Leela Munsiff

CAS ’23

  • Title CAS ’23

Leela (CAS ’23) is a senior Linguistics major, and has conducted research in Linguistics with Professor Kate Lindsey for three consecutive summers, leading to the opportunity to present her work at an international research conference. Leela served as a UROP ambassador during Fall 2022, representing the UROP community at multiple events across campus. Read Leela’s full interview below!

Major: Linguistics

Area of Research: Linguistics

Mentor: Professor Kate Lindesy

How did you get involved in research? How did you meet your mentor?

In Spring 2020, I took the class LX391 Linguistic Field Methods and found that I enjoyed doing fieldwork and research-based practice. The professor, Kate Lindsey, was looking for an undergraduate to join her research team to do similar type fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. I really connected with the goals of the project, so I reached out and we applied for a UROP grant together. Our proposal was to visit Papua New Guinea and create a phonological inventory for a native speaker of an undocumented language, but due to the pandemic we had to shift to remote work with previously collected data. My mentor had conducted a sociolinguistic survey of the Ende tribe in Limol, Papua New Guinea in 2018, and I took on the task of translating and interpreting the interviews.

What has your UROP experience taught you?

My UROP experience taught me that the purpose of research is not just to expand human knowledge – it can also help us serve the communities we engage with. In doing field work, I’ve learned how to put the skills and resources I’ve gained at BU to use to pursue a greater cause. I’ve also learned valuable skills for academia, like how to frame one’s research through different themes and how to present research to diverse audiences.

How has this experience helped you with non-research related things at BU?

Doing research has been the perfect supplement to my academic life. It’s given me a better idea of the kind of career I’d like to pursue in linguistics specifically, and the flexibility of the summer UROP sessions has helped me find a balance between pursuing linguistics and other interests of mine, like theatre. It’s also helped me find community within the linguistics department at BU, since I’d often interact with others working on similar projects. The relationships I built with other students and my mentor have been an incredible support system for both academic and personal endeavors, and UROP gave me the stability to continue strengthening those relationships over many years.

What does a day in your research life look like?

A typical day of research for me starts with heading to the SULa Lab in the Linguistics department building. Since my research is remote, setting up a workspace in the SULa Lab helps from feeling isolated, and it’s a great way to hear what others are working on too. We meet weekly as a group for check-ins, and I meet individually with my mentor to share my findings and discuss a greater theory. I spend a lot of time reading literature on this particular subdiscipline to build my background knowledge, see what a sociolinguistic analysis generally looks like, and to identify what kind of information I should be looking for in the interviews. When interpreting the interviews, I’m usually looking between their transcriptions, translations, and glosses in various software, like FLEx, SayMore, and Google Sheets. Then I’ll record my findings and compare with the existing literature.

What advice would you give to someone interested in UROP? 

I would tell prospective student researchers to trust that you are capable of conducting a prosperous research project, and that what you are investigating is worthwhile. It’s both exciting and intimidating to propose an entire research project, but if you enter the process assured that your qualifications, however extensive or little they may be, are enough, your experience in UROP will be fulfilling. UROP has given me the opportunity to learn about my field up close and contribute novel research to it. It has led me to presenting my research at the 2023 New Waves of Analyzing Variation – Asia Pacific, something which I couldn’t have done without UROP and my mentor.

Leela’s Research Abstract:

Changing Attitudes on Multilingualism in Limol, Papua New Guinea

The traditional egalitarian multilingual environment that gave rise to and preserved the linguistic diversity and vitality of small-scale language communities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is under threat. A sociolinguistic questionnaire surveying the language use of the Ende tribe (Limol, PNG) revealed a growing hierarchical multilingual setting with the potential to homogenize linguistic use in the community. Unlike previous accounts where languages in this area were considered separate but equal, Ende, the locally dominant and emblematic language, is most highly valued; all residents are expected to learn and speak Ende well. Poor Ende skill and language mixing practices are criticized and corrected. All other local languages are discouraged in public contexts, infrequently observed in multilingual households, and not considered important for future generations to learn. Colonial languages have emerged in the middle ground. English and Tok Pisin, an English-based creole and the most widely used national language, are considered more useful than local languages for younger generations. While knowledge of local languages was once essential for intergroup communication, English and Tok Pisin are emerging as lingua francas of the region that replace that need, and knowledge of local languages is declining rapidly. Social pressures accompanying the current language trends threaten the foundation of egalitarian multilingualism: people are becoming less willing to learn their neighbors’ languages. While further observation is required for a definitive conclusion, this trend raises the possibility of future linguistic lateralization in Limol, a reality which many Limol residents fear but which documentation and revitalization efforts may prevent.”

View all profiles