Convocation, Profile

June 23, 2021

Linguistics Honours BA grad Jane Li heading to PhD

Jane Li came to SFU directly from high school and says she didn’t know what to expect. 

“I wasn't sure whether to even start undergrad studies. Without much family guidance, I was mainly worried about tuition.”  In high school, Li participated in NACLO, and met professors Maite Taboada and Keir Molton.   “They really encouraged me to enroll in Linguistics.   Deciding to stay local, she applied to SFU, and says simply, “No regrets at all!”

SFU offered Li outstanding experiences in which she blossomed. Graduating this spring with a Linguistics Honours BA and a minor in Philosophy, she will be starting her PhD in Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins University this fall.

One of her most important experiences during her undergraduate linguistics degree program has been working with professor John Alderete in the Language Production Lab for the past three years.  “I did research on Cantonese (my native language) and speech errors. It opened my eyes to what research was like beyond the classroom, and I'm grateful that John treated me like a collaborator.”  She says, “This allowed me to develop my computational skillset and establish (to some degree) research independence.”

While immersed in her coursework and lab research she also enjoyed being a member of the SFU Linguistics Student Union (LSU) and served as LSU secretary in her second year. “It was a fun time, and it really strengthened my connections with folks in the department.”

Li is excited about what she has been able to achieve in her undergraduate degree and what she will be able to do next. “I think what I've learned/researched at SFU has informed almost every facet of research work I hope to carry out in the future. And the skills that I've acquired from my lab experiences (statistical analyses, database management, data collection) will serve me well in my graduate studies.”

And what does she want to study in her future?  “I'm interested in psycholinguistics (speech production specifically) and morpho-phonology. I hope to answer questions like, how are sub-word meaning units (a.k.a. morphemes, e.g. -edun-...) represented, and how are they different from full words (e.g. catdogwalk)?  Specifically, for morphemes that have multiple sound representations (e.g. past tense in English can happen by -ed, vowel change run-ran, or no change cut-cut), how are they abstracted as mental representations?

“When I applied to Johns Hopkins, I wasn't even expecting to make it through the first cut as it was the most competitive program I applied to.  I think I stood out to my interviewers because I was able to articulate the specific problems I was interested in and how I want to go about approaching these problems, showing that I was familiar with the research area.”

“I chose Hopkins mainly because of the research match between myself and my advisor there.  And that the program structure allows me to dive into my specialty right away. I'm already working with my advisor on a conference project right now and things are looking very exciting!”  

The Department of Linguistics congratulates Jane Li on all her accomplishments here at SFU and look forward to her continued success. Congratulations to all our Linguistics grads this June 2021!


My favourite LING class was LING 810 (special topics: psycholinguistics). It gave me a formal introduction to psycholinguistics and solidified my choice to do research in this area at the graduate level. Shoutout to Prof Henny Yeung who taught that class! 

Two other classes I really enjoyed were LING 324 (semantics) and LING 321 (phonology) -- the former I wrote my honours thesis on and the latter I'll be studying at Hopkins.

Beyond Linguistics I studied philosophy, math, with a dash of computing science. I think what connected these three areas (plus linguistics) for me was logic. Most of the courses I took for my PHIL minor were in logic, and it enabled me to think in the abstract, which was super important for math and theoretical linguistics.”

She recommends highschool students check out North American Computational Linguistics Open Competition (

Spring 2021 Featured Graduates

This spring convocation, the Department of Linguistics is recognizing a small group of graduating students for their accomplishments in the department.