Linguistics News and Events

CU Doctoral Graduate and Postdoctoral Fellow Jena Hwang Wins Cognitive Science Society Prize

Jena D. Hwang, a 2014 joint PhD in Linguistics and Cognitive Science and current National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Linguistics department, is one of four recipients of the 2015 Robert J. Glushko Dissertation Prize awarded by the Cognitive Science Society and the Glushko-Samuelson Foundation. The prize, which is accompanied by a $10,000 award, recognizes dissertations representing outstanding, original and high impact scholarship in the field of cognitive science. The Prize committee considered 51 nominated dissertations that represented the full range of research in cognitive science. Dr. Hwang's thesis, Identification and Representation of Caused Motion Constructions, implemented a machine-learning algorithm that performed mappings from syntactic structures to semantic representations; it has application to tasks like summarization, automated translation, semantically based searches and inference generation, and represents one of the first computational dissertations to apply the theory of Construction Grammar to natural language processing algorithms. Dr. Hwang's s thesis, which was supervised by Professor of Linguistics and Computer Science Martha S. Palmer, was judged by the committee to be "excellent in scholarship and innovative, with likely far-reaching impact in cognitive science". Dr. Hwang will be presented with the prize at the July Cognitive Science Conference.

Martha Palmer elected Fellow of Association for Computational Linguistics

CU Professor of Linguistics and Computer Science Martha Palmer has been elected a fellow of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL). Established in 2011, the ACL Fellows program recognizes ACL members whose contributions to the field have been most extraordinary. To date, 26 members of the ACL have been honored by the ACL as Fellows. Prof. Palmer was one of six researchers granted Fellow status in December 2014, in recognition of significant contributions to the field of computational linguistics. Prof. Palmer was cited in particular for the development of semantic corpora. She has held elected leadership positions within the ACL including the office of President in 2005 and President pro-ten in 2006. She had also served as chair of ACL-SIGHAN (the Special Interest Group on Chinese Language Processing), 2001-2003, chair of ACL-SIGLEX (the Special Interest Group on the Lexicon), 1994-2000. The ACL was started over 50 years ago and is organized to foster research in computational linguistics. It hosted the first ACL conference in 1962 and has been publishing the premier journal in the field, Computational Linguistics, since 1965, with the current official title established in 1974. Computational linguistics is the scientific study of language from a computational perspective. Computational linguists are interested in providing computational models of various kinds of linguistic phenomena. These models may be "knowledge-based" ("hand-crafted") or "data-driven" ("statistical" or "empirical"). The work of computational linguists is incorporated into many working systems today, including speech recognition systems, text-to-speech synthesizers, automated voice response systems, web search engines, automatic machine translation systems, text editors, and language instruction materials.

CU Linguistics Professor Emerita Lise Menn Elected AAAS Fellow


CU Linguistics Professor Emerita Lise Menn has been selected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for "distinguished contributions to the field of linguistics, particularly for models of phonological development and theoretical linguistic accounts of language disorders, and for service to AAAS's disciplines". The AAAS publishes three widely respected peer-reviewed journals, including Science. In addition to publishing Science, AAAS fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; diplomacy; education and career support; public engagement with science; and more. AAAS sections include 24 fields, ranging from biology to neuroscience. Professor Menn served two terms as secretary to the steering committee of Section Z, which covers Linguistics and Language Sciences. Says Professor Menn, "the value of AAAS to linguistics is that it is an interdisciplinary and very public forum. It provides an avenue for linguists to explain our work to other sciences and to the press, and it has been used very effectively by language preservation folks to increase public awareness of language extinction and language revival efforts. Linguists who are in a position to expand the service side of their work should seriously consider becoming active in organizing symposia for AAAS if they do any kind of work that the public would be interested in, such as forensics or bilingualism

CU Linguistics Professor Rebecca Scarborough Wins 2014 Provost Faculty Achievement Award


CU Linguistics Assistant Professor Rebecca Scarborough has won a 2014 Provost's Faculty Achievement Award. The award is presented annually to selected faculty who have offered recent significant publication or creative contributions in their academic fields. Dr. Scarborough's award recognizes her ground-breaking work in experimental phonetics. Dr. Scarborough's research focuses on listener-directed speech and the acoustics of nasalization: she has not only exposed the ways in which lexical content influences the articulation of words but is also developing measures that predict human perception of nasality. Dr. Scarborough and her students are building a bridge between basic theoretical linguistic research and the computational models used for automatic speech recognition, a bridge that can lead to advances in both fields. The prestige of the outlets in which Dr. Scarborough has published her results is a testament to the attention her work and research paradigm are receiving in the field, which is increasingly moving away from the notion that 'perception is reception' toward explanations of sound change and sound-system organization in which the hearer plays a fundamental role in constructing the speech signal. Dr. Scarborough's influential papers include "Talker adaptation in speech perception: Adjusting the signal or the representations?", co-authored with Delphine Dahan and Sarah Drucker; it appeared in 2008 the top cognitive science journal, Cognition. Another landmark work is the singly-authored paper "Lexical and contextual predictability: Confluent effects on the production of vowels", which appeared in 2010 in the influential experimental journal Laboratory Phonology.


CU Linguistics Professor Zygmunt Frajzyngier Gives Paris Lecture Series as International Chair


CU Linguistics Professor Zygmunt Frajzyngier, invited as International Chair, gave a series of lectures in Paris funded by the group Labex EFL, Empirical Foundations of Linguistics, at Sorbonne Paris Cite, a higher education and research consortium established in 2010 that brings together four Parisian universities and four higher education and research institutes. The series was entitled: 'Prerequisites for the Typology of Functional Categories' and consisted of four lectures: Theoretical Foundations; A Methodology for the Discovery of Grammaticalized Meaning; Consequences of Grammaticalized Meaning for the Forms of Utterances; and A Demonstration of Non-aprioristic Typology with Respect to the Structure of the Clause. The four lectures can be viewed at


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.


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 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.

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