Graduate Student Awarded Fellowship for Linguistics Research

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Graduate student Paola Cepeda was named a recipient of the Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Completion Fellowship for her research in Linguistics.

Paola Cepeda

Stony Brook Linguistics PhD candidate Paola Cepeda has been recognized with a 2017 Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Dissertation Completion Fellowship for her thesis research entitled “Negation and Time. Against expletive negation in temporal clauses.” Cepeda is an international student from Peru.

Scholars previously thought that this type of negation, which is present in a variety of natural languages, had no meaning (e.g., a speaker saying, “I missed not seeing you last summer” when he/she actually missed was “seeing you” and not “not seeing you”). Cepeda’s groundbreaking research suggests otherwise. In addition to addressing an open question in her field, her findings could have broader impacts on language processing by artificial personal assistants like Siri or Cortana.

Cepeda’s advisor, Professor Richard Larson from the Department of Linguistics, explains further: “The artificial languages of logic and computer science have the property that expressions written in them are meaningful in all their parts — they contain no extraneous symbols. As such, one might describe such artificial languages as ‘perfectly’ interpreted. They show a perfect match up between form and meaning. Cepeda’s results suggest that when speakers say a ‘not’ they really do convey a negative meaning, even when it doesn’t seem so. If she is correct, then speakers are more logical and systematic, and natural language more perfect, than initially appears.”

It is a great honor for Cepeda — and Stony Brook — to be recognized with this prestigious award. Only 65 fellows were selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants through a rigorous, multi-stage peer-review process. The fellowship offers promising graduate students a year of support to focus their attention on completing projects that form the foundations of their careers and that will help shape a generation of humanistic scholarship. The program, which is made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, also includes a faculty-led academic job market seminar, hosted by ACLS, to further prepare fellows for their postgraduate careers.

“The fellows are completing their degrees at 36 different US universities, and their work represents the broad range of disciplines that this program supports, including literature, philosophy, media studies, ethnic studies, linguistics, sociology, and archaeology,” said ACLS Program Officer Rachel Bernard.

When asked what advice she has for other graduate students pursuing prestigious awards, Cepeda emphasized the importance of crafting one’s proposal with a particular audience in mind. “It’s a delicate balance,” she said, “you want to appear knowledgeable while still ensuring that the subject is approachable for non-experts.” Cepeda carefully tailored her application materials so that a panel of humanists and social scientists unfamiliar with her topic could grasp the significance of her research.

Click here for more information about the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

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