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Sam Tilsen Awarded Cornell New Frontier Grant

Prof. Sam Tilsen (Linguistics) and Prof. James Sethna (Physics) were awarded a Cornell New Frontier Grant to investigate the emergence of dialects in networks of speakers with random, constrained interactions.

The project investigates the following questions:


  • How "spontaneous" is the emergence of dialects?
  • What are the conditions under which the speech patterns of individuals organize into different speech styles?


There are many reasons why dialectal variation arises within languages: various geographic, historical, and socioeconomic factors can create asymmetries that allow for different ways of speaking to emerge. 


Due to the complexity of these factors, along with logistical challenges in observing speech behavior on sufficiently large spatial and temporal scales, it is challenging to pinpoint the causes of dialect-scale linguistic variation. And yet, the prevalence of such variation raises an important question: is dialectal variation inevitable? 


This question is not only of theoretical interest, but also has practical applications for speech-based analysis of group dynamics.


Tilsen and Sethna adopt a hybrid computational and experimental strategy to study dialect emergence.

  • Their computational approach is based on an analogy between the evolution of speech behavior in networks of speakers and the emergence of large-scale order in physical systems that are undergoing relaxation processes.
  • Their experimental approach involves longitudinal studies in which pairs of speakers are recorded while playing an online map-navigation game.



5th August 2022

Dan Burgdorf successfully defends their dissertation

On July 22nd, Ph.D. student Dan Burgdorf successfully defended their dissertation thesis entitled:   "A Functional Cognitive Difference Behind the C/V Distinction: Evidence from Glides".   


Dan is shown here, from the left:  grad student Rachel Vogel, Dan Burgdorf,  committee member Dr. Abigail Cohn, and graduate student Joseph Rhyne.  Committee member Dr. Draga Zec and Committee Chair Dr. Sam Tilsen attended remotely via Zoom. 

25th July 2022

Rachel Vogel successfully defends her dissertation

On June 8 Ph.D. student Rachel Vogel successfully defended her dissertation "Phonology of vowel devoicing: A typological perspective". 

With her dissertation completed, Rachel is now headed to Yale Law School this Fall, where she intends to combine her knowledge of linguistics with law to advance issues of social justice. 

Rachel is shown here with members of her Dissertation committee - from left Dr. Draga Zec, Rachel Vogel, Dr. Abigail Cohen (committee chair), and Dr. Sam Tilsen.

25th July 2022

Katherine Blake successfully defends her dissertation

On April 15 PhD student Katherine Blake successfully defended her dissertation, entitled:  "Phonological markedness effects on noun-adjective ordering".

Katie is shown here with her committee members - from the left:  Dr. Helena Aparicio, Dr. Martin Van Schijndel, Dr. Draga Zec (attended remotely via Zoom),  Katie Blake, and Dr. Abigal Cohn (Committee chair).


25th May 2022