Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hiking in the Alps

I have now been in Basel for a bit more than a month. It actually surprises me that it has only been a month. I feel like I have seen and done more stuff in one month than should actually be possible.
First to catch up on the research stuff... My boss is currently on a two week vacation. That has proven a little difficult. The project I am working with involves testing different language acquisition models. The main idea in the field is that language is learned through preferential acquisition, a word is added to the lexicon sooner the more connected it is to words already in the lexicon. This gives rise to the small world, scale-free structure that is seen in lexical structure. My boss, however, argues that this may not be the way in which children learn words but rather an artifact of the nature of language. He believes that kids learn words that are most connected to the learning environment. Dog for example can be seen in an environment of house pets, things in parks, animals, mammals, ect. So children will learn words based on their contextual diversity under a model of preferential acquisition.
This has been tested using child language norms but I am using a large data set from actual children to see if we get the same results. I have spent the last bit calculating log likelihoods. However, given that the data comes from small children (younger than 30 months) I am finding it difficult to fit the models to the data. In that sense, research has been really challenging. But on the positive side, I am learning a great deal. I am going to Berlin this next week to attend a summer workshop at the Max Planck Institute and will be presenting a poster on my summer work. I hope to get some feedback, enough to propel me through to the end of august, giving me new questions to explore and hopefully new modes of analysis.
Besides work I have been occupying what little free time I have with travel. Last week my boyfriend came for a visit. We went down to Geneva where we were supposed to go Parasailing. The weather however had a different view and it was rained out. We ended up instead hitching a ride with our parasailing companion to Lausanne. It was a beautiful town. We walked into town from the lake and had a lovely view of the setting sun. The next day we travelled out to Fiesch and took a gondola up to Fiescheralp, walked up to Aletschwald and then down again to Riederalp. It was absolutely beautiful. If anyone is looking for a day trip into the alps, this is the one to do! We then ventured back to Basel and I had to put in a day of work. Its hard to be productive when there is so much to see and do in Switzerland!
The rest of the weekend was spent up in Freiburg Germany, a beautiful university town. We had a lovely time celebrating the fourth with a cookout and homemade apple pie.
Sunday I moved into my new apartment. It is really nice to have an opportunity to practice my german (and even a little bit of swiss german now!) with my new roommates. I have a new goal of watching news every night in the hopes of learning to at least understand swiss german.
As I said, I am going to be in Berlin for a summer school the next week and then I am taking a short 4 day vacation to go to Vienna. After that I am presenting at a conference in Amsterdam and then will be back in Basel for the rest of August. I am looking forward both to traveling and to settling more fully into Basel.

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