Scholar profile: Andrew Harvey, 2011 Commonwealth Scholar from Canada

MA Linguistics, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Andrew Harvey Commonwealth ScholarAs one of the first students from a developed country to take up a course of study at an institution in a developing country under the CSFP endowment fund, Andrew Harvey says that: 'from the day of my arrival in Tanzania to the present moment, there has not been a moment when I haven’t been challenged to learn as a scholar or to grow as an individual. Put simply, my Commonwealth Scholarship has been nothing short of an adventure, and that adventure has been transformative.'

'For approximately 12 months,' he continues, 'I lived and studied in Tanzania’s major metropolis, Dar es Salaam, taking MA Linguistics courses from the Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics at the city’s namesake university. I came away from this intensive year of study with three indispensable assets: a new African language perspective on all of the theoretical material I had originally learned in Canada through the lens of European languages; a growing fluency in the national lingua franca – Swahili; and a nascent understanding of how people live and interact on a daily basis – in short, how to get work done in a country very different from my own.

'Following that first year, it was suggested that I use my thesis as an opportunity to research a hitherto undocumented language known as Gorwaá, spoken in a remote part of central Tanzania. The challenge was not only an academic one (the teasing apart of a language with no writing system, no grammar books, and no dictionary), but also (for a city boy like me) of learning how to adapt to life in a rural community. Getting there required learning how to drive a motorcycle; to use my equipment I had to rig a solar panel to the roof of our mud brick house; my bed and board was paid in physical labour: every morning I herded the cows, harvested beans in the field, fetched water from the well.

'I see now that the project was ambitious – something a mentor of mine once observed "could keep you busy for the rest of your academic career". My Commonwealth Scholarship has not only allowed me to discover and fully explore my metier, but it has also opened up a meaningful topic whose investigation can only enrich our current knowledge of language as a system, and of the human mind.

'It is my goal that, upon completion of subsequent doctoral studies, the Gorwaá language will, for the first time in its history, be available for examination by theoretical linguists; Gorwaá children will be able to read in their native tongue; and Gorwaá traditional knowledge can be stored in books. The direct benefits to the people could be considerable, and the indirect benefits (for example, community pride in having a written language) just as positive. A majority of languages remain undocumented – both in Tanzania and throughout the rest of the world.

'My Commonwealth Scholarship has allowed me to join the ranks of those who, arm-in-arm with willing community partners from indigenous speech communities all over the world, are bringing these pieces of priceless human heritage to light.'