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Northwestern University

50 Years Past and 50 Forward

The Department of Linguistics celebrates its 50th year with a look into the future

In honor of its 50th year, the Department of Linguistics at Northwestern University has celebrated its rise into one of the nation’s premier academic units in the scientific study of language with on-campus events and programs recognizing the department’s milestones as well as its impact on the field and the University.

On Sept. 30, however, the department turns its attention toward the next 50 years.

At a Norris Center event bringing a close to the department’s golden anniversary, 16 alumni will share cutting-edge research, while distinguished scholar Michael Tanenhaus, director of the Center for Language Sciences at the University of Rochester, will offer a keynote presentation on the rapid rise of the language sciences and the field’s future prospects.

“The Northwestern linguistics department has long been at the vanguard of the field, and this event demonstrates just how much we are prepared to carry on that tradition,” Department of Linguistics chair Matt Goldrick says.

Innovative alumni

At the center of “The Future of Language Science” event will sit research posters from undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral trainees representing different fields, businesses and institutions across the United States.

Postdoctoral fellow Bozena Pajak, for instance, will spotlight her work with Duolingo, a free online education service that aims to deliver a personalized and engaging language learning experience, while Tyler Perrachione ’07, currently an assistant professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at Boston University, will explain how new insights in neuroscience play into foreign language learning.

“The work of our alumni and post-doctoral trainees illustrate how Northwestern’s linguistics department bridges out and connects many different fields, ranging from neuroscience and psychology to computer science, philosophy, music, communications and more,” Goldrick says.

A bright future

Situated within the broader scope of the language sciences — the cognitive, neural, social and computational study of human language —  Northwestern’s linguistics department is well positioned, Goldrick says, to charge into the future and maintain its place among the nation’s elite.

“We have a department committed to interdisciplinary approaches and common goals that are forward looking,” Goldrick says, adding that the department continues to strengthen its core competencies while simultaneously broadening its reach with new faculty.

This academic year, for example, Goldrick and his colleagues welcome Jennifer Cole, who will expand the department’s multidisciplinary work in computation and data science, as well as Annette D’Onofrio, whose research on how humans perceive and express social identity in language provides the department its first connection with the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern and deepens its ties to anthropology.

“We have new opportunities to engage with faculty and students across the University — from the humanities to the social and natural sciences — and to identify ways our research on language can inform, and be informed by, technology,” Goldrick says. “It’s an incredibly exciting time for our department.”

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