Brigid Shanley is an alumna of the 2022 CLS Swahili Program hosted by MS-Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Arusha, Tanzania. Brigid is a senior at California State University, Long Beach where she majors in Linguistics and minors in Anthropology. Brigid hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Linguistics and work in language documentation, a field within linguistics focused on preserving the linguistic practices of endangered languages.
Getting to Know Brigid
I grew up in San Francisco, California in an Irish immigrant family. Being exposed to an endangered language from a young age made me interested in learning about other languages, particularly those that are at risk of extinction in the near future. In my free time, I love cheerleading, traveling, and learning about other cultures and languages. I am the president of my school's cheerleading team. I also work as a research assistant studying endangered languages and as a conversation partner for international students who want to improve their English at my university.
Swahili is a beautiful and fascinating language. I had previously only studied European languages, so I hoped to better understand African languages by learning the most widely spoken language on the continent. Swahili has the extensive noun class system typical of Bantu languages but unlike others it does not have any tones (which I struggle with!) so it was the perfect choice for me.
A Highlight on CLS
My CLS Program had several cultural sessions where we learned about different aspects of women's empowerment in Tanzania. It was beautiful to hear about how women run their own businesses and uplift children and other women in the process.
Why Should Others Learn Swahili?
I'd definitely recommend learning Swahili! As a linguist it was amazing to learn about Swahili's grammatical system that is completely different from my own, and the sounds of the language are very easy to pick up. Other than the language itself, the people that I interacted with were incredibly warm, friendly, and welcoming. They were happy to share their culture and language with me, and they introduced me to a lot of great music along the way. Even if you start as a beginner like me, you already know a few words even if you don't realize it, like hakuna matata!
I hope to get my Ph.D. in Linguistics and work in language documentation in Africa. By learning Swahili, I can communicate with tens of millions of people. Most of them speak Swahili as a second language and speak a endangered language as their first language. Swahili will allow me to document the languages of speakers who do not know English.
Words of Advice
Don't be afraid to put yourself out there, even if you have never received a scholarship before! I doubted myself and almost didn't apply, but I am so glad that I did. Even without being able to physically visit Tanzania, I learned so much that summer and my language skills grew faster than I could have imagined.
June 06, 2023