Experimental Language Games


Engineering and Applied Sciences


Assistant Professor of Linguistics

Project Summary

For my PURM project I worked in Dr. Gareth Roberts' linguistics lab where our main focus was studying how languages can change by coming in contact with other languages. We tested this by teaching two participants computer generated “alien” languages made up of four nouns and four verbs and then had the participants communicate. After the communication phase, we recorded the words they had adapted to use throughout their conversation and then taught these updated words to the next generation of participants. In this sense we created generations of the languages.

This research experience has taught me how to ask the right questions in an experiment. In considering where this project could go in the future, I brainstormed different methods of adding to the experiment. While some ideas might have an interesting result, the important point is whether or not it is a useful result. What can this experiment tell us that we do not already know? I generated many graphs over the course of the summer as well to analyze the data, and this also showed me how while there are many different ways to compare the results, there are significantly fewer ways to compare the results in a way that gives us useful results. All comparisons may be interesting, but not all tell the complete story of the experiment.

I have improved not only my technical skills but also my thinking and problem solving. It is easy to learn about a linguistic experiment in class and memorize the name of the experimenter, the university at which the trial took place, and key statistics; however, now I have a much better understanding of how much thought goes into every step of an experiment. I can see how even small aspects can make a large impact on the outcomes. Having had experience with research, every experiment I learn about will make me think more about how it was executed, how it could change, and what the results could show.