Student profiles

Catherine Cook

When and at what level did you study linguistics?

I studied linguistics at both an undergraduate and honours level (at LaTrobe) and as a PhD. I did my undergraduate from 2003 to 2007. I started my PhD at Monash in late 2009 and submitted in mid-2017, finally completing in October 2017. I’m currently studying a Master of Teaching English to Speaker of Other Languages (TESOL), so I’m still going!

What led you to study linguistics?

Honestly, I started in archaeology and had linguistics as an extra elective in my Arts degree. I found I, while I was interested in archaeology, I wanted to DO linguistics, so here I am! I think what really sold me on it was how much language can tell us about society, culture, history and how we conceive of and understand the world and interact with it.

What area of linguistics interests you the most?

I’m solidly in the cognitive semantics/pragmatics camp, and particularly in communication of imagination and the language of imaginative play in adults. I like to think of myself as a Ludolinguist. My PhD was about Dungeons and Dragons and I’ve also done work on Video Game Let’s Plays and science fiction. I’m working with data from Video Games Awesome, Critical Role, Shield of Tomorrow as well as offline game groups. I’m particularly interested in how people describe and refer to imaginary people and worlds, and how it interacts with reality. I’m also moving into applying some of these play and cognitive ideas into English language teaching, particularly using games to teach (board games and roleplaying games, mostly).

What is your current career?

I’m still at Monash! I’m working for SASU- the Student Academic Skills Unit with the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. I’m attached to the Social Work department, but we work through all of the practice based courses in the faculty. I assist international and CALD students with English communication. I’m working with English for Academic purposes, English for Specific Purposes (Social work, medical, legal, mental health) and English as a Lingua Franca on a daily basis. I help students prepare for placements, work through communication on placement and assist with academic language in assignments. I work one on one and in tutorial sized workshops both on campus and at placement providers. It’s a great job!

How does your linguistics training help you in your career?

I couldn’t do this job without it! Everyone in our unit is a linguist or applied linguist of some kind. Having a knowledge of syntax, phonetics, semantics and morphology helps us understand the way the language works so we can teach and explain it effectively as well as allowing us to see patterns in students work or speech so we know where to focus our individual teaching. Since I work with social work students, sociolinguistics, intercultural communication and pragmatics has helped me develop roleplays and workshops for students to help them with social context and appropriate behaviour in certain settings. For example, understanding how to explain conversational management has allowed my colleagues and myself to create a workshop to help students handle conversations on placement with native Australian English speakers whose conversation styles are very different to my students’ own. Discourse analysis helps us to determine what the students need from us, whether from what they are telling us or by assessing the information they get from assignments and lectures. DA also helps us see what in our own language needs to be adjusted to suit our students, or what the students may not understand and need to be taught. You often don’t realise what is an Australianism until you work with a second language speaker!

Do you have any advice for current linguistics students, or anyone considering studying linguistics?

Do it! Seriously, just give it a go! You might find parts of linguistics are not for you. I have never clicked with descriptive linguistics and analysing morphology or syntax. I have had colleagues who don’t like semantics, or sociolinguistics or pragmatics, and my field is very niche, so many haven’t even heard of it. There are so many kinds of linguistics that there is something for almost anyone. I also want to say that, honestly, even though we are asked how many languages we speak a lot - don’t worry if you are monolingual!


Kenneth Saw

When and at what level did you study linguistics?

I started studying linguistics in first year as part of my Bachelor of Arts (English Language) course, alongside English literature units. I continued with linguistics as it was built into the course all the way up to third year, but I found myself dropping other electives to pick up more linguistics units where possible. After undergrad, I did my Honours year in linguistics, then began a PhD before being offered a career in commercial linguistics, which I put my PhD candidature on hold for.

What led you to study linguistics?

At first, it was only because it was linguistics units formed half of my BA English Language course! I had chosen that course because I loved literature and was good at writing, but wasn’t sure what I’d do with it. Eventually, the linguistics half of the course drew me in. I appreciated the scientific approach to the study of language, combined with how these artefacts we call ‘words’ reveal so much about us as humans – our physiology, our psychological processes, our social structures and cultures, our histories and our agencies in shaping our present and future environments. As a logical thinker who was also fascinated by the humanities, there was really no other field of study like it.

What area of linguistics interests you the most?

Perhaps partially influenced by the predominance of it at Monash, I’m most interested in sociolinguistics – the study of language in relation to social factors. It started as an interest in the history of English: how English came to be this poorly spelled hodgepodge of Germanic and Norse and French and Latin and Greek that’s now spoken in nearly every corner of the world. This naturally led to the realisation that the history of English is far from over, and that the way every speaker of English uses it today continues to shape the language. It’s the agency of the speaker that interests me most; the idea that language and meaning aren’t static, but constantly being renegotiated by you and me. To this end, my Honours thesis was on Malaysian English and how it’s used by Malaysians living in Australia to negotiate migrant identities. Sociolinguistics also explores meaning beyond the literal definition of a word – layers of meaning that are hidden in a word’s sound, its past and present use, how I say it versus how you say it. For me, it puts the human at the centre of the study of language.

What is your current career?

I’m currently a Senior Linguist at Appen, a global company that develops highly curated datasets to train machine learning and artificial intelligence. I’ve worked there for nearly five years, having started out as a Transcription Supervisor straight after my Honours year, then as a Linguistic Project Manager. These days, I do a lot more project management than pure language work, but what really gets me excited about my day-to-day job is the linguistics side of things – analysing, problem solving, and proposing solutions to do with tricky aspects of the nearly 200 languages we work in.

How does your linguistics training help you in your career?

There’s some aspect of linguistics involved in almost every part of my role! Depending on the projects I’m working on, I may use my sociolinguistic training to analyse dialects of Bahasa Malaysia and propose an efficient way to collect an audio database that represents each major dialect group. I may then use my knowledge of morphological processes to write a short computer script that standardises the spelling of Tamil suffixes when they attach to English loanwords. Working on a pronunciation lexicon, I may do research on Indonesian phonology and combine it with contemporary studies of sound shifts in Indonesian urban speech to automatically generate variants that reflect the pronunciations of Jakartan youth. Finally, I may use my training in syntax to teach Igbo speakers how to divide sentences in our database into clauses, noun phrases and verb phrases that are meaningful to our clients’ machine learning software.

Not every aspect of my role is directly linguistics-related, and there are many passive learnings from my linguistics studies that are helpful every day as well. Knowledge of cultural differences in business communication styles smoothens conversations with my colleagues and workers around the world. Understanding formal logic and how computers parse input makes it easier to learn to script in computer languages. Knowing how syntax and clause structure can affect clarity and emphasis helps me to write more clearly and produce more effective emails, presentations and reports. There are passive learnings from linguistics that can be helpful in any career.

Do you have any advice for current linguistics students, or anyone considering studying linguistics?

It would depend if you are considering linguistics as a career path, or you are studying linguistics to enrich a career in another field. If pursuing linguistics as a career path, I’d say don’t ignore your studies in phonetics and phonology, morphology and syntax. While sociolinguistics and other humanities-leaning fields are fun, many professional roles for a linguist will require a good understanding of formal structures of language. Also, try to study some computational linguistics and treat learning a programming language like Python just as importantly as learning, say, French or Japanese. With the rise of AI, the integration of computers and speech (think Siri and Alexa), and the use of ‘big data’ to analyse language, computational skills are a big bonus.

If studying linguistics to enrich a career in another field, I’d recommend putting intercultural communication high on your list of subjects. In a globalised economy, at some point you will be required to speak with someone from a culture that doesn’t communicate the same way as yours. Understanding if they appreciate vagueness or directness, deference or assertiveness, or whether ‘yes’ actually means ‘yes’, can make all the difference between a successful interaction and a disastrous one.


Nick McIndoe

When and at what level did you study linguistics?

Undergraduate linguistic units from 2013-2015. Honours in linguistics in 2016. Plus a nagging voice in my head that’s pushing me toward further research at an undefined time and for an undefined reason, but that’s all for now.

What led you to study linguistics?

I honestly fell into it. I enjoyed studying English Language through VCE, but linguistics was my last-chosen unit in first year. My very first linguistics lecture was taken by Kate Burridge, and I fell in love with it instantly. The more linguistics units I did, the clearer it became that I would major in it. The prospect of Honours at the end of third year was honestly something that really excited me. Honours delivered; it was my favourite year of uni.

What area of linguistics interests you the most?

Sociolinguistics! Though it interests me terribly, I’m not that flash at stuff like complex syntax and phonology/phonetics. I more enjoy discourse analysis, and particularly the intersection of language with things like gender, the media, the internet, politics and sport.
In my Honours thesis, I looked at the media portrayal of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd through their respective prime ministerships, specifically focusing on newspaper headlines through each leadership change. If I were to do further research, it would likely be in a similar field.

What is your current career?

After Honours, I started working full-time for an education company focusing on resources and support for VCE students. I began tutoring there, taking classes for a bunch of subjects (including English Language). Over time I’ve moved to more behind-the-scenes work, and I’m now working mostly on content and marketing stuff. I love it!

How does your linguistics training help you in your career?

It had obvious benefits when I was teaching English Language, because there’s a fair bit of overlap. The knowledge I had from studying linguistics helped me better teach the content, and I think it also made my classes more interesting. Now that I’m doing a lot of work in content and marketing, linguistics has been incredibly useful. Even in seemingly small things like how to write copy, linguistic training has been very handy on a day-to-day basis. More than that, though, linguistics – and particularly Honours – encouraged me to think broadly and deeply, challenge my own thoughts and develop better communication skills. Arts has a bit of a (misplaced, in my opinion) reputation about not leading to jobs, but my degree has seriously helped me excel in mine.

Do you have any advice for current linguistics students, or anyone considering studying linguistics?

If you’re studying linguistics at the moment and enjoying it, keep going with it. Even if there are bits – or even entire areas – that confuse you or that you find uninteresting, that’s cool. The further you progress, the more you can focus on what you find most interesting. If you haven’t yet dipped your toe in the water, there’s no harm in giving linguistics a crack! You never know – you might end up falling in love with it like I did. It’s a very relevant and applicable discipline. Regardless (this isn’t exclusive to linguistics), stay curious and ask questions. If you’re asking about something earnestly, it’s not a silly question. The longer you leave it, the harder it will become to ask – and an unasked question is simply wasted potential. And on the surface level, wasted exam marks. P.S. The linguistics department at Monash is mad – make friends with them.


Emily Chan

When and at what level did you study linguistics?

I studied linguistics as part of a Graduate Diploma in Applied Linguistics in 2013.

What led you to study linguistics?

I wanted to pursue a postgraduate degree in Speech Pathology, but did not have a background in linguistics, which the degree required. Hence I decided to access further studies through Monash University.

What area of linguistics interests you the most?

The sentence structures, grammar and syntax in English, and how it relates or doesn’t relate to other languages. I’ve come to realise that English is probably one of the hardest language to learn, with all it’s grammatical rules and exceptions to those rules…

What is your current career?

Speech Language Pathologist.

How does your linguistics training help you in your career?

I use the international phonetic alphabet (IPA) daily to transcribe speech sound samples of my clients.

Do you have any advice for current linguistics students, or anyone considering studying linguistics?

Knowledge in linguistics is a useful foundation to have for those who would like to learn more about how languages work or came to exist. It’s interesting to learn about how different cultural backgrounds and globalisation can impact on an existing language. A background in linguistics can enable you to become more socially aware, and support effective communication skills across cultures; as well as becoming more aware of English in the global context.