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Linguistics program releases their latest series of outstanding undergraduate research

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 sixth volume of the Northeastern University Working Papers in Linguistics is now online, and showcases three outstanding pieces of language-related research. These papers furthermore highlight the ingenuity of our student authors, who each developed methodological innovations necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Working Papers editor Robert Painter, Associate Teaching Professor of Linguistics, summarizes the newest contributions as follows: 

Hannah Lee’s paper ‘Face threat and response in the language of batterers’ intervention groups’ presents a novel approach to a Face Theory analysis of the language used by individuals accused of intimate partner violence. Since batterer’s intervention therapy groups are generally inaccessible to outside observers and researchers, Lee was able to create an analyzable corpus of batterer’s language by gleaning publically available excerpts of group sessions from documentaries of domestic violence on YouTube. The resulting study is an important contribution to the face attack literature (e.g. Brown & Levinson 1987) by showing that group facilitators use the language of disapproval to challenge the abusive individual’s positive face, dissuading the abuser from dominant and controlling behaviors. Lee’s paper is also an exemplar of how linguistics (and discourse analysis) can contribute in an applied way to social issues and social justice. 

Carolina Mack’s paper ‘L2 Learning in the American University: The Effects of Motivation on Proficiency at Different Proficiency Levels’ makes use of familiar survey methodology, but she was able to recruit an impressive participant pool in a targeted way by using online survey tools such as SurveyMonkey, mixed with “friend-of-a-friend” social media promotion, to reach a cohort of university students taking languages such as German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish at various levels of proficiency. She concludes that the broad lack of L2 proficiency found among American college students taking foreign language courses is tied to a culturally based lack of motivation for language learning; and this conclusion is defendable largely based on her healthy participant pool in her methodology. Mack’s paper is a first-class example of meaningful research in language acquisition taking place in an age of Zoom. 

Eric Scherer’s paper ‘English Morphological Productivity in Television Transcripts’ studies morphological productivity of affixes in English (pre-, non-, un-, -er, -less) using a corpus of television data, building on methodology established by Tagliamonte & Roberts (2005) and others. Using complex but easily replicable methods, Scherer is able to compile a corpus of neologisms from the seven seasons of the TV sitcom Parks and Recreation, and calculate hapax legomena scores using various metrics (Baayen 1992, Baayen 1993, Hay 2001) to speak to which English prefixes and suffixes are the most productive in Present Day English. The methodology of this study will serve as a ready model for any research that is looking to build a corpus of data from readily available television scripts. 

 The Working Papers are the brainchild of Shiti Malhotra, 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.  

Full copies of the papers included in this latest volume Northeastern University Working Papers in Linguistics, as well as all papers featured in the previous five volumes, can be found here: 



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