Student Grants & Fellowships

Skye Anderson received a full tuition scholarship to attend the 2015 Linguistic Society of America Institute, a $2000 value. She is a first year student in the Linguistics PhD program.

Dane Bell received a SBS Outstanding GTA award for Fall 2015. He is a dissertator in the Linguistics PhD Program.

Elise Bell received a NSF EAPSI fellowship to support her research and travel expenses to Melbourne, Australia this summer. This fellowship is in the amount of $5,000. Elise is a second year PhD student in the Linguistics Program.

From the NSF EAPSI program website ( "An EAPSI award provides U.S. graduate students in science, engineering, and education: 1) first-hand research experiences in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, or Taiwan; 2) an introduction to the science, science policy, and scientific infrastructure of the respective location; and 3) an orientation to the society, culture, and language. It is expected that EAPSI awards will help students initiate professional relationships to enable future collaboration with foreign counterparts."

Elise will be working with Dr. Brett Baker and Dr. Rikke Bundgaard-Nielsen at the University of Melbourne's Department of Languages and Linguistics to investigate the sound system of Roper Kriol, a native Australian language. They will be working with young speakers of Roper Kriol in the Northern Territory. The vocabulary of Roper Kriol is very similar to that of English, but the acoustic features that Kriol speakers use to distinguish consonants differ from the distinctions used in English. Looking at the ability that children of various ages (and lengths of time spent in English schooling) have to discriminate between various consonants in English words can help us see whether their dependence on Kriol or English distinctions in consonant identification changes over time. Additional knowledge about their English acquisition process can be used to improve educational outcomes for Kriol speakers. 

Rachel Brown recieved an SBSRI Pre-Doctoral Grant for $500 for her project titled "The Role of Meaning and Structure in Processing Ambiguous Compounds." She is a second year PhD student in the Linguistics Program.

Research investigating how ambiguous phrases are interpreted has examined phrases that are ambiguous in both structure and meaning.  This prior research did not isolate meaning from linguistic structure. Thus, meaning’s role during disambiguation, the process used to arrive at the intended interpretation, remains unclear. My project examines whether disambiguation is driven by meaning. It compares processing of compounds such as tall wheat farmer whose possible interpretations (“a farmer who grows tall wheat”; “a tall farmer who grows wheat”) have distinct meanings and structures with compounds such as automatic printing machine whose interpretations (“a machine that automatically prints”; “an automatic machine that prints”) are structurally ambiguous, but equivalent in meaning.  To determine the role of real-world plausibility, I compare these compounds to compounds likepoisonous rattle snake farmer where the possible interpretation “a snake with a poisonous rattle” is significantly less likely to occur than “a poisonous snake with a rattle”.  

Rachel's project examines a major issue in Psycholinguistics: How independent are meaning and structure in processing of language? This issue has implications for the location of these linguistic processes in the brain and how language is understood in real-time. This research also has implications outside of language-related research in other fields such as vision science and literary scholarship, because ambiguity is pervasive in world and we use language as a model of how online ambiguity processing proceeds.

Yan Chen received a SBSRI Dissertation Research Grant for $1950. She is a dissertator in the Linguistics PhD Program.

Yan’s project investigates the effect of visual information on non-native lexical tone processing. Native speakers of English who are Cantonese-naive will participate in a 6-session (3 hours) tone training experiment to learn to distinguish the five most difficult tone pairs in Cantonese. Half of the English speakers will participate in auditory-only training, where they will learn the contrasts through a categorial AX task. The other half of English speakers will be in auditory-visual training, where tone marks are provided in addition to a categorial AX task. Before and after the training, categorial AXB perception experiments and delay repetition production experiments will be conducted to compare the performance before and after training. English speakers' performance will be also compared to native speakers' performance. 

The results of the study will contribute to our understanding of cross-language speech perception and category formation, specifically to the less-studied area of suprasegmental processing. The production experiments address the question of whether there is a link between perception and production, specifically, whether listeners can transfer information about novel categories learned through perception to production. The inclusion of visual information in perceptual training will provide important findings for the study of how humans integrate visual information and auditory information in speech processing. Not only do they examine whether visual (in this case orthographic) information is facilitatory in speech processing, they also seek to explore whether visual information is capable of directing listeners’ attention to perceptually subtle contrasts.

Dr. Natasha Warner and Yan Chen received a NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant for the project entitled "The Integration of visual and auditory information in tone perception."

Languages vary in how they use the pitch of voice to convey meaning. In a tone language, pitch is used to differentiate word meanings. For example, in Mandarin Chinese, the syllable ma said with a steady high tone means 'mother', but said with a falling tone it means 'to scold'. Tone languages represent 60%-70% of the world's 6,000 languages; about 20% of them have tones that sound very similar to each other and are difficult for non-native speakers to distinguish. More and more people around the world are learning tone languages because of globalization, international business, migration, and cross-cultural communications. In the United States, the number of college students studying Chinese alone was over 61,000 as of 2013, and the number is likely to surpass 134,000 by 2050. As the economy of the United States has become increasingly international, the demand for foreign language proficiency is stronger and stronger, and many less commonly taught tone languages such as Vietnamese and Thai have attracted a large number of learners. However, learning a tone language is challenging. Research has shown that, in general, people have difficulties distinguishing and pronouncing tones in a foreign language and that this hinders cross-cultural communication, as miscommunication arises due to mispronunciation. Thus, better learning of tone languages would help the American business community in trade with China and other areas where tone languages are spoken.

The focus of this project is the process for learning tones in Cantonese, a language with tones that are difficult for non-native speakers to distinguish. Specifically, this project aims to investigate whether non-native speakers can benefit from providing tone marks, a set of symbols to show pitch contour, in learning to distinguish and produce Cantonese tones. The research will be conducted in 3 locations: the United States, Thailand and Hong Kong, where native speakers of American English, Mandarin, Thai, and Cantonese are easily found. In the United States, native speakers of American English and native speakers of Mandarin will participate in a listening-based tone learning experiment to learn to hear and produce the contrasts of Cantonese tones with or without the help of tone marks. Although both Cantonese and Mandarin are varieties of Chinese, they have different tone systems. While Mandarin has four tones (high, mid rising, low-dipping and high falling), Cantonese has six (high, mid, low, high-rising, low-rising and low falling). Studies have shown that Mandarin speakers have difficulties learning Cantonese tones. The same experiment will be conducted in Thailand with native speakers of Thai. Native speakers of Cantonese in Hong Kong will participate in the experiment to provide a comparison case. The investigators will assess whether the addition of tone marks can result in substantial improvement in distinguishing and producing Cantonese tones by the non-native speakers. The investigators will also assess whether people from different language backgrounds exhibit different learning patterns and whether they can achieve native-like results. The findings from this research will provide insight into how foreign language learners integrate visual and auditory information during non-native sound learning. The results will also show how human beings use visual and auditory information in speech processing in general. This study will also have the potential to improve the teaching of tone languages. If tone marks are proven to be helpful, they can easily be included in teaching materials and used as a teaching method for better tone-learning outcomes.

William Cotter received a SBSRI Pre-doctoral research grant in the amount of $500 to conduct summer fieldwork in northern Jordan.  William is a first year student in the Joint PhD Program in Anthropology and Linguistics.

For his research, William will be carrying out fieldwork in an effort to investigate dialect contact and change between indigenous Jordanians and Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip. He also received a GPSC travel grant in the amount of $750 to present papers at the AIDA (International Association of Arabic Dialectology) meeting in Bucharest, Romania (May 23-28) and another paper at the Forum for Arabic Linguistics meeting in Colchester, United Kingdom (July 27-30). He also received a GPSC Research and Project Grant in the amount of $1740 to cover the cost of audio recording equipment that I will be using while carrying out pilot fieldwork with Palestinian refugees in northern Jordan in June & July this summer. 

Joe Dupris received a University Fellows Award and an American Indian Alumni Scholar.  Joe, a first year Ph.D. student in the joint Anthropology & Linguistics (ANLI) program, came to the U of A in 2014 to pursue his Master of Arts degree in the Department of Linguistics, specializing in Native American Linguistics (NAMA). University Fellows are selected by academic deans across campus and are expected to be among the next generation of leaders. The American Indian Alumni Club is dedicated to the academic success of American Indian students at the University of Arizona.

Joe’s research, developed through community experience, archival research, and historical resources, examines descriptive and theoretical aspects of maqlaqsyals(Klamath-Modoc) grammar in the traditional Klamath Tribes region of the Upper Klamath Basin in Oregon and northern California. As a student in the ANLI program, Joe will continue his work onmaqlaqsyals linguistics, while also beginning to explore sociolinguistic and ideological issues that have come to bear on the Upper Klamath Basin. In this vein, he plans to examine the influence of political conflict, historical violence and assimilationist government policies on language shift in the region.

Prior to joining the NAMA program, Joe attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in American Indian Studies with a minor in Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management.

Megan Figueroa received a full tuition scholarship to attend the 2015 Linguistic Society of America Institute, a $2000 value. She is a second year student in the Linguistics PhD program.

Joshua Meyer is a recipient of the 2015 Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award. He is a second year student in the Linguistics PhD Program. The GRFP provides three years of financial support to science and engineering students early in their graduate careers. He also received a SBSRI Pre-doctoral Grant in the amount of $500 for travel expenses related to research.

Joshua's research interests lie in bilingualism, psycholinguistics, and computational approaches to language. He is also interested in acoustic-phonetics and language description (especially of languages of the former Soviet Union). Josh’s methods are mainly experimental, using data from perception studies and speech recordings. He is collecting audio recordings to create a spoken corpus of the Kyrgyz language. This means he will be interviewing Kyrgyz speakers in conversational settings to get high quality audio, which can then be used for phonetic analysis and in developing an automatic speech recognition system for Kyrgyz.

Noah Nelson received Honorable Mention for the 2015 GPSC Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award. He is a second year student in the Linguistics PhD Program.

Priscilla Shin received an NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant for $14,805 for her project "The semiotics and social practices of constructing a "proper" Singaporean". She also received a GPSC Research Grant for $2000 and an SBSRI Dissertation Grant for $1629 in order to conduct fieldwork in Singapore. She is a dissertator in the Linguistics PhD Program. 

Priscilla will investigate the numerous resources Singaporeans take up in order to negotiate and balance a properly global and local identity but will focus specifically on variation in Singapore English. This project combines anthropological and linguistic methods via participant ethnography and sociophonetic experimentation to explore how macro-level ideologies, such as how global and local identities are maintained, trickle into micro-level phenomena, such as sociophonetic variation.

Ryan Smith received a full tuition scholarship to attend the 2015 Linguistic Society of America Institute, a $2000 value. He is a first year student in the Linguistics PhD program.

Louise St. Amour received honorable mention for a NSF GRFP. She is a first year student in the Linguistics PhD Program.

Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson received a GPSC Research Grant for $150 to access the StoryCorps interview archive. She is a third  year student in the Joint PhD Program in Anthropology and Linguistics.

Mary-Caitlyn is using this data as part of a project in collaboration with William Cotter (also ANLI), and Dr Lauren Hall-Lew and Mirjam Eiswirth (both University of Edinburgh) for a project on the sociophonetics of English in Arizona.

Dr. Adam Ussishkin and Samantha Wray received a NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant for the project entitled "Morphological Decomposition in Arabic."

When we hear a word, many factors affect the speed and accuracy with which we decide that what we have heard is indeed a word of our language. Word frequency is a particularly salient predictor of a listener's behavior when presented with a word; words which are more frequent are recognized more quickly than words which are less frequent. Moreover, the frequency of individual word parts such as suffixes and prefixes also have an effect on the recognition of the word as a whole. These phenomena are important for psycholinguistic models of storage and processing which represent how people acquire words of a language, store them in their minds, and retrieve them when they must perceive or produce them. Such models inform effective methods for teaching language as well as diagnosis and treatment of language disorders. However, studies focusing on the role of frequency in word recognition have been largely limited to Indo-European languages, which results in an incomplete picture of the mechanisms which allow humans to learn, recognize and produce language.

The main goal of this psycholinguistic research is to explore the role of frequency in word recognition for a colloquial dialect of Arabic spoken in Amman, Jordan. This research entails psycholinguistic experiments measuring reactions to a variety of kinds of spoken words which differ based on the frequencies of the parts that they contain. Furthermore, these studies involve the collection of personal linguistic histories, as well as the gathering of texts and transcripts from Web, chat, and broadcast domains. This research will contribute to a richer understanding of how Arabic speakers determine what constitutes a word of their dialect, and what properties of the word affect the speed and accuracy with which they do so. Determining which word parts contribute most to their storage and access in the mind will result in more informed ways of teaching colloquial Arabic dialects to non-native speakers. Robust data focusing on which words actually belong to this particular dialect will contribute to dictionary-writing and lexicon-building, strengthening the scarce resources which exist for spoken Arabic dialects.

Samantha Wray is a recipient of a GPSC Research and Project Grant in the amount of $2000 for crowdsourcing the creation of a Jordanian Arabic speech corpus. She also received a Raphael and Jolene Gruener Research Travel Award in the amount of $500 for travel to Jordan to do psycholinguistic experiments. Samantha is a dissertator in the Linguistics PhD Program.

Melodie Yen is a recipient of the 2015 Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award. She is a first year student in the Linguistics PhD Program. The GRFP provides three years of financial support to science and engineering students early in their graduate careers.

As part of the Language Neuroscience Lab, Melodie studies the neural mechanisms of language through fMRI.  Melodie is currently involved in several projects exploring topics such as long-term aphasic recovery and protocols for language mapping in stroke and other populations.  Melodie is also developing psychophysical experiments as part of a longer neuroimaging investigation of top-down influence on language processing.

Dr. Cecile McKee and Elly Zimmer received a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from the NSF's Lingusitics Program (BCS-1451665) for $18,145. Elly is a dissertator in the Linguistics PhD Program. This grant will support her dissertation research investigating young children's metalinguistic awareness of ambiguous sentences and its connection to reading development.

Literacy education is a topic of national importance because the reading skills of a nation's adult population affect their productivity and economic advancement. Adults who struggle with reading often have done so since early childhood. Thus, it is essential to probe all skills that lead to reading success at an early age. This research examines children's awareness of ambiguity, a linguistic skill that contributes to reading. After children learn letter-sound correspondences in words, they begin reading sentences and texts. Awareness of when a sentence has multiple meanings helps the reader integrate the sentence into the whole text using context cues. Many children struggle with this, however. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 46% of third-graders are able to use context cues to derive meaning from a text. Because ambiguity detection influences text comprehension, the question of whether it can be improved with training is important. Focus on ambiguous sentences could supplement early literacy curriculum and inform intervention techniques for struggling readers.

This psycholinguistic research explores children's awareness of syntactic ambiguity, as illustrated in this sentence: "The boy saw the girl with binoculars." If the prepositional phrase "with binoculars" modifies the verb "saw," then this sentence means that the boy used binoculars to see the girl. If it modifies the noun phrase "the girl," the sentence means that the boy saw the girl who has the binoculars. The two sentence meanings have very different meanings, and detecting such ambiguity influences text comprehension. One of the studies in this project investigates whether pre-school children are consciously aware that such a sentence has multiple meanings. The second study asks whether ambiguity awareness can be improved with simple training over a period of a few weeks. The second study also examines correlations between improvement in ambiguity detection and improvements on measures of reading readiness. This research advances the study of language development with new data on children's linguistic knowledge. It is also relevant to a body of research on sentence processing suggesting that children rely on fewer types of information than adults do.