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Postgraduate funding in the research project: the linguistics of literacy in the foundation phase

The Department of English Language and Linguistics invites applications from excellent prospective postgraduate students for full-time study of the linguistics of literacy in the foundation phase as part of the Linguistics of Literacy project.  The research programme explores the relation between formal and applied linguistics and Foundation-Phase literacy education, specifically focussing on the  contributions that can be made by linguists.

 We invite two types of applications.

(a) Applications for registration as a regular student to pursue a research project in the defined areas of study.

(b) Applications for Graduate Assistants (financial support) in the defined areas of study.

This multi-disciplinary research project welcomes applications from anybody who has an interest in the specific contributions that Linguistics can make to early literacy, especially, but not exclusively as they relate to African languages. We invite students excelling academically to apply for teaching assistantships and postgraduate bursaries in order to undertake research in the above Research Focus Areas.   Successful applicants will be expected to undertake duties in the department and to be present during term times.  

Elligibility -- Applicants must:

  • have successfully registered as students by the time of application.
  • have excellent academic creditials: at least a good undergraduate degree.
  • Suitable background includes ANY type of linguistics (including descriptive linguistics, formal/theoretical/generative linguistics, cognitive linguistics, psycholinguistics, applied linguistics etc.).  Applicants with a background in a cognate field will also be considered (e.g. Education, psychology, academic development, languages etc.). Competence in or willingness to study a language of the Bantu language family would be an advantage but is not a requirement. 
  • Preference will also be given to candidates who supply a coherent proposal and who intend to stay on-campus for at least the first academic year.  The proposal should demonstrate that the applicants have read the background information on the project and are familiar with its focus areas etc.
  • be able to argue in a proposal why how their particular experience or qualifications make them good candidates to work on the project.
  • In the case of Graduate Assitants, applicants must be available during term times to undertake tasks.

Deadline for applications: Applications should be received by 25 November 2014 but we will continue to accept applications until the start of term in 2015.  

Context of study:

South African foundation-phase literacy is in a deep crisis – especially literacy in languages of the Bantu language family (see http://www.ru.ac.za/englishlanguageandlinguistics/research/sandisaimbewu/).  Although this is a multifaceted problem requiring input from policy analysts, political scientists, education specialists, child psychologists and sociologists, this project focusses on the specific contributions that can be made by linguists and/or from a linguistic perspective.  This includes the following dimensions:

  • Sociolinguistic-dialectological dimension which interacts with language standardization and the mismatch between home languages and languages of teaching and learning.
  • Morpho-syntactic dimensions: the mismatch between psycholinguistic and orthographic representations of words and morphemes with the attendant need for thorough linguistic analysis of African languages within descriptive and theoretical frameworks.
  • Concepts such as phonological, morphological, syntactic awarenesses which are known to have effects for literacy and their extension to Bantu languages in ways that take the linguistic structures of these languages into consideration e.g. is morphological awareness necessarily the same thing in English vs isiZulu given the different morphological structures and how these are mapped orthographically?
  • Semantic dimensions: the development of productive and receptive capacities for  entailed and presupposed meaning in children and how these interact with text.
  • Linguistic-educative dimensions: the lack of educational resources such as reading norms, vocabulary lists, graded texts, testing instruments, comprehension tests, Flesch-Kincaid scores etc.
  • Other dimensions.

To provide further contextualization, please read the titles of research that our students are currently pursuing.

Curriculum:  Given the broad scope of the project, research projects may be either applied or theoretical in nature.  Postgraduate degrees usually consist of a combination of thesis and coursework modules to be chosen in consultation with your supervisor.  There are also opportunities for fieldwork, community engagement, conference attendance, as well as teaching and tutoring to develop your academic profile.  The academic year starts in January.  

 How to apply: To apply, first apply to the postgraduate programme at the department of Linguistics.  Send an email to Dr Sally Hunt (s dot hunt AT ru do ac dot za) and she will provide you with more details.  

Once you have successfully registered as a student at Rhodes, please send an email to Mark de Vos (m dot devos  AT ru dot ac dot za) and Kristin van der Merwe (k dot vandermerwe  AT  ru dot ac dot za) containing your name and contact details, an initial title of your research project/dissertation and a short outline or proposal of what you envisage your research to be.  The proposal/outline should be at least two full pages of text (A4 or Letter, 12-point, single spaced, Times New Roman with normal margins) and, if necessary, a further page for references, data, notes etc.  The proposal should not exceed full pages excluding the data/reference page. Note that this is simply an initial outline and that your research topic may change substantially over time as you develop as a postgraduate student.  The proposal should include at least the following sections: (a) how the proposed project falls into the defined research area/s (b) how it relates to previous research in the field (c) why you are a suitable candidate.  (d) The kind of funding you have avaiable to you and the kind of funding you require. A methodology is not required at this stage.

Frequently asked questions

Q: I have more questions.  Who do I ask?  

A: Please take time to read the information online.  You can also read more about the project and its rationale at http://www.ru.ac.za/englishlanguageandlinguistics/research/sandisaimbewu/ If you have specific questions which are not covered on these web pages then Prof. Mark de Vos (m dot devos at  ru dot ac dot za). 

Q: What topic should my proposed research be on?

This is a good question but it is tricky to answer.  99% of the time, students end up studying something quite different to what they originally anticipated.  This is because prospective students often do not take sufficient time to inform themselves about the research specialities of the department.  Generally, although we all research a wide variety of types of research, we prefer to supervise students in particular areas of interest.

In the case of the literacy project above, we are specifically interested in the linguistics of literacy.  i.e. we are less likely to focus on anthropological, ethnography, curriculum and teaching practice, language policy etc.   This is not because these areas are unvalued in general or in our department but merely because these are not the focus of this particular research project.  We are more likely to be well disposed toward projects that explore literacy from a particularly linguistic perspective.  These include pscholinguistic studies, studies into language structure (morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics), corpus studies and studies of Bantu languages.  The methodologies to explore these are almost unlimited e.g. corpus, experimental, questionnaire, teaching interventions, introspective grammaticality judgements, eye tracking, puzzle solving, game playing etc.  What all these have in common is that the data thus yielded are quantifiable and can be tested etc. (as opposed to data which are more observational or subjective inferences of the researcher).  Please look at the kinds of research that (a) our students do and (b) that you can find on the research pages of Prof. De Vos and Ms Van der Merwe.  Algining yourself with our current research interests is always a good start.

Q: I'm a theoretical (or other type of) linguist: does this relate to literacy?  Can I do theoretical linguistics and literacy at the same time?

A: Yes.  Literacy is an object of study, not a theory in its own right.  This means you can study it from a variety of linguistic perspectives.   A lot of literacy puzzles relate to the  language-specific structures of languages and understanding languages helps us how to become literate in them.  Thus, it is perfectly possible to explore theoretical topics while also doing literacy research.  It depends on your attitude.

 Q: I'd like to know more about the postgraduate experience at Department of English Language and Linguistics.

A: More information about the Department can be found at: (http://www.ru.ac.za/englishlanguageandlinguistics/postgraduates/)

 Q: I'd like more information about studying at Rhodes University.

A: More information about studying at Rhodes University can be found at:

(http://www.ru.ac.za/rhodes/introducingrhodes/whychooserhodes/  For more information about postgraduate studies in our department, contact the course coordinator Dr Sally Hunt (s dot hunt at ru dot ac dot za) after first reading the online information available.