Former TCS student

In July 2013 Virginia Dawson graduated from the Australian National University with the award of Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in Linguistics.

She first realised her great interest in the subject on taking an introductory linguistics class in the first year of University and soon redirected her course of study to specialise in the area.

Linguistics is commonly misunderstood to be merely the learning of languages, and while Virginia also took the opportunity to acquire Spanish, spending some time in Europe to in part help cement her understanding of the language, linguistics is actually the broader study of language. It includes such things as their structure, how they are grouped in terms of descent from earlier languages and how different languages have swept across continents over the millennia, and even how they represent human thought. It is what might be called the science of language.

A significant part of contemporary linguistics is the recording and understanding the thousands of languages around the world, including many indigenous tongues in Australia, which are on the verge of being lost due to shrinking usage and urbanisation. In early 2012 Virginia travelled to Umswai, Assam in the Northeast of India to record and understand the language Tiwa, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by about 27,000 people. Spending four months there, Virginia learned the language and studied its structure, including its grammar, in research for her Honours thesis. Following that she presented papers in her work at linguistics conferences in Singapore, Perth and at the University of California at Berkeley, and has had a technical paper ('Person Marking In Tiwa') accepted for publication in the October 2013 edition of the academic journal 'Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area'.

While merely presenting the results of her study and analysis of Tiwa would have sufficed for her honours thesis, Virginia was able to discover in the Tiwa language word forms and structures which defy the categorisations normally used in the field, and in her thesis has proposed a new categorisation of language processes which she named in its title: 'Differential Argument Realisation in Tiwa'.

At graduation, in recognition of her outstanding academic record, Virginia was awarded the University Medal, the first to be awarded in linguistics for seven years.

By Stephen Dawson

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