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Previous Projects

Hebrew-English Programs in New York City Public Schools

Professors Kate Menken and Sharon Avni
Funded by the Spencer Foundation

Dual language bilingual education (DLBE) programs, in which students are taught language and academic content in English and a partner language, have dramatically grown in popularity in U.S. public schools. Moving beyond the teaching of Spanish and Chinese, DLBE programs are now being offered in less commonly taught languages and attracting both African Americans and middle-class monolingual English speakers. The remarkable expansion of programs and their outreach to populations that have not traditionally taken part in bilingual education raise compelling questions regarding how they educate diverse populations within the framework of language learning. This study focuses on three Hebrew DLBE programs in New York City, the first of which opened in 2010; two are elementary charter schools and one is a traditional public middle school. Using complementary qualitative methods, this comparative study investigates how Hebrew DLBE programs teach about and negotiate linguistic, ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. Its goal is to provide empirical evidence to inform ongoing conversations about the expansion of bilingual education to serve the many societal aims it is being drawn upon to address, which not only contribute to society’s economic health, but also to the character of civic, cultural, and social life as well.

Understanding the Student with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE): A Study of SIFE skills, needs and achievement

Professors Elaine Klein and Gita Martohardjono

Funded by the New York City Department of Education, Office of English Language Learners

This project began in 2005 with the goal of helping the NYC Department of Education improve its understanding of, and services to, SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education). SIFE are a growing population of English language learners in New York City schools. The NYC DOE defines SIFE as students who have missed at least two years of schooling in their home countries. The majority of SIFE arrive in the United States as adolescents and are expected to acquire the language and academic skills in English needed in order to graduate from NYC high schools.

This study began with a focus on characterizing the backgrounds and academic literacy of SIFE, as there is very little research on the population. Another goal of the study was to develop an appropriate diagnostic of the academic skills of SIFE. The project includes an 18 month longitudinal study in which the academic literacy of SIFE was measured in the L1 and L2 and then compared with other English Language Learners (ELLs) and Native English-speaking high school students. Having completed its fourth year, the research has resulted in a diagnostic tool being used in 200 NYC middle and high schools for the SIFE population. The Academic Language and Literacy Diagnostic (ALLD) assesses students in English and Spanish, the native language of most SIFE in NYC schools. The project hopes to develop other versions of the ALLD, including trans-adaptations into Haitian Creole, French, Chinese and potentially other native languages of the SIFE population.

Please find the 2006 report of the project SIFE Report 2006.

Language Processing in Hebrew-English Bilinguals

Professor Mira Goral

The project uses data from speakers of Hebrew and English to investigate the mental organization of the lexicon of bilinguals, focusing on the difference between the two languages with regard to the ordering of constituents in compound words (goldfish vs ‘fish-gold’). Data comes from bilinguals with different levels of exposure to the two languages. The project raises questions regarding the role that morphological structure plays in the organization of the bilingual lexicon; the changes that might occur in the bilingual lexicon with changes in the proficiency of the first and the second languages; and the relative importance of constituent position and morphological headedness in the processing of compound words. The project also investigates differences between bilinguals living in Israel or in NYC and between those with greater or lesser proficiency in the two languages.

Use of Less Commonly Spoken Languages by Bilingual Parents

Professor Thomas Ihde

With an increased appreciation of the advantages of bilingualism, a number of parents are consciously deciding to raise their children in more than one language in the New York City area. The practice of using the One Parent/One Language approach is of interest (Döpke, 1992; Barron-Hauwaert, 2004) notably where parents have different native languages or where one parent speaks a native language and the other the host language and/or non-native language. However, in the New York City area, the use of English by one parent and the use of a less commonly spoken language by the other parent appears to present a wide variety of challenges to the family. This research seeks to document those difficulties in addition to charting best practices among parents. Data is being collected through digitally recorded observations of parent/child and sibling/sibling interactions, parent journaling, and older children recalls. Findings to date have been shared with the scholarly community through conference papers and with bilingual parents through a sponsored website.

The Comparative Morpho-Syntax of Appalachian English

Professors Judy Bernstein, Marcel den Dikken, Christina Tortora and Raffaella Zanuttini

Appalachian English is a group of linguistic varieties, or dialects, spoken roughly in the central and southern part of the Appalachian Mountain range. These dialects differ from standard English in a number of respects, including several structural properties of sentences and the words inside them (the ‘morpho-syntax’). Thus, they allow sentences like “The girls likes pizza”, where a third person plural subject occurs with a verb carrying the –s suffix (which is reserved for singular subjects in standard English); and they permit examples like “At first, you wouldn’t believe the characters come knocked on my door”, in which “who”/“that” is omitted, something that is not possible in standard English. In a collaborative research project developed by Judy Bernstein, Marcel den Dikken, Christina Tortora and Raffaella Zanuttini, a team of researchers from four different academic institutions (including two CUNY colleges: The Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island), these phenomena are investigated for two of specific varieties of Appalachian English, those spoken in Dante, Virginia and Mountain City, Tennessee. The aim of this research is to reach a deeper understanding of grammatical variation, particularly in the areas of the syntax of subjects and subject-verb agreement.

Language Variation In a New York Public Secondary School

Professor Michael Newman

My current research project is a variationist study of Latino English in New York. It is focused on the role of peer subculture, particularly hip-hop and geek/computer-associated groups on differences in language.

The role of syntax in reading comprehension: a study of bilingual readers

Professors Gita Martohardjono and Ricardo Otheguy
Previous research on monolingual readers has extensively studied the importance of phonemic indices of language development (Bradley & Bryant,1985; Ehri & Wilce,1980,1985) as well as the importance of vocabulary (Anderson & Freebody,1983), but empirical research into the relationship between syntax and reading abilities is relatively rare (cf. Waltzman & Cairns, 2000). This study investigates the relationship between syntactic knowledge in the first (L1) and second language (L2) and reading ability in the L2 at early stages of development. Participants were Spanish speaking learners of English enrolled in two inner-city kindergartens (ages 5;7-6;5).

The Interaction Of Language And Dialect Contact: Variable Statement Of Spanish Subject Pronouns In Six Spanish Dialects In New York City

Professors Ricardo Otheguy and Ana Celia Zentella

Spanish speakers in New York City (NYC) are experiencing language and dialect contact on an unusually large scale. This project investigates the consequences of such contact through a sociolinguistic study of the alternation between presence and absence of subject personal pronouns (SPPs) with finite verbs in Spanish. We ask whether Spanish dialects are undergoing leveling or hyperdifferentiation and/or whether they are converging with English. Leveling may indicate the rise of a NYC Spanish, suggestive of a new NYC Latino identity; hyperdifferentiation may suggest the emergence of transnational identities that tie immigrants and language minorities to their distant communities of origin more than to speakers of other dialects in the immigrant setting.

Meeting the Needs of Long-Term English Language Learners in High School

Professor Kate Menken
Funded by the Office of English Language Learners of the New York City Department of Education

The purpose of this research project is to explore the characteristics and educational needs of Long-Term English Language Learners (LTELLs), students who remain engaged in the process of learning English after 6 years or more in the United States. While there are significant numbers of LTELLs in the New York City public schools, comprising approximately one-third of all high school English Language Learners (ELLs), very little research has been conducted about these students. Though often orally proficient in English, Long-Term ELLs are characterized by low levels of academic literacy in both English and their home language, and typically score below grade level on assessments. Traditional English as a second language and bilingual education programs at the secondary level were designed to meet the needs of newly arrived ELLs who are literate in their home language, but such programs often fail to meet the needs of Long-Term ELLs. To gain a clearer understanding of this population and learn how high schools can best meet the needs of these students, a descriptive qualitative study will be conducted in three New York City high schools serving LTELLs.