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Tax breaks where they're needed. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 largely benefits wealthier and middle-income Americans, who tend to be vocal about their taxes. For those at the lower end of the income spectrum (a group that attracts less political attention), Professor of Law Alan Feld recommends new tax measures. Among his fixes:

  • Reduce the number of low-end tax filers. In 1994, the government collected $365 million from 3.8 million tax-payers with incomes of less than $5,000 -- about $96 per return. For many returns, the cost to taxpayers and the government of preparing and processing each return probably exceeded the tax collected. The tax code should exempt a taxpayer from filing a return if his or her total tax liability does not exceed some minimum amount, say $50.

  • Eliminate part of the marriage penalty. At the lowest tax rate of 15 percent, marriage increases a couple's income tax bill by up to $210, since the married standard deduction is less than double two single standard deductions. The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly should be double the standard deduction for individuals.

  • Index social security benefit inclusion. A large percentage of social security benefits received above base amounts of income (which have remained constant through the years) are taxable. Through inflation, more and more of the real-dollar value of social security benefits has thus become subject to tax. A simple remedy would be to index social security benefit base amounts.

"These proposals make the tax law more fair, targeting the low-income people who don't usually benefit from major tax bills," says Feld. "We should start now to place proposals like these on the tax reform agenda."

New software analyzes signed languages. A research team in the American Sign Language Linguistic Research Project (ASLLRP) has developed SignStream™, a multimedia database tool for video-based linguistic research. Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures Associate Professor Carol Neidle, along with colleagues Dr. Dawn MacLaughlin, Dr. Benjamin Bahan, Robert G. Lee and researchers from two other universities designed SignStream, the first tool of its kind for the study of signed languages as well as the gestural component of spoken language. The team says SignStream could be applied to any linguistic research that relies on video, such as language acquisition, bilingualism, neurolinguistics and language disorders, phonetics and phonology, sociolinguistics, and computational linguistics.

ASLLRP's major focus is the syntactic structure of American Sign Language (ASL). "While the basic grammatical structure of ASL is comparable to that of spoken languages, important grammatical information is conveyed simultaneously with man-ual signing through specific facial expressions and body movements, which systematically occur over predictable, well-defined linguistic units, revealing essential information about the structure of language," notes Neidle. ASLLRP's investigation of markers of negation, question, and syntactic agreement has provided insight into the nature of human language and communication and will have implications for education, interpretation, and computer processing of signed languages. These projects have been supported by grants of more than million from the National Science Foundation. Further information is available at

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations