Windows to the Mind Research Symposium

My department, the Center for English Language Education (CELESE) at Waseda University Faculty of Science and Engineering recently organized our own research symposium with the theme, "Windows to the Mind". The main event was an open lecture by Dr. Margaret Thomas of Boston College. She talked about her research on kuusho (空書), or the habit most Japanese speakers have of writing kanji characters in the air or on one's palm (also observed in Chinese speakers and others). She talked about several experiments she has done to explore the practice and what implications they have for larger issues of language and cognition. It was a fascinating lecture and I would definitely recommend interested people to follow her work on this. It's a topic that is incredibly prevalent in Japan, yet largely ignored (perhaps because it is so prevalent).

After Dr. Thomas's excellent talk, members of CELESE gave presentations on their own work. I presented some more results from the Corpus of Hesitation Phenomena. This time, in particular, I was able to look give a little more conclusive result about the relationship between first language speech characteristics and second language hesitation phenomena use with respect to overall second language proficiency.  Results are showing that filled pause rate is the only factor that distinguishes second language development from first language speech characteristics. Other factors like speech rate, repair rate, and so on are correlated with first language speech.

One interesting result I reported is that repeats, which are known to be infrequent in Japanese (see Fox et al 1996), increase as learner's second language proficiency increases. It's not clear from the corpus whether this is because repeats are common in English, or if this is simply the result of second language development. However, it remains an interesting result that needs further investigation. Furthermore, the fact that the use of repeats correlate between first and second language suggests an interesting possibility: native speakers of Japanese who produce more repeats in Japanese have a higher aptitude for English language proficiency development.

It was a very valuable symposium with lots of interesting topics presented (we are quite an eclectic group at CELESE).