RIT Professor Leads Study of Under-investigated Languages

One of the first studies of the processing of languages with opposite structures to English

Hiroko Yamashita

A key concept in the field of linguistics is sentence structure and its impact on linguistic performance. For example, languages such as English and French place critical information early in a phrase, which facilitates both human comprehension and machine translation. In comparison, languages such as Japanese, Hindi, and Basque place critical information at the end of a phrase or a sentence—posing a challenge in machine translation. How native speakers effortlessly comprehend and speak those languages also has not been well understood.

Processing and Producing Head-final Structures is a new collection of writings by leading scholars in the field co-edited by Rochester Institute of Technology professor Hiroko Yamashita. It is one of the first to comprehensively examine the processing and production of specific linguistic structures called “head-final structures” in different languages.

“In linguistic study, languages are broken down into two types: head-initial, where the linguistic head, such as the verb, comes before the complement, and head-final, where the head usually is at the end of a phrase,” notes Yamashita, chair of the RIT Department of Modern Languages and Cultures.

“Until recently, progress in the field of human sentence processing has been achieved largely by investigating head-initial languages such as English,” she continues. “The goal of this collection is to deepen our understanding by examining how humans comprehend or speak head-final languages such as Japanese, Korean, German and Hindi, and offering a comparison of those results to findings from head-initial languages.”

The book is co-edited by Yuki Hirose, associate professor of language and information sciences at the University of Tokyo, and Jerome Packard, professor of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It grew out of the International Conference on Processing Head-final Structures, a National Science Foundation-sponsored symposium held at RIT in 2007.


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