Congratulations to Professor Giuli Dussias, who has been awarded a 2019 Faculty Scholar Medal!
The Faculty Scholar Medal is one of the highest honors that Penn State confers on the most outstanding researchers.
Dussias approaches the study of language as a social science. The learning of language, including speed of learning, formulation of accents and depth of vocabulary, is influenced by social interactions and exposure to that language. The evolution of a language is also influenced by that process.
Dussias is a leader in creating a new field of learning, one that differs from the traditional study of linguistics, which analyzes language meaning, evolution, phonetics and grammar. Dussias’ work is changing the way we study language, nominators said.
Dussias researches people who are learning a second language because she is interested in knowing how that second language influences the use of the first. Her research shows that extensive use of a second language can change first language syntax and usage. This finding demonstrates that there is far greater brain plasticity throughout the lifespan than previously understood.
She’s also interested in learning how age affects the language learning process. Can adult second language learners achieve the same mastery of a second language as young learners? she asks in her research. “The common wisdom in the field was that the answer was ‘no,’” said a nominator. “However, Dussias has shown through her research that adults can master grammar and attain near native fluency just as younger learners can.”
Dussias also studies ‘code-switching,’ a common feature of bilingual discourse whereby bilinguals switch languages right in the middle of spoken or written sentences. Her research shows that code-switching is governed by rules that are not necessarily derived from either language. That finding “provides a fresh perspective on what bilingual speakers view as possible switch points in bilingual speech,” a nominator said. For Dussias, the multilingual speaker is seeing as a model for understanding the way that language experience shapes the mind and the brain.
“To answer questions like this, Dussias has developed experimental methods that use eye-tracking and measure brain activity while bilingual speakers undertake specific kinds of tasks,” a nominator said. “These methods have transformed the research that bilingualism scholars do, allowing much broader generalization about the bilingual brain in different social contexts.”