In Fall, 2014, Cognitive & Information Sciences welcomes a new faculty member, Dr. Stephanie Shih. We asked Dr. Shih about her background, research interests, and what she’s excited to teach at UC Merced. See her responses below. (Click here for a summary of new faculty from Fall 2013, Drs. Carolyn Dicey Jennings and Ramesh Balasubramaniam.)


What is your background?

I am a computational linguist/phonologist. I did my doctorate in linguistics at Stanford University. Before that, my undergraduate studies were in linguistics, English, and music at UC Berkeley. After finishing my Ph.D. at Stanford, I returned briefly to Berkeley as a lecturer in linguistics, until now.

What are your research interests?

My primary research interest is phonology: sounds in language, how they pattern together, and–in particular–how sounds fit into the larger linguistic and cognitive system. For example, I’ve shown in some of my work that we can predict the names people choose (using a large dataset from facebook users) based on sound patterns in the names that we also find in natural running speech. So a name like Jess Smith is much less likely to be chosen compared to a name like Jen Smith because speakers tend to avoid adjacent sequences of similar sounds (s-s). Speakers also avoid these patterns in natural speech: people are much more likely to say the wheel of the bus as compared to the bus’s wheel to avoid the s-s in bus’s. These sorts of sound patterns are basic properties in human language, and, my research shows that they can affect the way that speakers form linguistic utterances.

In related research, I’m also interested in how linguistic sounds interact with non-linguistic sounds–particularly in the artistic and musical domains–and what these relationships can tell us about cognition.

What are you excited to teach?

I’m excited to be teaching linguistics within a frame of cognitive sciences. We can understand so much more about language when we study it interdisciplinarily, with links to psychology, neurosciences, bio, computer sciences, philosophy, etc. In the Spring, I’ll be teaching a course on rhythm in language, examining how it behaves, what uses it has, and how linguistic rhythm relates to rhythm found in other cognitive and physical domains (e.g., music).

Other thoughts about joining the University of California, Merced

I am very much looking forward to being a part of the interdisciplinary community at UC Merced. There is so much novel work here that emphasizes forward-thinking, technologically-advanced methods to investigating age-old questions, and it’ll be a great opportunity to undertake linguistics research in such an environment. On a personal level, almost my entire education (from grade school through college) has been in the California public education system, so I’m really excited to be a part of growing the newest university in the UCs.