From language enthusiast to UCLA linguistics PhD student

by Tom Trigg (University of California)

When I applied for my undergraduate studies, I was sure that linguistics would take secondary place to French, having originally applied for a joint honours French & Linguistics degree. However, two months before I enrolled at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), I made the somewhat crazy decision to switch to a single honours BA in Linguistics, which turned out to be the best decision. I ended up falling in love with the subject and deciding to continue my studies through to postgraduate level. My time during my undergraduate studies solidified a profound interest in the underlying facets of language structure, and culminated in an undergraduate thesis investigating case variation in Finnish. During my second year, I was determined that pursuing further education in linguistics was absolutely what I wanted to do, so I decided to apply to QMUL once again for an MA in linguistics.

It goes without saying that my MA would have been financially impossible without the PhilSoc’s Master’s Bursary. It ensured I could dedicate all my time to my MA. Graduating in December 2019, I was able to explore many more aspects of linguistics during my postgraduate studies. This included a joint project investigating the nature of so-called pluralia tantum (nouns which only have a singular form: “trousers”, “groceries” etc.). Our work, which is still ongoing, was presented at the Linguistics and English Language Postgraduate Conference (LELPGC) at the University of Edinburgh, and at the general meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB) at QMUL. I was also able to participate in the London Semantics Day (LSD) at QMUL, presenting some preliminary work which made up part of my MA thesis. My thesis was ultimately focused on investigating the nature of Finnish reflexives. I investigated and analysed Finnish anaphors (words like “himself”) and logophors (pronouns which may only refer back to an attitude holder/speaker). Given the breadth of this topic, it is an area which I very much hope to return to. Throughout my MA studies, I realised that taking part in serious research was what I wanted to do with my career. I likewise found a passion for research which relies on cross-linguistic comparison and elicitation with native speakers.

Knowing that my research interests lie firmly within the realm of formal linguistics, particularly syntax and semantics, and their interface, I applied to a number of doctoral programs in both the US and UK. I was lucky to be offered a place on the linguistics graduate program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which I started in September 2019. I’ve since had the opportunity to undertake a number of other projects, including: (i) investigating Finnish wh-movement (which forms wh-questions like “who did you see?”); and (ii) probing the syntax/semantics of British English so-called fuck-inversion (constructions like “Is John a nice guy?” “Is he fuck!”. Sailor, Craig. 2017. ‘Negative inversion without negation: On fuck-inversion in British English.’ In Cambridge Occasional Papers in Linguistics (COPiL) 10: 88-110.). Needless to say, my ability to pursue my education at Master’s level was aided, in no small part, by the Master’s Bursary. Without this, it would be unlikely that I would have been able to continue my studies in a doctoral program. So for that, I am incredibly grateful to PhilSoc for allowing me to pursue my passion.

Trilingual families in bilingual capital cities

by Kaisa Pankakoski (Cardiff University)

Open borders, superdiversity and globalisation have enabled the formation of a large amount of families where children are potentially multilingual and may have more than one native language. The parents of multilingual children have different strategies, methods and principles in place to promote intergenerational language transmission or passing a non-native language to their offspring.

What principles and other factors influence bringing up a trilingual child? How do the potentially multilingual children feel about their complex language repertoires? Is there a link between a certain method and the children’s attitudes towards their languages?

CardiffandHelsinkiIn my thesis I investigate trilingual families; the factors influencing language transmission; and the perspectives of the multilingual children in my two home cities: Helsinki and Cardiff. The reason why these two capital cities are compared is that they have very different approaches to bilingual education and heritage language promotion while having several similarities from a visible minority language population to substantial support from the governments for the minority languages. The two countries are also officially bilingual, which offers a different foundation for trilingual language transmission than for instance monolingual countries.

Previous research
There are various aspects influencing the transmission of minority languages in the home. These consist of linguistic environment factors such as families’ language strategies and methods of transmission; sociocultural factors including parental and societal attitudes, the roles of the languages or parental and societal support; and finally familial factors that may involve siblings, extended family and possible family mobility.

The most recent research strand of multilingualism, Family Language Policy (FLP), looks at the importance of parental strategies which are fluid and may change over time. Much like any multilingualism research most of FLP and language transmission research is based on bilingual context rather than multilingual context.

Previous work has not looked at trilingual children’s perceptions or the link between perceptions and language strategies. Furthermore, most multilingualism studies fall into the category of linguistics and language acquisition rather than sociolinguistics. There is no transmission research in contexts with a community majority and minority language.

Funding from PhilSoc to carry out fieldwork in Helsinki
IMG_9916From April 2017 until August 2017 I was based in Finland at the University of Helsinki, Department of Modern Languages. This enabled me to interview seven multilingual case study families living in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. The families were settled in the country and each had at least one trilingual primary school aged child speaking two official languages of the country (Swedish and Finnish) and one or more additional language(s).

The methodological approach draws from qualitative, mixed-methods approach to data collection and analysis. First the parents filled in an online questionnaire to clarify the family’s language pattern. Then semi-structured interviews and observations within the family homes explored issues that affect language acquisition within families. Both parents and children aged five to twelve were interviewed.

I spent three to six hours with each family in their homes. The data collected includes fourteen filled in questionnaires, fifteen hours of audio recorded interviews, seven hours of recorded audio and/or video observation as well as photographs and notes of each family participating in the research.

IMG_1084This winter possible extended family members will be sent an online questionnaire which will hopefully reveal their perspectives. After completing the fieldwork in Helsinki I will carry out the interviews and observations in Cardiff.

The PhilSoc Travel and Fieldwork bursary covered a part of the expenses of the fieldwork allowing me to take time off work while I concentrated full-time on my PhD research.

 

More information about the research
There is a news item on the Cardiff University website as well as a Welsh-language BBC article about my research and fieldwork in Helsinki. For more information about my research questions and methods, see my Cardiff University page.


Read more
Braun, A., 2006. The effect of sociocultural and linguistic factors on the language use of parents in trilingual families in England and Germany.
Bryman, A., 2015. Social research methods. Oxford university press.
Murrell, M. 1966. Language acquisition in a trilingual environment: notes from a case-study. Studia linguistica 20(1), pp. 9-34.
Ronjat, J., 1913. Le développement du langage observé chez un enfant bilingue.
Sṭavans, A. and Hoffman, C. 2015. Multilingualism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Yamamoto, M. 2001. Language use in interlingual families: A Japanese-English sociolinguistic study. Multilingual Matters.