Tenure-track position for Kevin Tang

January 13, 2018

Kevin Tang, a former postdoc in our department, has joined the Department of Linguistics and Translation at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, as a tenure-track Assistant Professor. Kevin was hired as part of the prestigious Hundred Talents Program, an initiative by the university to recruit talented young scholars from around the world. His position began in November of 2017.

Kevin began his two-year post-doctoral appointment in 2015. During his time at Yale, Kevin worked with Ryan Bennett, then an Assistant Professor at Yale, on the Kaqchikel language of Guatemala. Of particular interest for Kevin and Ryan were plosives—consonants articulated by blocking the flow of air from the lungs to the mouth. Examples of plosives in English include the p as in pizza, t as in time, and k as in Kansas. Additionally, however, Kaqchikel has two special types of plosives not found in English: ejectives and implosives. Ejectives are formed by moving the larynx upwards to increase the pressure inside the mouth, so that air is released more forcefully. In contrast, implosives are formed by moving the larynx downwards to decrease the pressure inside the mouth, so that air may actually enter the mouth after the consonant is released. Kevin and Ryan’s project investigated how Kaqchikel speakers distinguish between these different kinds of plosives: ejective, implosive, or neither. They presented listeners with recordings of plosives that appear to be ambiguous between the three categories, and identified two factors affecting how well listeners were able to identify the correct category. Firstly, if the language has many pairs of words that are exactly the same except that one has one type of plosive and the other has another—for example, if one has an ejective p and the other has an implosive p—then speakers were able to identify the correct category very accurately. One reason for this could be that identifying the correct type of plosive is necessary for distinguishing between these similar words. The other factor was past experience. It seemed that listeners tended to compare ambiguous plosives to examples of plosives from each category that they had heard in the past, and choose the category that is the most similar. The particular results of Kevin and Ryan’s study suggested that listeners could remember past examples of plosives they had heard in rich detail.

Summaries of Kevin’s ongoing projects, including his project with Ryan, are available on his website. Kevin will continue his research on experimental phonology at Zhejiang University while teaching courses and supervising graduate students. We wish Kevin the best of luck in his new position!

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