Monday, October 25, 2010

33rd Second Language Research Forum at UMD

In October, the students from the Second Language Acquisition Program hosted the 33rd Second Language Research Forum, a major annual international conference in the field of SLA. It started with a two-hour presentation by Dr. Colin Phillips, who provided an overview of recent developments in experimental and computational tools for language science, with a focus on special considerations for SLA research. The talk was followed by seven concurrent free tutorial workshops, all filled to capacity:

1. Reaction Time Studies using DMDX (Nan Jiang)
2. E-Prime Workshop for Psycholinguistics in SLA (Annie Tremblay, Sunyoung Lee-Ellis, Anna Lukyanchenko)
3. Eye-Tracking for Language using Eyelink and ASL Remote Eye Trackers (Jared Novick, Susan Teubner-Rhodes, Alan Mishler, Shayne Sloggett)
4. Neurolinguistics using Electroencephalography (EEG) and Magnetoencephalography (MEG) (Colin Phillips, Wing-Yee Chow, Shannon Barrios)
5. New Considerations for Studies of Memory & Language (Brian Dillon, Erika Hussey)
6. Working with Children (Candise Chen, Min Wang)
7. Analysis and Visualization using R (Pedro Alcocer, Ewan Dunbar)

The conference proper started with the opening plenary by Dr. Michael Long (University of Maryland), who presented an embryonic theory of instructed adult SLA. The first day of the conference was celebrated with a free Welcome Reception at Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center, where attendees were treated to a choice of light meals and beverages. The second day of the conference saw a full day of colloquia, papers, posters, a workshop on how to get published in SLA, and another plenary talk on the topic of the L2 ultimate attainment given by Dr. Kenneth Hyltenstam (Stockholm University). In the evening, many SLRF attendees used the opportunity to socialize and network at the dinner reception, complete with a student jazz trio [provided by the UMD School of Music]. The remaining two days of the conference were filled with four colloquia, papers, posters, and two more plenary talks by Dr. William O'Grady (University of Hawaii) on language acquisition without an acquisition device, and Dr. Judith Kroll (Pennsylvania State University) on the consequences of bilingualism for cognition.
Overall, we think SLRF 2010 was a big success. The conference provided a venue for 424 faculty members and graduate students to meet, present their work, exchange and develop their research ideas. It featured 4 plenary talks, 6 colloquia, 2 workshops, 109 papers and 39 posters! Several seasoned SLRFers said this was the best SLRF they had ever attended, due mostly to the high quality of the presentations and the well-executed organization. Much of the success of the conference was due to two factors, generous financial support and a dedicated group of hard-working student organizers and volunteers. The faculty members and the Ph.D. students from the SLA Program would like to express their sincere thanks to those students and volunteers who contributed to the organization of the conference as well as to the conference sponsors: the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (SLLC), The College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), the Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL), the NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) Program, and UMD’s Division of Research.

New Language Science Faculty: Hal Daume III, CS & LING

Hal Daume III is a new Assistant Professor in Computer Science, with a joint appointment in Linguistics. He is primarily interested in the interface between natural language processing, computational linguistics and machine learning.
His work in statistical modeling spans multiple aspects of language processing, including structured prediction, Bayesian methods, domain adaptation, and linguistic typology. Recently, he has been particularly interested in methods that involve processing many (100+) languages simultaneously, using linguistic insights (particularly from typology) to constrain the space of solutions that learning algorithms try to explore. He has latent interests in document summarization, discourse theory and language evolution.

Friday, October 1, 2010

HESP to host CLAN Training Workshop

On October 14, Nan Ratner, Chair of the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, will host a workshop on new methods that allow greatly improved efficiency in transcribing and analyzing audio and video data. The workshop will focus on recently developed enhancements to the CLAN tools offered by CHILDES, the Child Language Data Exchange system (see here for more information: CLAN is a program released by CHILDES used in multimedia data organization and analysis.

Space is limited for the October workshop, due to the already high level of interest that it has generated, but you should feel free to contact Nan Ratner at if you are interested. The workshop will run from 4-6pm on Thursday October 14th in the Hearing & Speech Sciences graduate classroom (Lefrak 0135), and will guide participants through hands-on exercises. As an added bonus, Nan will bring wine and cheese, and additional donations of soda or snacks are welcomed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Amy Weinberg takes position as deputy executive director at CASL

Amy Weinberg, Professor with joint appointments in the Department of Linguistics, the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), and the Department of Computer Science, was named as the new deputy executive director of the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL). Dr. Weinberg played a key role in the founding of CASL in 2003 where she served as Area Director for Technical Use from 2004-2007. She returns to CASL with an even greater wealth of experience in Language Science research, including directing efforts for the Language Cognition and Culture Center as part of her appointment in the UMD Vice President for Research's office since 2007, working as PI on the Human Language Technology Center of Excellence at Johns Hopkins from 2007-2010, and serving as co-PI for our own IGERT program on the Biological and Computational Foundations of Language Diversity since 2008. See also:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sunyoung Lee-Ellis (SLA) awarded $3000 for IGERT poster presentation

At this year’s NSF-IGERT annual meeting (May 24-25, Washington DC) Sunyoung Lee-Ellis (SLA) was awarded $3000 for her poster presentation on "Why bilinguals forget or not forget what their parents told them." The poster was based on joint research studies with Shannon Hoerner (LING) and several language science faculty. The award is meant to support Sunyoung's ongoing research in the US and Korea on the linguistic and perceptual abilities of heritage language speakers.

This year’s IGERT poster competition featured one student representative from each of the roughly 130 currently active IGERT programs, spanning across areas such as ecology, nanoscience, robotics, fuel cell technology, and applied mathematics. In her presentation, Sunyoung highlighted the parts of her research that the general public could relate to and conveyed why her research should be of interest to them.

The IGERT meeting also offered Sunyoung the opportunity present to engineering students the wikis that the UMD-IGERT language science students created to enhance interdisciplinary communication. She also took part in a session on how to present your work in a 60-second 'elevator speech', and learned about emerging opportunities for digital science and science journalism. The exercise was meant to encourage students to engage in sharing research and ideas with scholars of other disciplines.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

6 New faculty hires in language sciences!

In addition to the historic snow storms that filled our winter, we also had an unprecedented number of job talks in different areas of language sciences. The outcome of this is that the University of Maryland made at least 6 new faculty hires in language-related areas! Given that this happened in the midst of a hiring freeze, this is another mark of the university’s strong support for language science. Fuller details of these exciting new hires will follow, but here is a quick summary:

Jordan Boyd-Graber will join the iSchool. Jordan’s research focuses on applying statistical models to natural language applications, with both engineering and cognitive focus. His PhD is from Princeton, and he is currently a postdoc at Maryland with Philip Resnik.

Hal Daume will join the Dept of Computer Science. Hal is an emerging leader in the area of multilingual NLP and machine learning. He has a PhD from USC and is currently on the faculty at the U of Utah.

Naomi Feldman will join the Dept of Linguistics. Naomi is an expert in computational psycholinguistics, and is attracting much attention for her work on modeling the learning of sound systems. She is completing her PhD at Brown U, and will be at Maryland starting in Spring ’11, when she will teach an IGERT-related course on computational modeling in language.

Ellen Lau will join the Dept of Linguistics. Ellen is an expert in the cognitive neuroscience of language, combining MEG, fMRI, ERP, and behavioral measures in her work on lexical and sentence comprehension. She received her PhD from Maryland in 2009 and is currently a postdoc at Tufts U and Harvard Medical School, where she is also investigating schizophrenia and dyslexia.

Elizabeth Redcay will be joining the Dept of Psychology. Liz is an expert in social cognitive neuroscience, with a focus on non-verbal communication, early language acquisition, and autism spectrum disorder. She has a PhD from UC San Diego and is currently a postdoc at MIT.

Bob Slevcwill be joining the Dept of Psychology and CASL. Bob’s will bring much-needed expertise in language production to our community, and his interests also include memory, aphasia, second language acquisition, and language/music relations. Bob has a PhD from UC San Diego and is currently a postdoc at Rice University.

IGERT-sponsored Symposium on learning at ISIC, Baltimore in March

Each year our IGERT program organizes an interdisciplinary symposium at a leading conference in an area related to the language sciences. By bringing researchers with different methodological and theoretical perspectives together, the symposium promotes the project’s vision of sustainable interdisciplinary collaboration in language science to a broader audience. This spring Jeff Lidz and Bill Idsardi led a symposium on Statistical Inference in Infant Language Acquisition at the Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies (ISIC) in Baltimore (March 10-14, 2010). Our own Amanda Woodward (Psychology) and Nathan Fox (Human Development) were program chairs for the entire conference. The unusual feature of this symposium is that it brought cross-linguistic and computational expertise together with infancy research to address fundamental issues in language learning.
Symposium line-up:

1. How to Learn Vowels: Computational Approaches to Language Diversity
William Idsardi, Brian Dillon, Ewan Dunbar (University of Maryland)
2. From Sounds to Words: A Bayesian Approach to Modeling Word Segmentation
Sharon Goldwater (University of Edinburgh)
3. Finding Rules and Words in the Speech Stream at Year 1
Luca Bonatti (University of Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)
4. Statistical Syntactic Inference in Infancy
Jeffrey Lidz (University of Maryland)
5 Discussion
Jenny Saffran (University of Wisconsin)

Date for Everybody’s Diary: IGERT External Advisory Board, May 12-13

Please mark in your diaries that the first annual meeting of the external advisory board for our IGERT program in language science will take place on Weds May 12th (evening – students) and Thurs May 13th (all day – everybody). The aim of this meeting is to synthesize what we have done and what we hope to do, and to gain feedback for us and for the university administration on the program. Broad participation from faculty and students in the advisory board visit is important. More details of the schedule for the visit will follow shortly.

The external advisory board consists of 5 distinguished figures from different areas of the language sciences: Susan Gass (Mich State, SLA), Greg Hickok (UC Irvine, Cogn Neurosci), Mitch Marcus (UPenn, Comp Ling), Masha Polinsky (Harvard, theoretical linguistics), and Mabel Rice (Kansas, atypical language development).

Faculty highlight: Alexander Williams

Alexander Williams is a new Assistant Professor in the Departments of Linguistics and Philosophy. His research is mainly in verbal semantics and its relation to clausal syntax. His aim is to develop a theory of semantic composition in natural languages, and correspondingly a theory of semantic values for verbs, and his research has a strong cross-linguistic focus, in particular languages of the isolating type, including a number of different languages of China and Mongolia. Presently, Alexander is developing experiments that probe the semantic expectations of toddlers, in collaboration with Jeffrey Lidz. What relations between what a verb means and where it occurs does the infant acquiring language expect to find, if any? For example, are toddlers who hear a transitive verb X in "he X'ed it flat" predisposed to conclude that the referent of "it" gets "X'ed" (as English requires, but Igbo does not)? Alexander’s current courses include a graduate course in pragmatics, jointly with Valentine Hacquard.

Major SLA Conference at Maryland in October 14-17, 2010

University of Maryland, October 14-17

In concert with the theme Reconsidering SLA Research: Dimensions and Directions, SLRF 2010 will focus on the wide range of applied, theoretical, and experimental approaches that characterizes the current field of Second Language Acquisition. The aim of the conference is to bring together relevant theories and research methodology from various disciplines that deepen our understanding of SLA and its application to real world needs. To this end, we are soliciting colloquia, papers, and posters that investigate SLA from a variety of perspectives that add to our collective understanding of SLA in theory, research, and practice.

The plenary speakers are:

Dr. Kenneth Hyltenstam, Stockholm University
Near-native second language ultimate attainment – why not nativelike?

Dr. Judith Kroll, Pennsylvania State University
Bilinguals and second language learners: Juggling two languages in one mind and brain

Dr. Michael Long, University of Maryland
Towards a theory of instructed adult SLA

Dr. William O'Grady, University of Hawai'i
Language acquisition without an acquisition device

For more information about the conference please visit:

The IGERT program is financially supporting this conference.

IGERT supports remodeling of SLA computer lab

The IGERT program has contributed $8000 to improve a computer lab to be used for second language processing. The SLA lab is located on the basement floor of Jimenez Hall. It was renovated and expanded in the Spring and Fall of 2009 to accommodate the need of an increasing number of SLA students working on second language processing projects.

The space of the lab was doubled by including the storage room adjacent to the originally much smaller lab. The lab now consists of three enclosed testing areas, including a sound-proof booth, a waiting/meeting area, and a work area. There are four computers (two PCs and two Macs) in the three testing rooms for data collection purposes, and a computer in the work area for word processing and data analysis. All computers are connected to the Internet. There is also a printer, a couple of tables, a couple file cabinets, and plenty of chairs in the lab. E-Prime and DMDX are installed on the testing computers.

Several SLA faculty members and students use the lab on a regular basis. IGERT students interested in doing so are welcome. They should contact Nan Jiang or Kira Gor for potential times and reservations.

Student highlights: Dave Kush, research trip to Sweden

Dave Kush is a 2nd year graduate student in the Dept of Linguistics. Dave spent March at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden conducting experiments on syntactic constraints in Swedish, in collaboration with Prof. Elisabet Engdahl and Filippa Lindahl. Dave’s project is supported by Maryland’s NSF-IGERT program and by an NSF grant awarded to Norbert Hornstein, Howard Lasnik and Juan Uriagereka.

Dave’s motivation for going to Sweden was not the cool air or dark evenings. He wanted to understand a puzzle that has been troubling linguists for almost 30 years. Most languages have constructions that allow words and phrases to be displaced indefinitely far from their thematic position, e.g., “Who did the website say that the department sent __ to Sweden?”. But there are many constraints on these displacements, such as a ban on displacement out of relative clauses. For example, English speakers find the following example horrible: *How much pizza did you meet a man who ate __? Linguists refer to such constraints as “island constraints”, based on the notion that these are environments that one cannot escape from. Yet Swedish speakers are reported to be rather accepting of displacements from relative clauses, a fact that undermines universalist theories of language variation and language acquisition (and it is not currently well understood in any theory). Dave’s studies in Sweden built upon preliminary findings from his work at Maryland, which showed a number of restrictions on Swedes’ liberal acceptance of island violations, and suggested to him that what appears to be a cross-linguistic anomaly may in fact be a case of surface structure ambiguity. Look out for an upcoming IGERT Lunch talk for results from Dave’s work.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ph.D. Workshop on Dissertation Proposals

Subject : Ph.D. Workshop on Dissertation Proposals
When : Friday, March 05, 2010 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Where : Skinner : 0200 Lecture Hall
Event Type(s) : Lecture,Meeting,Seminar

This workshop will cover the essential parts of a well-constructed proposal as well as address some issues of language and organization for the different sections.
Presenter: Christine Feak


For more information, contact:
Lenisa Nicole Joseph
+1 301 405 4180

Friday, January 29, 2010

Language Science Faculty Recruitment

The Dept of Linguistics is currently holding two faculty searches, both of which are directly related to the goals of the IGERT program and to the language science community more generally.

The first position is in Computational Psycholinguistics, a position that Dean Harris of ARHU committed to support if our IGERT proposal was successful. The position will focus on computational models of human linguistic processes (as distinct from computational models that address engineering problems). This represents an important growth area currently, and the new appointment will serve the strong demand for training in computational modeling among students from multiple departments.

The second position is in Cognitive Neuroscience of Language. The person hired will be an expert in linking psychological and neuroscientific models of language, and will add to our community's existing strengths in cognitive neuroscience of language. Resources in this area are set to become even stronger when the new Maryland Neuroimaging Center opens in 2010-2011 (more details on this to follow in a future news email).

All 6 finalists for these positions will be visiting the university for 2 days, and will be able to meet with people in multiple departments. Visits will last from the end of January until the beginning of March. Contact: Bill Idsardi,

New Language Science Faculty: Meredith Rowe, EDHD

Meredith Rowe joined the faculty of Human Development at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2009. Her training is in developmental psychology and human development with a focus on cognitive development during early childhood. Her work is centered on understanding individual differences in children’s language development, particularly vocabulary development during this period. Specific issues she investigates include: 1) the relation between gesture and language learning, 2) the role of linguistic input in child language development (for typical and atypical populations), and 3) the complex relations between socioeconomic status, parental beliefs, parental communication with children, and children’s language and early literacy skills. Meredith Rowe is also very interested in research methods related to measuring child language development and longitudinal research methods in general.

Jeff Lidz talks to 150 students at Northwood High School

On Dec 18th, 2009, Jeff Lidz visited Northwood High School in Silver Spring as part of IGERT's outreach activities. Jeff gave a lecture to 150 students from the AP-Psychology and AP-French classes about the nature of human language and how children acquire language. The lecture included examples of research conducted at Maryland as part of the CNL Laboratory's Project on Children's Language Learning. The lecture was followed by a discussion period in which students related the lecture to things they were learning in their class work.

Our outreach activities with Northwood HS will continue this spring when the AP-Psychology students will again visit the University of Maryland campus to learn about the cognitive science of language through a series of graduate-student run workshops which will give students the opportunity to engage in scientific reasoning about language and to experience first-hand the research techniques used in studying human language. A cross-departmental team of graduate students organized a similar event last year that was a real hit for the high schoolers.

If you'd like to be involved in these continuing outreach activities, please contact Csilla Kajtar ( and Jeff Lidz (

So-One Hwang’s Project in Collaboration with Gallaudet University

So-One Hwang is currently in her 4th year as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Linguistics at UMD. She is collaborating with Dr. Gaurav Mathur and Ph.D. student Clifton Langdon at Gallaudet University to conduct experiments on the perception of American Sign Language. This project is co-sponsored by Maryland’s NSF-IGERT program and Gallaudett’s NSF Science of Learning Center on visual language.

Some provocative recent findings in spoken language perception suggest that precise temporal order of speech sounds is not so important. Speech remains surprisingly intelligible even when successive chunks of the speech sound are reversed (Saberi & Perrott, 1999, Nature). So-One and her colleagues are exploring a sign-language version of the same approach by taking videos of signers and time-reversing chunks of increasing duration. The linguistic units of ASL tend to be longer than their speech counterparts, and the team is investigating whether order-insensitivity is correspondingly extended for sign language perception.

Winter Storm, in Summary

Around fifty students and faculty participated in the 2010 Winter Storm organized and run by the students of the language science IGERT program at UMd The series of short lectures, group meetings, and social activities - all designed to encourage networking among students - started on January 10 with a statistics class for R and ended on January 22 with the “I-95 Summit on Learning Sound Systems,” which brought together researchers from Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Delaware, and Penn.

The Winter Storm planning committee - composed of students from Psychology, Computer Science, Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, and Hearing and Speech - aimed to design activities that are accessible to a diverse audience. For example, the daily Lunch Talks introduced themes and people working in various language science areas ranging from computational linguistics to the neuropsychology of language. A very well attended session was Jon Sprouse’s discussion of the challenges in finding a job and succeeding in an interdisciplinary field. Jon is a recent graduate of the Linguistics Department at UMd and he is currently an Assistant Professor in the Cognitive Science Department at UC Irvine. Small teams of students met each afternoon of Winter Storm to plan novel interdisciplinary research projects. For example, “Team Ferret” brought together students from biology, computer science, and linguistics to work on using machine learning techniques to identify signatures of speech sound processing in neural recordings from ferret auditory cortex.

For details of this past Winter Storm see the Winter Wiki at or the photo album at

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Update: Winter Storm Schedule

The schedule for this year’s Winter Storm can be found at the following web address:

Please visit the page again in the following days as details regarding the locations will be gradually filled in.

Csilla Kajtar
IGERT Program Coordinator