Sapir Scholars

The Sapir Scholars Program pairs undergraduate students with advanced graduate students in the Linguistics Department who will mentor and supervise them as they serve as research assistants to the graduate students’ own research projects. The undergraduate student receives a stipend of $500 for the quarter. The graduate student gets help with his or her research, and experience as an official undergraduate mentor and supervisor.

Appointment as a Sapir Scholar is generally a recognition for our more advanced majors (third or fourth year in the College); students who are only minoring in Linguistics or who have had only one or two courses so far should be chosen only if they have other qualifications that make them particularly well suited to a project.

Graduate students who have worked with a Sapir Scholar in the past may apply again, though the committee may give preference to applications from graduate students who have not previously been selected. If you are currently working with a Sapir Scholar and would like to continue working with that individual, please indicate that in your email.


AY 2022 Positions

You can apply for both these positions here. Please be certain to read the summary and explanation of responsibilities for both projects before you submit your application. You can contact Department Administrator Shekinah Thornton with any questions or concerns you may have.

Interested undergraduate students may apply to the following research assistant positions:

Principal Investigator: Sam Gray (Faculty Advisor: Jason Riggle)
Project Title: Untitled

  • Summary: This project is a one-year sociophonetic study documenting acoustic changes to the voices of transgender men and transmasculine individuals undergoing hormone replacement therapy, how these changes are motivated both physiologically and socially, and how they correlate to individuals' changing personal satisfaction with their voices over the course of that therapy. This study, expanding on the work of Papp (2011) and Zimman (2012), consists of phonetic analyses of recorded speech over a one-year time frame to see how various elements (pitch, features of the vowel space, features of the /s/ phoneme, and use of creaky voice or vocal fry) are affected by both the physical changes expected from the therapy and from changing social dynamics during transition. This acoustic data is analyzed in combination with sociolinguistic interviews to further understand participants' relationship to their voices and to their experience and presentation of gender, alongside questionnaires providing quantitative data on how this changes over time. Data collection is ongoing; data from completed interviews is being processed as new ones are performed.


  • Responsibilities and Expectations: The undergraduate student who takes this position will be performing transcriptions of collected audio files from these two tasks via ELAN annotation software. Audio must be annotated using certain standards for use with certain "forced-alignment" tools for phonetic analysis. As such, the student will be practicing the skills necessary for this kind of transcription, gaining familiarity with ELAN and with phonetic forced-alignment, as well as with the general handling and crunching of raw linguistic data. About 4-5 hours a week of transcription would be expected; I will be instructing the student in the use of ELAN, as well as assisting with the transcription process overall. Though the student will not be involved in the actual analysis of acoustic features (as this will occur at a later phase of the project), we will also discuss and walk through how to perform such analyses using samples of the student's annotated data and the phonetics software Praat.


Principal Investigator: Aurora Martinez del Rio (Faculty Advisor: Diane Brentari)
Project Title: Repetition Reduction across the ASL Lexicon

  • Summary: The “Repetition Reduction across the ASL Lexicon” project examines the different ways that forms in American Sign Language (ASL) undergo reduction as they are repeated. Reduction is a process where there is a decrease in the prominence or articulation of a form. For example, this could look like the shortening or deletion of a segment. Cross linguistically, the repetition of a particular form, such as a word or sign, has been shown to correspond to increased reduction. This said, there is less known about how this type of reduction effect is realized in sign languages and previous research on the topic suggests that there may even be differences in how reduction is realized across different linguistic systems within ASL itself.  Distinct properties inherent to the forms within these different systems, connected to their size, speed, and articulatory precision, could influence the reduction strategies employed by signers. The current project compares how reduction occurs across these systems to gain insights into how and why people vary their production of particular forms as they repeat them, which, in turn, informs us about what constraints shape the way that people produce language. Although the repetition of a form relates to its reduction, there are other factors that also influence how something reduces, including how fast someone is signing.


  • Responsibilities and Expectations: The research assistant paired with the project will be involved in helping to calculate how fast people sign (the “signing rate”), to assist in determining how this interacts with the ways that repeated forms in ASL reduce. They will work directly with a corpus of sign language video data in American Sign Language and will not only have a role in doing linguistic annotation of the video data but can also assist in data processing and analysis. More specifically, the student will help annotate the timing of signs within videos in ASL, marking their length and frequency, and then use the annotations to calculate the signing rate for portions of the videos in ASL surrounding repeated forms. Depending on the student’s skills and interests, they may also collaborate on portions of the data analysis. The student will spend 5 hours a week on the project. To work as a research assistant on the project, knowledge of ASL is beneficial, but not required.