Skip to main content
Skip to main menu Skip to spotlight region Skip to secondary region Skip to UGA region Skip to Tertiary region Skip to Quaternary region Skip to unit footer


Linguistics Undergraduate Student Zahin Hoque Wins Fall 2023 CURO Research Award

Undergraduate Linguistics student Zahin Hoque (right) poses with Dr. Chacón (left).

The UGA Linguistics department congratulates Zahin Hoque on his receipt of a research award from UGA CURO (Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities). Only 500 of UGA’s 30,000 undergraduate students are awarded the $1,000 scholarship. Awardees will actively engage in faculty-facilitated research, and all recipients are strongly encouraged to present their work at UGA’s spring CURO Symposium. 

Zahin earned the scholarship both due to his record of academic excellence and for the novelty and depth of his proposed research. His project, currently titled “Visual word form-specific responses in Urdu,” explores whether the brain responses of Urdu readers differ depending on the variant of Arabic script they are reading. 

Ph.D. student Hareem Khokhar monitors a computer screen while Zahin's brain activity is captured by the EEG cap.
Ph.D. student Hareem Khokhar monitors readings while Zahin's brain activity is captured by the EEG cap in the UGA Linguistics Lab.

Arabic script can be written and adapted differently depending on the reader’s spoken language. Nasta‘līq script is slanted and more cursive than the straight and more distinguishable naskh variant of Arabic script. Urdu readers favor the nasta‘līq style of Arabic script, which is more compact in its representation of entire words, as opposed to the naskh style preferred by Arabic readers, in which each letter form is distinct from one another. 

An example of an Arabic word for “prophet” whose written form varies significantly across the two script variants.
An example of an Arabic word for “prophet”. While three distinct strokes can be seen in the Naskh variant, the same word is written in a single stroke in Nastaʿlīq, with no real division between any of the graphemes present.

“As someone who has been studying Urdu for over half a decade now, one of the earliest learning curves I remember was adjusting to the preferred nasta‘līq variant [of script] after only being able to read naskh Arabic characters for liturgical purposes,” Zahin explains. Nevertheless, he says, reading nasta‘līq eventually began to feel natural, as it was for other Urdu readers. He learned that the naskh variant of Arabic script is often difficult for readers when adapted to for Urdu, even though Urdu readers are often forced to do so due to the current limitations in digital technology rendering nasta‘līq.

Zahin came to recognize that the variant of Arabic script used to write Urdu was important to its readers, even to the point of controversy regarding the distinct linguistic and cultural identity of Urdu. When these considerations were tied into his Linguistics studies at UGA, he began to wonder if there was a difference in neurological activity when Urdu readers read the naskh versus the nasta‘līq variant of Urdu. 

Under the mentorship of Dr. Dustin Chacón and using the EEG machine newly available in the Linguistics Lab, Zahin aims to compare how the brain responds to both variants of Arabic script as well as non-word shapes. The structure of his research project replicates a well-known design by Tarkiainen et al. (1999), but his goal is unique as it involves comparing two script variants rather than merely documenting brain responses to one script. 

A gray rectangle in 4 sections--each section has a symbol written in black. The sections on the right are filled with static and the letters are more faded.
Tarkiainen et al's (1999) paradigm involved monitoring brain activity while Finnish words and strings of symbols were rapidly displayed to participants in different levels of Gaussian noise. 

Although neural responses to word forms have been extensively studied using MEG and fMRI, Zahin has chosen EEG as it is a more accessible approach for his research. Zahin anticipates with eagerness the results of his project. “Overall, this research is quite novel so I’m really excited to see what we end up with.”


Support Linguistics at UGA

Your donations to the Department of Linguistics will support research and travel opportunities for students and faculty and other initiatives to enhance students' education in linguistics. Please consider joining other friends and alumni who have shown their support by making a gift to our fund. We greatly appreciate your contributions to the success of our programs!