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Award-winnerís MA thesis scheduled for publication

By Janet Harron

It’s no wonder that Will Oxford, who graduated from Memorial last fall, won the medal for academic excellence in a thesis-based master’s in this spring's convocation ceremonies. His MA thesis, titled Towards a Grammar of Innu-aimun Particles, is scheduled to be published imminently by the Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics Memoirs series at the University of Manitoba.

“Will’s thesis is a substantial theoretical and practical contribution to the field of Algonquian linguistics and an outstanding example of scholarship in an area of research which no mature scholars of Algonquian have yet chosen to undertake,” said Marguerite MacKenzie, head of Memorial’s Department of Linguistics.

“At 341 pages, it is longer than some doctoral dissertations. To be chosen for publication is a very uncommon achievement for an MA thesis and on behalf of the linguistics department I would like to congratulate Will on his achievements.”

His groundbreaking thesis focuses on the language of the Sheshatshiu Innu, an Algonquian-speaking aboriginal group of about 1,400 people who live in Labrador. Mr. Oxford examined the “particles” of this language, little words that correspond to English words such as “to,” “of” and “if.”

He developed a classification scheme and identified where each of the 1,000 words belonged. As a result of Mr. Oxford’s work, the new Innu dictionary that Dr. MacKenzie is compiling will be able to give specific parts of speech for Innu particles. This work also has significant practical applications which will serve speakers of the language well into the future.

Mr. Oxford is currently working in the Faculty of Education as a grants facilitator and hopes to eventually complete his PhD in linguistics. The Lewisporte native originally came to linguistics randomly.

“I had originally wanted to do math and physics but after discovering linguistics in a first-year course I was hooked. To me it straddles the boundary between arts and sciences,” said Mr. Oxford. “In an abstract sense linguistics is very similar to physics in the way it examines the underlying structure of things that you see and use everyday.”

He credits the Department of Linguistics for its active level of research, citing the ample opportunity for students to involve themselves in various projects. He has worked as a research assistant on Dr. MacKenzie’s SSHRC-funded CURA project.

“In the six years I spent as a student, I pretty much worked with everyone in the linguistics department – they are all fantastic,” added Mr. Oxford.