Samantha Wray, 2015 Gruener Research Travel Awardee

Samanta Wray
Ph.D. Candidate
Cognitive Science, GIDP Minor

Research Location

Amman, Jordan

On Site Research Dates

Fall/ Winter 2015

Title of Research Project:

"Effects of word frequency on the processing of Jordanian Arabic"

I traveled to Amman, Jordan and performed several experiments associated with my dissertation which focuses on the dual roles of word and morpheme frequencies during auditory word recognition for native speakers of Arabic. I performed this research at two different sites, Qasid Institute and The University of Jordan. Although the effects of frequencies of words, as well as the frequencies of the parts they contain, i.e. morphemes, are well-studied for Indo-European languages, languages such as Arabic which employ a different morphological system are less well understood. The aim of my research was to determine how the frequency of words and the morphemes they contain affect the speed at which speakers recognize these words. Experimental research of this nature required travel to a country with a large Arabic-speaking population to collect data from a large population of native speaker participants.

In the course of my research, I collected three kinds of data. The first was a representative corpus of Jordanian Arabic built largely from web sources, which required consolidation and alteration of existing computational resources and tools to clean and categorize the data, and to extract morphemes from the words. The second was demographic data from participants at the two institutes mentioned above. This data helped keep track of where each speaker came and what their individual language histories were to determine to what extent regional differences within the country determined knowledge of infrequent words within the local dialect. Finally, I collected data in a forced-choice lexical decision experiment from these same participants. In this task, speakers had to listen to words and possible but unattested nonce words recorded by a native speaker onsite during this time. For each word a participant heard, s/he had to respond via button press as quickly as possible and had to choose if the word was a real word of Arabic or not. The goal of the task was to collect reaction time data to see how quickly speakers responded to words which were very frequent, but had comparatively infrequent stem morphemes, and vice versa. Initial results suggest that for productive verbal paradigms of Arabic, both morpheme and word frequency affect the speed at which speakers recognize words, but for nonproductive verbal paradigms, only the frequency of the word itself determines how quickly a speaker can recognize this word.

Including pilot work which helped refine the final set of stimuli and shape experimental procedure, a total of 280 participants in Amman contributed to this study. This was performed in the absence of an institutional recruitment system at both institutions in which I performed the research: The University of Amman and Qasid Institute. This means that a great bulk of time was spent spreading the information by word of mouth and negotiating scheduling with my research assistant, as well as physically traveling to the institutes ahead of time to arrange meetings with my participants.

My trip to Amman was highly productive and resulted in the heart of my dissertation work. All remaining work was only possible because of the results I have been able to draw from data collected in Jordan. Because this trip involved international travel and a large subject population, undertaking this study was a large expense. Although the bulk of the study was funded under National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant BCS-1533780, many other necessary and significant expenses, including telecom costs vital to communicating with my research assistant, language informants, and participants, as well as inner city travel to my research sites, were only possible thanks to the funding provided by the GIDP in the form of the Raphael & Jolene Gruener Research Travel Award. Not only am I extraordinarily grateful for this award which has made my research possible and set me on strong footing at the beginning of my academic career, I believe it has been well spent in the interdisciplinary spirit of GIDP research by bringing a strong cognitive science slant incorporating psycholinguisitcs and computational linguistics to my research.

Last updated 8 Mar 2016