Dominique Louër receiving her Master of Arts degree in 2019Dominique Louër (MA ’19) had a lot to celebrate during fall 2020 convocation. She’d completed not one but two back-to-back master’s degrees in the Faculty of Arts. Louër earned her Master of Arts (MA) in French Studies, with a linguistic specialization in 2019, and in 2020 she completed a Master of Applied Science (MASc) in Developmental and Communication Science in the Department of Psychology.

While it may seem unusual for a student to pursue graduate studies in two seemingly different disciplines like French and Psychology, there is a lot of overlap between the fields involving language research.

“Both of my degrees offered me a different perspective on bilingualism and language research in general,” says Louër. Her MA in French focused on phonetics, while her MASc in Psychology looked at psycholinguistics. “Together, the two degrees give me an interdisciplinary scope which will allow me to succeed in my future research,” she adds.

Louër’s pursuit of graduate education stemmed from her growing interest in linguistics. While researching graduate opportunities, Louër discovered French Studies professor Svetlana Kaminskaïa’s research on the dialects of French spoken in different regions within Canada. She grew increasingly curious about the scientific aspects of language.

“I was reading a lot of papers in cognitive science and psycholinguistics for my thesis and decided to shift my research to those disciplines because I found them more practical and interesting,” she says.

Louër’s research in her French master’s examines two separate groups of bilingual speakers situated in Southwestern Ontario: native French speakers and French second language speakers. Her research aimed to determine whether the dominant language in society, English, impacts pronunciation of the minority language, French. To conduct this research, she studied the phonetic property known as Voice Onset Time (VOT).

Dominique Louër presenting her researchWhile the COVID-19 lockdown forced her original Psychology master’s project to pivot significantly, Louër’s major research project looked at the characteristics of listener sensitivity to talker-specific phonetic details in bilinguals. Her findings provide insight into the sound systems and general cognitive abilities of bilinguals. “The cognition of bilinguals is relatively unknown,” says Louër. “There is a lot to be learned from studying various aspects of speech and language.” This research can also be put into practice in a more clinical setting, which is what Louër hopes to do for her PhD.

Now that she has completed her two Waterloo master’s degrees, Louër is a PhD student in Communication Sciences and Disorders in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill University. She is eager to conduct her research in the Acquired Language Disorders Lab where she will be looking at language disorders in bilinguals. Ultimately, she says, “my hope is to apply the knowledge I have gained in order to find new ways to rehabilitate bilingual individuals who acquire language disorders such as aphasia following a stroke.”