles, locatives, relative clauses, auxiliary verb constructions, interrogatives, nasal prefixes, conjunction and disjunction. Further work will continue to confirm our findings with native speakers and uncover more data in spoken narratives or interviews.

Funding Provided By: Mr. & Mrs. Richard N. Frank

Investigating the Affective Reactions Elicited Through Inconsistency Processing

Kerem Oktar ’20
Advisor(s): Shlomo Sher

There is significant inconsistency in the affective reactions that scholars have postulated to accompany the cognitive processing of inconsistencies. The disparity in these notions is driven partly by the field’s current lack of an efficient experimental paradigm through which the affective reactions accompanying the processing of different types of inconsistencies can be investigated. This research project is therefore an attempt at developing such a paradigm: one that has the potential to consolidate findings across multiple fields (notably the literatures on cognitive dissonance and curiosity) and provide insight into how we update our models of the world in light of new information. The project further aims to explore the veracity of our hypothesis that belief-conflicting information has opposite effects depending on its self-relevance with neutral conflicts leading to positive affect and increased information search, and self-relevant conflict having opposite effects. In order to investigate these notions, we have developed the affective spillover paradigm: a Qualtrics survey comprised of two parts. In the first part, various household object and statement pairings are presented together. In the second part, the affective reactions elicited by the neutral and conflicting information are measured through the subsequent valuation of the objects by the participants.


Documenting Tiriki Syntax

Kristen Hernandez ’18; Advisor: Michael Diercks; Collaborators: Zoe Bauer ’20, Kang (Franco) Liu ’20

This project documents various aspects of the grammar of Tiriki, an understudied member of the Luyia subgroup of the Bantu language family spoken in Western Kenya. Our work is part of an ongoing NSF grant to document Tiriki along with three related Luyia languages. We worked with texts collected from interviews with native Tiriki speakers, adding morphological glosses into a computer database called FLEx, which we used to share the texts with researchers from other institutions. We also collected samples of theoretically relevant grammatical features of the language to begin the foundations of a grammar sketch; these included auxiliary verb constructions, anti-agreement effects, clause chaining, focalization, and relative clauses. In addition, we conducted elicitation interviews with our Tiriki consultant to answer questions about the constructions we found in the texts, as well as to analyze the phenomenon of hyper-raising in particular. We used this data to write a manuscript describing the Tiriki hyper-raising facts, a possible analysis, and the theoretical implications for the field. Overall, this project will contribute to both a broader understanding of Tiriki morphosyntax, as well as to a deeper understanding of the specific phenomenon of hyper-raising. This will offer a foundation for future research on Tiriki grammar as well as the grammar of other related languages.
Funding Provided By: Fletcher Jones Foundation

The Linguistics of a Transnational Cuba

Caitlin Warren ’18; Advisor: Michael Diercks

Miami is heavily shaped by the Cuban exodus and impacted by Cuban culture and language. The goal of this research is to explore the relationship between the different accents and social groups within the Havana and Miami Cuban communities, focusing on defining key characteristics of the Cuban community, more specifically centered on how linguistic markers change with social variables. Data was collected through recorded interviews focusing on where participants have lived, including where in Cuba they grew up or where they’ve lived in Miami. Participants were found through personal and professional networks and interviewed for an average of 10 minutes.  After transcribing and analyzing the interviews, I found that many Miami Cubans disagreed with the Cuban government and often cited their displeasure and inability to voice their concerns in Cuba as reasons for moving to the United States. Their accents shared many characteristics with the Havana Cuban accent, namely a softening of consonants between vowels, and aspiration or deletion of an /s/ at the end of syllables and words. Unsurprisingly, Miami Cubans showed stronger signs of Americanization in their speech, especially women, such as stronger presence of a rhotic /r/ and reduction of /s/ elision.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Investigating the Neural Basis of Age Related Deficits in Word Retrieval

Kerem Oktar ’19; Advisor: Deborah Burke

Older adults experience specific difficulties with language production which may be predicted by (and may be predictive of) changes in the underlying neural architecture that supports language processing. Our studies leveraged the dual stream model of language, which implicates dorsal streams in language production and ventral streams in language comprehension. Using neuroimaging techniques, different aspects of these changes can be investigated and compared to predictions made by cognitive models of language networks. Resting state fMRI (rsfMRI), a task-free technique that is used to investigate intrinsic network function, was used in one study. We used rsfMRI and graph theoretical measures to investigate how functional connectivity in the language network in older and younger adults predicts behavioral performance. Preliminary results suggest that, in the left hemisphere, older adults show significantly diminished functional connectivity compared to younger adults. A potential mechanism underlying transmission failures in the language network may be declines in white matter integrity. In order to explore this hypothesis, another study used Diffusion Tensor in order to investigate differences in the integrity of language tracts Preliminary results replicated the finding that dorsal stream tracts have lower integrity than ventral stream tracts. These neuro-anatomical differences were not predictive of accuracy on a picture-naming task.
Funding Provided By: Fletcher Jones Foundation

Does GPS Use Enhance Spatial Navigation Ability?

Laura Zhang ’19; Advisor: Deborah Burke

With the rising popularity of and reliance on navigational aids, it becomes increasingly important to study how these systems affect our spatial knowledge acquisition. Previous studies have explored the influence of different interface technologies (mobile maps, AR, voice) on spatial knowledge acquisition, however, none have established a concrete measure by which to gauge GPS usage and navigational ability (Huang et. al., 2009). The objective of this project is to develop a reliable GPS survey measure that examines the relationship between frequency of GPS use, use of different GPS features, and spatial navigation performance. The method involved performing a factor analysis in SPSS on previously collected pilot survey data, and correlating the resulting factors with the scores for two tests of spatial navigation performance (pointing task and model-building task). Participants were Temple University undergraduate students (N = 66, F = 43). From our preliminary analysis, we did not find any significant factors or correlations between GPS use and navigational ability. However, these results can largely be attributed to a flawed survey and small pool of participants. Future directions include modifying and re-distributing the survey to a larger population, and re-running a factor analysis on the new data.
Funding Provided By: General SURP Fund


Disfluent windows into bilingual speech planning: Evidence from spontaneous codeswitching

Orren Arad-Neeman ’16; Mentors: Deborah Burke, Melinda Fricke (Pennsylvania State University), and Judith Kroll (Pennsylvania State University)

Previous research on speech disfluency largely associates disfluencies with difficulties in speech planning (Bortfeld et al. 2001, Arnold et al. 2007, inter alia). Further, different types of disfluencies may signal different types of planning difficulties on the part of the speaker (MacGregor et al., 2009). We previously found that codeswitched utterances were significantly more likely to be disfluent than unilingual utterances in the Bangor Miami Corpus of Spontaneous Codeswitching (BMC; Deuchar et al., 2014). However, we did not examine the nature of these disfluencies. Therefore, this project asks whether the specific form and location of disfluencies in the speech of balanced bilinguals can reveal differences in the mechanisms involved in planning codeswitched versus non-codeswitched speech. We address this question by classifying the speech disfluencies present in conversations between balanced English-Spanish bilinguals in the BMC. We tagged each codeswitched utterance and matching unilingual utterance for disfluencies. We are currently in the process of coding the disfluencies on a finer-grained scale. Following previous work, disfluencies will be classified as a filled pause, repetition, articulation error, restart, elongation, laugh, insertion, other, or any combination thereof. We will also code for their location to determine whether the timing of planning difficulty differs significantly between codeswitched and unilingual utterances.
Funding provided by: Craddock

Effects of Expectancy on Retrospective Duration Judgments and Memory for Music

Shaina Brady ’16; Mentor: Laura Johnson

The framework of music can be broken into two overarching fundamental structures, rhythm and melody. These aspects have been demonstrated to create in the listener a sense of expectancy as to what will logically occur next in a musical work. The purpose of this present study is to examine the effects that these rhythmic and melodic expectancies have on a listener’s memory and accuracy in making a retrospective judgment of the duration of a segment of music. Participants were given a set of four short songs to listen to that were manipulated to be either rhythmic or arrhythmic and tonal or atonal. After each piece, participants filled out a short survey about the aesthetics of the music. For the retrospective timing task, they were then presented with the first four seconds of each piece that they heard, and were asked to imagine continuing the song in their head and to press a button when they reached the end. Finally, they were given a memory test to see how well they could recognize the particular music clips. The results from the retrospective timing task demonstrated an interaction between rhythm and melody, with longer judgments for tonal than atonal in the arrhythmic condition, and rhythmic than arrhythmic in the atonal condition. In addition, recall was better for tonal than atonal music, but there was no effect of rhythm. These findings allow for a better understanding of the effects of rhythm and melody on the recall of music duration and underlying structures.
Funding provided by: Pomona Unrestricted

Effects of motor expertise on body part priming, imitation and mental rotation processes in expert acrobats.

Harrison Goodall ’16; Mentors: Deborah Burke and Emily Cross '01 (University of Bangor); Collaborator: Nicola Smith (University of Bangor)

The mirror neuron system has been a widely investigated field of cognitive science over the past decade. Perhaps one of the most intriguing findings from recent research is evidence for automatic imitation and body part priming. When a subject’s attention is drawn to another person’s body part, the subject is able to move their corresponding body part faster than if their attention is directed elsewhere or to a different body part. These findings support the theory of embodiment, which states perception and mimicking the motion of others is accomplished by mapping their movement onto one’s own body schema. However this theory has called into question how humans are able to process movements they are not capable of embodying. This four-part study investigated the effects of inversion on perceptual process of circus acrobats compared to controls. Participants completed a mindfulness questionnaire, body part priming tasks and two mental rotation tasks, one using shapes the other using bodies. All the tasks used stimuli in upright and inverted configurations. We hypothesize that, compared to controls, the acrobats’ motor and inversion expertise will allow them to respond to the inverted images faster, as well as complete the body mental rotation task faster than controls. We also expect higher levels of expertise will correlate with higher reports of mindfulness, as expertise requires intention and attention, attributes directly correlated with reports of mindful behavior.
Funding provided by: Cion Estate

Language Processing and its Effect On Time Perception

Evan Hamaguchi ’16; Mentor: Laura Johnson

Two experiments examined whether language processing demands have an effect on subjects’ ability to simultaneously memorize sentences and estimate time intervals. The first study varied syntactic complexity through word order, and the second varied sentence length. Subjects were shown sentences of varying complexity for different durations, then were asked to reproduce the duration by pressing a button to mark the beginning and end of the interval. After each sentence and interval estimation, they were asked to re-type the sentence in question to the best of their ability. For the duration reproduction task, the results revealed statistically marginal effects of syntactic complexity and sentence length, with longer duration estimates given for less complex sentences and shorter sentences. In the recall task, subjects’ recall was less accurate for longer sentences. Results also revealed that subjects gave longer estimates for incorrectly-recalled sentences than for correctly-recalled sentences. These results suggest that time perception is influenced by language processing through competition for attentional resources. This conclusion expands applications of the attentional gate model of time perception to include sentence processing, building on similar findings regarding lexical processing and multitasking.
Funding provided by: Pomona Unrestricted

The Role of Gesture in Early Verb Learning

Emily Kubota ’17; Mentor: Deborah Burke; Collaborator: Liz Wakefield (University of Chicago), Casey Hall (University of Chicago)

Previous research has shown that action enhances verb learning in four and five olds. When children are taught novel verbs in the context of novel objects they are better able to remember the words if they perform a relevant action. The results implicate the role of embodiment in verb learning, wherein a mental representation of a physical action facilitates understanding of the meaning of a verb. Unfortunately, learning verbs in the context of specific objects can prevent generalization (for example: if a child learns “twisting” through twisting a jar, it can be difficult to understand that “twisting” can also apply to twisting a doorknob). This study examined whether gesture can be a learning tool that allows children to benefit from the embodiment of the verb, without binding the verb to a specific object. Children were taught novel verbs (ratching, tiffing, leaming, yocking) by either performing an action on an object, or performing the gesture of the action near the object. Then they were shown videos of actions being performed on objects and asked to choose the video depicting the learned verb. In some cases the correct video depicted the learned verb performed on the original object, in other cases the correct video depicted the learned verb performed on a different object (trials requiring generalization). Preliminary results indicate that children who learned using gesture were better able to generalize verbs to new contexts than those who learned through action.
Funding provided by: Craddock

Documenting the Logoori Language

Rebecca Shipan '17 and Cliff Mountjoy-Venning '16; Mentors: Michael Diercks and Meredith Landman

Logoori, sometimes referred to as Maragoli, is a Bantu language in the Luyia subgroup spoken by nearly 620,000 people in Western Kenya and Uganda. Our team is part of a collaborative National Science Foundation project including 12 researchers from 8 different institutions who are working to document four Luyia languages. This summer, the Pomona College team began an investigation into the syntactic properties of Logoori, with the goal of producing a broad overview of the grammatical structure of the language as well as more detailed descriptions of selected topics.  We worked with a native speaker of Logoori to gather linguistic data on a wide range of topics. We reviewed the existing literature to identify areas of inquiry and to prepare interviews with our speaker that were designed to evaluate which constructions are acceptable in the language. After gathering the data, we developed analyses of the patterns we observed, drafting our conclusions into 139 pages on twelve major aspects of Logoori grammar. These chapters comprise the foundation of the syntax portions of the Logoori reference grammar being published as part of the NSF project. This work contributes to the documentation of a minority language (Logoori) in an understudied language family (Luyia); this research serves these Kenyan communities by preserving aspects of their language and culture, as well as contributing to our knowledge of what kinds of linguistic structures the human mind can generate. 
Funding provided by: Cion Estate