Students participate in international language research

Anna Thoet
December 07, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Seven students in the College of the Liberal Arts participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) program this year. The NSF PIRE grant was awarded to Penn State’s Center for Language Science in order to support basic and applied behavioral and neuroscience research that requires international collaboration. Through the support of the grant, the students were able to conduct research in Poland, Spain, Colombia, Germany and the Netherlands.

The following seven Penn State PIRE fellows presented their language research at an undergraduate research event hosted by the Center for Language Science on Friday, Dec. 7.

Maria Badanova presented her research on the effect of bilingualism on executive cognitive functions that she conducted in Krakow, Poland, where she tested Polish-English bilinguals. Funding from the NSF enabled the Paterno Fellow to travel to Krakow and live and work in the city for two months. Badanova believes language science research is important because language is central to who we are as people.

“As far as we know, humans are unique in having the ability to communicate in a very sophisticated way: sharing knowledge, telling stories, and conceptualizing abstract ideas,” said Badanova.

Her liberal-arts education gave her flexibility in her schedule, which provided her with the ability to pursue classes that interested her and become involved outside of the classroom with the Language and Aging Lab. Badanova’s faculty adviser is Michele Diaz, associate professor of psychology and linguistics.

Maria Badanova conducting research in Poland
IMAGE: Photo provided by Maria Badanova

Sarah Heeter presented her research on "Afro-Hispanic Language in Colombia: Palenquero Negation." Heeter’s research focuses on the Spanish-lexified creole language known as Lengua Palenquera, spoken in the village of San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia.

Receiving funding from the NSF enabled Heeter to conduct her experiment and collaborate with linguists from all over the world in Colombia without worrying about expenses. Heeter believes that language science research is important because “it helps us gain a better understanding of the complexities of the human brain.” Heeter’s faculty adviser is John Lipski, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Spanish and Linguistics and associate director of the Center for Language Science.

Christianna Otto presented her research, which investigated speech perception in a second language. Otto, a Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar, explains that her research is about “how we understand the variation around us (like in different accents and dialects) while listening to other people in our second language.”

The funding from the NSF made it possible for Otto to conduct her research in a location that consists of a high number of bilingual speakers, which enabled her to collect a large quantity of data in a short period of time. Otto’s faculty advisers are Matt Carlson, assistant professor of Spanish and linguistics, and Katharina Schuhmann, assistant professor of German and linguistics.

Maggie Rose Pelella spent eight weeks in Granada, Spain, researching “how bilingualism affects and influences idiomatic processing, specifically in the second language.” Pelella had the opportunity to gain experience in language science research and become immersed in the culture and Spanish language of Granada because of the funding provided by the NSF.

A junior at Penn State, Pelella credits her Spanish and liberal arts education with “providing her with a solid foundation of knowledge to build off of, whether inside the laboratory or on the streets of Granada.” Pelella believes that “research in language science is imperative to the advancement of our understanding of how human brains process and produce language.” Pelella’s faculty adviser is Giuli Dussias, professor of Spanish, linguistics and psychology. Dussias is also the PIRE principal investigator.

Jaclyn Yuro’s research focused on “how classroom second language (L2) learners develop L2 lexical knowledge.” Yuro said she wants to determine what type of “role the first language (L1) plays in this process, and if there is a cross-lexical activation of the L1 and L2.” The NSF covered all research-related expenses for Yuro and allowed her to focus on her research in the Netherlands.

As a double major in psychology and Italian, Yuro said her liberal-arts education made her open-minded to all aspects of life. The critical-thinking and problem-solving skills she acquired from her liberal arts classes enabled her to “adapt to a new culture, think critically about her research, and solve problems as they came up during her time in the Netherlands.” Yuro’s faculty adviser is Janet van Hell, professor of psychology and linguistics.

Bridget Cuddy, a Spanish and global and international studies major, presented her research on "Bilingual Idiomatic Processing in the L1." She measured how bilinguals process idioms in order to include figurative language more when teaching languages in the classroom. Cuddy’s faculty adviser is Giuli Dussias, professor of Spanish, linguistics and psychology.

Alison Kelly, a philosophy and agricultural science major with a minor in German, presented her research on the effects of cognates on real-time L2 comprehension. She completed her PIRE project in Braunschweig, Germany. Kelly’s faculty adviser is Carrie Jackson, professor of German and Linguistics.

For more information on the NSF PIRE program, visit:

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Last Updated December 07, 2018