From language enthusiast to UCLA linguistics PhD student

by Tom Trigg (University of California)

When I applied for my undergraduate studies, I was sure that linguistics would take secondary place to French, having originally applied for a joint honours French & Linguistics degree. However, two months before I enrolled at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), I made the somewhat crazy decision to switch to a single honours BA in Linguistics, which turned out to be the best decision. I ended up falling in love with the subject and deciding to continue my studies through to postgraduate level. My time during my undergraduate studies solidified a profound interest in the underlying facets of language structure, and culminated in an undergraduate thesis investigating case variation in Finnish. During my second year, I was determined that pursuing further education in linguistics was absolutely what I wanted to do, so I decided to apply to QMUL once again for an MA in linguistics.

It goes without saying that my MA would have been financially impossible without the PhilSoc’s Master’s Bursary. It ensured I could dedicate all my time to my MA. Graduating in December 2019, I was able to explore many more aspects of linguistics during my postgraduate studies. This included a joint project investigating the nature of so-called pluralia tantum (nouns which only have a singular form: “trousers”, “groceries” etc.). Our work, which is still ongoing, was presented at the Linguistics and English Language Postgraduate Conference (LELPGC) at the University of Edinburgh, and at the general meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB) at QMUL. I was also able to participate in the London Semantics Day (LSD) at QMUL, presenting some preliminary work which made up part of my MA thesis. My thesis was ultimately focused on investigating the nature of Finnish reflexives. I investigated and analysed Finnish anaphors (words like “himself”) and logophors (pronouns which may only refer back to an attitude holder/speaker). Given the breadth of this topic, it is an area which I very much hope to return to. Throughout my MA studies, I realised that taking part in serious research was what I wanted to do with my career. I likewise found a passion for research which relies on cross-linguistic comparison and elicitation with native speakers.

Knowing that my research interests lie firmly within the realm of formal linguistics, particularly syntax and semantics, and their interface, I applied to a number of doctoral programs in both the US and UK. I was lucky to be offered a place on the linguistics graduate program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which I started in September 2019. I’ve since had the opportunity to undertake a number of other projects, including: (i) investigating Finnish wh-movement (which forms wh-questions like “who did you see?”); and (ii) probing the syntax/semantics of British English so-called fuck-inversion (constructions like “Is John a nice guy?” “Is he fuck!”. Sailor, Craig. 2017. ‘Negative inversion without negation: On fuck-inversion in British English.’ In Cambridge Occasional Papers in Linguistics (COPiL) 10: 88-110.). Needless to say, my ability to pursue my education at Master’s level was aided, in no small part, by the Master’s Bursary. Without this, it would be unlikely that I would have been able to continue my studies in a doctoral program. So for that, I am incredibly grateful to PhilSoc for allowing me to pursue my passion.

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