Note from the Editor


Welcome to Volume 6 of the Northeastern University Working Papers in Linguistics! This year we are delighted to publish three highly original papers where our undergraduate researchers developed methodological innovations necessitated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hannah Lee’s paper, for instance, presents a novel approach to a Face Theory analysis of the language used by individuals accused of intimate partner violence. Since batterer’s intervention therapy groups are generally inaccessible to outside observers and researchers, Lee was able to create an analyzable corpus of batterer’s language by gleaning publically-available excerpts of group sessions from documentaries of domestic violence on YouTube. The resulting study is an important contribution to the face attack literature (e.g. Brown & Levinson 1987) by showing that group facilitators use the language of disapproval to challenge the abusive individual’s positive face, dissuading the abuser from dominant and controlling behaviors. Lee’s paper is also an exemplar of how linguistics (and discourse analysis) can contribute in an applied way to social issues and social justice.

Carolina Mack’s study of how motivation is linking to proficiency in L2 acquisition in American colleges students makes use of familiar survey methodology, but she was able to recruit an impressive participant pool in a targeted way by using online survey tools such as SurveyMonkey, mixed with “friend-of-a-friend” social media promotion, to reach a cohort of university students taking languages such as German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish at various levels of proficiency. She concludes that the broad lack of L2 proficiency found among American college students taking foreign language courses is tied to a culturally-based lack of motivation for language learning; and this conclusion is defendable largely based on her healthy participant pool in her methodology. Mack’s paper is a first-class example of meaningful research in language acquisition taking place in an age of Zoom.

In our third paper, Eric Scherer studies morphological productivity of affixes in English (pre-, non-, un-, er, -less) using a corpus of television data, building on methodology established by Tagliamonte & Roberts (2005) and others. Using complex but easily-replicable methods, Scherer is able to compile a corpus of neologisms from the seven seasons of the tv-sitcom Parks and Recreation, and calculate hapax legomena scores using various metrics (Baayen 1992, Baayen 1993, Hay 2001) to speak to which English prefixes and suffixes are the most productive in Present Day English; the methodology of this study will serve as a ready model for any research that is looking to build a corpus of data from readily available television scripts.

Happy reading!

Rob Painter


Current Volume
Vol. 6: 2021

Lee, Hannah. (2021). Face threat and response in the language of batterers' intervention groups.

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Batterers’ intervention is a program that teaches non-violence to perpetrators of intimate partner violence (Snyder, 2018). As such, interactions between group facilitators and participants are fraught with power imbalance and traumatic content. This pilot study analyzes these interactions linguistically in terms of how face threats are used and what strategies are used to respond. The methodology is adapted from Ojwang et al.’s (2010) qualitative case study of face threat and uses Brown & Levinson’s (1987) distinction of positive and negative face-one’s desire to be liked and to be unimpeded, respectively. This is applied to transcripts of batterers’ intervention groups. It is found that the most commonly facilitators use expressions of disapproval, a type of positive face threat, to dissuade participants’ use of dominant and controlling behaviors, which are common to narratives of abuse (Wood, 2004). The study also finds that participants use agreement to maintain their positive face. These findings have implications regarding the efficacy of batterers’ intervention programs, which can be expanded on in future research.

Mack, Carolina. (2021). L2 Learning in the American University: The Effects of Motivation on Proficiency at Different Proficiency Levels.

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Cross-culturally, L2 motivational intensity has been shown to positively correlate with achieved proficiency (Gardner & Lambert 1959, Gardner & MacIntyre 1991), but the strength of specific motivation types and their relationships to motivational intensity and proficiency appear to differ with cultural context (Kormos et al. 2011, Cocca & Cocca 2019). These relationships also differ by proficiency level: motivation has been found to be more impactful on the success of beginners (Danesh & Shahnazari 2020). Turning to the largely unexplored L2 acquisition context of the United States, this study utilizes a two-part proficiency assessment and motivation survey methodology to investigate these variables in Northeastern University L2 learners. Motivational intensity was found to strongly relate to proficiency, but the strongest motivation types of the sample did not correlate with motivational intensity or proficiency in any significant way. And while advanced learners were on average more motivated, the correlation between motivational intensity and proficiency was stronger in beginners. These findings reinforce the cross-cultural impact of motivation on L2 learning success while simultaneously highlighting the way that motivation is shaped by cultural context.

Scherer, Eric. (2021). English Morphological Productivity in Television Transcripts.

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A number of metrics quantifying morphological productivity have been presented in past studies (see Baayen 1992, Baayen 1993, Hay 2001) which utilize large language corpora. These measures had not been applied to television script corpora, despite this type of data becoming accepted in the field (see Tagliamonte & Roberts 2005, Fägersten 2016). This study tests these metrics on the affixes pre-, -er, non-, un-, and -less in a corpus created from the dialogue of the show Parks and Recreation. Hapax legomena were isolated and base-derivative ratios were calculated, and three metrics were run using these measurements. Each measure differed in how the productivity of the affixes was ranked, with the base-derivative ratios creating results that were the most intuitively sound. Implications of these findings are discussed, along with why the data might have shown the distributions that it did.