'As my studies became more and more in-depth, I became more aware of links between my subjects...'
Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics and Mathematics with a minor in French
Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Linguistics and Mathematics
Taking a double honours degree in two seemingly opposite subjects may seem strange, but Simon has a clear view of how studying both mathematics and language can work perfectly to help understand human behaviour and the different language people use to communicate different ideas.
‘It allows for unique perspectives and advances. As my studies became more and more in-depth, I became more aware of links between my subjects and how knowledge from one has useful things to say about another.’
Simon’s choice of study in mathematics was a relatively easy one because of his passion for the subject in high school. Studying linguistics wasn’t his plan at all; in fact, he hardly knew anything about it.
‘I had never even heard of linguistics before, but it sounded interesting, so I went to an open day talk given by the Head of Linguistics at UC. From the moment the talk started, I was hooked!’
Simon enthusiastically recommends his particular degree, saying that perseverance to find solutions is the key to studying the two subjects.
‘And they give you scope to be creative, too – both can be approached in so many different ways, sometimes with surprising results. For instance, who would have thought that simply seeing a stuffed kangaroo could make you think the person you’re listening to sounds Australian – and who would have thought that this could even be something to investigate in the first place!’
Simon’s research has taken him to a number of different job opportunities. He has worked as a research assistant at the New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour, and taken part in large-scale international studies on the evolution of linguistic structures and grammatical choice.
He also tutored Mathematics at UC and at his old high school, St. Andrews, and scholarship calculus for high school students. This turned out to be difficult because of the lack of teaching resources for scholarship level – so Simon wrote his own. His textbooks are self-published, and have garnered national interest from other high schools around the country.
‘All the hard work paid off, though, as the books have been ordered by nearly 70 schools nationwide and received very positive reviews. It’s a great feeling to know that my work is enhancing the education of so many students.’
When he wasn’t busily working on his many ventures, Simon also got involved in the UC community.
‘The non-educational experiences at UC are great as well; being on the committee of a student society, having my voice heard as a member of the PVC Arts Student Advisory Group and serving as a Māori student mentor are three highlights which come to mind. Although the University is quite large, it feels like a small, close-knit community – I always seemed to be running into friends on campus.’
Having won a prestigious Fulbright New Zealand graduate award, Simon’s next step is to complete a PhD in linguistics at Stanford University in the United States.
‘I am interested in using mathematical tools and computational models, alongside more common methods of linguistic enquiry to explore how and why language varies between individuals and changes on global scales over time. I believe this approach will become more widespread in linguistics in the future. We can't look into someone's mind to see what happens when they talk, but we can build a model and explore the consequences of what we think might be happening. We can't look into the past to see how language evolved, but we can simulate long-term interactions in populations.
‘After I complete my studies, I would like to teach and research language change and variation at a university, and I feel this may have practical benefits on top of the academic ones. For instance, knowledge of how and why language varies across speakers could be useful for effective speech recognition and interaction systems, and knowledge of how and why languages change could be useful for revival efforts of endangered languages such as te reo Māori.’