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Madeline Fusco Fellowship

Paola Cépeda, Linguistics

Suzan M. Walters Dissertation Title: Negation and Time: Against Expletive Negation in Temporal Clauses

Can you tell us, in general terms, about your research?

I am mainly interested in how negation is expressed in natural languages. For my dissertation, I have identified a research problem regarding the apparently vacuous contribution of a negative expression in certain syntactic positions. Consider the sentence “I missed not seeing you last summer.” It has a very straightforward meaning for native speakers of English: what I missed was seeing you last summer (and not really not seeing you). The presence of the negative expression “not” in such a sentence does not seem to contribute to the meaning of the sentence and, therefore, many scholars have described it as null, non-negative and optional. 

However, after controlling different variables in the combination of words, I have found differences in meaning that arise when the negative expression is present in the sentences. My research is based on the hypothesis that the apparently vacuous negative expression does in fact have an active semantics and, consequently, it does contribute to the sentence meaning.

What excites you about your work?

Languages are fascinating! There are more than 6,000 languages in the world and, to the untrained eye, they all seem different from each other. However, linguistic research has argued convincingly that the range of variation is limited and that languages share universal components (negation, for instance, is one of them). By understanding how sentences are codified and interpreted in natural languages, we can have an idea of how the faculty of language interacts with other cognitive systems in our brains, what language acquisition involves, and how language processing works. Not only does this give us insights on the human nature, but also it has an enormous impact on technology design and artificial intelligence.

Another very exciting part of my job is teaching. I love learning things, and I want to help my students love learning too. I want to empower them to take control of their own learning process and to discover their own talents. I have had the privilege to interact with students from different backgrounds and with different life perspectives. Every one of them has always had something to contribute to the class, and I have learned a lot from all of them. Teaching is definitely one of my favorite moments of the day.

When I am not doing linguistics or teaching, I am usually running, taking classes in our local library, watching movies, or having a great time with my daughter.

How has your time at Stony Brook helped equip your for success?

Stony Brook University has been a second home to me and has fully nurtured me since I first arrived from my home country, Peru. I was drawn to the doctoral program here because I wanted to work under Dr. Richard Larson’s supervision. Richard has undoubtedly inspired me to achieve high standards in both academia and my personal life. I have also shaped my scholarly competences and my teaching philosophy following the exemplary ways of my professors in the Department of Linguistics, who have been excellent role models to me.

Besides, I have benefited from the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, which allowed me to take classes at NYU for two semesters. I have developed my professional skills thanks to the workshops offered by the University Library, the Office for the Integration of Research, Education and Professional Development (IREP), and the Career Center. I am also very grateful to the Department of Linguistics, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Center (LACS), and the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) for their financial support in the form of travel and conference grants.

Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to contribute to the Stony Brook community and engage in important social issues. I have served as student representative in the Department of Linguistics, as a member of the Graduate Council Appeals Committee, and as an organizer and collaborator in different events. I have also become a Safe Space member after training offered by the LGBTQ* Services of the Office of Student Affairs, and I am interested in the activities of the HeForShe Movement for Gender Equality.

As you can see, Stony Brook University has provided me with the tools and the environment to expand my horizons and to face challenges that I had never thought I could. For these reasons, there are no words to express my gratitude and appreciation.

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