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Alicia Key ’21 tapped her programming skills to research a language ‘ancestor’

Alicia Key '21.

After she graduates from Furman, Alicia Key ’21 hopes to either program video games or develop an app that helps users learn a foreign language.

If she chooses the latter, a research project she did over the summer with Assistant Professor of Asian Studies Alexander Francis-Ratte and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Christopher Alvin will help.

“The theory is that Japanese and Korean are sister languages, and we were trying to prove whether an ancestor language between the two exists,” said Key.

“We examined the readings to analyze the proposed cognates and then, based on those proposed cognates and sound correspondences, we tried our hand at finding our own cognates by reconstructing Korean and Japanese words.”

For the second half of the project, Key wrote a computer program designed to verify proposed cognates to sound correspondences.

“You need to justify the relations,” said Key, a computer science major and linguistics minor. “This program helps with that accountability.”

Key said her java skills improved during the project.

“Trying to find archeological evidence that Japanese and Korean descended from the same ancestor language is tedious,” Key said. “I thought there had to be a better way to do this. It’s a work in progress.”

While the research is far from finished, she learned something valuable – “Computers can help the humanities.”

To learn about engaged-learning experiences similar to Key’s, search more that 145 digital presentations of students’ engaged learning experiences from this year’s virtual 12th annual Furman Engaged.



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