Stellenbosch alumna shines in high-tech Cambridge
Dr Theresa Biberauer has covered lots of ground in the fields of linguistics since she graduated from Stellenbosch University (Department of General Linguistics). These days she is Senior Research Associate: Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. She is also Director of Studies (Linguistics): Corpus Christi, Downing, Lucy Cavendish, Magdalene, St Edmund’s and St John’s Colleges. In addition she is Director of Studies (MML): Downing College, Bye-Fellow in English and Linguistics: Downing College, and President: Cambridge University Linguistic Society, Cambridge.
In Cambridge, with its focus on high-technology industries, bonds are increasingly being forged between technology and language. Biberauer explains:
“There definitely is a very strong link between the university here and the high-technology industries. Virtually every high-technology undertaking here has a direct link to individuals or groups at the university, and many academics in relevant research fields manage consultancies or small companies that contribute directly to the region’s high-technology profile. And Bill Gates has also invested a lot of money in Cambridge, so it is no coincidence that so much computer-related work is done here.
“As far as my own field is concerned: My research concerns language structure and the question whether there is a ‘blueprint’ for languages. Are languages, despite their impressive, obvious differences, actually built from the same building blocks? Until recently, our work largely entailed looking in detail at the structure of different languages to test our hypotheses about the possible underlying structure. In this context, Afrikaans has produced many interesting insights over the past 10 to 15 years. People in my field largely assumed that Afrikaans was simply a watered-down version of Dutch, and this is one of the reasons why the work done by people such as Hans den Besten, whose work is drawn together in the book The Roots of Afrikaans Selected Writings of Hans den Besten, is so important.
“The project on which I currently am working is of such a nature that we are starting to work together with people who have direct links to high-technology industries. In June we started with a mini-project to see whether we could model the language structures that the world’s languages like those that occur time and again in languages, even if the languages are in no way related to each other with the aid of a computational model that was created by researchers in the university’s computer laboratory. And in the coming months we will also do experiments with artificial grammars to see how well they can be learnt, what is learnt incorrectly, etc. And there are a string of other things as well.”
- Biberauer is the featured Alumna of the Month of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences this month. Click here to read the full interview with her.