Revisiting research training in linguistics: theory, logic, method

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In 2018/2019, the Universities of Zurich, Geneva and Belgrade realized a pilot programme "Revisiting research training in linguistics: theory, logic, method", funded by Movetia: Exchange and Mobility. The aim of the programme was to enhance scientific research skills of BA and MA students in linguistics and language-related subjects.

The central component of the programme was a two-week summer school at the Petnica Science Centre, Serbia in July 2019. As preparation for the summer school, the students from all three institutions completed the same online course covering the fundamental notions in linguistic theory, general logic and empirical methodology. After the summer school, the students completed a report on the conducted projects.

17 students participated and obtained 6 or 9 ECTS (depending on the difficulty of their projects). 

Timeline

  • Application deadline: 22 December 2018
  • Notifications of acceptance: 10 February 2019
  • Online course: start on 1 March 2019 
  • Summer school: 1 - 13 July 2019
  • Visiting the surrounding of the Petnica science center: 6 - 7 July 2019
  • Visiting Belgrade: 13 - 14 July 2019
  • Final report deadline: 20 August 2019

Co-ordinators:


Free online course

Movetia Learn

Free online course on UZH EdX

Course videos on UZH Switch Tube

 

The course is divided into three topical sections:

  • Theory is dedicated to the role of theory in linguistic research; the section contains four units that introduce general issues related to scientific research, contrast different views of language and focus in particular on the theoretical framework of Generative Grammar.
  • In the Methodology section, five units deal with the methodological setup of empirical studies, from formulating relevant research questions and hypotheses, to defining study variables and testing hypotheses statistically.
  • Technical skills have three units that discuss formal logic and syllogisms, their application to language, and the search in linguistic corpora.
  • A summary section is included for revision purposes and as a preparatory activity for the summer school.
  • The last unit of the course contains various teaching materials used during the summer school.

The methodology used in developing this online course aimed to take into account the diversity of the learners - in terms of their backgrounds, interests, levels of previous knowledge and experience, but also learning styles. The core idea was to clearly outline the learning outcomes, starting with those of the entire course and then for each unit individually. In this way, students could self-assess their progress and estimate how the course content fit in with their studies.


Summer school

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The central activity of the project was a two-week summer school held from 1 to 13 July at the Petnica Science Centre in Petnica, Valjevo, in western Serbia. A total of 17 students attended the school, of whom 9 from the University of Zurich, 1 from the University of Geneva, and 7 from the University of Belgrade.

The focus of the summer school continued to be on the three core areas introduced in the online course, and the same pedagogical approach was also continued through a combination of individual work and joint activities. The individual work was project-based: each student had to propose a topic and conduct independent research on that topic, under the guidance of the lecturers. A short report on the conducted research was an integral part of the project. The joint activities included a combination of lectures and more collaborative forms of learning, as well as social activities (cultural activities and excursions) that enabled knowledge exchange in informal settings.

The first two days were dedicated to setting individual goals and making plans for the remaining days. The consultations continued in the following days in parallel with the students' individual work, which culminated in their final presentations on the last day of the summer school. Each student received detailed feedback from the lecturers after the presentations, with instructions about what needed to be modified for the report due three weeks after the summer school. The reports were marked by the project partners during the meeting in Zurich in August 2019.

In parallel with the individual work lectures and daily workshops were held from day 2 onwards, with the topics being proposed by the students on a daily basis.

Lectures:

  • 5 July 2019: Maja Miličević Petrović, Translation and L1 attrition: Three studies of anaphora resolution
  • 8 July 2019: Tanja Samardžić, Reasoning with probability – the Bayesian framework
  • 9 July 2019: Tanja Petrović, Dialects of Southeastern Serbia – from linguistic geography to language ideologies
  • 10 July 2019: Genoveva Puskas, Fieldwork: An introduction
  • 10 July 2019: Vuk Batanović, An interactive workshop on linguistic annotation

Workshops:

  • 2 July 2019: Discussion of the online course evaluation
  • 3 July 2019: Quantitative vs. qualitative research
  • 4 July 2019: Word embeddings video talk on the intuition and uses
  • 5 July 2019: Introduction to vector representations and neural classification
  • 8 July 2019: Inclusive language
  • 9 July 2019: Generative vs. constructionist grammar
  • 11 July 2019: Exercise in probability calculus

Through these activities, the students were exposed to examples of good research practice in several linguistic fields, and were encouraged to actively participate in discussions on topics that fall both inside and outside the field of their immediate interest. Jointly with the supervisions, this allowed for an efficient transfer of knowledge and contributed to the development of the students’ autonomy. Finally, the social activities were a chance for the students to see research as something that is not just part of their curriculum, but an interest and a passion of those who choose to pursue a career in science. The weekends midway through and right after the summer school were reserved for hiking and sightseeing in the vicinity of Petnica Science Center and in Belgrade, and the students had the chance to both relax and discuss different topics of interest in informal settings, both among themselves and with the instructors.

Overall, the students alternated between intense individual efforts and a close contact with the teachers, which enabled them to adopt an appropriate research attitude coupled with experience needed for planning and conducting methodologically sound linguistic studies, and with a set of transferable skills related to critical and creative thinking. All activities were also used for cultural exchange, and the Swiss students had many opportunities for learning about the host country.

Students' projects

In their project work, the students needed to select an area of interest to them, or to the course in which their credits were to be recognised. Within that area, they conducted their own empirical studies, supervised by the project partners. Guidelines for choosing topics had already been provided within the online course. 

Overall, the topics were a good balance of experimental, questionnaire-based and corpus-based work, which also provided an opportunity for the students to be exposed to different data sources and data collection techniques. Petnica Science Center was a particularly stimulating environment for the students who did questionnaire-based and experimental work, as participants could easily be found among the staff and students who were taking part in regular seminars. (At the same time, summer school participants took part in studies conducted by students from these seminars.)

Best papers

  1. Nadja Näf (BA, Zurich), A language analysis of beauty gurus and technology Youtubers normalizing money expenditure
  2. Marija Lazarević (BA. Belgrade), Intermodality and word length effects in a Serbian lexical decision task
  3. Rolf Hotz (MA. Zurich), An exploration of Chintang benefactives though English and Nepali translations