I run the research group on Cognition, Convergence and Language Emergence in the Linguistics department at the University of Michigan. This research group investigates a wide range of cross-linguistic influences in language contact leading to different linguistic outcomes. We study a variety of contact situations, including language emergence involving Pidgins, Creoles & Mixed Languages, as well as Second Language Acquisition, Bilingualism and Multilingualism. One of our objectives is to further our understanding of the underlying principles, processes and mechanisms and social factors that regulate variation in contact outcomes. Using different methodologies (theoretical, experimental and corpus-based), our research group examines a variety of gradient phenomena in speakers’ linguistic behaviors in different contact settings.
Cognition is a key area our group investigates. In the context of language contact, we study cognitive processes and mechanisms which include transfer, code-switching, code-blending, semantic reanalysis, syntactic restructuring, feature recombination and convergence, among others.
Among the cognitive processes listed above, we particularly focus on convergence. We examine the role of similar features in the languages in contact and the variables that regulate their interactions in the contact situation. Our collective work shows that convergence is inextricably linked to divergence (rise of dissimilar features via restructuring, reanalysis) and innovation (novel properties in the newly emerging contact language).
We study three types of convergence:
Isomorphic convergence: When similar/congruent/overlapping features in the languages in contact contribute to the new contact language.
Areal convergence: When distinct languages in situations of intense and long-term contact develop similar features.
Convergence/accommodation: When speakers adapt to each other’s communicative behaviors and develop similar patterns through interactive exchanges (Giles’ Communication Accommodation Theory).
In our research, we show that shared/converging syntax and shared/converging morphology in languages in contact, in addition to cross-linguistic structural priming has deep implications for our understanding of mental representations, specifically the emergence of new representations in contact settings.
We study theories of language emergence pertaining to the genesis of Pidgins, Creoles and Mixed Languages and models of language contact. We use a variety of methodologies to study not only the linguistic properties that emerge in a broad range of contact situations but also the linguistic constraints and social factors that contribute to their emergence.
Team members in this research group focus on cross-linguistic influences between languages in contact and the social and cognitive processes underlying such influences. As a result, our research cuts across several sub-disciplines and core topics in Linguistics including pidginization and second language acquisition (Rawan Bonais), effects of dual language activation in bilinguals (Emily Sabo), gradient acceptability judgments in heritage speakers (Yourdanis Sedarous), contact-induced change in a multilingual population (Ariana Bancu), learning biases in language emergence and change (Danielle Burgess), a pragmatic lens on contact-effects in Creoles (Joy Peltier), transfer outcomes in mixed languages (Wil Gonzales), code-switching and creolization (Sophie Eakins) and comparative analyses of similar constructions across languages (Alicia Stevers). Team members use a range of methodologies in pursuing their research questions, including theoretical, corpus-based, and experimental approaches.
Ariana explores typological similarities and differences among three languages in contact: Transylvanian Saxon, German and Romanian. She studies them in two distinct linguistic ecologies (Romania and Germany) to answer theoretical questions related to factors like speakers’ language dominance influencing contact-induced grammatical transfer. She investigates in each of the two communities whether the dominant language exerts influence on both of the less dominant languages of a speaker, or whether typological factors determine the direction of cross-linguistic influences regardless of language dominance.
Rawan studies an Arabic-lexified pidgin, Gulf Pidgin Arabic (GPA), which emerged about eighty years ago from contact between Gulf locals and South Asian immigrant workers who come from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Rawan studies processes of second language acquisition such as transfer of features from these workers’ L1 (Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam…) onto the development of GPA. She uses model of second language acquisition, the framework of feature selection and competition (Mufwene, 2001; 2008) and the model of Hybrid Grammars (Aboh, 2015) to examine how functional features of the source languages are (re)combined in GPA.
Danielle is interested in understanding how properties of the cognitive system affect language change in various linguistic ecologies, including those which give rise to pidgins and creoles. Her current research uses artificial language learning methodology to explore how biases in language learning and use shape typological tendencies regarding the expression of negation. She is designing experiments to observe how dyadic communication can illustrate communicative pressures and learning biases affecting the linear order of negation. Danielle graduated from Cornell University in 2015 with a B.A. in Linguistics.
Sophie is a first-year graduate student in our department. Her research interests center around language contact primarily with regard to Creole languages. She is currently focused on a synchronic analysis Creole languages spoken in the United States.She studies them using a morpho-phonological, syntactic and sociolinguistic lens. She graduated from Wellesley College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics and French.
Wilkinson (Wil) Gonzales
Wil mainly studies (contact) languages in the Sino-Philippine context, using corpus-based, experimental, sociolinguistic, and variationist approaches in investigating and documenting them. Recently, he has used computational methods to create machine-tagged corpora, to automatically annotate files recorded from natural speech, and to analyze them. He is the founder of The Lannang Archives, an organization that raises awareness of Sino-Philippine (including Lannang) languages and establishes their relevance to greater Philippine society.
Joy’s research centers on the pragmatics of functional and discourse items, particularly in situations involving languages in contact. Her methodologies draw upon insights from work in creolistics, psycholinguistics, corpus linguistics, historical linguistics, and sign language & gesture. Her current research is focused on the locatives and pragmatic markers of Kwéyòl Donmnik, an understudied French-influenced Creole. Her background gives her a strong foundation in Romance languages (specifically Spanish and French), as well as ample experience teaching linguistics and academic writing at the university level.
Emily’s research is on Spanish bilingualism, cognition, and humor and focuses on advancing our understanding of the social and cognitive factors that influence how multilinguals produce and process language. In pursuing these research topics, she draws from a combination of methodologies: sociolinguistic fieldwork, corpus analysis, survey research, artificial language learning experiments and neurolinguistic techniques (electroencephalogram) (she is also a member of the Computational Neurolinguistics Lab). Her current work examines bilingual lexical processing, language attitudes towards Spanish-accented English in the U.S., and grammatical variation in Spanish-Quichua communities of Andean South America.
Yourdanis’ dissertation investigates the extent to which bilingual speakers’ cognitive representations of syntactic structures in their two languages are interconnected. She focuses on heritage bilinguals who speak two typologically distant languages, Egyptian Arabic and American English. Her current research shows that while some structures are shared between these two languages, the results of an acceptability judgement task suggests that speakers’ language dominance affects their sensitivity to partially overlapping structures between their two languages. Her work has implications for linguistic theory, bilingualism, syntax-semantics, Arabic linguistics, experimental psycholinguistics, and (bilingual) language acquisition.
Alicia’s dissertation (completed in 2020) focuses on the said construction (SC), an understudied component in the English determiner system. Her research provides a comprehensive analysis of this construction through syntactic, diachronic, pragmatic, and sociolinguistic accounts of its behavior. She also provides a comparative analysis of the Spanish counterpart of this construction, the Dicho N construction (DNC), showing parallels and divergences in how the constructions behave in these two languages. Her dissertation incorporates several subfields: syntax, historical, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and comparative linguistics.
Yushi’s research interests focus on theoretical linguistics, syntax, and generative grammar. Yushi has co-authored several peer-reviewed publications, and he is currently working on a joint paper with a research group led by Noam Chomsky. One part of Yushi’s PhD research explores foundational aspects of minimalist syntax regarding the structure building operation Merge, syntactic Labeling and rule ordering as a source of linguistic variation. As another part of his dissertation project, Yushi has been working with Marlyse Baptista on functional categories in Creole languages. This research has been published in Languages (2022).
Also visit Dr Savithry Namboodiripad’s lab on Cognition, Contact and Change https://sites.google.com/umich.edu/ccc-lab/home