10 Language and Linguistics Research and Passion Project Ideas
5 minute read
Languages are the fundamental tool for human communication. They help us convey thoughts, emotions, information, and ideas, facilitating interaction and understanding among people. Everyone has probably had some amount of exposure to a second language while in school where they learn sentences and grammar, but beyond that languages serve as carriers of culture. They hold the stories, traditions, and history of a particular community or group.
In an increasingly globalized world, knowing multiple languages and understanding the culture behind them can be a huge advantage in job prospects or just connecting with others from different backgrounds. Whether you’re interested in a particular language, or looking to explore how language impacts society, a language and linguistics passion project can be a great opportunity for you.
Linguistics is a broad field and there are a lot of different topics you can explore. For example, you can dive deeper into phonetics or syntax or explore historical linguistics. You could also learn more about the intersections between linguistics and science and linguistics and modern-day pop culture. In order to find the right project for you, it could be helpful to think about what secondary topics besides linguistics you’re excited about. For instance, if you have an interest in history in addition to linguistics, then an analysis of a language’s origin and how it was influenced by history and the movement of people could be a great project for you to pursue.
A general feature of human languages is that the way words sound rarely has anything to do with what they mean. However, this is not always the case; for example, words beginning with "gl" often have similar meanings (e.g., "glimmer", "glisten", "gleam"). How often do these "form-meaning" mappings occur across languages–and why?
Idea by language and linguistics research mentor Reuben
2. Bilingualism and cognition
This could be a great project for you if you’re interested in the intersection of languages and STEM. How does bilingualism affect general cognition? In turn, how does cognition affect bilingualism? In this project, you’ll examine the intersection of bilingualism and domain-general cognitive processes such as attention, executive function, cognitive control, and memory. You can also review the similarities and differences between various types of bilinguals, such as simultaneous bilinguals vs. late learners.
3. The Power of Listening
Have you ever wondered how children are able to learn a new language without taking any classes? No lectures, no flashcards, no textbooks, no quizzes. We all learned how to speak by simply listening to the world around us. The more we understand about human communication, the better we can foster our relationships with each other. Dive deeper into language acquisition and design a research experiment that explores the power of listening.
4. Explore slang trends on Twitter
Slang is rapidly changing, and may vary depending on the age/gender/community of the speaker. In this project, you will extract tweets from Twitter and explore trends in slang use over time. Through this project, you can get an introduction to basic text analysis/processing techniques.
Idea by language and linguistics research mentor Jennifer
Study how politeness, kindness, and other behavioral phenomena are expressed differently across languages (e.g., English vs. Mandarin Chinese). What differences are there? Are there any similarities? Why might some languages be more “polite” than others?
6. Literally speaking, how figurative are we?
When it comes to metaphors and other figures of speech, people generally equate them with some artistic talents that are shared only among poets and writers. But it turns out that figuration (especially metaphors) might be a fundamental mechanism of human cognition! In this project, you will explore the magic of "Conceptual Metaphor Theory", a powerful and still developing theory in Cognitive Linguistics, and assess whether you believe this theory holds weight.
7. Languages of the world
This project will explore the key topics in global linguistic diversity, enabling you to contextualize the language(s), region(s), or culture(s) in which you’re interested. You can pick one of the following themes to explore: a) the relationships between the world’s languages and language families; b) how languages vary in different social and cultural contexts; c) how the sounds and structures of the world’s languages may vary in general.
8. Spanish and how it got that way
In 711 C.E., the Arabic-speaking Umayyad dynasty began their conquest of the Iberian peninsula, now present-day Spain and Portugal. During this time, there were over 800 years of Arab cultural and linguistic influence on the region. Today, over 4,000 Spanish words derive their origins from Arabic. Students can explore the influence of Arabic on Spanish through the lens of historical linguistics.
9. How can we write rules for a language game?
We do so much with words. Consider, for instance, our practice of questioning and asserting. In raising questions, we determine what problems to resolve. In asserting propositions, we can achieve equitable agreements, well-coordinated actions, and insightful research. In abusively questioning and asserting, we cause harm by silencing, unwarranted subordinating, gaslighting, and propagating misinformation. How should we scientifically explain our ways with words? Many linguists and philosophers explain them as being moves in a rule-governed language game. Others reject language games as unhelpful metaphors. Examine both sides to understand what we explain when writing the rules of a language game.
10. Arabian Nights
Students can choose from any of the “Arabian Nights” tales, and depending on language expertise, can work through it by reading in either English or Arabic (or a mix of the two). You can then explore, analyze, and attempt to define some of the most common themes in the text: the power of storytelling, magic, adventure, fate, etc.
After you’ve done the hard work of researching and exploring topics in linguistics, it’s also equally important to decide how you want to showcase your project. There are many unique ways that you can showcase a project. Specifically for linguistics, you could write a research paper, create a podcast or infographic, or even perform an oral presentation of the linguistics concepts you explored.
There are several amazing linguistics passion projects Polygence students have taken on; we'll highlight a couple here:
Simone’s research paper explored the question of whether a bilingual brain, even when a bilingual is only using one language, processes linguistic information in the same manner as a monolingual brain.
In her project, Audrey learned about Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand how Democratic presidential candidates were described in text and media in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
In this article, we covered how to pick the right language and linguistics project for you, shared some ideas for passion projects, and discussed how to showcase your project.
If you have a passion or even the slightest curiosity for linguistics and you’re interested in diving deeper, Polygence’s programs are a great place to start. You’ll be able to meet virtually one-on-one with a linguistics research mentor who can help you learn new concepts and brainstorm with you on how to showcase your passion project
Interested in doing an exciting research project? Click below to get matched with one of our expert mentors!