Linguistics News and Events

CU Linguistics Professor wins Gamm Award to Develop Interdisciplinary Course on Language Acquisition


Profs. Bhuvana Narasimhan (LING) and Eliana Colunga (PSYC) have been awarded a Gamm Interdisciplinary Course award for "Learning Languages in the World". With this award they will co-teach an upper-divsion undergraduate course on language acquisition that will present diverse theoretical perspectives, highlighting the contributions of multiple disciplines to our understanding of the sociocultural and cognitive factors that drive language development. The course will offer students hands-on experience with a variety of methodologies — corpus analysis, observational studies, behavioral experiments, and computational modeling— to address a set of core research questions. The course will be offered in Spring 2015. The award was made from the Gordon Gamm Fund, named for local philanthropist Gordon Gamm.


CU Instructor Orin Hargraves Publishes Book on Clichés


Oxford University Press has published It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés, by Orin Hargraves, lexicographer, research assistant in Martha Palmer's lab, and lecturer in Linguistics and the PWR program. The book examines the use of clichés in a broad range of genres and uses corpus data to assess the frequency of various clichés from the mildest to the worst offenders. Hargraves makes a strong argument that the pejorative label cliché is as likely to arise from the misuse of common expressions as from their overuse, and he gives pertinent and clear advice for speakers and writers on how to avoid communicating ineffectively with clichés without abandoning them all together, since some clichés greatly facilitate the flow of discourse. Hargraves spoke to the Linguistics Circle last year about the book; he is happy—indeed, pleased as punch—to autograph copies for students, faculty and staff.


Linguistics Students Teach Community Literacy


The Department's LING 1900 Literacy Practicum, a service-learning course available to students enrolled in LING 1000 ('Language and US Society'), was recently featured in a CU Connections article, 'CU Boulder Students, Elementary Schoolers Discover Ties that Bind'. In its partnership with the Boulder Library, the Practicum pairs CU students with young readers to create enthusiasm for reading. “Through this program, these children find motivation to read,” says Kira Hall, CU Associate Professor of Linguistics and Anthropology, and program director of Culture, Language and Social Practice (CLASP), an interdisciplinary program in language and society. “They come to see reading as desirable or even cool—something that college students do. It makes for a powerful collaboration.”


Mans Hulden Joins Linguistics Faculty

The Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder is pleased to announce that Dr. Mans Hulden joined the faculty in Fall 2014. Dr. Hulden's research focuses on developing computational methods to infer linguistic structure from data using varying degrees of prior knowledge of supervision, particularly in the domains of phonology and morphology. He has also worked extensively with linguistic applications of finite state technology, including modeling of linguistic theory, grammatical inference, and development of language resources. He received his PhD in Linguistics from the University of Arizona in 2009 and has since been a Marie Curie fellow and a research fellow at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and also an Ikerbasque fellow at the University of the Basque Country.


CU Linguistics professor Martha Palmer wins 2013-2014 Outstanding Faculty Graduate Advising Award

Martha S. Palmer, Professor of Linguistics and Computer Science, has been selected as the winner of the Outstanding Faculty Graduate Advising award by the Graduate School. The nomination was submitted by a group of Dr. Palmer's past and present advisees, and the award recognizes Dr. Palmer for her excellent leadership and unreserved commitment to advising and mentorship of her graduate students. As the student nomination letter states, "Prof. Palmer's commitment to the professional development of her students is evident in her methods of mentorship. Every advisee is involved in one or more of her many grant-funded projects. What's notable about this is that our involvement in a project is rarely menial or marginal. Under her supervision, we participate in every aspect of the project, having a voice in its direction, development and progress". In the words of Prof. Laura Michaelis, acting chair of Linguistics, "It is work like Professor Palmer's that has shown the world what kinds of computer technologies a linguistically informed theory of language understanding can produce-from search engines that enable doctors to retrieve medical data quickly to automatic 'gisting' programs that gather and summarize content from news sources and blogs to automatic translation systems that are now available to anyone on the web. In addition, she has given the field of statistically based computing the VerbNet and PropBank resources, among others. However, Prof. Palmer's excellence and great value to the Linguistics department stems not merely from her scholarly output, resource development and research prowess but also from the extraordinary energy and passion she puts into the mentorship of both MA and PhD students".


CU Linguistics Adjunct Professor Co-authors Landmark Work on Biomedical Natural Language Processing

Adjunct assistant professor and CU Linguistics alumnus Kevin Cohen's second book, Biomedical Natural Language Processing, is available for pre-order on and should be available for delivery later this month. Co-authored with the Natural Library of Medicine's Dina Demner-Fushman, the book's cover describes it as "a comprehensive tour through the classic and current work in the field. It discusses all subjects from both a rule-based and a machine learning approach, and also describes each subject from the perspective of both biological science and clinical medicine. The indended audience is readers who already have a background in natural language processing, but a clear introduction makes it accessible to readers from the fields of bioinformatics and computational biology as well. The book is suitable as a reference, as well as a text for advanced courses in biomedical natural language processing and text mining." Kevin and Dina chose John Benjamins as the publisher because they admired other books in their natural language processing series, and because other books in the series had gone into second editions, suggesting that they actually do sell.


Laura Michaelis appointed 2014-2015 CHA fellow

CU Linguistics associate professor Laura Michaelis has been awarded a 2014-2015 fellowship by CU's Center for Humanities and Arts. Awardees were selected by a panel of external reviewers. Fellowships consist of a two-course teaching reduction. The selection committee considers the intellectual merit of the project, the overall excellence of the applicant’s academic record, and the timeliness of the project in the applicant’s career. As a 2014-15 CHA fellow, Michaelis plans to complete major work on a book about grammatical and lexical innovation in English. This book, Construction Grammar and Linguistic Innovation, is currently under contract to Oxford University Press. This book links the study of social performance and narrative practice to the study of grammar.


CU Linguistics doctoral students win NSF Small Business Innovation Research funding for development of language games for handheld devices

CU Linguistics doctoral students Steve Duman and Kevin Gould, principals of Inherent Games, LLC, have won a $150,000 Small Business and Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant through the National Science Foundation for the development of language-learning games. NSF SBIR programs enable startups and small businesses to undertake R&D with high technical risk and commercial reward, if the project involves significant market opportunity and transformational technology with significant societal or commercial impact. This SBIR Phase I project proposes to develop a language learning game for mobile devices that uses augmented reality technology. Inherent Games' unique pedagogical method, called Embodied Categorical Scaffolding, allows for engaging gameplay that utilizes actual physical motion to best reflect the patterns of neurological activation that occur when one uses language. The application of augmented reality technology provides an enriched learning experience for the user. The initial prototype will be fully scalable to accommodate multiple languages, extensive vocabulary domains within a given language and even more complex language concepts, such as tense and aspect. The game will also include a (massively) multiplayer component, where users, classes, schools, or even school districts can compete against one another. Given rising demand in the US and abroad for foreign-language instruction, as well as the game's unique utilization of embodiment, the developers believe that this app will make a strong impact on the language-learning market.

Samuel Beer wins National Science Foundation grant for Ugandan fieldwork
CU Linguistics PhD student Sam Beer has won a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement grant for a project entitled "A Grammar of Nyang'i with Historical-Comparative Notes". Nyang'i is a nearly-extinct member of the Kuliak language family, remembered by only one or two elderly inhabitants of a remote valley in the Nyangea Mountains of northeastern Uganda. Previous research in the Nyang’i language has been hindered by difficulty of access—both to the geographically remote region in which the language is spoken and to clearly translated data, as Karimojong is the only second language spoken by Nyang’i speakers. As a result, existing scholarship is limited to a small section of a single article. This project aims to produce a corpus of transcribed, glossed and translated audio- and video-recorded texts. The corpus will not only form the basis for the first grammatical description and lexicon of Nyang’i, but will also provide a resource from which future linguists and members of the Nyang’i community will gain access to the Nyang’i language beyond the lifetime of its remaining speakers. 

Zygmunt Frajzyngier publishes landmark studies of African languages and language groups
CU Linguistics Professor Zygmunt Frajzyngier has produced two landmark studies in African linguistics. The first work is 2012's A Grammar of Wandala (Mouton de Gruyter). This book represents the first description of Wandala, a Central Chadic language spoken in the Far North Province of Cameroon and in North-Eastern Nigeria by about 45,000 speakers. The grammar covers all formal coding means and all functional domains of the language. Wandala shares vocabulary with other Central Chadic languages, but its grammatical system differs significantly from both other Central Chadic languages and Chadic languages generally. The second work, co-edited by Frajzyngier and CU Linguistics Research Assistant Professor Erin Shay is The Afroasiatic Languages (2012; Cambridge University Press). Afroasiatic languages are spoken by some 300 million people in Northern, Central and Eastern Africa and the Middle East. This book is the first typological study of these languages, which comprise around 375 living and extinct varieties. The work contains chapters by eminent scholars of this area on Egyptian and Coptic, Berber, Semitic, Chadic, Cushitic and Omotic. Frajzyngier's concluding chapter provides a typological outline of Afroasiatic languages. Prof. Frajzyngier's other recent accomplishments include the publication by University of Warsaw Press of Wspoldzialanie podsystemów w strukturze jezyka, the Polish edition of Frajzyngier and Shay's 2003 Explaining Language Structure through Systems Interaction (Benjamins) and the funding of a research project CORTYPO (Amina Mettouchi, PI) by the French Agence National de Recherche, based on the framework elaborated in this work. 

CU professor leads Gros Ventre language revitalization efforts
CU Professor of Linguistics and French J. Andrew Cowell, working with graduate student assistants in the Linguistics Department and collaborating with language teachers from the Gros Ventre Tribe in Montana, recently produced a Gros Ventre Student Dictionary and a Gros Ventre Student Reference Grammar, to aid in the tribe's language revitalization efforts. These resources are being used by high schools and the tribal college on the Fort Belknap Reservation.


CU Linguistics graduate named A&S Outstanding Graduate, Spring 2013
CU Linguistics Linguistics minor (and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology major) Jessica Lutz was named Outstanding Graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences for the spring 2013 commencement. Lutz wrote Honors theses in both Linguistics and MCDB. Lutz graduated summa cum laude and was one of 209 honors graduates in a class of 4,687. Her honors thesis in Linguistics, conducted under the supervision of CU Linguistics professor Rebecca Scarborough, used experimental methods to analyze how native Mandarin Chinese speakers produce and perceive English plosives in word-final position. While a CU-Boulder student, Lutz also worked in Lesotho, a nation completely surrounded by South Africa. Lutz helped edit public-health grant applications for projects including HIV-AIDS tracking. Jessica is contemplating a career in public health that will combine her interests in second-language acquisition and virology.


CU Doctoral Graduate Hartwell Francis appointed Fall 2013 Yale fellow
Hartwell Francis, Colorado Linguistics PhD '06, is the Archibald Hanna Jr. Fellow at Yale's Beinecke Library this fall. Dr. Francis, an assistant professor at Western Carolina University, is working with the Cherokee tribe to help teach and revitalize the Cherokee language. His fellowship allows him to spend time in residence at Yale, examining the library's extensive collection of Cherokee-language manuscripts, which he and the tribe hope to make more widely available and integrate into the language program.


CU Linguistics professor Kira Hall named 2013 Outstanding Teacher for Teaching with Technology
Dr. Kira Hall of the CU departments of Linguistics and Anthropology has been been named by ASSETT as an Outstanding Teacher for Technology in Teaching. ASSETT asked students across the CU College of Arts and Science to nominate an instructor who uses technology in outstanding ways to support student learning. The classes Language in U.S. Society and Service Learning Practicum: Adult Literacy were cited in the award. The ASSETT committee particularly noted effective use of Powerpoint, video-capture assignments and video presentations by Dr. Hall (see linked article). ASSETT (Arts and Sciences Support of Education through Technology) is a program whose mission is to support the use of technology in advancing the teaching and learning mission of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

CU Linguistics ranked by NRC in top 15 of US linguistics programs
In its 2010 survey of American doctoral programs, the National Research Council has placed the Department of Linguistics at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the top quarter of American linguistics programs. Based on an overall measure of excellence that combines factors like publication rates, faculty honors and PhD graduation rates, CU Linguistics was ranked thirteenth out of 52 linguistics programs in the country. CU Linguistics is one of only 2 units in the CU Social Sciences division to rank in the top 20 in their respective disciplines. The NRC operates under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. The NRC study of doctoral programs at more than 200 US universities is considered the gold standard of rating systems by the academic community: it offers a much more detailed and comprehensive assessment of PhD programs than do popular ranking systems.

Martha Palmer wins 2010 Boulder Faculty Assembly Research Award
Martha Palmer, CU Professor of Linguistics and Computer Science, has won a 2010 Boulder Faculty Assembly award for excellence in research. The award recognizes Professor Palmers stature as one of the foremost computational linguists in the world, and a preeminent figure in the field of computational semantics. Dr. Palmers research concerns the representation, acquisition, and use of semantic information in computer systems that process language, with a particular focus on the role of verb semantics in such systems. Dr. Palmer has been actively involved in research in natural language processing and knowledge representation for over 20 years, beginning with her pioneering doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh on the use of lexical conceptual structures for driving the semantic interpretation process. This work provided the basis for the highly successful text-processing system, Pundit, built at Unisys during the 1980s and funded by the government agency DARPA. This system combined semantic and pragmatic processing in innovative ways that enabled sophisticated reference resolution and temporal analysis, and led to insights into the use of computational semantics that have continued to inform her research at the University of Colorado. Since her arrival at CU, Dr. Palmers research has been funded by a wide array of grants from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and industry sources. She currently has five grants in force, totaling approximately $2 million. The Boulder Faculty Assembly represents the faculty on the Boulder Campus. It presents up to four faculty awards annually in each of three areas teaching, research and service.

CU Linguists win National Science foundation grant for new-generation Hindi/Urdu lexicon
CU Linguistics professors Martha Palmer and Bhuvana Narasimhan have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant, Collaborative Research: A Multi-Representational and Multi-Layered Treebank for Hindi/Urdu, to develop linguistic annotation for these two closely related languages of India/Pakistan. The project is a collaborative effort involving researchers at the India Institute of Technology in Hyderabad, India, the Universities of Washington and Massachusetts and Columbia University. It will produce a database of close to a million words of Hindi and Urdu annotated with syntactic structure (both dependency structure and phrase structure) and semantic-role labels (PropBank). The researchers will also create a process for automatically converting between the different representations. The first project meeting was held in January 2009 in Hyderabad, India. Such efforts have led to significant advances in the efficacy of natural-language processing by providing training data for supervised machine-learning algorithms.

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