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Linguistics major spends summer immersed in the study of Southeast Asian languages

By: Yvette Lisa Ndlovu,  A&S Communications
July 23, 2018

Thanks to a fellowship from Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program, Javier Agredo’19  is spending the summer studying Thai at the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute.  Agredo, who has a passion for language documentation and preservation, has also had the chance to attend Gamelan performances, a traditional musical ensemble from Indonesia, and explore the city of Madison.

“I’ve always been hugely into studying languages,” Agredo said. “But my impetus for studying Thai came from my background as a linguistics major.”

The Wisconsin institute was established in 1983 to provide high quality intensive language instruction in eight of the major Southeast Asian languages. Agredo’s summer schedule involves four hours of language study each day.

Agredo’s interest in studying Thai was sparked after he took Sanskrit at Cornell and learned that the ancient Indic language has had a major impact on the languages and culture of South and Southeast Asia.

“Thai borrows a lot of words from Sanskrit thanks to the spread of Buddhism and other cultural influences from India,” Agredo said, “I wanted to explore this further through a better understanding of the Thai language itself.”

Agredo has worked as a student assistant at Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program for three semesters and intends on writing his senior thesis on Sanskrit loanwords in Thai. Loanwords are words adopted from another language with little or no modification. Agredo’s thesis will explore how these words have changed to adapt to the language’s different system of sounds and morphology.

“I hope to pursue the historical linguistics of this area of the world further as a graduate student,” Agredo said, “and in the long run I would love to turn my passion into a career in academia or non-profit.”

Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.