Research Projects


Abstracts (MOE Tier 1: Call1/2019)

The English language, developmental issues, and the revitalization of higher education in Myanmar

By Dr. Benedict Lin (Language and Communication Centre)

This project sets out to investigate the contemporary implementation of English-medium instruction (EMI) in the two leading universities of Myanmar, namely, the University of Yangon and the University of Mandalay. More specifically, it sets out to investigate the challenges faced by (and needs of) students and teachers in the learning and teaching of academic disciplines through the medium of English. This project has been designed in collaboration with Myanmar colleagues at these two universities. After decades of educational stagnation, Yangon University has embarked on an ambitious program to revitalize all aspects of its learning and teaching, including the learning of English and the use of the English language for instructional purposes. The PI and Co-PI of this project have been invited by the Departments of English of both universities to assist in (i) carrying out a 'needs analysis' in relation to English language education, and the use of English as a teaching medium; as well as (ii) contributing to discussions and deliberations concerning language policy within Myanmar's higher education sector. The proposed project is not, however, intended as a purely applied exercise, but it is argued in this proposal that the issue of English in Myanmar higher education also connects with the frontline of research in applied linguistics and sociolinguistics worldwide, where, today, there is a great deal of research interest in the spread of English and English-medium instruction (EMI) throughout almost all leading universities worldwide, throughout most regions of the world. The proposed project connects to both the frontline of research on international education and multilingualism, as well as to specific applied areas of concern, including Myanmar education, as well as wider issues concerning the development of ASEAN societies, and Singapore's leading educational role in such endeavours.

The secret life of consonants and vowels: An articulatory phonetic study examining how voice quality setting impacts segmental articulation 

By Asst Prof Scott Moisik (Linguistics and Multilingual Studies)

This project is an experimental articulatory phonetic study intended to investigate the interaction between voice quality – one's long-term vocal tract posture – and segmental structure – the consonants and vowels of speech. While recent research shows that voice quality settings exist and differentiate languages, dialects, and registers as an important strand of accent, no research directly addresses how such settings impact speech segments. It is hypothesized that voice quality can either impact segments in subtle, continuous ways or in categorical ways. To address this, participants will be recruited and tasked with producing speech in a variety of voice qualities (such as clenched jaw voice or rounded lip voice). Participants' speech articulation will be captured with lingual and laryngeal ultrasound, external high-speed video of the lips, and the audio signal. This data will be analyzed using a variety of innovative methods to assess the impact of the different voice qualities on the fine details of segmental articulation. Insight into the interaction between voice quality and segmental structure will be able to inform us about how speech sound systems might evolve under the force of voice quality. The work can also help to inform second language pedagogy, by providing insights into accent beyond mere pronunciation of consonants and vowels. Since the work will be situated in Singapore, it will provide insights into these voice quality matters as they relate to Singaporean English (the language of study). Finally, in Singapore, given its multilingual population, the issue of voice quality likely plays a part of sociolinguistic identity in a variety of ways, and this work can better inform research into issues related to how speakers' create their identities. 

Digital Database of Medical and Protective Charms from Medieval England 

By Asst Prof Katherine HIndley (English)

In many cultures around the world, both past and present, words are thought to have physical and spiritual power. Their power might be accessed through speech, in the form of charms, or through text, in the form of amulets or talismans. This project will produce a searchable online database of charms from the medieval period in England (c.650-1500), a time in which multiple languages were used and literacy increased dramatically. The database will shed light on this specific period, while its approaches will enable broader, cross-cultural study of the ritual use of words.

The database will provide the first accessible texts of many of the charms, which are frequently recorded in manuscripts that are not edited, fully catalogued, or digitised. This will be an invaluable research resource at a moment when academic interest in the intersection between medicine, religion, and magic is increasing.

The metadata framework of the database will allow researchers to filter texts thematically. This flexibility will make it a valuable resource not only for researchers interested in charms, but also for scholars interested in literature, multilingualism, medieval medicine, medieval religious practice, and the history of the book. Furthermore, the metadata framework will be applicable to other historical periods and geographic regions. This will encourage cross-cultural comparisons of the performance of charms and the materiality of amulets.

The project will produce three academic articles in prestigious journals and an online database that will become an indispensable resource for scholars in several intersecting fields. It will culminate in a conference with researchers working on medical and protective uses of text in other global contexts, exploring future avenues for research. The project will place NTU at the centre of an international effort to understand ritual uses of text through time and across the globe.

Home is where our languages live: Singapore and the role of families in maintaining our multilingual advantage 

By Assoc Prof Francesco Cavallaro (Linguistics and Multilingual Studies)

The active participation of Singapore in this globalized new economy has led to its investment on English as a valuable resource and skill. However, the emphasis on English has produced an increasingly "English-knowing" bilingual labour force. With the increase of their English skills we have seen a decrease in the multilingual skills that were a trait of previous generations of Singaporeans.

Specific aims of the project
Optimal bilingual development depends upon optimal speech input from parents to children in the home.

This study, therefore,
1. investigates the early acquisition of languages in the home environment.

2. Investigates the role and impact of (grand)parent-child interactions on shaping the home environment for bilingual development.

3. investigates any similarities and discrepancies in the linguistic ideologies and practices of parents and children across ethnic groups. Significance

The decline of linguistic and cultural diversity is a widespread phenomenon around the globe and family members are recognized as playing a key role in maintaining traditional languages. What is assumed is the contribution of natural intergenerational transmission of ethnic heritage languages in the home to keeping the state of bilingualism stable. However, English as the-medium-of-instruction policy along with its international significance and social desirability in Singapore have paved the way for its encroachment on Chinese, Malay, and Indian languages in the, disrupting the previously stable bilingualism.

A range of data collection tools will be utilized within a mixed-methods paradigm to explore the practices and linguistic attitudes of family members across ethnic groups.

The first phase is the collection and analysis of extensive ethnographic qualitative data on language practices and ideologies of (grand)parents and children in selected families across ethnic groups.

In the second and third phases focus groups will be formed, and a survey will be administered to families with young children across Singapore.

Being of a Mind: A Moral Theory Focusing on Attitudes

By Asst Prof Andrew Forcehimes (Philosophy)

This project develops a novel moral theory that focuses on attitudes. Traditionally, moral theories have been concerned with the assessment of acts as right or wrong. They have taken all reasons to be reasons for action. But we have reasons to have certain beliefs. For example, you ought to believe that the earth is round. And we have reasons to have certain desires. For example, you ought to desire that no one needlessly gets hurt. These attitudes – beliefs and desires – also happen to be the psychological precursors of intentional action. So, once we have assessed them, is superfluous to go on to assess acts. All reasons are thus fundamentally reasons for action. The point of this project is to develop and defend this idea. Answering these questions will take a book. I expect to at least have a complete manuscript (more than 70,000 words) by the end of the project. I also plan to publish a number of the chapters, as is normal in philosophy, in journals along the way. The tentative title of the book is Being of a Mind. I'll be using a fairly standard analytical approach to doing philosophy. This consists in examining and criticising the existing arguments in the literature, and then offering new, better arguments. If the project succeeds, this would change the course of moral philosophy. Prior to Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), moral philosophers took the focus of an ethical theory to be motives (or certain character traits). Bentham shifted the focus to action. This has been the focus till the present day. If the project succeeds, it will show that the bulk of the last 200+ years of moral theorizing has been predicated on a mistake.

On the Belt and Road: The Psychogeography of Chinese Expansion

By Asst Prof Barrie Sherwood (English)

This project entails the production of five journal articles, four conference papers and an online "litmap", all of which are focused on the topic of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as seen from a psychogeographic perspective. This project transfers the working methodology of writer W.G. Sebald to an Asian context, viewing the effects of BRI development on local populations in East and Southeast Asia and contextualizing their experiences with the theorizing of BRI scholars.

The research begins from the foundational premise that there is a demonstrable divide between recent scholarly and literary perceptions of the BRI, and the lived experience of the residents of BRI nations. Adopting the methodology of psychogeography, this project bridges the gap between Human Geography and Literature by fusing history, ethnography, social commentary, narrative and in-the-field observation in order to "map" the rapidly changing urban landscapes of five locations in Asia.

The primary literary-critical mode of psychogeography is a combination of narrative, documentary evidence and social commentary. The resulting journal articles provide a more literary view of the BRI than that offered by contemporary scholarship, so often focused on purely economic and political aspects. Additionally, the project is given a digital presence by the creation of a Litmap – an interactive online tool that uses Google Maps to allow users to view the BRI and link specific locations with historical, social and literary references from the journal articles. Conceptually, the research links Singapore with the greater sphere of Asia and situates four other Asian nations within the spectrum of China's global initiatives. The project is inherently interdisciplinary and sits at the intersection between Humanities and the Social Sciences.