Governor General's Gold Medal 2000
Julie Brittain grew up in Tanzania, studied archeology in Scotland and taught English as a Second Language in places such as Spain, Tibet, and Hong Kong, experiences that exposed her to a world of languages. When she arrived at Memorial in 1990, Dr. Brittain began to explore her interest in language through graduate studies in linguistics. After one of her courses awakened her curiosity about the linguistics of Canadian aboriginal languages, she set out to study elements of the Algonquian language and received a master of arts in linguistics in 1994.
In her doctoral research, Dr. Brittain studied Western Naskapi, one of the most easterly dialects of the Algonquian language, Cree. Her research took her to Kawawachikamach, Quebec. She worked closely with aboriginal groups, learning about the language from them and making her data available to them for use in the Naskapi grammar they are writing.
Her research focused on the conjunct verb form and the differences in the ways it is used by different groups of speakers.
I am interested in how dialects of a single language vary from one community to another. I'm trying to pinpoint the differences and find out what areas of the language are most vulnerable to change, said Dr. Brittain.
Because her work is based on research in the field, Dr. Brittain's doctoral research relied on grants from the Northern Scientific Training Program and the Institute for Social and Economic Research.
Dr. Brittain was awarded the Governor General's Medal for achieving the highest academic standing in her graduate program. She is quick to share the recognition with her supervisors, Dr. Marguerite MacKenzie (aboriginal linguistics) and Dr. Philip Branigan (linguistic theory).
It was a great surprise and honour for me but I am also pleased on behalf of my department and my supervisors. I worked in an atmosphere of academic generosity. That's a gift someone gives you and I hope to do the same for students when I teach.
Dr. Brittain's dissertation will be published next year by Garland Publishing in New York. Meanwhile, she will start post-doctoral studies this fall at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), home of the prestigious linguistics department that counts Noam Chomsky as one of its members.