UCLA Faculty Research on China: Hongyin Tao
Professor Tao is doing pathbreaking work in Chinese linguistics and language teaching
Professor Hongyin Tao, teacher of Chinese language and linguistics as well as applied linguistics and TESL, is a master multitasker. He is currently performing pathbreaking work in Chinese linguistics and language teaching.
As Director of the Chinese Project at the Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research, Professor Tao focused on models and materials in advanced language teaching and their effectiveness. With funding from the U.S. Department of Educational via the National Language Research Center at Penn State University, Professor Tao explored ways in which authentic materials are used to improve advanced language teaching, especially Chinese. The kinds of new materials he used include natural written texts and conversational data. This is a great departure from the traditional method, which uses limited types of written language or constructive texts (texts written for the purpose of teaching specific vocabulary or grammatical patterns). He developed a half million word collection of natural conversations for this purpose and also in the process, wrote-up teacher training and instructor manuals. Tao’s approach employs the use of computer technology, based on the PC or web, as well as audio, video, and text resources.
This is an ongoing project, with the first cycle being completed in the past four years. Now in the first year of the second cycle, several international researchers have become involved too.
Another of Professor Tao’s research projects involves analyzing discourse from an interactive perspective, focusing especially on epistemic stance marking in Mandarin conversation. This is a linguistic project funded by a UCLA Academic Senate Research Grant. Epistemic stance marking is the way in which a speaker commits to a proposition with different degrees of certainty. Professor Tao approached the study of stance marking from a multi-model perspective, with attention to lexical/grammatical marking, prosodic features (as indicated in audio recordings), and body language/gestures (as indicated in video frames). While traditional approaches focus almost exclusively on lexical grammar, Professor Tao analyzes prosodic features, or how the speaker uses tone, pitch, lengthening, and tempo in additional to regular lexical choices, to indicate certainty. Professor Tao states that to analyze multimedia materials, one needs to understand that language is a broad tool for communication, a resource for speakers. This allows Tao to reinterpret traditional units of language structure as a way to communicate and build social relationships. This is a clearly a social/cultural view of language. Eventually, this project could inform Tao’s language-teaching projects. With this research, one can view the teaching of language in a new way. One does not have to focus just on lexical/grammatical sources when teaching. A learner needs to be exposed to the same environment and resources that native speakers have. Using data from the field, this combination of research and technology is developing new mechanisms for learning language, including language corpora. With an earlier grant, Professor Tao was able to build up a written corpus of over 1,000,000 words with diverse types of written texts as their source. This corpus is now searchable online. Most of Professor Tao research is based on large quantities of authentic texts, be they spoken or written, theoretical or applied.
Professor Tao also engages in works in other fields of China studies. He has an ongoing project with colleagues from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and other Asian institutions to analyze Laozi and other Chinese philosophical texts. His interdisciplinary approach applies linguistic methods to philosophy and web-based concordances to classical texts. With grant support from the UCLA Center for Digital Humanities and the CUHK he has recently completed a web-based concordance to five versions of the Laozi text.
Finally, Professor Tao’s recent research goes beyond Chinese, with the most prominent work in this regard being the construction of the International Corpus of English. As co-director of the U.S. component of this project, Professor Tao works with colleagues from Europe, Asia, North America, Australia and other parts of the world to collect varieties of English from all over the world. This is an ongoing project, with each group collecting real samples of oral and written English, in both formal and informal settings. Eventually, Professor Tao and his international team would like to incorporate the most major varieties of English, with a goal of 1,000,000+ words for each and in a comparable format. Parts of speech and syntax information will also be represented. Professor Tao hopes that this project can be completed in a few years.
Professor Tao has many ideas for future projects. He wishes to write books summarizing his research on spoken Chinese and comparing lexical features in written and spoken Chinese. Ideally, he would like within the next couple of years to complete his pedagogy project in the form of teaching materials comprising both the traditional textbook and a multimedia CD-ROM. This would include search tools, audio and video data, and concordance data. For more information on Professor Tao and his research, visit his website http://ht37.bol.ucla.edu/
Published: Friday, February 29, 2008