Funded Projects

In August 2016, Language Sciences held a competition for funding for our affiliates. Descriptions of the funded projects are below. Thanks to everyone who applied; keep up the great language sciences work!

The African Storybook in Multilingual Canadian Classrooms

PI: Bonny Norton, Professor, Language and Literacy Education (LLED). Co-Investigators: Espen Stranger-Johannessen, Liam Doherty, and Ron Darvin, PhD students, LLED; Margaret Early and Margot Filipenko, Professors, LLED.

The African Storybook (ASb) is a groundbreaking digital initiative with over 650 open access stories in multiple African languages, as well as English, French, and Portuguese, which promotes literacy for African children ( Norton is the project’s Research Advisor and Stranger-Johannessen is an ASb researcher. The Global African Storybook Project (, developed by Doherty, extends the ASb by bringing African stories to a worldwide audience through text and audio translation. Darvin, Early, and Filipenko are active in the BC teacher education program. Seed funding from the Language Sciences project will be used to (i) translate and audio record ASb stories into the languages of refugee and migrant students in BC, such as Somali, Arabic, Punjabi, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Tagalog; (ii) make these available on a new website, and (iii) identify connections between ASb stories and the new BC Curriculum. In the second stage of the project, we will seek additional funding to promote collaboration with teachers, parents, and policymakers interested in using the ASb to promote English/French literacy and mother tongue maintenance in Canadian primary schools. The guiding questions for this project are:

  1. To what extent can translated ASb stories be used to promote the big ideas and learning standards in the new BC Curriculum for all students?
  2. To what extent are Canadian primary school teachers, parents, and policymakers invested in African storybooks in bilingual print and audio versions?

The Language Sciences project represents a new area of research, with promising team-building possibilities with teachers, parents, and policymakers in BC and Canada. It also provides much needed resources for migrants and new refugees, including those from Syria. More broadly, it encourages gradual change in the direction of global communication (e.g., from North-South to South-North), while supporting both English/French literacy and mother tongue maintenance in Canadian communities.


Canadian Raising in Singing

PI: Bryan Gick, Professor, Linguistics. Co-Investigators: Murray Schellenberg, Postdoctoral Fellow, Linguistics; Avery Ozburn, PhD Student, Linguistics; J. Patrick Raftery, Assistant Professor, Music


The effects of intermittent theta burst stimulation on progressive non-fluent aphasia: A pilot study

PI: Tami Howe, Assistant Professor, Audiology and Speech Sciences. Co-Investigators: Jeff Small, Associate Professor, Audiology and Speech Sciences;  Maya Lichtenstein and Rodrigo Santibanez, Behavioral Neurology Fellows, Centre for Brain Health; Fidel Vila-Rodriguez, Assistant Professor, Psychiatry; Howard Feldman, Professor, Neurology.

This pilot study will assess the feasibility and potential efficacy of an emerging state of the art treatment approach (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) for persons with Progressive Non-Fluent Aphasia (PNFA) in conjunction with both behavioural and brain outcome measures. The project aligns with the “Communicating Mind and Body” theme and involves a new collaboration between researchers in the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences, the Centre for Brain Health, and the Department of Psychiatry.

PNFA, a clinical subgroup of the primary progressive aphasias, is a neurodegenerative disease manifested by effortful, non-fluent speech, with particular difficulties in grammatical production and comprehension. PNFA causes profound functional disability, with most patients becoming mute several years after diagnosis. Therapies that aim to maintain language function for PNFA patients are, therefore, imperative for preserving communication ability, independence and quality of life. The primary objective of this pilot study is to investigate the linguistic and neurophysiological effects of a course of intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) on dominant inferior frontal lobe stimulation in patients with PNFA. We hypothesize that participants who receive iTBS treatment will show improvement in their language abilities and changes in their underlying functional neurophysiology, as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), electroencephalography (EEG) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Ten persons diagnosed with PNFA will be recruited for participation. The study will employ a crossover A1BA2 study design, with A1 being baseline phase; B the intervention phase with iTBS; and A2 the post-intervention phase. Each phase will last 4 weeks, for a total of 12 weeks. The participants will undergo language testing during each phase. The behavioural and neurophysiological effects of iTBS will be measured as the magnitude of pre-to-post treatment changes on each outcome measure. Should the findings from this pilot study show promise, further research would be warranted to determine the efficacy of TMS as a safe, non-invasive intervention for patients with PNFA.


Haptic feedback increases speech intelligibility

PI: Karon MacLean, Professor, Computer Science. Co-Investigators: David Marino, Research Assistant, Computer Science; Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson, Professor, Linguistics/Cognitive Systems.

We propose to explore the utility of haptic feedback where audition alone is not sufficient for good speech intelligibility. Integrating speech information from visual sensory domains can improve speech intelligibility (Sumby and Pollack 1954). However, there are many situations where vision is either not available or where visual attention must be re-directed via some other sensory mode in order for the interaction to be ‘face-to-face’ – for example, an industrial shop floor where two interlocutors are not necessarily able to establish shared visual attention.

We have developed a small wearable transducer that provides vibrotactile stimulation corresponding to the amplitude envelope of a speech signal. With a series of simple experiments we ask: can the intelligibility of an environmentally degraded acoustic signal be improved via vibrotactile stimulation of the skin surface? Alternatively, can intelligibility be improved simply by aligning the listener’s attention with the talker’s signal? Our prediction is that optimal enhancement involves both signal redundancy and alignment.

This project aligns with the language sciences initiative by bridging the fields of human-computer-interaction and speech science to potentially enhance user’s linguistic communication in degraded sensory environments. By examining how additional sensory modalities may enrich processing of linguistic content, we are exploring the capabilities of the communicating mind and body. Additionally, our study uses wearable haptic technology to augment human speech perception and thus examines the role of evolving language in an information economy. The results of our study may provide tangible benefits to individuals with hearing loss, groups who must accomplish cooperative tasks in acoustically challenging environments, and human-robot-interaction.


How linguistic communication shapes the perception of a plant-based diet

PI: Jiaying Zhao, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair, Psychology/IRES. Co-Investigator: Sebastian Leon, Student, Psychology.

Animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and water pollution. There is also growing evidence linking the consumption of animal products to some of the most prevalent chronic diseases including atherosclerosis, cancer, and diabetes. Therefore, it is imperative to consider alternative food sources (i.e., plant-based products) which demand fewer resources, are less ecologically destructive, and can improve human health conditions. The goal of the current project is to examine how linguistic communication determines the public perception of a plant-based diet by developing communication strategies that focus on ethical, environmental, social, or health factors of plant-based food. This project represents an important new direction of Dr. Zhao’s work that aims to bridge cognitive science and environmental sustainability. In the experiment, participants are randomly assigned to separate conditions, each of which presents a paragraph describing the ethical, environmental, social, health, holistic (all information combined), or neutral aspects of a plant-based diet. After reading the paragraph, participants will be asked to indicate their preferences and perceptions of a list of animal and plant-based foods, as well as their future dining intentions. This project can provide novel insights on how linguistic communication shapes people’s perceptions of plant-based foods. At a practical level, the study can offer useful insights on how best to communicate to the public about a plant-based diet. The findings from this project can help inform animal advocacy groups and environmental organizations in terms of conducting their educational and outreach campaigns in the public. In turn, the enhancement of these communication efforts could, in the long run, help alleviate the severity of climate change and environmental devastation, and also reduce the prevalence of chronic health diseases.


Kaska Language Immersion Parent Group

PI: Patrick Moore, Associate Professor, Anthropology. Co-Investigator: Martina Volfova, PhD Candidate, Anthropology.


Kizuna: Trust Inbetween Spaces of Past and Future

PI: Carl Leggo, Professor, Language and Literacy Education. Co-investigators: Yoriko Gillard, PhD student, Language and Literacy Education

As part of their “HEARTH: hear/heart/art/earth” project, these researchers hosted a poetry workshop open to all members of the UBC Community.


Negotiating changing Chinese language, literacy and other semiotic practices in the transnational online information economy

PI: Patricia Duff, Professor, Language and Literacy Education. Co-Investigators: Duanduan Li, Associate Professor, Asian Studies; Liam Doherty, PhD Candidate, Language and Literacy Education.


Neurocognitive development in French immersion students

PI: Rachel Weber, Assistant Professor, Educational & Counselling Psychology, and Special Education. Co-Investigator: Stefka Marinova-Todd, Associate Professor, Audiology and Speech Sciences.


Sound Change and Perceptual Adaptation in English-Cantonese Bilinguals

PI: Molly Babel, Associate Professor, Linguistics. Co-investigators: Lauretta Cheng and Leighanne Chan, undergraduate students, Linguistics; Yao Yao, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Cantonese-English bilinguals make up a sizable population at UBC and in Metro Vancouver. This community of bilinguals is diverse, including both recent immigrants and heritage speakers of Cantonese. Heritage speakers, who learn Cantonese at home, are a highly heterogeneous group where language experiences and levels of bilingual proficiency vary widely, but they tend to be largely dominant in English, the majority language of Vancouver. This contrasts with many speakers in Hong Kong, where Cantonese is the majority language, who have relatively extensive experience with English but are dominant in Cantonese. We explore the language patterns of the local Cantonese-English bilingual community in two studies.

The first study focuses on perceptual learning — listeners’ adjustment of the boundaries of sound categories when exposed to novel language input — and explores the role of language dominance on listeners’ abilities to perceptually learn. Specifically, we’re interested in how Cantonese language experience and bilinguals’ language dominance influence the level of flexibility of bilinguals’ Cantonese perceptual systems. This has interesting implications for how bilinguals perceive their languages, how they might intrinsically go about learning their languages, and whether there are differences between second language learners and native bilinguals in updating phoneme categories.

Our second study investigates the state of several Hong Kong Cantonese syllable-initial sound changes in Vancouver Cantonese speakers, focusing on the possibility of bilingual transfer from English as a driving factor in these sound changes. We are comparing Cantonese production and perception in Cantonese-English bilinguals with varying levels of bilingual dominance, including younger heritage and older first-generation immigrant speakers in Vancouver, as well as younger and older native Cantonese speakers in Hong Kong. The results of this study will help us understand more about heritage speakers and the course of sound change in immigrant populations, as well as how bilingual language transfer may motivate phonetic change.


There and Back in Two Languages: Intersections of Bilingualism, Identity and Place for Luso-Canadian Transnationals

PI: Christine Schreyer, Associate Professor, Community, Culture and Global Studies, UBC-O. Co-investigator: Sara Vieira, PhD Candidate, Community, Culture and Global Studies, UBC-O.

Our research aims to understand the ways in which Portuguese-Canadians use their bilingualism to connect to a sense of self (identity) and belonging (place), and maintain and retain social ties in both Canada and Portugal. In particular, we are interested in individuals who participate in circular migration between Portugal and the GTA. Our study explores the ways in which these transnational movements impact language use, bilingualism, and connecting to national identity, and attempts to understand the experience of re-integration. In order to empirically understand these processes, fieldwork will be conducted in both the GTA as well as in central Portugal for 8-10 months. It is important to travel between Portugal and Canada as our goal is to observe and participate in bilingual language use in both places, and mimic the transnational mobility of these individuals in order to gain an in-depth analysis. Our primary research methods are semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and Critical Discourse Analysis. Our research project is interdisciplinary, influenced largely by linguistic anthropology, geography, and sociology. This demonstrates the ways in which studies on language transcend disciplinary boundaries, often correlating with issues of transnationalism, globalization, sustainability, and technology. Our project fits well within the Language Sciences theme of ‘Language, Sustainability, and Transnationalism’, as expanding the University of British Columbia’s research on language and its intersections with culture, policy, and transnationalism are precisely our research goals. Our aim is to assess and provide recommendations for services in order to allocate meaningful support for transnational migrants, as well as the larger Portuguese-Canadian community in Canada.


Workplace language challenges and triumphs for newcomers from diverse linguistic backgrounds in the Okanagan

PI: Scott Roy Douglas, Assistant Professor, Education, UBC-O

Presently, there is limited research examining communication challenges and language competencies among newcomers who work in places other than regulated professions such as nursing or engineering in smaller regional centres such as the Okanagan valley.  With the goal of understanding newcomers’ spoken English language in use in regional workplace settings, this project sets out to explore a subset of data that have been collected from a larger national-level project, carried out in collaboration with Dr. Christine Doe (Mount Saint Vincent University) and Dr. Liying Cheng (Queen’s University), investigating how newcomers’ perceived challenges and competencies in immigrant workplace settings map onto descriptors of English language proficiency.  For the current project, data from the local research site in British Columbia, in the form of semi-structured interviews exploring participants’ self-assessed English language proficiency and stories of using English in the workplace (n=15), are disaggregated from the national data to focus on local newcomer workplace language experiences in the Okanagan valley.  Grounded in the UBC Language Sciences Initiative research strategy core theme of Language, Sustainability, and Transnationalism and influenced by a second language socialization understanding of additional language in use (Duff, 2007; Duff & Kobayashi, 2010), the inquiry draws from a variety of disciplines such as applied linguistics, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), anthropology, social work, settlement, education, and management to understand language in use in newcomer workplaces.  Qualitative research methods are employed to categorize and code the disaggregated data to uncover emerging themes related to participants’ perceptions of their language in the workplace.  Based on the findings, implications related to English language teaching, learning, and assessment for newcomers from diverse linguistic backgrounds will be explored, with particular emphasis on instructional tasks that support language skills for the workplace while fostering newcomers’ own aspirational goals.


Duff, P. (2007). Second language socialization as sociocultural theory: Insights and issues. Language Teaching, 40(4), 309-319.

Duff, P. & Kobayashi, M. (2010). The intersection of social, cognitive, and cultural processes in language learning: A second language socialization approach. In R. Batstone (Ed.), Sociocognitive perspectives on language use and language learning (75-93). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


You Get What You Ask For: Understanding the Importance of Interview Language Choice in Multilingual Communities

PI: Shaylih Muehlmann, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Anthropology. Co-Investigator: Daria Boltokova, PhD Candidate, Anthropology, UBC, and Graduate Fellow, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University