Underpinnings of linguistic imitation

Dr. Jessamyn Schertz, Assistant Professor

Mentor: Dr. Jessamyn Schertz

Assistant Professor


Project Description

We all know people who are really good at imitating the speech of others – whether it’s impersonating a celebrity, teasing their friends, or faking an accent. Because imitation is an integral part of language learning, so we were all successful imitators at some point, but there is a massive amount of variability in adults’ imitative ability. In my lab we are currently exploring the social, cognitive, and linguistic factors that constrain and facilitate imitation, using behavioural experiments with both naturalistic and controlled, artificially-constructed accents, designed to tease apart different sources of variability. Findings from these studies not only will inform our understanding of vocal imitation, but also have broader implications for how we learn and process language in the face of linguistic variability. Students in the lab are involved in all stages of the research process: formulating research questions, designing a study, building and implementing an online experiment (using Gorilla and Prolific), analyzing behavioural data (using R), and performing acoustic analysis – with specific tasks tailored to each individual’s background and interests. As an SROP student, you will take a leading role in designing and implementing an experiment related to the current research theme, and will have the opportunity to participate in presentations and/or publications related to your project. No specific linguistic or programming experience is required, but people who are curious about questions about language, and people with language backgrounds including languages other than English, are especially encouraged to apply.

Mentorship Statement

Working on independent research with students is the best part of my job. The involvement of students from diverse academic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds has had a concrete impact on the research done in my lab, expanding the scope of projects to include languages and communities that are often under-represented in academic research. At the same time, I value the opportunity to be able to give students direct, hands-on exposure to the research process and to watch them gain the confidence and new competencies along the way. In the SROP program, we will work together to identify a project that will allow you to cultivate your existing strengths, but also to push the envelope of your current knowledge and background, and provide skills that will be transferable to a broad range of future career paths both within and outside of academia.

Project ID 159