Martha Redmond ’18 spent this summer researching the differences in how people perceive ambiguous sentences, looking at variables such as gender, age and level of education. She worked with Associate Professor of Japanese Masaaki Kamiya on this project, which was funded by an Emerson summer research grant.
Redmond took several linguistics courses with Kamiya; for a class project she came across a published paper that outlined a procedure for studying how people produce sentences whose meaning changes based on the context, and then how others may understand those sentences. She pushed this study further to look at differences in sentence production based on gender.
In her summer research, she followed this procedure found in the study by Kristen Syrett at Rutgers University. “I took a specific pattern of production of ambiguous sentences that has been posited in earlier research and figuring out if there could be particular patterns of perception that change based on a listener’s gender, age or level of education,” Redmond explained. “I researched whether the prosodic pattern that a speaker uses plays a role in understanding, and how that is affected by the aforementioned variables.”
Hometown: Holland Patent, N.Y.
High School: Holland Patent Central School
To do this, Redmond collected audio samples of people reading through contexts that include ambiguous sentences. Using Praat software, she analyzed the production of the ambiguous sentence and then excised it from the context. Then, she sent out a Qualtrics survey with the written contexts and the audial ambiguous sentence. Her research also involved looking at prior research and other similar studies, which suggest the existence of differences in production between genders as well as the effect of age on perceptive skills.
Redmond’s research naturally brings up the kind of questions she finds fascinating. “How does the perception of one particular person differ from another? Can it be generalized? I am interested in continuing down this path of how subjective really are the subjective experiences that we each are always in the process of having,” she commented.
Redmond hopes to find differences between genders, ages and levels of education in the perception of ambiguous sentences. “This topic has never been studied before, and I think it would be incredible for the world of linguistics to learn even a little bit more about how our minds work in terms of language, since it is not yet well-understood.” If these results are achieved, the student-professor team will pursue a presentation of their research at linguistic conferences.