Meet 2023 BECHS-Africa Fellow Robyn Berghoff

During the fall 2023 semester, the Center for the Humanities will host Robyn Berghoff, PhD, a linguist from Stellenbosch University (South Africa).

Robyn Berghoff ( joins the Center for the Humanities from Stellenbosch University (South Africa) for the fall 2023 semester as a BECHS-Africa Fellow.

Thanks to the BECHS-Africa Fellowship program, the Center for the Humanities will host linguistics scholar Robyn Berghoff, PhD, from Stellenbosch University (South Africa) during the fall 2023 semester. With funding from the Mellon Foundation, and in partnership with the University of Ghana, American University in Cairo and Stellenbosch University, the transnational program is aimed at enhancing research capacity for early career scholars in the humanities by supporting a residential fellowship exchange.

Washington University has previously hosted four BECHS-Africa Fellows: Dorothy Pokua Agyepong (spring 2020), Austin Dziwornu Ablo (spring 2022) and Mariama Zaami (spring 2022), all from the University of Ghana; and Zameka Sijadu (fall 2022), from Stellenbosch University (South Africa). This semester, Washington University sends its second BECHS-Africa Fellow abroad, with Esther Kurtz, assistant professor of ethnomusicology, spending the fall at the University of Ghana.

Below, we asked Berghoff a bit about her research, her fellowship workplan and what she’s most interested in learning about St. Louis.

Briefly, what do you plan to accomplish during your fellowship, and what is the larger project you’re working on?

I’m planning an experiment to investigate how certain linguistic factors (e.g., sound and spelling regularities) affect how people learn complex grammatical gender systems. This experiment will form part of a larger project I’m working on, which uses experimental psycholinguistic methods to examine the acquisition of isiXhosa (a South African Bantu language). Relatedly, together with a collaborator, I’m currently writing a paper on linguistic and geographic diversity in psycholinguistic research. We examine where high-impact psycholinguistic research is being conducted, and what languages are being studied.
Which disciplines at Washington University do you see your work overlapping with?

My work fits within both Linguistics and Psychological and Brain Sciences.
What experiences are you looking forward to regarding your temporary new home in St. Louis and at Washington University?

This is my first time in the U.S., so a lot of things are new to me. Since I get to be here for a few months, I’m looking forward to just settling in and experiencing the way of life here. At WashU specifically, I’m excited to participate in the activities at the Center for the Humanities and to learn from researchers in my own and other fields. It will be interesting to compare my experiences here to those from my own academic environment and to see what I can apply back home.
St. Louisans love to share our city. While you’re here, is there anything your WashU colleagues can give you recommendations for – restaurants? hiking trails? concert venues? coffee houses? 

I love outdoor activity and coffee – often in that order – so I’d appreciate recommendations for local hikes, running races and good coffee.