FLAS Fellow Brent Woo


Brent Woo Flas

Brent Woo, Finnish

What is your department and degree? 

I’m a PhD student in Linguistics.


What do you focus on in your research/studies?

When we speak we commonly use idioms, or set phrases, that are sometimes very colorful. I ask all sorts of questions about these chunks of language, like: how much can you manipulate them? You can say “Justin has no chill”, but do people say “Justin has chill”? Do languages differ in what kinds of idioms they have? Studying idioms this way can tell us about the structures behind sentences, and how the mind organizes language. This is theoretical syntax.

Alongside the theoretical work, I run experiments, too. Ever wonder about that “test” asking: cna yuo raed tihs? I work on that! I run experiments figuring out the link between reading and language comprehension: how letter-switching affects reading comprehension and what this tells us about how we read languages.


How are your research/studies related to Europe?

Not surprisingly, I’ve extended both of my research programs to Finnish. Finnish idioms seem to work much the same way, but since Finnish words can be rearranged in a sentence much more freely than in English, it provides a challenging environment to do syntax work in.

I’m also currently designing a reading experiment for Finnish speakers. We’ll see if they look at consonants and vowels the same way as English speakers do.


How has the FLAS impacted your research/studies and career goals?

The FLAS has changed everything. Far from just giving me another language to work with, having the opportunity to focus on the language and regional courses without the distractions of teaching that I’d normally have allows me a much richer experience and deeper engagement with the language and culture. A significant part of my research focuses on the Finnish language now (in the past 2 quarters alone I’ve written 4 papers concerning Finnish or related languages, more to come!) and I now plan to spend some time in Finland conducting language research.

In the past year I’ve also participated in tons of exciting Scandinavian department events and have had new opportunities open left and right. Because of the FLAS – I’m going to Finland this summer!


Do you have a favorite word or phrase in the language you study? 

It would have to be ‘taivaanranta,’ which is a Finnish compound that means “horizon,” but piece-by-piece its translation is stunning: “heaven’s shore.”