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Graduation at ANU is always special. But this year, the ANU Graduation Event was perhaps even more memorable and hyped, because after two years in a row of diluted, virtual graduations, it was finally time for achievers to don on their robes and take to the stage. Among the many special individuals who proudly accepted their degrees was CHL’s Thersia (Thress) Tamelan, who did her PhD in linguistics.
From Kupang, West Timor, Indonesia, Thersia previously taught prospective English teachers and was involved in language documentation projects in West Timor for more than a decade. We caught up with Thersia on Graduation Day to share in her achievement and exhilaration and hear what she had to say about her journey at ANU, which she described as one heck of a great adventure.
For Thersia, what really set her experience apart was working with very supportive and experienced supervisors; being able to attend conferences and workshops, and meeting fellow students from multicultural backgrounds who made campus a very stimulating place to study. For her PhD project, Thersia wrote a grammatical description of Dela, an Austronesian language of western Rote, eastern Indonesia, spoken by approximately 11,000 native speakers. The grammar describes and discusses issues from the phonology of the language to its discourse structure. Dela has a rich and complex morphology. Thus, morphologically complex words are common, formed through combinations of multiple affixes plus other word-formation processes, such as compounding or reduplication.
The highest motivation for Thersia to do a PhD in linguistics was, in her own words, “to be able to continue working with other linguists to describe and document local languages in West Timor and to provide literature in local languages so children can also learn to read and write in their own languages.” In the past, before 2006, local languages in Indonesia, such as Dela, was only used as a language of home, other informal situations, and the language of traditional ceremonies. Thersia remarked how vividly she remembered the time she was in elementary school—she and her friends were not allowed to speak their native language. This is because at that time in Indonesia, local languages were banned from schools as they were thought to contribute to the poor learning of Indonesian. While the language policy in Indonesia has changed and local languages are now allowed in elementary schools, the biggest challenge still is that most of the local languages are under documented. Thus, language documentation is the need of the hour.
When asked about her advice to new students treading a similar path to hers, Thersia stated, “For PhD students in linguistics, languages are complex, so continue to learn to ask great questions and expect that language patterns are not necessarily linear. PhD is a long-term journey with various challenges along the way. So I would encourage new students to maintain a balanced life to avoid burnouts. It would help your PhD to take time for your hobbies or to spend with family and friends.”
Currently, Thersia is teaching linguistics at Artha Wacana University in Kupang, West Timor. She is also working on several language documentation projects, including working towards completing her trilingual Dela dictionary and creating literature for elementary schools. When she steps out of her linguist shoes, though, she enjoys playing badminton—she played a lot of it while at ANU too!
We wish Thersia all the best for her future endeavours and look forward to hearing more about her journey in linguistics over the next few years!
“If you are looking for something to do but you don’t know what it is yet, then, study a new language. There are so many interesting languages to choose from and it would broaden your worldview.” – Thersia Tamelan