Dr. Jaeshil Kim and Mai Chi Nguyen
Name: Dr. Jaeshil Kim
School: College of Arts and Sciences
Department: Modern Languages
What is your Research Focus?
My current research interests are twofold. First, I am interested in uncovering language-universal and language-particular features in the syntax and semantics of nominal expressions. For example, definiteness is one of the semantic features that every human language tends to code in its noun phrases, but the linguistic means employed for marking definiteness is subject to diversification. My second research interest involves contact-induced language changes, especially in mainland Southeast Asia. For the last two and a half years, I have been working on a language called Eastern Cham, which is one of 53 minority languages spoken in Vietnam. Although Eastern Cham and Vietnamese are very distinct languages both genetically and structurally, they ended up sharing many linguistic features through extensive language contact and shift.
How has your research mentorship played a role in the student’s research experience?
Research mentorship is like an apprenticeship in the old days. An apprentice spends time with her master and learns the skills and tricks of the trade; likewise, a student researcher spends time with her mentor and learns how to explore research questions of her own and how to navigate various issues and challenges she faces in doing research
What impact will this research have in your field?
Even though Vietnamese is the 16th largest language of the world, it is one of the most under-researched languages in the field of linguistics. Mai’s research on Vietnamese tones, therefore, has a great potential to contribute to our understanding of Vietnamese in general and the tonal system of human language as well.
Name: Mai Chi Nguyen
Major: M.A. in English, specialization in Linguistics
How did you get involved in this research project?
I first met Dr. Kim on my way to my Marketing class. After our conversation, I initiated my willingness to help her learn Vietnamese. As we spent more time studying Vietnamese together, I found my hidden passion for linguistics, so I started going to Dr. Kim’s linguistics classes, one of which was LING 451-Phonetics and Phonology.
Dr. Kim noticed a discrepancy between how I produce words carrying one of the Vietnamese tones, tone “nặng,” and how I describe the tone to her. That remark and her encouragement has sparked my curiosity and willingness to do more research on the topic.
What impact will this research have on your future academic and professional opportunities?
This research gives me a foundation to continue doing research. Not only have I been able to find my passion for linguistics, I was also able to see how much I enjoy doing research. Working with Dr. Kim is indeed eye-opening and also extremely demanding, but I find that such a challenging task has helped me grow tremendously in how I do research. It is thanks to this experience that I am inspired to pursue my dream to get a Ph.D. in Linguistics.
What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
I would say you have to approach the research topic with an open mind and know that doing research will also make you humble. Another thing that I consider extremely important is that you have to trust your mentor/advisor all throughout the research process. Doing research is a two-way relationship in which your advisor trusts you and your work ethics and you trust her with the guidance she provides you. Lastly, I would encourage students to present their research findings at various conferences to connect with and learn from other aspiring student researchers.
How do you work together as a team to accomplish the research agenda?
Dr. Kim and I set up weekly appointments as she guided me through the research process. After that, Dr. Kim encouraged me to apply for the CRS’ grant application to further conduct my research. At the time, I also applied to a conference titled “Engaging with Vietnam,” which is an annual conference that attracts researchers from around the world to share findings and research on different topics concerning Vietnam. The conference was in Vietnam, so I applied for the CRS’ scholarship to first, go and present at the conference, and second, conduct primary research while I went back to Vietnam for winter break of last year.
After having all the data, Dr. Kim guided me through how to analyze them. From the findings, I wrote up my Senior Honor Thesis and also got a chance to present my research at NCUR 2019 and Research Week 2019 and won 2nd Place award for the Applied Research Category.