name is Alina, and I am a first-year PhD student in Linguistics. The most
common two questions I get asked when I say this are: “What is Linguistics?”
and “How many languages do you speak?” So, I’ll begin by answering these.
Linguistics is the “scientific study of language”. It is a vast discipline, but
some examples of what linguists are interested in are: how grammars are
constructed, how language changes, what the similarities and differences are between
the languages of the world, how children and adults learn languages, how people’s
use of language varies according to social factors (gender, age, context etc.),
how the order of words in a sentence gives that sentence meaning, the list goes
for the second question, being a linguist does not automatically mean you speak tons of languages (though some do)!
I speak French, I am learning Spanish, and I understand Reunion Creole, which
is the language that my PhD research is on. Reunion Creole is spoken on the
island of La Réunion, a French overseas department (next to Mauritius, in the
Indian Ocean). Creole languages are relatively new languages (compared to
English or French, for example) which arise when groups of speakers with
different native tongues are found in a situation where they need to
communicate with one another. This happened in La Réunion when French
colonisers settled on the island and imported slaves from Madagascar and East
Africa. Later, immigrants from India and China came to the island to work. Over
the subsequent generations, the language formed through the interaction of
these groups of speakers. It is now the native language of the majority of the
island, spoken alongside French. Many of the words in Reunion Creole are
derived from French words, so it may sound familiar to a French speaker, but
the grammars of the two languages are different.
Cap Noir, La Réunion: here’s
a picture which shows you the beautiful mountainous landscape of La Reunion
how did I find myself doing a PhD on this topic?! I have always had a
fascination for foreign languages, and just words in general, which led me to study
French at undergraduate level. During my degree, I chose modules in French
Linguistics and really enjoyed them. I enjoy the discipline as it applies the
scientific rigour and logic of the Sciences and Maths, to an inherently social
phenomenon: language. In the third year of my degree, I got the opportunity to
go on a year abroad. I chose to study in La Réunion, and it was there that I
discovered Reunion Creole. On returning,
I decided I wanted to continue studying and explore the subject of Linguistics
in more depth with an MA and PhD.
PhD project investigates the syntax and focus structure of Reunion Creole. This
is essentially how the word order of a sentence can be manipulated to change its
emphasis and by consequence, its meaning. And what is the point in this
research? Firstly, a better understanding of the mechanics of individual
languages enables us to make comparisons with the languages of the world. This
in turn allows us to better understand the faculty of language, which is a
fundamental part of our existence. Secondly, knowledge of the technicalities of
a language also enables us to better teach it in the classroom. In La Réunion,
Reunion Creole is an officially recognised regional language and French is the
national language. Historically, French has been more highly regarded and
continues to be the language of the law, administration and schooling. Like many creole languages, Reunion Creole
has not always been highly regarded with respect to French, despite it being
the native language of the majority of the island. A person’s mother tongue is
a fundamental part of their identity, so I consider it very important that it
be valued. Furthermore, research has suggested that bilingualism has cognitive
benefits, which may reduce the likelihood of dementia, for example. It is
therefore imperative that bilingualism is encouraged, so any research promoting
historically undervalued languages serves this purpose.
La plage de
l’Ermitage, La Réunion.
you’re interested in languages generally, there are plenty of resources that may
feed your curiosity:
Grand Bénare, La
the top of a hike in La Réunion – above the clouds!
My name is Sascha Stollhans and I’m
a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Manchester. Linguistics is
the scientific study of language and an incredibly versatile and
interdisciplinary subject. Linguists look at all sorts of things related to language,
e. g. the structure and sounds of language, how language is represented in the
mind, how similar or different languages are, how we use language to express
our thoughts, feelings and opinions, or even to insult people, why we talk
differently depending on who we are talking to, and so on.
My research investigates the
acquisition of foreign languages, in particular how the languages we know
interact with and influence one another.
At school I always enjoyed foreign
languages the most. That’s why I decided to study Linguistics and French at
University, followed by a Master’s degree in Language Teaching. I like to
discover how languages work, how we learn them and what successful language
teaching should be like.
Being a great enthusiast of
languages, I’ve always found it unfair that children learn their first language
so effortlessly. Why can something so natural turn into rather hard work when
we are older? What can we do to make language learning as effective and
enjoyable as possible? It was my interest in questions like these that made me
choose to become a linguist and language teacher.
After a few years working as a
language teacher, I came to Manchester to take up my PhD in Linguistics. My
study explores how previously acquired languages influence the process of
learning a new language.
Specifically, I work with English
learners of French and German. With the help of a number of experiments, my aim
is to shed some light on the way several languages in our mind might influence
For example, I am trying to find
out if the fact that someone speaks French makes a difference when they start
learning German. Could the additional language make it easier for them, or
might it in fact be a hindrance?
In order to investigate this, I
will conduct a number of experiments with language learners. For instance, I
will do an eye-tracking study, which looks at the way our eyes move while we
process sentences in a foreign language. Comparing the eye movements of native
speakers with those of language learners can tell us a lot about the struggles
languages learners have.
The results of my study will
hopefully provide some explanations and help make language teaching and learning
easier and more effective. They might help us explain why language learners
find certain aspects of the language more difficult than others, and how we
could make sure language teaching is more effective.
What I enjoy most about my PhD is
that I can combine the scientific study of language with very relevant real-life
problems. I’m using theoretical considerations about language and the results
of my research study to tackle real problems. And in doing so, I learn
something new every day - be it a new fact about language or a new method.
“What is Linguistics?”: a great
introduction to linguistics by the Linguistic Society of America
“What do you start with in a Third
Language?”: very interesting YouTube video introducing the linguistics research
about people who learn more than one foreign language
Multilingual Manchester: a project
investigating the over 200 languages that are spoken in Manchester
About eye-tracking as a scientific
Some interesting language-related
The Linguistics department at
Hi, my name is Helen and I have just completed my second
year of undergraduate study at the University of Manchester. The subject of my degree is English Language
for Education, which is a small course but is very specific and has allowed me to
combine my interests in both language and education. In my second year my
degree enabled me to conduct research within two schools that concerned the use
of languages other than English by bilingual and multilingual students in their
school and their education.
As part of my degree in my second year, we were required to
complete a research project. We were given the choice to do our own independent
research or to part take in a research project that the University was already
undertaking. I wanted to conduct my own research, however after much
deliberation on which subject and areas I would like to look into, I decided to
join a project called Multilingual Manchester. This project focuses on
promoting the awareness of language diversity in the Manchester area. After a
few meetings with the organisers of the project, I understood my role was to
take part in and conduct the School Language Surveys. This involved me and a
few other students on the project entering two schools in Manchester (a
secondary and primary school) and interviewing the students about their
language use. This project was great as it allowed me to do research on
language within education, which has always been a large interest of mine.
As I originally wanted to conduct my own research, I decided
to add some of my own questions into the surveys the Multilingual Manchester
project had already provided us. I was particularly interested in the
usefulness of speaking a language other than English in school, whether the
students used it much in school and if they enjoyed using their language. Using
both my own questions and those from the Multilingual Manchester team, I was
able to collect data that told me the range of languages that were spoken
amongst the students in those schools and their opinions on whether they used
languages other than English much and if they liked using languages other than
English. I was also interested in the teachers’ perspectives on the use of
languages other than English in the classroom, and so I emailed a survey to the
teachers at one of the schools.
All the way through completing the project, although I knew
my interests and what I wanted to get out of the research, I was unsure on what
specific question I would have to answer for my report. However, when all the
data I had collected was in front of me, my aims became much clearer and I was
able to analyse my data and produce a report on students’ and teachers’
perspectives on the use and usefulness of multilingualism.
Throughout my degree I have become increasingly interested
with language diversity, especially in the Manchester area, and I had wondered
how this had impacted education. I really enjoyed this project as it gave me
the opportunity to gain experience working in a school and to observe for
myself the impact that increased language diversity is having on education. I
found that the schools were really embracing language diversity, and were
beginning to change their curriculum in order to include and teach the
languages of their students across the school.
As I enter my third and final year of my degree, I have
decided to take this research further and work on it for my dissertation. As
this project progressed, I found myself becoming increasingly passionate about
the subject and the research that I was undertaking. I found it to be an
important piece of research as it displays the change in attitudes toward
language diversity in schools and where in education students find it useful to
speak a second language and where they don’t. I want to carry this on to
possibly see how schools could further integrate second language speaking into
education, or to see the impact that second language speakers are having on
teachers and the classroom.
For more information about the English Language for
Education course at the University of Manchester http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2015/09173/english-language-for-education-ba-3-years-ba/
For further information about education courses at the
University of Manchester http://www.seed.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/education/
For further details about Multilingual Manchester http://mlm.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/
For further information on the
results of the School Language Surveys http://mlm.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/reports/schools-and-public-services/
From High School I knew I really wanted to study languages and hopefully
pursue a career in translation or interpreting. So I chose French and Italian
at Manchester because I wanted to continue studying French after taking it at A
Level; but I also wanted the opportunity to start a new language from scratch.
Manchester offered several ab-initio languages and I decided I really wanted to
During my time at Manchester I particularly enjoyed the modules which
focused on core language and also linguistics, such as Structures of French
Language, French Syntax & Morphology and The Structures of Modern Italian.
They allowed me to gain a greater and more in-depth knowledge of both languages
whilst benefitting my spoken language and understanding of where modern day
French and Italian both stem from.
After graduating, I planned to work for one year, and now, having gained
this experience, I will go to Italy and study for a Masters in Language,
Society and Communication at The University of Bologna.