I first got into Linguistics when I was studying Translation, and I took a class with the teacher who would later become my PhD supervisor on how the way we structure our sentences conveys things that go far beyond the sum of the meaning of the words. That really lit up my enthusiasm for the subject; I thought it was so interesting that the way we structure our sentences can have such an impact in terms of the meanings and emotions we’re conveying. This has such an impact on translation, because you can’t just say the same words in the same order in a different language and have them mean the same thing – it just doesn’t work that way. You have to figure out how the added meaning is created through this syntactical device and how you can express it in another language. For me, that was just fascinating.
I went on to study my PhD in Linguistics. I’d come across some interviews with German Jewish Holocaust survivors, and I became really interested in the way that some of them, sixty years after they had left the country, had perfect German and some of them didn’t. I found that those who’d had worse experiences with persecution before they’d left Germany had a worse grasp of the German language later on in their lives. They had basically decided they didn’t want to be German anymore, consciously or unconsciously, and had lost their German language skills so they spoke German like a foreigner. They were using language as a tool in the way they needed to, and I thought that was really touching, really moving.
My favourite thing about working at the University of Essex, apart from the fact that I work in such a fantastic department, is that it’s so international. I’ve taught in a really provincial university before, where almost all the students came from a 50km radius to the university, but here we’ve got people from all over the world. If you’re interested in language, and how people work with language, then it’s a fantastic environment to be in. One of the things that I find so inspiring is the way migrants in this country use language; they switch back and forth between their languages depending on what they’re doing. I find it very inspiring to see how every person does it differently and uses language in a way that works for them. Languages are just tools we use to fulfil a purpose. That’s what I find most fascinating about them!