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Dean’s Alumni Association Leadership Award

Vahideh Rasekhi, Linguistics

Vahideh Rasekhi

Can you tell us, in general terms, about your research?

Linguists investigate the nature of language, the way human beings process language and communicate with each other. We study not only the structure of particular languages but also the common properties of all languages. My primary research interest lies in the area of theoretical linguistics with a focus on syntax. My dissertation is on a cross-linguistic study of ellipsis constructions with the aim of identifying the similarities and differences between languages, and making predictions about language typology.

In my dissertation, I study elliptical constructions, in which one or more words necessary for a complete sentence are omitted without detracting from the meaning. For instance, in English if someone asks “Did you buy coffee?” you cannot say “Yes, I bought.” but rather you have to say “Yes, I did.” or “Yes, I bought some.” or “Yes, I bought a cup of coffee.” It is not possible to delete the object when the main verb is overt. However, in many languages including Persian, Russian, and Hebrew, having an overt object is not obligatory since the meaning of the sentence can be inferred from the discourse context.

This shows that human beings’ interpretation of a sentence is not just the sum of the linguistic elements present in a clause, but rather goes beyond the content of an utterance. My research investigates why some languages (dis)allow certain words and phrases to be elided and how the speaker can understand the meaning of the missing elements in a sentence.

What excites you about your work?

I am fascinated by how language is integrated into our lives and how it affects everything we do on a daily basis. Language enables us to exchange information, express ourselves, and communicate our needs, desires and emotions verbally and non-verbally. Other reasons that make linguistics an exciting field for me are how language is processed and stored in the brain, how it is acquired by children, and how language teachers can apply findings of linguistic studies in their classrooms.

Studying the structure of a language is challenging because people’s judgments of what is a grammatical sentence and what is not varies a lot. The individual variation (influenced by dialectal and sociolinguistic factors such as age, education, gender, etc.) and the discourse context in which a structure is used affect the acceptability of a sentence.

Despite all the challenges, I enjoy discovering structural complexity in the languages I study. Through linguistics, I have been able to uncover some of the rich structures within the Persian language that have not yet been fully investigated. My aim is to contribute to the linguistic knowledge base and help in determining how Persian fits into the general theory of linguistics. In addition, through cross-linguistic studies, I strive to provide theoretical predictions for syntactic structures in language typology.

How has your time at Stony Brook helped equip your for success?

During my graduate studies at Stony Brook University, I have had unique opportunities to be a teacher, a researcher, the president of the Chapin Apartment Resident Association, and the president of Graduate Student Organization

Along with my research, I have developed and taught several linguistic courses for a diverse population of undergraduate and graduate students. Teaching is my passion and I value having the opportunity to help my students develop their professional and academic skills, learn how to formulate and communicate their idea and expand their cultural perspectives. I have also been involved in advocating for the linguistic and cultural diversity of Iran by conducting and publishing research on various aspects of the Persian and Azeri languages, volunteering to teach Persian language to high school students from under-privileged communities, and conducting workshops and presentations on campus to elucidate life in Iran.

My leadership experiences as the president of the Chapin Apartment Resident Association and the president of the Graduate Student Organization have helped me think broadly, engage in advocacy, and work with people from a variety of backgrounds. In acknowledgment of my team’s hard work, our Graduate Student Organization has won regional and national awards recognizing its commitment to improving our graduate students' quality of life, civic engagement, and advocacy for student issues locally and nationally.

Stony Brook has afforded me tremendous opportunities that have helped me develop my academic, leadership and managerial skills. I have always wanted to pursue an academic career; however, I have recently discovered my passion for program administration, which has opened a new career path for me.  I am confident that the credentials I have collected at Stony Brook have prepared me to succeed long after I graduate.

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