If you’re fascinated by the stories that language can tell us about ourselves, consider a path like the one Linguistics PhD Amy Dewar is pursuing.
“I’ve always loved the English language, I’ve always read a lot, so that was my entry to uni,” she explains. “The University of Newcastle has an excellent linguistics department with a strong focus on endangered languages.”
Amy is also a University of Newcastle alumnus, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) with Distinction in 2017. She was a double major in English and Writing, and Linguistics.
“I love the mechanics behind language. Studying it gave me the tools to look at what goes on behind what we say, and how the brain functions in terms of language.”
But the work Amy is most passionate about has a more personal impact. As part of her PhD research, she has spent months doing field work on Emae, a small island of Vanuatu. The only community in the world that speaks the endangered language of Fakamae lives there, and it’s Amy’s mission to help them document their language, culture, and heritage.
“My focus is endangered language documentation and description,” she explains. “My main impact is one of support. I record stories, songs, history, and put together literacy resources…a small dictionary on marine life, or plant life. It’s something the community feels really strongly about.”
Amy has seen firsthand how the gradual loss of a language can impact community relationships and important knowledge held within oral traditions.
“A lot of the elder speakers know all the words for everything, some younger speakers don’t,” she says. “It’s important because once this generation doesn’t know it, then future generations won’t either. It’s a lot of local knowledge and information about the landscape that’s located in those words.”
Her work will also contribute to our understanding of how the Pacific was settled, through observing the relationships between Fakamae and other languages in the region.
In the future, Amy’s aspiration is to make an even greater impact through her study of the Fakamae language.
“I hope to provide current and future researchers with information on this important language, and to create a lasting corpus which is accessible to the Fakamae community.”