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Northeastern University Working Papers in Linguistics (Volume 7)

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 seventh volume of the Northeastern University Working Papers in Linguistics is now online, and showcases four outstanding pieces of student writing exploring a broad array of language-related questions.


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


Sofia Caruso’s paper ‘Albanian Noun and Adjective Morphology’ is a towering achievement of fieldwork: she has independently motivated the complex case morphology of Albanian, determining nominative, vocative, accusative, dative, genitive, and ablative; and shows how there is widespread syncretism within and across paradigms in the Tirana variety of her native speaker consultant, E. Caruso also independently studies the linking morphemes used in adjective agreement within a noun phrase, an unusual quirk found in Albanian and few other Indo-European languages. Her paper is remarkably supported with glossed language examples from a database of over 1,000 noun and adjectives in various structures, which she collected herself after hundreds of hours of fieldwork.


Henry Fellner’s paper ‘The Mazhimo Tuhasamin Language’ presents his original language, Mazhimo Tuhasamin, conceived as an amalgamation of eight southeast Asian languages. Imagining its speakers as a nomadic people wandering through Asia for generations who evolved a kind of argot, Fellner strives to build the Mazhimo Tuhasamin language from structural elements of Burmese, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mandarin, S’gaw Karen, and Thai. His paper not only gives a succinct descriptive overview of a novel linguistic system; it provides valuable discussion on conlanging as a scholarly and artistic process.


Hannah Lee’s paper ‘Case Study: Right to the Conversational Floor between Twins’

presents a thought-provoking case-study of the speech of a mother caregiver and her twin three-year-old children, a girl and a boy. For this original pilot study, Lee was able to collect 36 minutes of audio recordings of spontaneous naturalistic speech between mother and children. Lee analyzes the number of turns taken by the boy and the girl, alongside the number of turn ratifications issued by the mother, showing that the twin boy takes more and longer turns than the girl, and that the mother engages more of the boy’s turns than the girl’s. Situated within up-to-date research in the field of language socialization, Lee concludes that the twin girl is socialized into the gender norm that she does not have the right to hold the floor compared to her brother – a lesson which may impact her communicative behavior into adulthood.


Henry Volchonok’s paper ‘Intonation and Emphasis in Standard Albanian’ fills a gap in understanding the phonetics of this language. Recording individual words, phrases, and full utterances from his native speaker consultant, E, and analyzing them in sound analysis software, Volchonok makes a highly original contribution to the study of pitch, intonation, and emphasis in Albanian. The paper presents detailed acoustic analyses of intonation contours for imperative, declarative, and interrogative utterances; and it investigates how Albanian speakers shift the main intonational contour to place certain items in narrow contrastive focus. While Volchonok’s paper is a pilot study, it opens the door for further study, as even a cursory search in the phonetic literature shows that there is scant material available on intonation and emphasis in Albanian when compared to other major European languages.


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 and appreciation of the phenomenon of human language.


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

  • Adam I. Cooper, Director, Linguistics Program
September 28, 2022

NASA successfully deflected an astroid. Northeastern physics professor explains how they did it

“And we have impact.”

With that phrase, uttered amid the cheers of NASA scientists and engineers Monday evening, the agency’s so-called Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, mission concluded. The team had achieved something humanity had never done before: successfully crash a spacecraft into an asteroid, altering the orbit of an object in space.

“For the first time, humanity has demonstrated the ability to autonomously target and alter the orbit of a celestial object,” Ralph Semmel, director of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which managed the mission, said after the collision, the New York Times reports.

The “double asteroid,” referring to the near-Earth system of Didymos, the larger asteroid, and Dimorphos, its “moonlet,” was not a threat to Earth. But the pair of space rocks were suitable test subjects for the first-of-its-kind planetary defense mission—a proof of concept that could help human beings deflect actual cosmic threats in the future.

“That system is a member of the Apollo asteroids, not the Apollo mission, but a class of asteroids that are ‘Earth-crossing,’ as they call it,’” says Jacqueline McCleary, assistant professor of physics at Northeastern University.

At their closest approach to the Earth, Apollo asteroids are inside the Earth-Sun orbit, McCleary says. While Dimorphos, which is about 525 feet across, and its parent asteroid Didymos, which is about a half-mile long, don’t pose an imminent threat to Earth, they belong to a class of objects that are of considerable interest due to their proximity, McCleary says.

The DART mission, in effect, was to send a specially designed spacecraft to collide with the space rock at such velocity as to produce an impact equivalent to “2.6 tons of TNT,” McCleary says, or “a good-sized military bomb.”

“It’s incredibly sophisticated technologically, but in essence, you are trying to shoot a bullet out of the sky with another bullet,” McCleary says. “In this case you’ve got this satellite hurtling towards this little moonlet Dimorphos, which is like a proof of concept that one can hit an asteroid with enough momentum to cause a change in its orbit.”

“All of the momentum of [the] DART [spacecraft], all of its energy, gets transferred to this little moonlet and actually moves its orbit inwards,” McCleary says. “So it’s not pushing it out from the parent body—it’s actually pushing it in a little bit.”

“On the one hand, this is Kepler’s Third Law, which has been known for centuries,” she continued, “and first-year physics: you hit one thing with another thing, it will move. It’s bumper cars.”

Of course, with all ground-breaking space missions, there is the potential to encounter unknown unknowns. The primary unknown here, McCleary says, is the degree of the deflection, or just how much Dimorphos’s orbital period changes as a result of the impact.

“If you take as baseline, 11 hours and 55 minutes—will the new orbital period be 11 hours and 45 minutes? Will it be 11 hours and 20 minutes?” she says.

And the exact degree—the amount by which the orbital period could change—depends on a few factors, such as the DART probe’s angle of impact. Such high-speed collisions—the spacecraft crashed into Dimorphos while traveling at more than 14,000 miles per hour—can produce a “spray” of debris that could also, when all is said and done, influence Dimorphos’s post-crash orbit. Scientists also don’t know exactly what the space rock, which some scientists describe rather like a “loosely bound rubble pile,” is made of.

“It’s hard, therefore, to know how its surface will react to the collision,” McCleary says.

Elena Adams, the mission’s systems engineer, said the spacecraft made contact with Dimorphos at roughly 17 meters from its center, the New York Times reports.

The unprecedented crash quest was also an opportunity to try out a new propulsion system that uses solar panels to charge xenon ions to very high speeds. The gridded-ion thruster, or NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster-Commercial (NEXT-C), is designed for “speed and longevity,” McCleary says, and is up to three times faster than the ion drives used in previous deep space missions.

“It’s a demonstration, not just of this proof of concept, but of several really cool technologies,” she says.

This article originally appeared on [email protected]

Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

September 27, 2022

Recovery from Hurricane Fiona cuts to the heart of US-Puerto Rico relations

Eugene Smotkin’s sabbatical was interrupted over the weekend when he lost power at his house in San Juan, Puerto Rico. And Hurricane Fiona, which brought 80 mph winds, dropped 30 inches of rain on the island and caused widespread, intense flooding, hadn’t even arrived yet.

“Here, the blackout began even before the storm hit us,” says Smotkin, a Northeastern University professor of chemistry and chemical biology.

Smotkin was not alone. The entire power grid went down in Puerto Rico, leaving the island’s 3 million residents without electricity. It wreaked havoc on antiquated infrastructure that has still not been updated since 2017’s Hurricane Maria, the most destructive storm in the island’s history. Hurricane Maria left 3,000 people dead–most of them after the initial storm as a nearly year-long power outage prolonged the impacts.

This time around, Smotkin was relatively lucky––his power was restored a few days after the outage–but many more people are still without power.

“It’s disconcerting that the entire island lost power under wind speeds that were much less than [Hurricane] Maria,” Smotkin says.

The problems plaguing Puerto Rico’s aging power grid go beyond one storm. Recovery efforts are underway on the island, but according to Amílcar Barreto, professor and chair of the cultures, societies and global studies program at Northeastern, each hurricane highlights a much bigger question facing the U.S. territory: the nature of its relationship with the United States.

After acquiring Puerto Rico by force from the Spanish in 1898, the U.S. government “didn’t care much” about the island, but that changed during what Barreto calls a “golden half century” for Puerto Rico. Lasting from the eve of World War II through the Cold War, this period saw the U.S. focusing on the island’s development, using it as a “showcase for democracy,” during the Cold War.

One way the federal government increased development in Puerto Rico was through Section 936 of the U.S. tax code, which essentially provided corporations with tax benefits for operating on the island. It helped provide a flurry of job opportunities, but that ended in 1996 when the federal government instituted new legislation that phased out 936’s corporate tax benefits over the next 10 years. The result was a slow but steady downward spiral for Puerto Rico’s economy.

In 2017, the government declared it could not pay its creditors and became the first U.S. state or territory to enter bankruptcy. Since Puerto Rico is a territory, not a state, the federal government responded by stripping it of its financial autonomy and establishing a fiscal review board, appointed by the U.S. government, to oversee all financial matters.

“The Puerto Rican government can do nothing with regards to money without getting the approval of this review board,” Barreto says.

Faced with a $70 billion debt, bankruptcy, no control over its own finances and an economy in a death spiral, Puerto Rico was a “house of cards” waiting to fall, Barreto says. In 2017, the one-two punch of Hurricane Ira and Hurricane Maria, which hit the island weeks apart, knocked the house down with gale force winds.

“Number one, there’s the issue of cleaning up so you can even move, but then, number two, where do you get the funds to rebuild that electrical infrastructure?” Barreto says. “The island needs to revamp the whole system–it’s very antiquated–but it doesn’t have the funds to do so, and the fiscal review board won’t allow it to do so.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided Puerto Rico with relief in the immediate aftermath of the storm but has been heavily criticized for its response. The funds necessary for longer-term recovery and larger-scale infrastructure repairs also got mired in Congress and were further hampered by the Trump administration’s restrictions on aid to the island.

Although the Biden administration has begun removing those restrictions and releasing some of the aid, post-Maria recovery efforts have moved slowly. As reported by the New York Times, the Puerto Rican government has spent only $5.3 billion of the $28 billion in FEMA funding on recovery projects. And most of that spending went toward emergency recovery efforts, not fixing the island’s ailing power grid.

“There have not been investments in really strengthening the resilience of the system to the level that you would need given what we’re now experiencing [with climate change],” says Laura Kuhl, Northeastern assistant professor of public policy and urban affairs and international affairs.

It’s a constant cycle of natural disasters, financial need, financial restriction and bureaucratic quicksand that has kept the island stuck in place.

“Investments in Puerto Rico’s energy since have been [about] rebuilding back to what had been, at best, not moving forward,” Kuhl says.

Post-Maria, there were debates about how to rebuild Puerto Rico’s energy system, Kuhl says. There were even conversations about using the funding to shift the island away from its centralized, fossil fuel-driven system and toward a more decentralized, renewably focused system. However, the transition from the state-run Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, which is $9 billion in debt, to privately-run Luma Energy dealt a decisive blow to a potentially new vision for energy in Puerto Rico.

However, there is some hope for the island’s immediate recovery from Fiona. Biden announced a major disaster declaration on Wednesday, releasing additional federal assistance, which will help with recovery efforts, particularly in the devastated southern and central areas of the island.

Post-Maria, FEMA had stocked up on food, water and generators, and about 700 FEMA staff were on the island already helping with Maria recovery efforts.

“It’s still very early to tell what the long-term impacts of Hurricane Fiona will be, although we know they will be long-lasting challenges, but I do think Puerto Rico is better prepared for managing those immediate needs after the experience with Maria,” Kuhl says.

However, all these factors–a struggling economy, outdated power system and natural disasters–have left a mark on Puerto Rico, one that extends past any one disaster. In recent years, there has been a brain drain, with young, college educated people moving to the U.S., Barreto says. Nurses and teachers are more likely to find jobs in U.S. cities like Miami, Chicago and New York City where bilingual fluency is advantageous.

“There was a point not that long ago where if you lived on one of the islands in the Lesser Antilles if you needed medical help, you would fly to Puerto Rico,” Barreto says. “Now it would appear that Puerto Ricans, for the same help, would have to fly to Miami or New York or Washington, D.C.”

The “quiet exodus” of young people reveals cracks in the façade of Puerto Rican identity, Barreto says. His late stepfather, a veteran of World War II, was an ardent supporter of Puerto Rican statehood who often said, “America is great because America is good.” After the elimination of 936, the ensuing economic tailspin and FEMA’s failed response during Maria, many Puerto Ricans are not so sure Uncle Sam will come to the rescue.

“It’s like this fog of depression is hitting the island,” Barreto says. “It’s as if people didn’t know what to do because their whole identities were wrapped up in the beneficence of the federal government. … Every day that goes by, both collectively and individually, people start asking, ‘Do I stay, or do I leave?’”

This article originally appeared on [email protected]

Photo by AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo

September 22, 2022

Northeastern student helps launch new sport for people with disabilities in Boston

Dylan Hogan knew nothing of volt hockey one year ago. Last weekend in Sweden, the Northeastern pre-med student found himself coaching an inspired team of players in wheelchairs at the sport’s inaugural World Cup.

“It turned out to be an amazing experience all around,” says Hogan, a fourth-year biology major. “The players all really enjoyed it, and they learned so much from the start of the tournament to the end.”

Volt hockey, a sport new to North America, is played by people with disabilities in specially-designed electric wheelchairs made of wood and fashioned with a paddle at the front end for controlling a ball. Teams of three players each compete to score goals while maneuvering their chairs by joystick at speeds of up to 10 miles per hour.

Hogan was introduced to the sport in a roundabout way last fall while taking an honors course, Contemporary Issues in Health Care, taught by Lorna Hayward, a Northeastern associate professor of physical therapy, movement and rehabilitation sciences. To fulfill the community service obligation of the class, he was assigned to Boston Self Help Center (BSHC), a nonprofit organization run by and for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

Since 2012, the BSHC has been sponsoring the Boston Brakers team in the sport of power wheelchair soccer, in which players with disabilities seek to advance and score a large ball. The success of that venture encouraged Kim Damato, a BSHC board member whose family operates the New England firm Rehabilitation Equipment Associates, to secure $61,000 to acquire a half-dozen volt hockey chairs.

Hogan took charge of the nascent volt hockey program, known as the Boston Whiplash. More than 30 potential players showed interest in trying the sport.

“At the first practice, the players were introduced to how to maneuver the chairs and how to play the game,” Hogan says. “Five of the players that we brought to Sweden first met at that event.”

World Cup organizers in Sweden heard of the interest developing in Boston and invited the Whiplash to compete in the inaugural World Cup Sept. 16-18. Hogan took on the complex challenge of arranging the trip, which impressed Hayward.

“Dylan organized the flights and other travel logistics for a team of seven people with wheelchairs,” says Hayward, who over the years has led more than 215 physical therapy students on international service trips to Ecuador, China and Mexico. “International travel is ordinarily difficult to navigate and currently made more so by COVID precautions. For the volt hockey group, the process was further complicated by additional factors of traveling with gear, wheelchairs used for daily mobility and personal luggage.

“Dylan is both impressive and inspirational in his desire and ability to execute this trip to the World Cup while maintaining a full course load this fall,” Hayward adds. “Dylan is an exemplary student and leader and also demonstrates humility in his efforts.”

Hogan and Amanda Bell, a Northeastern senior in data science and behavioral neuroscience who volunteered to help, traveled with the team by train and van from Boston to Newark for a nonstop flight to Stockholm—26 hours in all. In Gävle, a small coastal city where 22 teams from six countries competed, the lone U.S. entry was welcome with gratitude.

“What struck us was just how supportive everyone was,” Hogan says. “The sport is centralized in Scandinavia—most of the teams are from Norway, Denmark and Sweden—and I think they see our involvement, as well as Canada’s, as potential for huge growth. They know that if it gets to the U.S., it could really blow up.”

The Whiplash went 1-5 in the tournament, highlighted by a 7-1 win over an opponent from Alberta, Canada. Watching the more experienced teams was a revelation, Hogan says.

“We had been just guessing how the game was played,” he says. “But once we saw it being played, it was just so different. We thought passing would be a main part of the game. But the other coaches were telling us that one person might score all the goals, that it’s not uncommon to have a primary ball-handler and the rest of the team is just trying to set up the one player with blocking schemes.

“So our whole strategy shifted and you saw huge improvement.”

Parents told Hogan that they could see the players—ranging in age from 15 to the early 30s—enjoying themselves.

“A couple of our players have been playing power wheelchair soccer for 10-plus years, and they said they were considering switching sports to this new one,” Hogan says. “It shows how much it meant to them and how much they want to pursue it.”

Hayward is hoping the success of the Whiplash program will help lead to the creation of a volt hockey team at Northeastern. She was recently awarded a grant from the university’s Institute for Health, Equity and Social Justice. Hogan is serving as an intern for her project to not only create a team but also measure its impact on the players.

“There are so many benefits of adaptive sports,” says Hayward, referring to sports that are modified to enable participation by people with disabilities. “The grant will allow us to collect some physical metrics—like biometrics, heart rate and blood pressure—to see if it increases with the activity. There’s also the sense of belonging, of feeling connected in a group that is so important for mental health.”

In the meantime, Hogan believes the experience in Sweden will lead to higher goals for the Whiplash.

“We’re going to take a little breather,” he says. “And then in October we’re going to start things up again.”

This article originally appeared on [email protected]

Photo courtesy Dylan Hogan.

September 22, 2022

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