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Language Sciences members receive CFI grants for language research

August 24, 2020

Language Sciences members received more than $550,000 in the latest Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) for language research.

The fund provides researchers with the specialized infrastructure needed for their work. 'Ensuring Full Literacy in a Multicultural and Digital World', led by Language Sciences co-director and Psychology professor Janet Werker, and Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, Language Sciences Research Lead and UBC Linguistics and School of Information Assistant Professor, received $199,969 for research infrastructure associated with Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) research support.

“The funds we’ve received from CFI will allow us to purchase portable (and hence shareable) equipment for collecting data from infants, children and adults from a wide range of communities and settings, as well as powerful computing facilities for cutting-edge deep learning analyses.”

Dr. Janet Werker, co-investigator for the 'Ensuring Full Literacy in a Multicultural and Digital World' CFI JELF grant

The project aims to address the more than 40% of Canadians who lack the reading skills necessary to fully contribute to today’s workforce, despite the proliferation of devices and technology to share information. With researchers in oral language and culture, digital media, neuroimaging, and computational analysis, the project aims to generate the research necessary to ensure full literacy – the level of deep text comprehension needed to succeed in a rapidly-evolving knowledge economy – in an increasingly connected and diverse world, and to translate this knowledge into relevant practices, products, and services.

"Our goal is to carry out innovative, multidisciplinary, and cutting-edge research with a large group of scholars from around the world to help Canadians succeed in the digital age."

Dr. Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, co-investigator for the 'Ensuring Full Literacy in a Multicultural and Digital World' CFI JELF grant

Language Sciences Research Lead and Assistant Professor Daisy Rosenblum (Critical Indigenous Studies and Anthropology) and David Gaertner, Critical Indigenous Studies Assistant Professor, received $277,477 to create a Centre for Community Engaged Documentation and Research (CEDaR), which will develop immersive tools for linguistic and cultural survivance and evaluate their effectiveness.

The Centre will work with communities to generate documentation and research on under-documented linguistic and cultural knowledge, innovate community-centered tools to support transmission of language and culture, and contribute new models for ethical management of data in support of community data sovereignty, through community projects including supporting work on AR and VR research.

One of these projects includes supporting Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw researchers and computer scientists to work with Rosenblum to develop Machine Learning models for automated speech recognition of Kwak’wala, increasing community-based scholars’ ability to search and access hundreds of hours of previously inaccessible and untranscribed audio recordings.

"CEDaR’s physical and virtual infrastructure will provide a unique sandbox for community-led collaborations that reframe digital technologies as tools which support relationality, immersion, and connection to local knowledge, while ensuring continuity of that knowledge for future generations."

Dr. Daisy Rosenblum, co-investigator for the 'Centre for Community Engaged Documentation and Research' CFI JELF grant

Linguistics Assistant Professor Márton Sóskuthy received $116,900 for the Origins of Patterns in Speech Lab (OoPS-Lab). The funding will allow recording facilities to collect speech samples, and computing resources to analyze large and complex data sets. While this grant was not supported by Language Sciences, Sóskuthy is a Language Sciences member.

A headshot of Márton Sóskuthy

The lab will analyze the origins of speech patterns, which are created and maintained over generations through processes of cultural evolution. Understanding speech patterns could suggest new treatments and diagnostics in clinical linguistics, improved accuracy in forensic speaker comparison, and more realistic speech synthesis.

"We are fortunate to be living at a time when fundamental questions about the forces that shape language can be tackled using detailed data from a diverse range of languages."

We are now able to ask questions about many hundreds or thousands of languages simultaneously, and also track the evolution of languages over hundreds of years of change, using data and methods that simply did not exist even 20-30 years ago.

Dr. Márton Sóskuthy, investigator for the 'Origins of Patterns in Speech Lab' CFI JELF grant

Dr. Márton Sóskuthy said the OoPS-Lab will house a rare combination of resources from speech science and computer science to take advantage of these new opportunities in data analysis.

Congratulations to our members!

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