Research Project (2017)

Comparative research on specific languages in interlingual communication

  • Goro Christoph Kimura (SOLIFIC, Professor, Department of German Studies, Sophia University)
  • Atsushi Ichinose (SOLIFIC, Professor, Department of Luso-Brazilian Studies, Sophia University)
  • Lisa Fairbrother (SOLIFIC, Professor, Department of English Studies, Sophia University)
  • Kanako (Takeda) Ide (SOLIFIC Collaborative Fellow)
  • Simon Tuchais (SOLIFIC, Associate Professor, Department of French Studies, Sophia University)


This collaborative research project builds upon a three-year SOLIFIC project conducted from 2009 to 2011that focused on the theory of interlinguistics, namely the choice of different linguistic resources in contexts where speakers do not share the same first language. Specifically, we looked at the use of code-switching in multilingual contexts, mixed languages, such as pidgins and creoles, planned languages, such as Esperanto, and hegemonic languages, such as English. The findings of this project were published in Sophia Linguistica No. 60 (2012).

However apart from comparing different types of interlingual communication, it is also important to consider how interlinguistic strategies may be applied differently depending on the language(s) used and the specific social context. To this aim, since 2012 we have been comparing the use of English, French, German, Portuguese and Japanese as lingua francas, with particular attention given to the characteristics, possibilities and specific issues relating to the use of each language as an interlinguistic resource. Our primary goals are to investigate the similarities and differences between each interlinguistic strategy beyond the individual language and also to determine how lingua franca communication is different from communication between native and non-native speakers. The main event in 2015 was the international symposium on language management in September where we could share our research findings with other researchers. In the 2017 academic year, the main aim is to publish the results of the symposium.


Comparative Syntax: Theoretical and Empirical Studies

  • Takaomi Kato (SOLIFIC, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Languages and Linguistics Master’s (Doctoral) Program in Linguistics, Sophia University)
  • Naoki Fukui (SOLIFIC, Professor, Graduate School of Languages and Linguistics Master’s (Doctoral) Program in Linguistics, Sophia University)
  • Ryosuke Takahashi (SOLIFIC, Associate Professor, Department of German Studies, Sophia University)
  • Yasuhiko Kato (SOLIFIC Honorary Fellow, Emeritus Professor, Sophia University)
  • Masanobu Ueda (SOLIFIC Collaborative Fellow,Professor,  Reserch Faculty of Media and Communication, Hokkaido University)


This research project is concerned with universal and diverging (‘parametric’) properties of human language syntax, from a number of different, though fundamentally related, points of view, including straight syntax and comparative syntax, lexical syntax/semantics, the brain science of language, mathematical and formal studies, evolutionary linguistics, etc.

One of the major discoveries of modern theoretical linguistics is that humans are endowed with a species-specific biological property, called the “faculty of language,” which enables them to acquire a specific formal computational system (human language) – but not other symbolic systems – that allows for generation of unbounded arrays of hierarchical structures (linguistic expressions) linking sounds – or signs, as in the case of sign languages – and meanings. The scientific study of this biological capacity constitutes a major part of contemporary linguistics, and the object of inquiry so defined calls for truly cross- and trans-disciplinary studies. As the evidence compellingly shows, the faculty of language is species-specific, and also uniform across the species, i.e., it is a universal capacity for all humans. Thus, syntax, the main computational component of this capacity, has universal properties. What are the universal properties of human language syntax? This is the fundamental research question addressed in this project. On the other hand, rather surprisingly, various manifestations of human language (English, Japanese, German, French, Swahili, etc.) do exhibit certain degrees of variation. If the faculty of language is truly a universal biological property, as has been convincingly shown in the technical literature, where does the variation come from? Why is it that there seem to be various different languages in the world? This is the second important problem we investigate in this project.

We started this project in 2012 and continued on in the following years until 2016. In these years, we have investigated in detail various empirical and theoretical issues such as negation in Japanese, English, and other languages, the relation between syntax and the lexicon in German, Japanese, etc., the nature of the fundamental operation Merge and its manifestations in the brain, the evolution of language from the point of ethology, and so on. In 2017, we will continue to explore and develop analyses and theories pertinent to these issues, and will try to unify some of the results accumulated in the past years.


Developing criteria and standards for assessing plurilingual competence of the students learning of Sophia University

  • Yoshinori Watanabe (SOLIFIC, Professor, Graduate School of Languages and Linguistics, Sophia University)
  • Goro Christoph Kimura (SOLIFIC, Professor, Department of German Studies, Sophia University)
  • Atsushi Ichinose (SOLIFIC, Professor, Department of Luso-Brazilian Studies, Sophia University)
  • Sanae Harada (SOLIFIC, Professor, Department of French Studies, Sophia University)
  • Kimiyo Nishimura (SOLIFIC, Professor, Department of Hispanic Studies, Sophia University)
  • Shinichi Akiyama (SOLIFIC, Associate Professor, Department of Russian Studies, Sophia University)


The purpose of the proposed project is to explore the relationship between learning strategies students employ, their learning styles and their undergraduate majors. Given the purpose, the study is intended to test the validity of the hypothesis that there is a significant relationship between three factors. The data will be collected by administering a set of inventories to the undergraduate students of various majors, learning various foreign languages, including German, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian, amongst others. The data will be statistically analyzed, and the results will be interpreted in the framework of CLIL with the focus on three basic elements comprising language, cognitive skills (i.e., language learning strategies) and topical knowledge (i.e., majors). Based on the outcome, suggestions will be offered with the expectation that instructors may implement it in supporting students who are struggling to achieve academic success by learning a foreign language.


The relationship between Japanese language proficiency and individual differences in classroom second language acquisition

  • Kaoru Koyanagi (SOLIFIC, Professor, Center for Language Education and Research, Sophia University)
  • Fuyuki Mine(SOLIFIC, Associate Professor, Center for Language Education and Research, Sophia University)
  • Yoko Mukouyama(SOLIFIC Visiting Fellow, Research Professor, Musashino University )


Second language acquisition is an intricate process in which external factors (learning environment, teaching methods) interact with internal factors (learners’ characteristics) and the nature of grammatical forms (developmental stages, difficulty etc.). These factors also interact with learners’ cognitive mechanisms that could lead to brain mechanisms. This study aims to explore these complex processes and mechanisms, by collecting data from learners of Japanese as a second language on which much less research has been done, compared to learners of English.

This project has collected data and analyzed the relationship between learners’ language aptitude and proficiency thus far. In the year 2017, we will continue to collect data, in particular, from advanced learners of Japanese in order to find which learners’ factors (language aptitude, motivation, etc.) are more important to reach an advanced level, comparing beginning and intermediate learners.

In addition, based on learners’ proficiency levels as differences among individuals, we will analyze how their brain activities are different. It will be examined how activated areas in the brain during input processing could correspond to cognitive mechanisms, and how input processing skills will develop as proficiency levels increase from the neurocognitive perspective. Collaborative research with the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has started, supported by the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer (IDAC) of Tohoku University, and we need to prepare psycholinguistic experiments and analyze behavioral data.


Basic research and development for innovative educational methods in phonetics applying advanced information technology

  • Mafuyu Kitahara (SOLIFIC, Professor, Department of English Studies, Sophia University)
  • Masahiko Komatsu (SOLIFIC, Associate Professor, Dept. of Foreign Studies, Kanagawa University)


The present research project focuses on the basic research and development of various methods in phonetics education. The phonetics lab is scheduled to move and acquire a new facility in the beginning of FY2017. A computer server room will be newly constructed in the new facility. This project utilizes web and cloud servers for research and education.

Currently, a small-scale web server is running in Prof. Kitahara’s office for a contents management system (CMS) used for all classes taught by Prof. Kitahara. The merit of an independent CMS compared to Moodle and Loyola provided by Sophia University is that it is light-weight and editable in an on-going classroom activities. In addition, it is easy to customize the system for a flexible application. For instance, the comment function of the CMS is available for any cell phones in class so that students can share the discussion of a given topic promptly and visually. Students can also review the discussion after the class.

The first goal of this project is to build and develop a more secure and a large-scale server based on the current achievement. It has become popular to run a server on a Docker container in order to implement an easy-to-maintenance and scalable system. We would like to learn and try various approaches to build virtual servers including Docker containers. We, then, would like to build a system for a web-experiment system for phonetics to acquire a large-scale data from subjects on a server. This system is also useful for various situations in language training. The next step is to build a system for hands-on experience in phonetics, a system for improving pronunciation.

Another use of the servers in the phonetics lab includes storing various scripts and mini-programs for acoustic analyses, statistics, and graphics. We need to set appropriate access privileges for graduate students and SOLIFIC researchers for their convenient access to the resources. Such a private cloud system with an anywhere/anytime access will be desirable for students and researchers since they do not have to worry about the quota or charges on commercial servers anymore.