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A Student's Deep Dive into How Language is Learned


Stephanie Zhang ’19 spent her entire summer delving into a single, intriguing aspect of how Japanese speakers learn English. Her specific interest — negative quantifiers. An Emerson grant from Hamilton funded her summer work, which she will present later in the academic year at the NY6 Conference at St. Lawrence University.

“What my academic advisor and I wanted to study was how a language learner acquires the knowledge of a word in a second language that does not exist in their native language,” Zhang says. 

In linguistics, she explains, quantifiers are words that indicate a nonspecific amount or quantity.  And negative quantifiers, which are found in a relative few languages, in English are often in the form of  “no" followed by a noun, such as no student or no teacher. 

About Stephanie Zhang '19

Majors: Asian studies and Chinese

Hometown: Wellesley Hills, Mass.

High School: Wellesley High 

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Working with Masaaki Kamiya, associate professor of Japanese and chair of East Asian Languages and Literature, she analyzed how Japanese speakers who are studying English learn negative quantifiers, which don't exist in Japanese.

In linguistics courses she’d taken with Kamiya, Zhang researched differences  between the English and Japanese languages, and he suggested the topic for her Emerson. She saw the grant as a way to explore her interest in linguistics and to help her figure out which aspects of the field interest her the most.

To Zhang, collaborating with Kamiya felt more like working with a colleague than like a typical professor-student relationship. “Admittedly, that also means quite a bit more work and responsibility on my part, but I think it has given me some insight into what it would be like to do this kind of work for a living,” she says.

She's found that doing research requires her to be more involved than she would be in typical coursework. “I would say the time commitment is also slightly more, when doing research, as I'm not simply acquiring information, but I'm using and reproducing that information in order to gather new information. In order to do that, I first have to create the tools with which to accurately gather that information,” says Zhang, who majors in Asian studies and Chinese.

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