Distinguished alumnus Grant Berry presents to students

On April 4-8, 2016, former Rho Rho chapter president Grant Berry returned to his alma mater, Truman State University, to present on various topics. Mr. Berry is currently a doctoral candidate in Hispanic Linguistics at Pennsylvania State University.

His four presentations varied in topic, including historical Spanish, application of literature in studying language change, and how his Truman experience prepared him for graduate school. While visiting Truman, Mr. Berry, a past Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Argentina, also shared tips to students planning to apply for a Fulbright grant.


Following are abstracts from each of his four presentations:

Making Use of Literature in Studying Language Change

The present state of language is directly influenced by its past, so a keen understanding of how languages change over time is instrumental for understanding their structure now. While many databases of contemporary speech are available for a diverse set of languages, this is often not the case for language from more than a century ago. To examine how language has changed over the last millennium, written works can, with appropriate precautions, serve as valuable portraits of the state of language in the time of their writing. In this talk, I discuss how literary texts in particular can be effectively utilized in research on language change. By means of illustration, I present research with colleagues at Penn State on the evolution of Early Spanish third-singular subject pronoun expression (él tiene vs. ø tiene ‘he has’) using literary texts from the 13 th -16 th centuries (Calila e Dimna, 1251; Libro de los enxiemplos del Conde Lucanor et de Patronio, 1335; Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, also known as La Celestina, ~1499; and La vida de Lazarrilo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades, 1554).

Phonetic Alignment and Style Shifting in English as a lingua franca

When two language learners converse in a lingua franca, their phonetic production is often affected by transfer of phonological categories from their native languages; this results in distinct, predictable difficulties in pronunciation for each speaker. Such a context provides a rich environment for investigating the degree to which speakers can tune their pronunciation to one another in discourse (phonetic alignment). In this study, a colleague at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands) and I ask whether the categories transferred from the native language of each conversant can be aligned, and we examine alignment in real time rather than post hoc. To do this, we use a new corpus of English as a lingua franca (the Nijmegen Corpus of Spanish English) to provide a fine-grained analysis of phonetic alignment to two key vowel contrasts as a function of time and speech style.

How the Truman Experience Prepared Me for Grad School

Success as a graduate student and scholar requires exquisite time management, high academic drive, broad intellectual curiosity, and strong critical thinking and writing skills. Nearly every facet of my education at Truman (2006-2010) prepared me to be successful as a Ph.D. candidate in Spanish and Language Science at Penn State, although I didn’t realize it until I was finishing my Master’s degree. In this talk, I provide a brief biographical sketch and summary of my experiences at Truman State University — as a student in Spanish (BA) and Mathematics (BS), an Honors Scholar, a designer and instructor of a Student-Initiated Course, a study abroad student, and an active member of various honorary organizations on campus — and describe how these experiences fostered critical skills for success as I applied for graduate programs, began advanced studies, and applied for competitive grants and fellowships as a graduate student. As a conclusion, I offer suggestions to current undergraduates for maximizing their Truman Experience and their chances of success in graduate school in the Liberal Arts.

When habla is not the same as está hablando: Grammaticalization of the Spanish Progressive

Unlike in present-day English, the Spanish simple Present can be used to describe events that are ongoing at the moment of discourse (e.g., ¿Qué haces? –Hablo por teléfono. ‘What are you doing? –I’m talking on the phone’). However, the simple Present also alternates with the Spanish Progressive, which is constructed by a copular verb estar ‘to be’ and a gerund ending in –ndo (e.g., Estoy hablando por teléfono ‘I’m talking on the phone’). The Progressive construction was originally one in which the focus was on location rather than the action conveyed by the gerund (e.g., Estoy en Madrid, comiendo ‘I am [located] in Madrid, eating’), but has begun to grammaticalize and convey progressive aspect over the last few centuries. In this talk, I describe the history of the construction and note changes to its linguistic conditioning. highlighting previous work done by my adviser and more recent work done independently. A multivariate analysis conducted on a twentieth-century corpus of conversational Spanish indicates that over the last one hundred years, the construction has further coalesced into a single grammatical unit. This new unit is has become a de facto way to express progressive (continuous) aspect with both dynamic verbs and verbs which describe states, indicating that the construction per se conveys that an action is either ongoing or circumscribed to the time of speech. At the same time, its presence in extended duration (habitual) contexts is attributed to strong effects of Progressive-Progressive priming (repetition of the same structure in a small time window) and, to a lesser extent, licensing by a co-occurring temporal adverbial (such as ahora ‘now’). I situate these findings within the history of the construction, with a special focus on structural priming as a measure of grammatical analyzability.