'HSE Linguistics Students Have Really Good Methodological Background'
Professor Geeraerts visited HSE School of Linguistics in November to deliver a course on cognitive sociolinguistics for students of Bachelor's programme in Fundamental and Computational Linguistics and Master’s programme in Linguistic Theory and Language Description and hold individual consultations. The visit was initiated by Nina Dobrushina (School of Linguistics). Prof Geeraets has also been long acquainted with Ekaterina Rakhilina, the Head of the School of Linguistics.
The course comprised four lectures. Prof Geeraerts noted the high level of interaction with the students who were very motivated and engaged. During individual consultations, Prof Geeraerts met over 15 HSE students. They all presented their projects in different fields and subfields. Some were purely variational studies, others − sociolinguistic; a number of projects were vocabulary-oriented. There was also some historical, diachronic work. ‘That was really interesting,’ comments Prof Geeraerts. ‘Because, on the one hand, I myself have also been involved in such projects, so I could relate to what the students were doing. On the other hand, what the students had to show was quite interesting and I could see that the students had really good methodological background. They were able to come up with actual description, data-based description of linguistic phenomena. In the lexical field, the lexical typology approaches that are being practiced here are obviously very interesting. On the more sociolinguistic side there were studies on dialect change, standardization of language and dialect loss. That was one of the topics that I included in my lectures, so there was a lot of correspondence, a lot of overlap.
I particularly appreciate the combination that is immediately there between computational approaches and more purely linguistic approaches, which of course in a sense continues a relationship between mathematics and linguistics that used to be a typical feature of Russian linguistics
Combining computational and linguistic approaches in one programme
Prof Geeraerts found HSE linguistics programme very strong – judging from the students and also from the way it’s constituted. ‘I particularly appreciate the combination that is immediately there between computational approaches and more purely linguistic approaches, which of course in a sense continues a relationship between mathematics and linguistics that used to be a typical feature of Russian linguistics. I think that is an extremely good starting point. Such a combination is only just emerging in linguistic departments of European universities. It’s computational in a different sense: not so much computational modeling but statistical corpus analysis. It’s definitely not natural language processing. Statistical data enables you to derive more objective results. The research is technology driven as more texts and tools become available. It is definitely the case that it is not always as well-entrenched in the curricula for training linguists as here, at HSE. In that respect I really think positively of the way HSE programme is built.’
I really see a growing convergence between the foundational fundamental studies and the applied studies because applied studies can use information that comes from the more usage-based fundamental studies
Practical aspects of cognitive sociolinguistics
‘Sociolinguistics research is not meant to be purely theoretical,’ states Prof Geeraerts. ‘You try to come up with data, and that data could be useful in different applications, not necessarily technological ones. There can be pedagogical approaches. To give you one example, in the type of sociolinguistics and variational studies we have been doing, there are methods for indicating the degree of typicality of different lexical items for certain varieties of language. So usually lexicographers will make a distinction between the vocabulary of Netherlandic Dutch and Belgian Dutch (Flemish). That’s of course not a binary phenomenon, that’s a cline, and the question is how you assign the index of specificity. That’s the kind of things that come out of the more corpus-oriented approaches. In similar ways, if you think of translation studies, you need certain types of frequency information. With these fundamental studies — I wouldn’t call them theoretical, I’d call them fundamental and not specifically practice-oriented — we come up with new forms of frequency information, and that could play a role as input for teaching methods or as input for translation approaches. In the long run (but not that long really) I really see a growing convergence between the foundational fundamental studies and the applied studies because applied studies can use information that comes from the more usage-based fundamental studies. And obviously there also will be feedback in the other direction. The needs of specific applications will formulate the questions for fundamental research. I can end by saying that specifically in Europe that type of combination will become more important, because financial support for purely theoretical research may start to decline. There is a tendency to ask for validation of results.’
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