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USask linguistics student Abigail Clemente has been recognized by the College of Arts and Science as the Most Outstanding Graduate in Linguistics and is receiving the Copland Prize in Social Sciences. (Submitted photo)

Top USask linguistics student receives Copland Prize in Social Sciences

Abigail Clemente studied how Filipino language incorporates English words by ‘code-switching’

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by Kristen McEwen

What began as an interest in an elective, turned into an academic passion for University of Saskatchewan (USask) student Abigail Clemente.

Clemente will be graduating with her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree at the USask Spring Convocation Ceremony on June 4 at Merlis Belsher Place. She has been recognized by the College of Arts and Science as the Most Outstanding Graduate in Linguistics and will also be receiving the Copland Prize in Social Sciences.

“I really appreciate (the recognition),” she said on receiving the convocation awards. “I really enjoy linguistics and I wasn’t expecting my hard work to be recognized,” she said.

When she started attending USask in Fall 2019, Clemente thought she had her degree planned out. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada near the end of her first year.

Clemente had been focusing on modern languages—specifically French.

“That was a bit difficult, especially when you’re learning a language because it’s very communication heavy,” she said.

With all her classes moved to online, Clemente studied at home in Lloydminster, Sask. She felt removed from the educational environment at USask—not being able to attend classes with her peers.  

“You can’t really settle into a routine of ‘going to school’ because school and home were the same place for me,” Clemente said.

She added that her friends were experiencing similar challenges, some deciding to stop entirely.

“It’s so hard to stay motivated when you don’t have the structure supporting you for a really enhanced learning environment,” she said. “It was difficult connecting with my peers, it was difficult connecting with university.”

The feeling of disconnection is what caused Clemente to question her initial interest in classes and look at electives. She decided to take a chance on linguistics.

“When we went back to school (in-person), I did a (few) more electives on linguistics, and that really solidified (it). This is something I enjoyed more than I enjoyed the major I was at initially.”

Clemente enjoyed her linguistics classes so much, she switched her major and pursued an honours project about “code-switching” between Tagalog and English in Filipino TV shows. Code-switching is a term used in linguistics to describe what happens when a person switches between two or more languages.

Clemente and her family moved to Canada in 2012 from the Philippines. In her experience, Filipino TV shows would be in Tagalog, the main language spoken in the country. Filipino actors on TV would seemingly randomly switch to English in their speech.

Clemente studied the motivations and the reasons why code-switching happens between the two languages. Reasons to code-switch might include when the speaker is looking to add a modifying clause, a prefix or suffix specific to one language, or for efficiency.

“(Code-switching) is very, very common,” she said. “If you hear someone speaking Tagalog, and then you would recognize a word or two (in English) here or there. It’s very frequent. I thought it was random at first, but that’s what linguistics drives you to. It’s not random, there should be motivations and reasons to how people speak.”

Clemente is planning on continuing her academic path by pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics.

“I really enjoy university more than I care to admit,” she laughed. “In high school, you learn about your core classes, you don’t really hear about classes like linguistics, right?

“What I enjoyed about university is that you got to explore the different subjects, different classes that you wouldn’t normally come across on your day-to-day basis,” she added. “Because of that, I found linguistics, and now I’m really passionate about it.”

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