Hello from PhD student Mohammed Dagamseh

Mohammed Dagamseh has been studying for a PhD in the Department of Linguistics, under the supervision of Dr Kevin Watson and Associate Professor Jeanette King, for a few months now. In this guest post, he introduces himself and his interesting research.


Hi, I am Mohammed Dagamseh, originally from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, from Irbid city. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English for Specific Purposes. A few years later, I obtained a Master’s degree in English for Applied Sciences from Jordan University of Science and Technology. I worked as a teacher of English in Jordan, then as an English training consultant in Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, and after that as a university professor of English Language at Umm Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia in Macca. I have also had other roles, such as a Sales Supervisor in Canada.

I am now studying for a PhD at the University of Canterbury, in the Department of Linguistics. The main reasons that I choose UC for my PhD study are its outstanding reputation in the field of research and its international orientation. Everything looks exciting and new, and people are lovely and friendly. Moreover, in my opinion, New Zealand is the right place to choose to complete your study, to live, and to have three full exciting years.

At the University of Canterbury my research will focus on language variation among the Jordanian Arabs of Christchurch. I will be investigating language use in different contexts, the attitudes of the speakers towards their native language (Arabic), and the speakers’ production of the majority language (English). As such, the project will combine work on language maintenance and shift with work on language variation and change, using a quantitative methodology.

So here I am as a PhD student in this ideal place in Christchurch. Accompanying me on this adventure is my wife Maha Alsheyab, an amazing wife with my two children Ahmad, who is 5 years old and Lara, who is 4 years old. When  not working in linguistics, I like playing soccer, going sightseeing and cycling with my family and watching movies.

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Update from Mineko Shirakawa, PhD student in Linguistics at UC

Early on in my postgraduate research career, I looked at the acquisition of syntax and morphology in Japanese-English bilingual children in Christchurch. In my PhD study, I have decided to investigate the acquisition of syntax and morphology in Japanese-Brazilian Portuguese bilingual children living in Japan. There are approximately 200,000 Brazilians in Japan. They have the following characteristics: (i) they are the descendants of Japanese migrants to Brazil, which means they are ethnically Japanese, (ii) they immigrated to Japan from Brazil for economic reasons, (iii) most of them are factory workers, and they form a community in Japan where they can live without the Japanese language, (iv) although many plan to return to Brazil once they have saved enough money, they tend to end up staying in Japan, (v) consequently, Brazilian parents would like their children to learn Japanese for their future career, so they send them to Japanese medium local schools, but many Brazilian children seem to struggle to catch up with Japanese monolinguals.

I am investigating the impact of three factors on simultaneous bilingual acquisition in Japanese-Brazilian Portuguese bilingual children: parental attitudes towards bilingualism, quantity and quality of linguistic input, and cross-linguistic influences. I am trying to identify whether there are any differences between monolingual and bilingual children in terms of the acquisition of morphological case marking. My study uses four methods of data collection: a questionnaire, recording spontaneous language samples, structured interviews, and structured data elicitation tasks.

I have been accepted as a visiting researcher at Kwansei Gakuin University, under the supervision of Professor Yamamoto, for one year from April 2015. Kwansei Gakuin University, which was founded in 1889 in Kobe, Japan, is one of the most prestigious private institutes in Japan. Professor Yamamoto is a specialist of bilingualism in the graduate school of language, communication and culture. She has been studying simultaneous bilingual development from sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic perspectives. It is an honour to be given such a rare opportunity. I am going to use my time at Kwansei Gakuin University to collect the data for my PhD research. I hope to report on the progress of my project occasionally.

Mineko Shirakawa,
PhD Candidate
Department of Linguistics, University of Canterbury.

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Fakaalofa lahi atu! Heidi Quinn blogs about Niuean in Niuean language week

Fakaalofa lahi atu! 12-19 October 2014 is Vagahau Niue (= Niuean language) week, and this year, the Niuean community also celebrates the 40th anniversary of Niue Constitution Day.

In 2012, the Niuean language was the focus of the LING407 Field Methods honours class taught by Dr Heidi Quinn and Dr Vica Papp, with special input on semantic fieldwork from Professor Lisa Matthewson (University of British Columbia), who was visiting the UC Linguistics Department on an Erskine Fellowship.

Our Niuean language consultant Lynsey Talagi grew up on Niue and now works as a scholarships advisor at UC. Lynsey’s work with us was funded by a Pacific Language Consultant Award set up by the College of Arts in 2009 to support research on Pacific languages in LING407 and strengthen links between the university and local Pacific communities. Lynsey is pictured here with Professor Diane Massam (University of Toronto), who is an expert on Niuean sentence structure and visited our department in January 2013 to discuss Niuean data with Lynsey and provide advice to postgraduate students.

NiueanPicnic1It is an important part of linguistic fieldwork to give something back to the community, so once everybody has finished their LING407 research projects, we always try to set up a meeting with the community, where we share food and our findings. The 2012 Field Methods class presented their honours projects to the Christchurch Niuean community at a picnic on 29 January 2013.

2012 projects

MarkIMG_0143“I talked about the sounds that are used to make words in Niuean. I used a diagram of the mouth to show how different sounds are made by putting the tongue in different places. I compared some interesting sound patterns in Niuean today to some similar patterns from 100 years ago. I enjoyed thinking about how to explain my findings in an easy-to-understand way, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to share what I’ve learnt with the community.” – Mark Darbyshire

YukiIMG_0132“I presented about vowel epenthesis in Niuean. Vowel epenthesis is a sound process which often occurs when adopting a word from another language. E.g. ‘ice’ becomes ‘aisa’ in Niuean with ‘a’ insertion at the end of the word since Niuean does not allow a sound structure like English. I have studied which vowels are more or less likely to be inserted in which environment. The result showed that most epenthetic vowels are copied from neighbouring vowels, but /u/ and /o/ were hardly inserted. Other epenthetic vowels showed similar tongue position to the neighbouring consonants.” – Yuki Sawada (pictured with Vica Papp)

Alia Hope-Wilson’s project looked at ways in which Niuean speakers talk about events that involve one participant (1), two participants (2), and three participants (3).

NiueanPicnic2(1) Ne lologo e tagata taane
‘The man sang’

(2) Ne moto e ia e kaupā
‘He punched the wall’

(3) Ne fagai talo e tagata taane ke he kuli
‘The man fed the taro to the dog’

“FMikeIMG_0137or my field methods assignment I chose to look at the modal system in Niuean. Obviously I wasn’t able to cover all the different parts of the system, but during my elicitation I found some interesting data for expressing obligation and permission as well as some interesting findings for situations of probability. For example, the word liga – ‘likely’ is used to mean ‘might’ as well as ‘probably’ depending on the context, which was interesting, but also very confusing early on in the elicitation.” – Mike Peek

KirstyIMG_0128 “My research involved applying the finer structures proposed for noun and prepositional phrases to Niuean case marking and adposition systems. These structures include projections for Path, Place and Axial Part, categories which are attested in English. For example, in the prepositional phrase below, ‘from’ is Path, ‘on’ is Place, and ‘top’ is Axial Part (prepositional particles derived from nouns originally but which no longer behave as nouns):

‘from on top of the house’

The Niuean data supports proposals for these categories, not only for containing Paths, Places and Axial Parts, but also for maintaining the hierarchical order proposed:

‘mai   i         luga he       fale’
from  LOC  top  LOC  house

Here the first form of the locative ‘i’ corresponds to the Place projection ‘on’ in English. From this example and many others, it appeared that the Niuean data fitted these proposals very nicely!” – Kirsty Thompson

KuaTeiLynsey and Heidi discussed their ongoing collaborative research with Lisa Matthewson on the Niuean markers kua and tei, which share some properties with the English perfect (4), but can also be used in contexts such as (5).

(4) Kua oti tei e vahega
‘The class has finished.’

(5) Kua teitei mate tei au
‘I’m nearly dying.’

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Update from Matthias Heyne on his PhD, ‘Influence of First Language on Playing Brass Instruments’

Hi everyone,

It’s now been a little less than a year since I began my PhD at Canterbury and I’ve had a great time so far. My research on the Influence of First Language on Playing Brass Instruments has led me to acquire skills I never thought I would need for a PhD in Linguistics but the challenges along the way have certainly made me a better student! Many thanks to everyone in the UC Linguistics Department and at the NZILBB who’ve supported me and made my studies interesting and enjoyable – especially my supervisors Jen Hay and Donald Derrick!

I’m currently spending a bit of time at home in Germany (great to write a blog article like this!) and I’m also making most of the trip by collecting data of some German trombonists to determine whether it make sense to include German in my PhD study. I recorded two German participants at the University of Trier last week and will hopefully return there to record two more before flying back to Christchurch in a few weeks. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of some wonderful people in the Trier phonetics department – check out their website: http://www.uni-trier.de/index.php?id=1229.

In terms of progress, I currently have speech and trombone-playing data of 9 participants Matthias_Heyne_ultrasound_researchwith 5 different languages/varieties of English of which I’ve analyzed 4 datasets. Unfortunately, analyzing ultrasound data is very time-consuming so it’s been quite important to focus my efforts on a limited number of languages although finding participants in NZ has been easier than anticipated (and I’ve made many friends in the brass community)! As for my findings, I’ve got some cool initial evidence suggesting that different vowel systems seem to constrain the tongue shapes trombone players can use when playing their instruments; this is, however, based on only two individuals for now so hopefully I’ll be able to quantify these findings with more data. One of the individuals who provided the above mentioned evidence is a speaker of Tongan whose vowel system is very different from (New Zealand) English so the plan is to travel there before the end of the year to record more Tongan trombone players.

(You can find my post from last year here: https://uclinguistics.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/matthias/)


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2013 blog in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Welcome to new PhD student Xuan Wang

We are very pleased to welcome Xuan Wang to the Department of Linguistics, to study for a PhD under the supervision of Dr Kevin Watson. In this guest post, Xuan introduces herself. Welcome to Christchurch, and UC!

blog-photo-xuanHi, I’m Wang Xuan from Inner Mongolia, China. I arrived at Christchurch last week and have just started to work with Dr. Kevin Watson on sociophonetics. Everything here is new and fresh to me, and I am ready for an adventurous journey in the coming three years.

Before coming to UC, I spent almost eight years in Beijing, a fantastic city perfectly combining modern and traditional elements. During these years, I’ve been studying English and Linguistics, and received my bachelor and master degrees both at Beijing Language and Culture University. With its nick name “little United Nations”, my former university has a large number of international students coming from all over the world, which provided me plenty of opportunities to know different cultures and prepare myself for studying abroad.

During the past academic years, my research area was phonetics and phonology, focusing on Chinese communities speaking English as a second language, with a special interest in the pronunciation variations of speakers with different dialectal and social backgrounds. Last year, I took part in a workshop on experimental phonetics organized by Nankai University. There, I was not only attracted by the interesting phonetic features in Chinese dialects, but also deeply impressed by those linguists who dedicated their time and efforts on field work in rural areas. So I decided to further my study in phonetics and do my PhD research on the sociophonetic aspects of my hometown dialect. Hopefully, I can also make my own contribution to the preservation and record of dialects.

I believe that it is one of my best decisions to travel to the other side of the globe to study at UC. The academic strengths and faculty expertise of the department enable me to learn the best practice in theories and methodologies of sociophonetics, while the international orientation of the university gives me a world wide vision.

Luckily, I am not here alone, but accompanied by my husband Weixing. We are enjoying the great lifestyle here in New Zealand with fresh air, beautiful scenery, cute neighborhood… And we are ready to explore more!

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Lynn Clark research funding success!

IMG_7036Congratulations to Dr Lynn Clark, who has been awarded a Marsden grant for a three year research project called “Recency effects in spoken New Zealand English”. The Marsden fund is very competitive – this year a total of 1157 proposals were submitted from across the whole of New Zealand, and just 109 projects were ultimately funded. Well done Lynn!

Here is the official summary from the Marsden proposal:

“When we talk, we have a strong tendency to repeat the same grammatical structures that we have recently produced or heard. This phenomenon is known as ‘recency’, ‘persistence’, ‘repetition’ and ‘priming’, and it shows that where variation exists in language, an alternative form, once used, persists in working memory and has a greater chance of reuse next time. This finding is very important because it tells us more about the cognitive processes operating on language. It also sheds light on aspects of how languages vary and change. However, most previous research in this area has focused only on grammatical variation. This project examines the role of recency in pronunciation. I explore accent variation in two large spoken collections of New Zealand English – one of monologues and one of conversations. Specifically, I ask: can recency effects help explain patterns of pronunciation variation and change in speech? This work will shed light on the nature of speech production, sound change, and speech in interaction.”

And here, Lynn elaborates a bit…

“Basically, we know that when speakers talk to each other they talk alike, but most of the research on this comes from studies that have been done in an unnatural, experimental setting, and they’ve looked at how we change our sentence structures to be more similar to the sentence structures used by the person we are talking to.  However, we know very little about how this actually works in real speech (i.e. not in the lab), or whether/how this happens at the accent or pronunciation level of language (rather than the grammatical level).   Finally, we still don’t know much about the cognitive mechanisms underlying this – is this repetition a mechanistic process or is it influenced by what we talk about or who we talk to?  One of the novelties of this research is I’ll be using the  new UC QuakeStories database to answer some of my research questions.  The UC QuakeStories database is a collection of 723 earthquake stories from people who lived through the devastating earthquakes which struck Canterbury in 2010-11. This collection is uniquely suited to this research because it is a collection of spoken monologues so we can establish the extent of within-speaker priming.  To explore priming in conversation, I’ll be using samples of speech from the ONZE Corpus (the Origins of New Zealand English corpus) which is a collection of 1,129 hours of recorded speech from speakers born in New Zealand between 1850s-1980s.”

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