Department Research Projects

Current Research Projects

The Montclair State Linguistics Department faculty are all actively engaged in research. Most of the research projects also provide valuable opportunities for hands-on work in applied linguistics. If you are interested in internship opportunities, please read the descriptions of the research projects and contact the relevant faculty member.

The specific projects include:

Sign Language Linguistics and L2 Sign Language Acquisition Unlike speech, sign languages are human languages that are produced with the hands and body and perceived with the eyes. Signed and spoken languages have many linguistic properties in common, but they also exhibit some interesting linguistic differences. This project explores the linguistic structures of signed languages using experimental methods and traditional language fieldwork. It also examines how hearing people learn sign languages as second languages. Contact: Natasha Abner (

Communication With and Without Speech When we speak, we communicate more than just what is said by our spoken words. We also communicate information with our gesture. Gesture is the spontaneous movement of the hands and body that accompanies language, like pointing at something when we say, “Give me that.” This project explores the kinds of information communicated by gesture, the structural properties of gesture itself, and how our gesture interacts with our speech when we communicate. Contact: Natasha Abner (

Contrastive Academic Cultures   A contrastive examination of differences that may exist in academic cultures. Data are collected during interviews with international students and with Montclair State professors and analyzed with the goal of creating materials that will help international students integrate more smoothly into Montclair's academic community. Contact: Mary Call (

Sentence processing   We are conducting on-line sentence processing experiments to investigate the role of various properties of verbs on sentence comprehension. We are particularly interested in the roles of transitivity and telicity, and our experiments are intended to determine the point in the comprehension of a sentence at which verb properties come into play -- whether at the moment that the verb is encountered or at a later point when a syntactic or semantic structure is assigned to a phrase or sentence. The broader significance of this research is that it attempts to determine which properties of sentences are based on the lexical characteristics of individual words, and which are the result of a higher level of syntactic and semantic processing.  Contact: Mary Call (                                                                                            

Automatic Idiom Recognition   The main goal of this research project is to develop a language independent method for automatic idiom recognition. Idiomatic phrases such as “hit the sack,” “eat my hat,”“blow my top” or “go cold turkey” are confusing for computers – and for language learners – to translate because they can often be taken literally, as well as figuratively. To address these challenges, an algorithm is proposed that neither relies on target idiom types, lexicons, or large manually annotated corpora, nor limits the search space by a particular type of linguistic construction. Joint work with Jing Peng (Computer Science). Contact: Anna Feldman ( Funded.                                                                                                                                 

 Deception detection  Development of a novel approach for the application of natural language processing and prosodic analysis to the recognition of deceptive statements. Joint work with Deception Detection TechnologiesFundedContact: Eileen Fitzpatrick (

Prosody on the web and in the lab   Prosody (e.g. intonation, stress, rhythm) includes all the aspects of spoken communication beyond the individual sound segments. We study the way that speakers of English (and eventually other languages) use prosody to create meaning. We collect data by conducting speaking and listening experiments in the lab and by harvesting audio and transcribed data from podcasts, news broadcasts, public and educational lectures and other sources.  And we train classifiers on the data to automatically detect prosodic phenomena in new speech. Contact: Jonathan Howell (

Compiling a Corpus of Code-Switched SMS Text Messages in Multiple Languages for Investigating Linguistic Form and Pragmatic Functions     Text messaging practices have been studied primarily from a sociolinguistic or discourse analytic perspective but there are studies that focus on syntactic and morphological aspects of text messages as well as pragmatic functions. However, there are very few studies that have investigated code-switching, or language alternation, in SMS (text messages) or computer-mediated communication (CMC).  This research project builds upon previous studies conducted on code-switching as a global phenomenon in computer mediated communication, but seeks to go further by compiling a corpus of approximately 60,000 code-switched text messages and Facebook chats for the purpose of investigating the form and functions of code-switching in this mode of digital discourse. Contact: Susana Sotillo (

The Bilingual Mental Lexicon in Interlanguage Development The research places interlanguage in the domain of language contact. Interlanguage is understood as a composite developing system, and the bilingual mental lexicon contains lemmas resulting from an abstract level in language contact. It is assumed that entries in the bilingual mental lexicon (i.e., lemmas) are composed of three levels of abstract structure: lexical-conceptual structure, predicate- argument, and morphological realization patterns, and these levels in any one lemma (originating with the L1 or any target L2s or even lemmas from other languages) can be split and recombined with levels from another source. Language transfer in second language learning and interlanguage transfer in third language learning are regarded as lemma transfer. The language data for this research project are collected from second and third language learners’ interlanguage production, including both oral and written production. Contact: Longxing Wei (

Intrasentential Codeswitching This research investigates a commonly observed bilingual behavior in so-called ‘mixed’ speech production. Bilinguals may switch to another language within sentence boundaries, that is, morphemes from another language are switched into sentences (i.e., intrasentential codeswitching (ICS)). It is assumed that two languages involved in ICS are not equally activated, with the Matrix Language (i.e., the ‘main’ or ‘host’ language the bilingual is using at the moment of speaking) providing the sentential frame into which morphemes from the Embedded Language (i.e., the ‘guest’ language activated at a certain point of speech production) are switched. It is also assumed that there is a distinction between ‘content’ (lexical) and ‘system’ (functional) morphemes. In ICS, only content morphemes can be switched into the sentential frame provided by the Matrix Language. This research regards ICS as a language contact phenomenon and tests the Bilingual Lemma Activation Model (Wei, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006) in ICS studies. The data for the research are collected from bilingual natural speech production. Contact: Longxing Wei (


Past Research

Arabic-English medical lexicon
Construction of an Arabic-English medical lexicon for use in a machine translation system. The project has developed an ontology of terms necessary for doctor-patient interaction and is providing several thousand terms in both languages for MT. (Eileen Fitzpatrick). Funded.

Corpus use in language arts teaching   Examination of the use of language corpora in the teaching of English grammar. Contact: Susana Sotillo (

  The project collects English text written by English as a Second Language (ESL) students. It stores the text online, collects data on the student writers that is relevant to their second language skills, annotates the text to permit retrieval of usage information and analysis of errors. Contact: Eileen Fitzpatrick (

Gender studies terminology   The term gender is increasingly replacing the word sex in public discourse (and in the media); in theory this is not the case in sociolinguistics and language and gender research but a preliminary analysis suggests that in practice, a similar phenomenon is occurring. This project involves a thorough investigation of the use of these terms. (Alice Freed).

Speech segmentation  Phonetic segmentation of speech and annotation of prosodic features.  (Eileen Fitzpatrick) Funded.

Portable Language Technology   The focus of this research is on the portability of technology to new languages and on rapid language technology development. This research takes a novel approach to rapid, low-cost development of taggers by exploring the possibility of taking existing resources for one language and applying them to another, related language. Languages that are either related by common heritage (e.g., Czech and Russian) or by "contact" (e.g., Bulgarian and Greek) often share a number of exploitable properties: morphological systems, word order, and vocabulary.(Anna Feldman). Funded. 

Questions in Institutional Discourse  The research investigates the use of questions in institutional discourse (and in other sorts of fixed or partially scripted discourse) the role that questioning plays in (a.) constituting the institutional context itself and (b.) constructing and/or co-constructing participant roles and identities for speakers in these contexts. (Alice Freed).