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25+ Research Ideas in Linguistics You Can Explore as a High Schooler

Research is an invaluable asset in shaping your academic journey, especially for high school students aiming to stand out in college applications. You’ll demonstrate your expertise in an advanced academic topic and ability to create a self-driven project with meaningful analytical methods and findings.


If you have an inclination towards language and communication, exploring the diverse realm of linguistics through research offers a unique path to show interdisciplinary skill across STEM, social sciences, and the humanities. Linguistics extends into disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and computer science, opening doors to multifaceted research not restricted to a single field. Though university-level linguistics research in linguistics can require a high level of expertise, there are many approachable research topics to demonstrate your passion for the field. 


Let's explore what makes a compelling research topic in linguistics and present 25 intriguing research ideas that might captivate and inspire your linguistic journey.


Historical Linguistics

Fascinated by the evolution of languages through time? Historical linguistics explores the changes languages undergo over centuries. It delves into reconstructing ancient languages, tracking phonological shifts, and uncovering how vocabularies transform. Here are potential research topics in historical linguistics to explore the intricate journeys languages take across history.


  1. Language Shift and Endangerment in Indigenous Communities: Studying the factors leading to language shift and endangerment in indigenous communities, exploring sociocultural, political, and historical reasons behind language decline.

  2. Proto-Language Reconstruction of a Language Family: Investigating the common linguistic features among related languages to reconstruct their hypothetical ancestral language, exploring the phonological, morphological, and syntactic traits.

  3. Diachronic Analysis of Sound Changes in a Language: Tracking the evolution of phonological features across different historical stages of a language family, identifying systematic sound changes.

  4. Morphosyntactic Changes in Historical Texts: Investigating the evolution of grammatical structures and syntactic patterns in historical texts, tracing changes in sentence construction and morphological rules over time.

  5. Linguistic Evolution in Colonized Regions: Studying the linguistic impact of colonization on indigenous languages, examining how contact with colonial languages has influenced vocabulary, grammar, and language structure over time.


Morphology

Ever wondered how words are formed and structured? Morphology is the study of word formation and structure within languages. It dissects how affixes, roots, and compounds create meaning. Exploring topics in morphology unveils the intricate construction of words and their variation between communities, age groups, and languages.


6. Reduplication Patterns in Child Language Development: Investigating the role and prevalence of reduplication (repeating a word or part of a word) in early language acquisition among toddlers.

7. Compounding in Technical Jargon: Analyzing how technical fields create new compound words to convey complex concepts and whether these compounds follow specific morphological rules.

8. Derivational Morphology in Slang: Exploring how slang evolves through the addition of affixes and changes in word forms to convey nuanced meanings in digital communication.

9. Morphological Adaptation in Loanword Integration: Studying how borrowed words from one language adapt morphologically in another language, especially in terms of affixation and derivation.

10. Diminutives in Children's Speech Development: Investigating the role and frequency of diminutive forms (such as "-ie" or "-y" endings) in early language acquisition and their impact on language development.


Phonetics and Phonology

Intrigued by the sounds and rhythms of speech? Phonetics studies the physical aspects of speech sounds, while phonology examines how these sounds function within a language's structure. Delving into these areas opens doors to understanding accent variations, sound symbolism, and the intricate rules governing speech patterns.


11. Mimicry and Accent Acquisition: Investigating how people acquire new accents, examining the effects of exposure duration and social context.

12. Regional dialectal variation: Analyzing pronunciation differences and their development across dialects and the phonological patterns they demonstrate. 

13. Speech Therapy Techniques: Studying effective methods to improve speech impediments, such as articulation exercises or technology-assisted interventions

14. Tonal Patterns in Song Lyrics: Analyzing the use of tone and intonation in lyrics across different music genres to understand how tonal patterns contribute to artistic expression and emotional conveyance.

15. Vowel Reduction in Rapid Speech: Investigating how vowel reduction occurs in fast-paced speech, particularly in conversational settings, and its impact on overall speech intelligibility.

Psycholinguistics

Interested in how the mind processes language? Psycholinguistics delves into the cognitive mechanisms behind language acquisition, comprehension, and production. It explores how memory, emotions, and perception influence language, offering insights into bilingualism, language development, and more.


16. Language Processing in Bilingual Individuals: Studying cognitive disparities and variations in speech production and comprehension between the languages of bilingual individuals.

17. Syntactic Error Analysis in Second Language Acquisition: Examining common mistakes in word ordering and/or sentence formation while learning a new language.

18. Language and Emotion: Identifying specific linguistic elements, such as tone, lexical choice, or syntactic structures, that influence how emotions are understood and/or expressed in communication. 

19. Speech Perception and Cognitive Load: Analyzing how external distractions affect the ability to comprehend and/or retain speech information.

20. Language Development in Children: Studying the milestones and patterns in children’s language acquisition during early developmental stages.


Sociolinguistics

Curious about how language shapes and reflects society? Sociolinguistics explores the interplay between language and social dynamics. It uncovers how language choices signify social identities and how linguistic variations emerge within communities.


21. Code-Switching Among Peers: Analyzing why and how individuals switch between languages in conversation, and the contexts in which code-switching occurs most frequently.

22. Perception of Languages and Their Speakers: Investigating how language biases and stereotypes influence perceptions of different languages and their speakers.

23. Internet Language and Communication: Examining the usage and familiarity of linguistic elements in online communication among different age groups.

24. Linguistic Markers of Identity and Community Membership: Analyzing how linguistic features and vocabulary are utilized to signify identity traits such as race, class, gender, or sexuality within communities.

25. Language and Workplace Dynamics: Investigating how linguistic choices and communication styles influence workplace interactions and professional relationships, hierarchies, and collaboration among employees.


Suggested by Lumiere member from Princeton University.


One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in linguistics, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


Image Source: Unsplash

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