Interview with Prof. Chu-Ren Huang

Categories: Meet the researchers

Prof. Chu-Ren Huang is Dean of Faculty of Humanities (FH) and Chair Professor of Applied Chinese Language Studies at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He received his PhD in linguistics from Cornell University in 1987 and has since played a central role in developing Chinese language resources and in leading the fields of Chinese corpus and computational linguistics.

Prof. Huang has published on different aspects of Chinese linguistics and computational linguistics. Among others, he has been involved in collaboration with European partners through an FP7-project KYOTO (Knowledge Yielding Ontologies for Transition-based Organization), and Erasmus Mundus. (Source: PolyU)

Dear Professor Huang, what is your background? How did you become interested in applied linguistics?

I started as a major in physics when I entered National Taiwan University as an undergraduate but had always been interested in both science and culture (especially in Chinese literature). One of our freshman English classes introduced linguistics as a discipline. I thought this would be a perfect discipline for me to combine my interest in both science and culture. Hence I transferred to major in English with the study of linguistics in mind. I pursued my PhD study in linguistics later as planned.

What are your current research interests? What do you hope the impact of your work will be?

The topic I am most interested in right now is the interface between concept and language, with focus on how to simulate this relation computationally and verify by neuro- or psycholinguistic experiments. For instance, I am interested in the linguistic facts of synaesthesia right now (i.e. why can we say 'sweet voice' using taste to describe hearing but cannot 'taste a shape'). This will have implications both on effective communication, on the origin of metaphor and on how human mind works. By the way, Chinese characters such as &32654; and &38395; are example of synaesthesia since the first one use vision (size) to describe taste, while the second uses hearing (ear) to describe smelling.

Where is applied linguistics as a field standing in mainland China and Hong Kong? How does PolyU's Faculty of Humanities contribute to it?

We are leaders in the world in terms of applied linguistics in the Chinese context (as we should be). But note that applied linguistics can cover a whole range of inter-disciplinary areas of linguistics, including but not limited to clinical linguistics, computational linguistics, cognitive linguistics, neuro-linguistics, and of course, educational linguistics. The unique characteristics of Chinese and the need for our highly connected multicultural world opened many windows for exciting research in applied linguistics. PolyU is a strong leader in applied linguistics in the multilingual East-meets-West context. It has strong theoretical foundation with clear focus of doing research relevant for the society. We are also training many excellent future leaders in our field for Greater China.

You have participated in collaborative research projects in Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, in the US and Europe... How does international collaboration and mobility matter to you as a researcher?

It is essential. A good scholar cannot be parochial and limited by a local perspective. International collaboration allowed me to open my eyes to new topics and new methodologies; but most of all, to new ways to tackle research issues. Mobility is an integral part to international collaboration. Immerse in a different cultural context and in a different academic environment itself is a learning experience. It is part of the process for a researcher to become a global citizen and a world-leading scholar.

How can mobility of researchers between Europe and Hong Kong be further enhanced?

I would like to see more opportunities for collaborative projects (probably including co-funding in Hong Kong of EU projects such as Horizon 2020, or more bi-lateral research projects in addition to the current mobility grants).

What is your experience with European researchers and the European Research Area in general? Is there anything special about doing research in Europe?

The strength of researchers and research programmes in Europe is its emphasis on collaboration and on broader involvements from multiple states/labs. This is something China/Hong Kong does also do very well. I am impressed by how easy it is for researchers from different countries and cultural backgrounds to work together to produce ground-breaking research. If there is any weakness [in Europe], it is the relative unfamiliarity with research issues more specific to Asia and China.

What are your plans for the future?

I am starting a couple of book series and journals in the general areas in the Humanities and in computational/Chinese linguistics. I am also getting ready for the publication of my reference grammar of Chinese (co-authored with Dingxu Shi) and hope this will benefit all who are interested in learning or knowing more Chinese.

Professor Huang, thank you for the discussion!