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A fascination with languages

Miss Tan Ming Hui Tamisha, 20, has always been passionate about learning new languages.

What intrigues her about linguistics is its interdisciplinary approach. She could be in a lab looking at brain scans and eye-tracking devices in one class and translating manuscripts from the 11th century in the next.

This avid interest in history and the structure of language led to her pursuit of an academic career in linguistics.

With encouragement from her parents, both academics at the National Institute of Education (NIE), she took up the Ministry of Education-Autonomous University (MOE-AU) scholarship and is now reading a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Global perspective

Besides sponsoring her undergraduate studies overseas, the MOE-AU scholarship offers academic mentorship and developmental opportunities with a local AU during the period of undergraduate study. After that, she can apply to the paired AU for a PhD scholarship.

Studying overseas has given her a global perspective on languages.

She has met academic experts in languages she has never heard of and spoken with people who journey to small, linguistic communities to conduct fieldwork and language documentation.

She has taken classes in Arabic, Hebrew and Sanskrit, and hopes to start learning either Irish or Ukrainian next year.

In summer, she went to an island in Greece to study Old and Middle English.

“What enthrals me is studying these languages in context with the people who speak it while appreciating their culture,” says Miss Tan, who is inspired to document lesser-studied languages in South-east Asia.

Her research interests currently are historical linguistics and the diachronic interaction between languages in Singapore and the South-east Asian region, particularly Austronesian languages like Tagalog and Malay.

She is very interested in language revitalisation and hopes to help protect endangered languages in places such as Myanmar and the Philippines.

Thirst for knowledge

She is also keen to find out how Singlish has been moulded through the years and what it means to Singapore’s culture today.

With the help of her mentor at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), she is involved in research projects with faculty members who are interested in place names, evolution and the Singapore Stone.

In fact, deciphering the strange markings on the Singapore Stone (an unknown language dating back to the 13th century) has been her dream since she was 13.

Miss Tan first discovered that she really enjoyed the process of academic research after she took on H3 programmes (subjects taught at a higher level) and independent studies at school.

She enjoys critically viewing how knowledge is constructed, and approaching real-world phenomena from an academic perspective.

The most exciting thing about academia to her is that “she is constantly working to discover something new, an innovative solution to an old problem or a novel way of viewing a well-known subject”.

She has also attended lectures at NTU’s School of Humanities and Social Science, and has consulted leading academics based in NTU over possible research questions.

“Being assigned to an established academic who mentors me on research, academic and career matters supports me in my preparation for a career in academia in the long term,” she says.

She advises those who are interested in the MOE-AU scholarship to first consider the academic subject that interests them.

Checking for on-going research projects on the websites and publications of relevant departments in the local universities gave her ideas about possible future research specialisations.

Ultimately she says, “one needs to choose a scholarship which aligns most closely with his or her interests and goals”.