Research Structure and Environment
Linguistics at University of Ulster, first established some 25 years ago by Lesley Milroy, has always had a strong research focus, and the last few years have been an exciting time for its development, seeing the growth of the linguistics team to almost double its size, and considerable investment by the university as part of its policy of selective research support. The increase in size of the linguistics team, together with its submission to the RAE as a separate unit in the current research assessment exercise, rather than as part of a larger grouping under Communication and Media Studies, as in 1996, reflect the recognition by the university of the research strength of linguistics and the decision to build on that strength, resulting in the designation of linguistics as a research area with Exceptionally High Priority status. The considerable investment in linguistics during the current RAE period has included three new appointments (one at professorial level), promotions to Professor and Reader, and the funding of a further short-term appointment at professorial level of a visiting scholar, Jonathan Kaye.
Fit with Institutional structure
The Linguistics Research Group consists of staff from the Linguistics section of the School of Psychology and Communication (Prof Helen Goodluck, Prof Alison Henry, Martin Kramer, Dr Shi-Xu, Prof John Wilson, and Prof Martin Ball (see RA6b)), and a computational linguist based in the Faculty of Informatics (Prof Mike McTear). Four of these staff were entered in the last RAE (when they were entered with Communication colleagues into the Communication and Media Studies Unit or with Computing colleagues in the Computing Unit) so there has been an increase of 3 (all new appointments) for the present assessment. The Linguistics team runs undergraduate degrees in Linguistic Science and in Computing and Linguistics, together with a PhD programme.
1. Theoretical Linguistics Group
This group (Helen Goodluck, Alison Henry, Martin Kramer, Mike McTear, John Wilson) has undertaken work at the cutting edge of syntactic, phonological and language acquisition theory. Its work encompasses the areas of syntax, semantics, phonology, language acquisition theory, and related aspects of computational linguistics. Key achievements include the development of work on dialect syntax and microparametric variation, work which was described in a recent Linguistic Inquiry article as ‘'the important body of work on dialect syntax developed by Alison Henry' (McCloskey, J (2000) 'Quantifier Float and Wh-Movement in an Irish English' Linguistic Inquiry 31, 57-84). This work is widely cited and has contributed to a number of important developments in linguistic theory. The group has also undertaken ground-breaking work on exploring the syntactic theory-sociolinguistics interface. Prof Henry and Prof Wilson's project in this area was funded by ESRC (£110,000, 1995-98), and was evaluated at the end of the project with the top category of 'outstanding’.
The group has also developed significant databases which are now available for further research. A sizeable data set of 130 hours’ data, consisting of adult-adult conversations and child language data from Belfast English, has been made available on the CHILDES (Child Language Data Exchange System) database coordinated by Carnegie Mellon University, and is published on the 2000 CHILDES CD-ROM. Alison Henry and Martin Ball also completed a DENI funded research project Developing linguistic accuracy in Irish medium primary schools (£15,000, 1996-98), while Prof Henry was awarded £33,328 from the EU Minority Languages Fund (shared with Trinity College Dublin) to construct An L1/L2 database for Irish (1997-99). Data from both of these projects has also been contributed to CHILDES. The data on acquisition of Irish in immersion schools is fully glossed, transcribed, and provides the target utterance where the child uses non-target-like structures, thus providing a rich resource for future research both on Irish and on language development in immersion settings. The data on L1 acquisition provides the only longitudinal set of Irish acquisition data available in the public domain.
The theoretical side of computational linguistics also falls within the scope of this group, and in this area important work has been undertaken on developing hybrid symbolic-connectionist models of parsing and word sense disambiguation, some of which is included in RA2.
The Theoretical Linguistics group has been strengthened this year by the recruitment of Prof Helen Goodluck, formerly of University of Ottawa, a highly respected scholar in the areas of language acquisition, psycholinguistics and syntax. and of Martin Kramer, an exceptionally promising young phonologist who already has some excellent publications and has presented at major international conferences such as GLOW. The fact that we have been able to recruit staff of this calibre is we hope a reflection of the standing of the research team at Ulster and the fact that we offer a vibrant, intellectually stimulating research culture to work in.
2. Language and Communication Research Group
The Language and Communication Group (Martin Ball, Mike McTear, Shi Xu, John Wilson) has been responsible for innovative work in the area of discourse, sociolinguistics, phonetics, and educational linguistics. John Wilson, who leads this group, has secured external funding for a number of projects including one on Language, Politics and the Good Friday Agreement (ESRC), and Narratives of Everyday Life in Europe (European Science Foundation) (an edited edition of selected papers from this research will appear in 2001). He is co-editor of the Journal Text
Shi Xu has been developing work on a radical approach to intercultural communication, and on discourse studies within the social constructionist framework, including illuminating work on the rhetoric of linguistics itself. He is also engaged in a number of international collaborations, including 'Culture as Arguable' (with M. Kienpointner), 'Multiculturalism in School' (with R. Meir), 'Discourse and Culture' (as chief editor, with M. Kienpointner and J. Servaes, under letter of intent from Mouton).
The group also undertakes important work in the area of clinical linguistics, particularly clinical phonetics and pragmatics. Martin Ball, who is currently President of the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association, and was a founding editor of the journal Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, is a leading scholar in this area. Over the reporting period Prof Ball has undertaken a number of research projects on clinical phonetics and linguistics, some of which are reflected in publications in RA2, and published a series of key books in the areas of clinical phonetics and phonology. These include The Phonetic Transcription of Disordered Speech (with J. Rahilly and P. Tench) Voice Quality Measurement (with R. Kent), and Instrumental Clinical Phonetics (with C. Code). Both Martin Ball and John Wilson have been active in developing work in the area of clinical pragmatics.
In Computational Linguistics, Prof Mike McTear has been active in bringing the insights of linguistics to a range of areas, in particular speech recognition and discourse.
Organisation of research
The management and monitoring of Research Groups within the university is tightly controlled. There is a Research Coordinator (appointed at Faculty level) (Prof Martin Ball, 1997-2000, Prof Alison Henry 2000-) who is responsible for the development of research and for day-to-day administration and operation of research activities, including financial control of a devolved research budget. The Research Coordinator reports directly to the Head of School and sits on the School Executive where coordination and discussion of research development takes place. Research Coordinators are also members of the Faculty Graduate School Board. Formal scrutiny is in turn carried out by Faculty and University Research Committees. All of this is monitored by the central Research Office of the University. Each Unit of Assessment Coordinator is required to present regular reports detailing research targets and achievements to a senior group including the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research), the Chair of Research Committee and the Head of the Research Office.
With a relatively small linguistics group, it is considered important to facilitate exchange with groups in other institutions, so that members of staff have the opportunity to work with others in their area of specialism. The Linguistics group at Ulster has thus been the driving force in establishing for a number of Ireland-wide initiatives in linguistics research. For example, the Cross-border Language Acquisition Research Group, linking researchers in child language in Ireland, has regular meetings and a website hosted by University of Ulster. The more recently established Theoretical Linguistics in Ireland research group fulfils a similar function in relation to syntax, morphology and phonology. The Ulster Discourse Group is an umbrella group for researchers in the areas of discourse and communication, who come from a wide range of disciplines. There is also an annual Jordanstown Linguistics Days conference at which staff and postgraduates from the university and other institutions in Ireland present current research.
The group has organised three major international conferences during the RAE period, the first International Conference on Language in Ireland, with keynote speakers Ken Hale (MIT), John Harris (UCL) and Jim McCloskey (University of California at Santa Cruz), which has now become a regular series hosted at different universities; a major international conference on Narratives of Everyday Life in Europe, sponsored by the European Science Foundation, held in France; and an international syntax conference on Motivating Movement: Explaining the Displacement Property of Natural Language, (keynote speakers Liliane Haegeman (Lille), Jim McCloskey (UCSC) and David Pesetsky (MIT)) which attracted linguists from across Europe, the USA and Asia to consider one of the key topics in current Minimalist syntactic theory: why languages have an apparent displacement property, and how it is licensed.
The Linguistics team regularly organises research seminars and visiting speakers. We have for example had guest lectures by Dianne Jonas (Harvard), Eithne Guilfoyle (Calgary/Dun Laoghaire), Dorothy Bishop (Oxford) Richard Watts, (Bern) and Nigel Duffield (McGill). The advent of the peace agreement is enabling us to increase the number and range of visiting speakers, as more external speakers are now prepared to travel to N Ireland.
Interdisciplinary work is facilitated and encouraged. The Ulster Discourse Group, formed by the linguistics team (Martin Ball, Shi Xu, John Wilson) brings together academics at the university from linguistics, interpersonal communication, counselling, speech and language therapy, education and health sciences. This facilitates interdisciplinary work of both a theoretical and applied nature, and current projects include the impact of the use of language in the GP consultation and in counselling.
Support for research students
The unit has been successful in attracting external funding for postgraduate research students from both Department of Education and from Department of Health; these are awarded on a highly competitive basis. The university has also devoted funding to building up postgraduate work in the area, including extending for the first time in 2000/2001 its prestigious Millennial Awards to this area. This, together with increased internal support for studentships as a result of the designation of linguistics as a research area of ‘exceptionally high priority’ within the university, has enabled us to attract high quality research students to the linguistics group, and the continuing peaceful circumstances have begun to enhance our ability to attract more overseas students.
The University has a rigorous system to monitor, train and advise research students, who are all members of the Research Graduate School. There is an induction process for postgraduate students and all students take part in at least three of a series of Faculty Graduate Research Conferences. All supervisors are required to take a training course in postgraduate supervision, only research active staff are allowed to supervise, and new supervisors must have an experienced colleague who acts as co-supervisor or advisor. The University is also committed to the provision for postgraduate students of appropriate accommodation, computing and other backup facilities. These procedures have helped this Unit achieve a 100% completion rate.
Within the school, there are regular seminars at which research students present work. They are encouraged to take an active part in local research groups such as Theoretical Lingustics in Ireland, the Cross-Border Language Acquisition Research Group and the Ulster Discourse Group as appropriate, and to present work at international conferences and in publications. During the RAE period, presentations have been made at a range of conferences including the Child Language Seminar, the British Psychological Society Annual Conference, and other conferences in Europe and the USA, and outputs have included papers in for example the International Journal of Disorders of Communication (Karen Brunger with Alison Henry), the Journal of Pragmatics (Louise Cummings) and Language and Psychology (Karyn Stapleton with John Wilson), together with a number of book chapters and contributions to conference proceedings, in addition to joint work with members of staff which is included in RA2. Students are also encouraged and funded to attend appropriate Summer Schools in linguistics.
Research infrastructure for linguistics is mainly in evidence through the provision of excellent computer facilities, a dedicated phonetics laboratory, which is regularly updated with new equipment and is equipped currently with a range of acoustic analysis equipment, including a Sun Workstation running X-Waves, electropalatography, electrolaryngography, Visi-Pitch and Nasomoter, specifically designed laboratories for video and audio recording and psycholinguistic work, and a range of high quality portable audio and video recording equipment. There is a dedicated capital budget specifically for research expenditure, which ensures that resources are effectively devoted to this area. In addition, there is excellent library provision in the area and access to online journals and other resources such as databases of linguistic data.
Relationships with research users
The unit has a strong commitment to local and international research users, taking the view that high-level theoretical work should go hand in hand with applications in practice, and has been exceptionally active in regional outreach, being involved in projects bringing the expertise of its linguists to the local community, particularly important given the priority allocated by the Good Friday Agreement to linguistic diversity. Its linguists are regularly consulted by local and national media, for example on the issue of whether a ‘complete’ ceasefire could be interpreted as being ‘permanent’ , and in relation to endangered languages and linguistic diversity. Alison Henry has been involved in externally funded projects on linguistic aspects of the revival of Irish and Ulster Scots, contributing both to theoretical understanding of how the process of language change is affected by broken transmission, and to the practice of education in Irish immersion schools. There are close links with Gaelscoil na bhFal, an Irish-medium school in Belfast, where two externally funded research projects have been undertaken; one of these, sponsored by Department of Education, will result in the publication of a report this year on Linguistic development in Irish Immersion Primary Schools, and a training package for immersion teachers. John PrWilson has been active in developing analysis of political language, again resulting in work with both theoretical and applied importance, in addition to securing substantial funding for work on Ulster Scots, and Alison Henry chaired a committee of linguists set up to advise government on determining the linguistic status of Ulster Scots. She was also invited to address the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee of the N. Ireland Assembly on 'Language in Northern Ireland'. Professor Wilson has also contributed directly to professional practice in areas such as Speech and Language Therapy and English Language teaching, specifically oracy. Work by Professors Ball, Henry and Wilson has addressed issues in the application of linguistics in clinical settings, and there are close links with local Health Trusts, one of which provided funding for a project on An extended optional infinitive approach to specific language impairment. Funding has been negotiated by John Wilson from another Health Trust for funding for a joint research post between the Trust and the University which will commence shortly. A recent development has been the establishment of the University’s first spin-out company in the area of computational linguistics, Voicetel Ltd, established by Mike McTear in collaboration with Philips Technologies.
The University makes a considerable commitment to research. It has a coherent system of study leave, from which members of the linguistics group have benefitted during the RAE period, and there is a healthy budget to provide support for research and enable attendance at international and national conferences. The policy of the linguistics unit is to fund travel and accommodation expenses of any member of staff or research student who has a paper accepted for presentation at a national or international conference. There is a strong spirit of mutual support, and dedication to development of the group, within Linguistics at the University of Ulster, and staff with requirements for additional time, for example to finish a book or work on a major research grant, benefit from the willingness of colleagues to take on other teaching and administrative tasks where possible, knowing they will in turn receive the same degree of support when they require it. There is a half-time research assistant, who supports the research work of staff and whose time is allocated through an annual 'bidding' process by staff. The availability of this research assistant has facilitated for example the submission of research proposals, the contribution of significant corpora to databases such as CHILDES, the use of sophisticated statistical techiniques on research projects where appropriate, and the conduct of research in areas which are particularly time-intensive.
There is a dedicated annual budget for research support; some of this is managed centrally by the unit coordinator, but an amount (currently £1000) is allocated each year to each individual member of staff, and subject to approval may be spent in whatever way they consider most appropriate for their research area, for example in obtaining specialised equipment or software which is not within the scope of the general capital budget, funding short-term transcription or research assistance, or travel for the purposes of research or collaboration with other institutions.
The group is particularly keen to encourage newer members of staff to develop their research profiles. To this end, research active mentors are assigned to such staff, and to any other staff who would find this beneficial, and the Research Coordinator meets with staff regularly, both individually and in research groups, to monitor their development and advise on the undertaking of research, the placing of finished work in suitable outlets, funding opportunities and opportunities for collaborative research. All staff are encouraged to set targets for publications and are advised on time management for research, to ensure that research does not become sidelined by day to day administration and the need to also provide high quality teaching in the area. The research coordinator liaises closely with the Academic Coordinator , who oversees the distribution of teaching, to ensure that the need for time and resources for research are taken into account in planning, and is a full member of the School Executive where management decisions are taken about the organisation of staff, teaching and resources. In addition, the university's central Staff Development department regularly offers courses on topics such as computing, statistics and time management, which staff are encouraged to attend where appropriate.
The work of members of the linguistics group at University of Ulster has an international reputation and has contributed strongly to the development of cutting-edge ideas in a range of areas of the discipline. ProfAlison Henry's pioneering work on the syntax of Belfast English is regularly cited and has made a strong contribution to the development of Minimalist syntactic theory, and to the understanding of processes of syntactic change. Helen Goodluck has contributed to the development of experimental work in syntactic acquisition and processing. John Wilson is known internationally for his work on language and politics, and has pioneered the application of pragmatics/discourse analysis to political language. He was invited to write the chapter on research in political discourse for the forthcoming Blackwell Handbook of Discourse Analysis (Schiffrin and Tannen eds). The group has also developed work breaking down the barriers between syntactic theory and sociolinguistics. Alison Henry was invited to contribute the chapter on Syntactic Theory and Sociolinguistic Variation to the forthcoming Blackwell Handbook of Language Variation (Chambers, Trudgill & Schilling-Estes eds). Martin Kramer's work in phonology is at the cutting edge of Optimality Theory, and Martin Ball has been largely responsible for the establishment and development of the discipline of Clinical Linguistics internationally. Jonathan Kaye, who is with us as a visiting scholar, pioneered the development of Government Phonology. Mike McTear has been working at bringing insights from linguistics into the development of computer applications, including ground-breaking work on the development of integrated symbolic-connectionist approaches, and on spoken dialogue systems, which has attracted considerable external funding.
Apart from high quality work in a range of areas of linguistics, we see the innovative feature of linguistic research at the University of Ulster as being a series of bridge-building projects undertaken by the team: integrating aspects of syntactic and sociolinguistic theory; developing links between sophisticated work in phonetics and phonology and the understanding of speech and language disorders; links, particularly in relation to discourse, between linguistics as a discipline and related work in communication; and in computational linguistics, bridges between linguistic theory and practical applications, and between symbolic and connectionist approaches. The open research environment, with regular discussion and debates between scholars working in differing - and in some cases opposed - aspects of the discipline is found relatively rarely and is a feature of the group in Ulster which makes it an exciting research environment and has allowed it to push ahead the frontiers of the discipline.
The group has also been responsive to the needs of the community, both locally and internationally, for linguistic research and expertise. It has conducted research on political language, including work which has shown how and why politicians of differing views may fail to communicate because their discourse conceptualises the world in very different ways, work which has been highly significant in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations and more widely, and on a similar vein in cross-cultural communication. It has not only brought the significant aspects of its local language varieties to bear on the development of linguistic theory, it has also used its work on linguistic theory to help answer very important practical questions in relation to for example the revival of Irish and Ulster Scots, cross-cultural communication, and clinical and educational linguistics. A significant contribution of data on Belfast English and Irish has been made available to the scholarly community on CHILDES.
Overall, we consider that the Linguistics Group at Ulster has made a strong and focussed contribution to a range of individual areas of the discipline, and to breaking down boundaries between these areas, which is recognised internationally, while providing a model for how high-level theoretical work may feed applied research of value to communities in a range of areas from politics to health, education and the maintenance and revival of minority languages.