Last semester, Sidney Wong won a prize for a research project on New Zealand English (as part of LING310). Here he reflects on his experiences of studying Linguistics at UC.
My Linguistics journey began at the end of High School when all my mates chose to leave Lower Hutt, for study away from home in cities like Dunedin and Auckland. I wanted to do something different, and I wanted to do something in terms of Speech and Language Science but I’ve never been exposed to that field at school besides studying Japanese. I chose to move down to Christchurch a year or two after the earthquakes. At the time, the University was very generous with scholarships so I began my tertiary career studying towards a Bachelor of Speech and Language Pathology not knowing what I was getting myself into.
I guess I’ve always had an interest in language – I thought it was incredible how there were so many ways people could communicate by putting different sounds together, and how you can change your identity just by making adjustments to the way you speak. I remember buying my first book about Linguistics (How Language Works by David Crystal) from an OpShop in Wellington not long after starting High School. Growing up as a minority in a bicultural multi-ethnic Aotearoa, I realised that the languages I speak is a very important part of my identity – my language allows me to connect with my heritage, and my language justifies my place in the community.
In my first year of study I was exposed to a wide range of topics: phonetics & syntax in LING101, anatomy and physiology of speech in CMDS161, sociolinguistics in LING102, developmental and acquired communication disorders in CMDS111 and CMDS112, and a whole heap of Psychology in PSYC105 and PSYC106. Although I thought that eventually I’d be specialised in communication disorders, I always toyed with the idea of switching to Linguistics.
It was in the middle of my second year at UC when I made the switch to Linguistics. At the time it felt more drastic going from a highly specialised area of study to a more general degree, and leaving behind all the friends that I’ve made in the BSLP programme. And to be honest, it doesn’t have to be. I think the most important skill you can learn when you leave home is to be comfortable with change, and learn to adapt to your environment. If you have an interest you should pursue it, and if there is an opportunity you should most definitely take it.
Around the same time, I found a job settling earthquake claims at a private insurer where I ended up working for over two-and-a-half years. It was a difficult job dealing with highly sensitive issues. It was at this job that I realised I can tailor the way I communicate with my customers depending on their needs (drawing from my brief experience in Communication Disorders, Linguistics, and second-language abilities). In 2015, I took the opportunity to work full-time in this role, studying part-time. It was then I realised how much I enjoy exploring the many facets of Linguistics.
The highlight of my degree was definitely the opportunity to present my findings on phonological feature priming in Southland (I was investigating the burr) at the New Zealand English and English in New Zealand Conference earlier this year. This was work I’d done as a research project in LING310 ‘New Zealand English’. It was an incredible experience, and I had the opportunity to speak with Linguistic experts from all over New Zealand. I could not find a better way to finish my undergraduate degree. Coming to Christchurch to study at the University of Canterbury is by far the most fulfilling investment I’ve made leaving High School – I can’t wait to do more Linguistics research at postgrad level.
Don’t be afraid of change, and be prepared for the opportunities to come.