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ULAB Undergraduate Essay Competition 2022

Update 01/02/2023: We know you've all been very busy with submissions and exams, so we've extended the deadline of our essay competition to Friday 17th February at 23:59 GMT!

Update 13/01/2023: We know you've all been very busy with submissions and exams, so we've extended the deadline of our essay competition to Friday 27th January at 23:59 GMT!


We are inviting undergraduate students to write us an essay in response to one of the three questions below. Essays should be 2500 words long (+/- 10%), and referenced using a referencing style of your choice. For each of the questions, we have also provided a recommended reading list to help you get started (though this is of course just a starting point and you are welcome to bring in other sources).

There are 2 categories in which to submit:
  • Category 1: 1st and 2nd year undergraduates
  • Category 2: 3rd (and 4th) year undergraduates

The questions are the same for both categories but they will be marked at different levels according to the applicants’ current year of study. Please indicate which category you belong to as well as providing us with your year of enrolment in university when you submit your essay.

Essays will be marked in accordance with criteria established internally to ULAB, but the best submissions will take a novel approach to a question, will think creatively to pose original challenges to existing literature, and, most importantly, will be exciting to read! We look forward to reading your entries - good luck!


Please send your essay in PDF format to [email protected] by 23:59 GMT on Friday 17th February 2023. Submitted files should be fully anonymised — please ensure that neither your name nor any other personal information is visible in the document.


All current undergraduate students across all disciplines and countries are welcome to submit! People who graduated from an undergraduate degree at the time of submission are not eligible to submit. Members of ULAB sub-committees are not able to submit either.


For each category there will be a winner and a runner-up.

Winners will receive a cash prize of £50 each, tickets to the 2023 ULAB conference, and their essays will be published in an issue of U-Lingua. Runners-up will receive a cash prize of £15 each as well as a ULAB sticker pack.


Question 1: Theoretical Syntax 

Using a range of examples, discuss the viability of different syntactic constituency tests.

Suggested Reading

  • Hosseini-Maasoum, S.M., 2022. An Analysis of the Efficiency of Constituency Tests in Persian; a Minimalist Analysis. Language Related Research, 12(6), pp.93-127.
  • Phillips, C., 1996. Merge right: An approach to constituency conflicts. In Proceedings of the Fourteenth West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, 15, pp. 381-95.
  • Phillips, C., 2003. Linear order and constituency. Linguistic inquiry, 34(1), pp.37-90.
  • Postal, P. 1974. On Raising. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Steedman, M. 1997. Surface Structure and Interpretation. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Question 2: Internet Linguistics

How and in what ways does the internet facilitate innovation in language in ways that other modes of communication do? Please feel free to use your own definition of "the internet" and incorporate this into your answer. 

Suggested Reading 

  • Bamman, D., Eisenstein, J. & Schnoebelen, T.. 2014. Gender identity and lexical variation in social media. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 18(2), pp.135-60.
  • Crystal, D., 2011. Internet linguistics: A student guide. Routledge.
  • Eisenstein, J., O’Connor, B., Smith, N. & Xing., E. P. 2014. Diffusion of lexical change in social media. PLoS ONE 9(11).
  • Giltrow, J. and Stein, D., 2009. Innovation, evolution, and genre theory. Genres in the Internet. Issues in the theory of genre, pp.1-26.
  • Gopal, D., Blaxter, T., Willis, D. and Leemann, A., 2021. Testing models of diffusion of morphosyntactic innovations in Twitter data. Urban Matters: Current approaches in variationist sociolinguistics, 27, p.253.
  • Merchant, G., 2001. Teenagers in cyberspace: an investigation of language use and language change in internet chatrooms. Journal of research in reading, 24(3), pp.293-306.

Question 3: Language Acquisition 

Using existing data, explain why bilingual children rely less on the Mutual Exclusivity principle than their monolingual peers.

Suggested Reading

  • Clark, E. V. 2009. Lexical meaning. The Cambridge Handbook of Child Language, pp.283-300.
  • Davidson, D., Jergovic, D., Imami, Z. & Theodos, V. 1997. Monolingual and bilingual children's use of the mutual exclusivity constraint. Journal of child language, 24(1), pp.3-24.
  • Houwer, A. de. 1990. The Acquisition of Two Languages from Birth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Keller, G.D., Teschner, R.Y. & Viera, S. (eds.). 1967. Bilingualism in the Bicentennial and Beyond. Jamaica, NY: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.
  • Lindholm, K. J. & Padilla, A. M. 1978. Language mixing in bilingual children. Journal of child language, 5(2), pp.327–335.
  • Markman, E.M. & Wachtel, G.F. 1988. Children's use of mutual exclusivity to constrain the meanings of words. Cognitive psychology, 20(2), pp.121-157.