PhD graduate awarded prestigious prize from Chinese Government

Dr Mengzhu Yan, who recently completed her PhD in Linguistics at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, has been awarded the 2019 Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Students Abroad for her performance in her PhD studies.

Dr Mengzhu Yan (centre) with her PhD supervisors Professor Paul Warren and Dr Sasha Calhoun
Dr Mengzhu Yan (centre) with her PhD supervisors Professor Paul Warren and Dr Sasha Calhoun
The prestigious Chinese government prize is awarded for academic excellence by the China Scholarship Council. There are no more than 500 awarded for Chinese PhD students studying abroad annually and is the highest award one can gain from the Chinese Government when studying outside of China.

"I was very excited to receive this award to recognise my research accomplishments. Receiving this award is such a good way to finish my PhD journey, and I would like to take this chance to thank my supervisors, friends, colleagues, and my family," says Dr Yan.

Dr Yan’s PhD thesis entitled 'Prosodic and syntactic focus in speech processing in Mandarin' looked at aspects of speech comprehension in Mandarin Chinese related to focus, i.e. the most important information in any utterance. She looked at how focus plays a key role in discourse coherence and implicature generation, and she established evidence for key psycholinguistic processes related to focus for the first time in Mandarin Chinese, and indeed for any non-Germanic language.

The PhD was part of Dr Sasha Calhoun's Marsden project 'Searching for focus in a shared world: the integration of prosody and syntax in cross-linguistic speech perception', which compared related psycholinguistic processes in English and Samoan with Dr Yan's findings on Chinese. Dr Yan and Dr Calhoun have co-authored a paper on their findings in Frontiers in Psychology, and another is under review for Laboratory Phonology.

Dr Yan has presented her work at 10 international and national conferences since 2015, including the prestigious International Congress of Phonetic Sciences held in Melbourne in August 2019. She has three further journal/collected volume publications, including in John Benjamin’s Chinese as a Second Language journal, arising from her MA and other research.

The Council acknowledged that it is very rare for the award to be given to a student in the humanities, as they are usually given in the sciences. Dr Yan has just returned to China to take up a tenure-track lecturer position at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan.