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The “OK Boomer” Saga
What It’s Like to Co-op in the Heart of Mongolia
Join the Linguistics Club

Worlds within Words

Your mind is born into an empty room. The ceiling, floor, and wall are undefined, without doors, edges, or hue. Everything here is everything there is, and the concept of you isn’t even a concept yet. 

But it doesn’t stay that way for long. In fact, from the moment you hear your first words, everything starts to change. The room shifts, the walls and ceiling expand, and color begins to bloom.

A lifetime’s worth of sensation, emotion, and thought will pass through this private vantage, and through it all, language will serve as each moment’s translator. It will wrap itself around every social, physical, and metaphysical construct to deliver scale, quality, nuance, and meaning. It is the vehicle the helps us navigate our external and internal experience of the world.

Studying linguistics at the College of Science puts the toolbox in your hands — to understand, interact with, and shape the room however you see fit. And if you feel so inclined, to also build a doorway so that others may share the space.

Degree Options

Coursework and Requirements
A sampling of the types of courses you could take here.
English Now and Then
LING 1449

Introduces the linguistic study of the English language from current and historical perspectives. Topics include the Latin and Greek etymology of English words; the linguistics of modern English dialects; English as a global language; and the origins of English as a Germanic language, closely related to German and Dutch.

Language and Culture
LING 3412

Explores the complex, often inexplicit relationship between language and culture, using a variety of methods drawn from the fields of anthropological linguistics and sociolinguistics. Questions may include: How do language and thought interact? How is language used to create and maintain social institutions and individual personae? How is language used differently by and across gender, ethnicity, and social class?

Language and Gender
LING 3456

Investigates the relationship between language and gender. Topics include how men and women talk; the significant differences and similarities in how they talk, why men and women talk in these ways, and social biases in the structure of language itself.

Learning at the Source

Northeastern’s co-operative education provides linguistics students the opportunity to get out of the classroom and immerse themselves in real-world contexts. From marketing and journalism to law and special education, there’s a wide range of career options for students to pursue, while exploring their own special interests. Students will also have the opportunity to study abroad, where every experience becomes a first-hand lesson in local language and culture.

Faculty Research

Sentence Processing Laboratory
The Sentence Processing Laboratory investigates how people produce and comprehend language, focusing on mental representations and processes related to dealing with sentences.
Linguistics and Law Lab
The Linguistics & Law Lab is working at the border between law and linguistics to improve justice through linguistic research.
The Minds Behind COS Linguistics
Faculty Spotlight
Heather Littlefield
Heather Littlefield earned her MA and PhD in Applied Linguistics at Boston University, with special interest in first language acquisition of prepositions and the syntactic properties of lexical and functional categories. She is currently Teaching Professor, Head Advisor, and Assistant Director of the Linguistics Program at Northeastern University.
Adam Cooper
As an associate teaching professor of linguistics, his teaching and research focuses on the sound systems of languages, as well as how languages change over time. Check out his thoughts on the recent “OK Boomer” phenomenon.
Janet Randall
Her research and publications span areas in theoretical linguistics (the syntax/semantics interface, argument structure), language acquisition (the acquisition of verbs; argument structure; morphology); psycholinguistics; linguistics and law, and linguistics in the schools.
Neal Pearlmutter
Prof. Pearlmutter is interested in sentence comprehension and sentence generation processes, including ambiguity resolution; the use of grammatical constraints; and the interaction and timing of use of constraints derived from working memory, real-world knowledge, grammatical knowledge, and frequency information.

The 2020 Linguistics Undergraduate Working Papers

The Linguistics Program in the College of Science is proud to announce the publication of the latest in their series of undergraduate working papers.

The fifth volume of the Northeastern University Working Papers in Linguistics is now online, and showcases three outstanding pieces of student research:

Leah Doroski’s paper “Child Language Acquisition of Possession Forms in Inuktitut” is the result of her year-long honors thesis, and is groundbreaking in being one of the only works on the acquisition of possession forms in a polysynthetic language, a relatively uncommon type of word-formation system among the languages of the world. The only other study of this type looked at the acquisition of Northern East Cree, so Leah’s work contributes significantly to our knowledge both of the types of possession forms we find in Inuktitut as well as how children acquire those forms. This paper will be presented this fall as a poster at the BU Conference on Language Development (BUCLD), the top language acquisition conference in the world.

Luc Henriquez’s paper “Neuroanatomy and Behavioral Characteristics in Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens: Perspectives on Language Potential and Evolutionary Advantage” summarizes major neuroanatomical differences between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis, and offers a critical assessment of the potential for Neanderthal language. The paper includes a careful and interesting discussion of the potential evolutionary impacts of the differences between these two species, and concludes with suggestions for future research paths.

Carolina Mack’s paper “The Syntax of Wambaya” presents a sketch of the word and sentence structure of Wambaya, an endangered language of Australia with fewer than 60 speakers remaining. Of particular note is the fact that Carolina presents evidence suggesting a revised conception of this language’s system of verbal inflection, which departs from that of prior research.

The Working Papers are the brainchild of Shiti Malhotra, Assistant Teaching Professor of Linguistics, who proposed the creation of the series in 2016 and led its editorial efforts over its first three years. As with any academic journal, submissions to the Working Papers undergo a rigorous selection process involving peer review and revision, and entries must demonstrate a clear contribution to furthering our understanding of the phenomenon of human language.

Robert Painter, Associate Teaching Professor of Linguistics and current editor of the Working Papers, offers this assessment of this year’s entries: “The breadth and quality of the three articles of Volume 5 speak to the boundless talent of students in the Program, and the potential they have to make a meaningful impact to the field of Linguistics, so we are very happy to celebrate their accomplishments in the Working Papers.”

Full copies of the papers included in this latest volume of the Northeastern University Working Papers in Linguistics can be found at the DRS:

October 10, 2020

The Popularity of ‘ok boomer’ May Well Just ‘ok boomerang’

The phrase “ok boomer” is everywhere these days. It’s popping up in the halls of New Zealand parliament, Fox is applying to trademark it, and you can buy all sorts of merchandise emblazoned with it.
The slang term was coined by members of Generation Z and adopted by millennials to express frustration with the viewpoints of their baby boomer counterparts.

07/10/17 - BOSTON - Adam Cooper, Senior Lecturer in the College of Science, poses for a portrait on July 10, 2017. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Adam Cooper is an associate teaching professor of linguistics in the College of Science. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

It’s purposely flippant and meant to draw ire (which it has), but it’s so pervasive that it might soon become “a victim of its own success,” says Adam Cooper, who is an associate teaching professor of linguistics at Northeastern.

“With this prominence and exposure, it may lose its potency as an expression of frustration,” says Cooper, who studies how languages change over time.

But, before we consider how the phrase “ok boomer” might die, we should consider how it was born.
Cooper says that “ok boomer” shares many characteristics of slang terms that came before it—it’s considered fairly informal speech, and it’s a phrase that was created by a community that isn’t in a position of power.
In our case, “ok boomer” is a phrase that was created by teenagers and blossomed on the social media site TikTok, where videos containing the phrase have amassed almost 1 billion views.
Those teenagers are members of Generation Z, which refers to people born between 1997 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. Because of their age, they’re a generation that is all but locked out of formal seats of power—the United States Congress doesn’t contain any members of Generation Z, and only the oldest Gen Zers were old enough to vote in the last two elections.

“This is a generation [of people] that largely don’t have the ability to vote yet, and that don’t necessarily see that those who do, are actually listening to them,” Cooper says.

More than 80 percent of the legislature is composed of baby boomers (the generation born between 1946 and 1964) and members of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), according to Pew.
These are groups that, by and large, have vastly different economic realities, political priorities, and access to higher education, and those generational differences are what inspired “ok boomer” in the first place, Cooper says. (They’re the same generational differences that inspired baby boomers to advise against trusting “anyone over 30” during the height of the protests against the Vietnam War and to wax poetic about all the things millennials have killed.)
What sets the phrase apart from other slang phrases such as “lit” or “talk to the hand” or “beat feet” is the way “ok boomer” makes explicit this generational and power divide, Cooper says.

“Users of the expression ‘ok boomer’ aren’t just associating themselves as members of a particular group, they’re also pushing back on people who they perceive to have power,” he says.

But Cooper is starting to see the tide turn, as corporations trying to capitalize on the phrase’s popularity apply to trademark it for use on clothing and TV shows.

“Once you start to see people turning it into various opportunities for profit, the potency gets diluted and those who might have been the target of the expression may be less and less offended,” Cooper says.

Alas, the popularity of “ok boomer” may well just “ok boomerang.”
This story was originally published on [email protected] on November 20, 2019.

November 21, 2019

What It’s Like to Co-op in the Heart of Mongolia

The United States is considered the most influential country in the world. One could make the argument that this directly correlates with the growth in popularity of the english language globally. In fact, many international students now learn English as part of their regular academics. Northeastern Global Co-op even provides opportunities for our students to teach English abroad. Meet Cameron Clark, a second year linguistics student, who is pursuing a minor in psychology and in speech language pathology. Cameron is currently on his first Co-op as an English teacher, working for Santis Educational Services in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Cameron knew linguistics was a perfect choice for his major because of his experiences throughout middle and high school with Latin, Spanish, and French. Learning foreign languages became his passion:

“When I was in middle school, I was forced to choose between studying Latin, Spanish, or French. I chose Latin, and I quickly fell in love with language learning as a whole, as I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of what makes languages work. In high school, I picked up classes in Spanish and French while maintaining my course in Latin, and I haven’t stopped studying languages since.”

Going abroad for a Co-op made sense to Cameron. He has always wanted to travel as much possible, with a goal of eventually seeing almost every country. Teaching english can be done in almost any country, but Mongolia attracted Cameron, as it gave him a chance to go to a challenging country while still young:

“I figured Mongolia would be a challenging place, and boy was I right. Mongolian is a difficult language to learn, and very few people here speak English. However, you can mostly get by with gestures, and if I need to do something more complicated, I’ll enlist the help of one of my Mongolian friends.”

Santis recently celebrated its 20th birthday. Photo courtesy of Cameron Clark

A normal day at Santis involves teaching English to a class of about ten people, or tutoring a student one-on-one. Every class is taught by one native English speaker and one Mongolian teacher – the native speaker’s job is to get the students speaking, and interacting in English; the Mongolian teacher’s job is to teach the students about reading, writing, and grammar. According to Cameron, most of the work is done on site, but they also have contracts with other schools and companies, where they send teachers to work for the day. For example, soon a few of the teachers will go to a mining site in the Gobi Desert for three weeks to do a crash course with some of the miners.

During his time at Santis, Cameron plans to start a pen-pal program between his students in Mongolia and students in the United States:

“When I was in elementary school, we had a similar program with kids in Mexico, and as a child from the ethnically homogenous state of New Hampshire, I thought it was so cool to speak with someone from a totally different culture! I actually got in touch with my former fifth grade teacher in New Hampshire, who still works at the elementary school I attended, and we will be running the program with her.”

Working for Santis has been a fulfilling experience for Cameron. His favorite part so far has been learning how to teach and interacting with the students. Santis is a private school which solely teaches English, so all of the students are very eager to learn and excited to come to class every day. That makes it a lot more enjoyable for him as a teacher (not to mention, much easier).

During his free time on the weekends, Cameron will go out to eat with other expats:

“There are a number of nearby pubs that we like to go to at night. There’s even a pub in the British embassy called the Steppe Inn that the Santis’ co-founder, Andrew, invites us to every Friday night. It’s a good place to meet other expats and they occasionally have trivia nights.”

Lake Khovsgol. Photo courtesy of Cameron Clark.

While in Mongolia, Cameron had the opportunity to travel to Lake Khovsgol. He, along with four of his coworkers, rented a van and drove to the lake to spend three nights. Lake Khovsgol is Mongolia’s second-largest lake and its deepest, with some parts reaching over 850 feet deep. It also holds 2 percent of the world’s fresh water and stretches about 90 miles from top to bottom. They spent three nights there, sleeping in a ger (a traditional one-room home), eating home-cooked food with a Mongolian family, riding on horseback through the mountains in -20 degree weather, and sledding around the lake while being pulled by a horse.

Cameron plans to go to graduate school for a masters in communication science and disorders after his time at Northeastern. However, because of his experience on a global Co-op, he may spend a few years traveling and teaching English first:

“There is a very high demand for English teachers all over the globe, and especially in Asian countries. I think taking a break from school and seeing more of the world will be enjoyable and relaxing before committing to grad school.”


March 19, 2019

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