CSD professor lands prestigious fellowship
Research to compare bilingual language acquisition in speakers of two largest U.S. minority languages
Li Sheng, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders within the College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin, was recently chosen as a 2012-2013 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow.
Sheng will study vocabulary development in two groups of bilingual children: those who speak Spanish and English and those who speak Mandarin and English. She said that Spanish and English are both alphabetic languages with many common Latin word roots whereas Mandarin and English are distant in linguistic typology and share few if any word roots.
According to previous research by Sheng and others, there is an interdependence between Spanish and English language development among bilingual children who are learning these two languages, suggesting that Spanish-English bilingual children are able to take advantage of the shared features of their two languages to facilitate learning.
"Through comparisons between two bilingual groups, I would like to find out to what degree such facilitative mechanisms are available and how much influence they have on building vocabularies in children's first and second language," said Sheng.
To fulfill the study, Sheng will test 60 Spanish-English bilingual children and 60 Mandarin-English bilingual children using a variety of tasks known as lexical-semantic, or the study of how and what the words of a language denote. Additionally, Sheng will be working with both graduate and undergraduate students from within the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders to complete her research, which is timely with current trends in the U.S. population.
"According to the 2010 census, Spanish and Chinese are the two largest minority languages in the U.S.," said Sheng. "As the population of English language learners continues to increase and diversify in U.S. schools, the results of this study can yield important information about the effect of bilingualism on language and cognitive development in two widely represented bilingual populations."
This year, Sheng's proposal was one of 20 postdoctoral fellows selected from a competitive pool of 200 applications.
"I am honored and grateful and looking forward to meeting the other fellows in the upcoming meeting in D.C.," said Sheng. "This is a great opportunity to learn from colleagues, build professional connections and make friends."
Fellowships are administered by the National Academy of Education, an honorary educational society funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation.
"These fellowships are the oldest source of support for education research, nationally or internationally, for recipients of the doctorate," said Hilda Borko, chair of the Postdoctoral Selection Committee at the National Academy of Education. "I hope you will join us in congratulating Dr. Sheng as a recipient of this important fellowship award."
Since 1986, the National Academy of Education has administered the postdoctoral fellowship program with more than 700 current and former fellows.
Laura Byerley, (512) 471-2182