Falling into linguistics

Vicky Watson is about to start the Masters of Linguistics (MLING) programme. In this post she talks about her journey into Linguistics at UC, and some of the opportunities that came her way as a result.


Like most people, I didn’t know a lot about Linguistics until I started studying it.

I left high school with my heart set on studying my favourite subjects: History, French and Classics (which included learning to read Latin and Greek). The first thing I did before study was the classic Kiwi OE. I went to France and England and found myself fascinated not only in their cultures, but in the dialectal variation occurring across different countries and languages. I never thought I’d have to explain the word ‘capsicum’ or ‘chilly bin’ to a native speaker of English, but that was only the beginning of my increasing awareness of Linguistics. My exploration of historical locations in Europe fueled my curiosity about how languages and accents worked. How do people understand each other when ‘languages’ are so different? And why does every single person have a different conception of ‘correct’ pronunciation, spelling or meaning of certain words?

I came across the field of Linguistics when I was planning my enrolment while reading the prospectus for UC. At that point, I’d decided my interest in Classics and History was to remain a hobby, as I wanted to focus on modern language research – research that pushed the edge of our collective knowledge. I was quite ambitious as I also wanted to continue learning French, but also pick up German at the same time (I had my eyes on Spanish as well, once I’d oh-so-easily mastered German – I was clearly still unaware of the complexities of learning languages!).

My first day in LING101 clinched it for me – I loved this field!  By the end of my first year I’d enrolled in every linguistics course available to me. Opportunities flooded in during my second year as I threw myself into finding out what I could do with Linguistics. On the suggestion of a lecturer I applied and successfully gained a position as a research assistant position at the New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour (NZILBB) where I got to help with some syntactic research for Professor Jen Hay from our department and Professor Joan Bresnan from Stanford University. This was an incredible insight to some of the ideas and research processes going on at the NZILBB. Further to this, I also applied and was accepted for a fully funded program which involved 120 hours of German grammar classes over summer … in Germany! This trip gave me a chance to observe multilingualism in the centre of Europe, and through a roundabout way I started learning conversational Portuguese through my fellow classmates.

Last year, through LING310, I had the chance to submit a poster to the New Zealand English/English in New Zealand Conference held at UC. In preparation for the conference, several people from my class worked quite closely together in getting our projects ready. Many staff and researchers from NZILBB helped us, especially in learning how to use the statistical modelling programme R (which I enjoyed so much I promptly went and enrolled myself in an introduction to programming course). It was such a great experience – both the preparation and getting the chance to meet professional and distinguished linguists. A few weeks later, my classmate and I went to meet some of the linguists at the Victoria University of Wellington campus for morning tea. In November, we presented at another New Zealand conference in Wellington and shared a really great experience with other researchers from around the country.

While studying, something else I’ve been involved with is the UC Linguistics Society. When I joined, I was one of the only undergraduates, but was warmly welcomed by all of the current postgraduate students and staff. This was an incredible way to meet people in the department and to hear about all the amazing research going on at UC. In 2015, I joined the exec and last year, I stepped up to take on the role of President. It’s been amazing working towards creating a diverse community, where linguistics student from any level can meet others to collaborate on projects, share research, and have fun during our social events. Whether they are interested in Psychology, Computer Science, Statistics, Forensics, Education, Speech language therapy (or indeed a mixture), UC Ling is a great organisation to share and discuss their interests. So far our attendance numbers are increasing, a trend that I hope continues (if you’re interesting in joining the UC Ling society, get in touch with me!).

About uclinguistics

Welcome to the blog of the Linguistics programme at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
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