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Rolling Rs, olden-time complaining and inbreeding: Check out this year’s most interesting Marsden Fund grants

Science is all about the acquisition of knowledge – but whether or not that knowledge serves a purpose is another story. There’s nearly 120 (117, to be precise) projects that have been given $65.2 million (not including GST) of funding in this year’s round of Marsden Fund grants, an initiative from the Royal Society of New Zealand which since 1994 has funded research that benefits society as a whole by contributing to the development of researchers with knowledge, skills and ideas. 

It’s safe to say the proposed projects are as innovative – and interesting – as ever. Needless to say, some of them are being called into question as to what purpose they might serve (for more research that has been called into question, check out the Ig Nobels).

Idealog takes a look at 10 of the most interesting projects that have been funded this year. We’ll let you make up your own mind as to their value.

Rolling hills

We all know that many Southlanders have a rather interesting accent compared to the rest of Aotearoa, what with their penchant for rolling their Rs and other interesting speech patterns. But why is this? Is it the large number of people descended from Scottish colonists? Or something else entirely?

University of Canterbury linguistics senior lecturer Dr Lynn Clark is on a three-year mission to find out. She’ll be looking into the Southland accent with the help of two collaborators from the New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour. To help fund their examination of the Southland accent, they’re getting $530,000. This has also been the most controversial project funded this year, with media including Stuff and Newshub offering their take.

It is unknown if any of the funding will also go towards also examining where cheese rolls come from.

Ye ole tyme nag

Stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. But there seems to be a real stereotype of women “complaining” in popular English Renaissance literature. Why does it exist? How has this stereotype affected subsequent literary movements? That’s what Dr Sarah Ross of Victoria University of Wellington will be exploring in “’Woe is me’: women and complaint in the English Renaissance.” Funded for $450,000, the study is one of 26 from Victoria the Marsden Fund is providing money for – representing more than 20 percent of all research projects funded nationwide.

Things weighing us down

We all know what gravity is. But how do our skeletons sense it? It’s a $825,000 mystery professor Stephen Robertson of the University of Otago will try and solve.

Make no bones about it – this could be interesting.

Does it belong in a museum?

“Tuuaahu” (which can be roughly translated as “altar”) is the Te Reo M?ori word for the small, sacred enclosure used by priests in religious ceremonies. But why have they fallen into disuse in modern times? That’s what Victoria University of Wellington associate professor Jeff Sissons is hoping to find out. And he’s getting $390,000 to do it. This kind of has an “Indiana Jones” feel to it, but we doubt fortune and glory is the motivation.

Colonisation catastrophe

We all know colonisation had a dramatic impact on M?ori. But University of Waikato associate professor Tahu Kukutai will go more in-depth than that, examining how colonisation has also led to a failure to engage indigenous peoples and their narratives in indigenous population histories. It’s being funded for $735,000.

Is there room at the inn?

Becoming a citizen of Aotearoa is the dream for many immigrants who come here. Dr Bronwyn Wood is receiving $300,000 to look at this in a more in-depth fashion, along with what motivates immigrants to come to the Land of the Long White Cloud, and how they integrate into society.

War and then peace?

World War II changed the world more than perhaps any other event ever – including New Zealand society. “‘A Union of Hearts and Wills’? Second World War Conscription and New Zealand Society” is being funded for $300,000 to look at the ways it did – and we may perhaps be able to learn lessons from it.

Can’t we all just get along?

Reading that contemporary politics are caustic isn’t exactly a revelation. But how can we better listen to each other? That’s what “Hearing the Difference: New Strategies for Listening in Contemporary Politics” will look at. And it’s being funded for $300,000.

Split opinions

Do mental health wards help, or harm? That’s what Dr Gabrielle Jenkin of the University of Otago is investigating in “Acute Mental Health Wards: Therapeutic Spaces or Stigmatising Places?” – and the project is being funded for $300,000.

Blank slate

Shocker: inbreeding isn’t exactly good for the gene pool. But Dr Helen Taylor of the University of Otago is looking into why specifically this is, in “Why do inbred males fire blanks? Unraveling the relationship between inbreeding and infertility.” It’s getting $300,000.

Review overview