MA Scholarship for Language Emergence and Development

Cognitive Science Program

One MA scholarship for graduate students

Within the scope of BIDEB-2232 research grant program awarded by TUBITAK, we expect to offer one project-based scholarship to Cognitive Science MA students of scientific areas listed below, for a maximum of three years, at 3500 TRY per month

The project, to be hosted by the Cognitive Science program at Boğaziçi University, will investigate “language emergence and development in the absence of conventionalized linguistic input” Please see the project summary below. Under the supervision of the principal investigator, the central tasks are:

  1. To collect data in the lab and in the field. 
  2. To transcribe/analyze data in the lab
  3. To draft manuscripts and disseminate results via publications, presentations, and teaching materials.
  4. To organize scientific and public outreach activities (e.g., workshops, assistance with making the documentary film of the project, assistance with releasing the photography exhibition about the project)
  5. To keep track of project activities (e.g., keeping a record of progress in data transcription/analysis, reporting progress, etc.)

We develop project results jointly, and publish them in leading international journals. You can (but need not) use project results in your MA thesis.

Other than a strong interest and good command of English, we expect background knowledge in one or more of these areas: Cognitive Science, Experimental psychology, Linguistics, Psycholinguistics, Computer Science, Statistics, Philosophy, Foreign Language Education, Translation studies, Sociology, Anthropology. 

Experience with one or more of the following is an important asset:

  • running psychological experiments, 
  • sign languages, 
  • language documentation
  • programming/coding, 
  • developing computational and statistical models, 
  • drafting manuscripts, 
  • film making and photography, 
  • organizational and administrative and/or media-related activities 

To express your interest in working on this project, please email your CV and a statement of motivation to

The principal investigator is Dr. Rabia Ergin



Language emergence and development in the absence of conventionalized linguistic input


Typically, children learn language when they hear it in their environment. However, many deaf individuals who are born into hearing families are geographically, and/or culturally isolated in Turkey. Deafness, along with such isolation, inevitably limits their access to language input. Language-deprived individuals in these situations begin to create their own languages. How does linguistic structure emerge in these young systems, and what drives the emergence of these structures? What is the role of the individual’s mind, and what is the role of having a sustained language community in the process of language emergence and development? This work aims to advance our understanding of the cognitive and social underpinnings of language development in atypical situations, and provide us with a unique vantage point into the initial stages of human language. Furthermore, it will document human heritage of signed systems created in the absence of conventionalized linguistic models, and present them in an accessible, public-oriented manner. 

Natural languages are not one-off solutions to communication problems, but are instead used in social interaction and transmitted over generations. As such, the size and social structure of the community may play a crucial role in shaping linguistic features in the early stages of language evolution. Specifically, small and tightly-knit communities tend to form less conventionalized languages, while languages emerging in larger and sparser communities tend to be more uniform. We aim to uncover the effect of community size and sparsity on language emergence, and examine how vertical transmission (from older to younger generations) and horizontal transmission (among peers) take signers from improvised utterances to a linguistic system. 

This project will investigate the above questions by focusing on one key feature of languages: word order. Word order is one of the most basic linguistic conventions, and is essential for expressing semantic roles in a sentence (i.e., who did what to whom). We will examine how word order patterns emerge and stabilize by combining (1) linguistic/sociological fieldwork of naturally and newly created communication systems, developed by different types of communities; (2) controlled psycholinguistic experimentation in the lab; and (3) top-notch computational modeling. 

In Strand 1, we will collect data from adult homesign, family sign, two village sign languages (i.e., Central Taurus Sign Language and Çukurova Sign Language), and Turkish Sign Language. Given that these languages differ in terms of their community size and structure, they allow us to investigate the role of the social makeup in shaping word orders. To this end, we will document word order patterns using a controlled elicitation task, looking at word order in two-argument event structures (e.g., “the girl pushed the sofa”). We will compare the observed patterns in emerging signed systems to spoken Turkish and to the gesture productions of hearing Turkish speakers in order to investigate to what extent the creators of new signed systems go beyond the gestural improvisations and the spoken languages surrounding them. In Strand 2, we will test our hypotheses from Strand 1 with further psycholinguistic experiments in a controlled lab setting, using a silent gesture paradigm in order to understand language-like mechanisms emerging as an outcome of general cognitive biases and/or social interaction. In Strand 3, based on the insight we gain from Strand 1 and 2, we will simulate the process of language emergence using agent- based computational modeling. By carefully modeling the effects of cognitive/learning biases, community size, and transmission type (cross-generational vs. peer-to-peer) on the creation of word order conventions, we aim to uncover the processes guiding language evolution in larger populations.