Faculty of Linguistics, Philology & Phonetics, University of Oxford Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford
I grew up in Calcutta, India, where multilingualism was the norm rather than the exception. It was not unusual to be familiar with three languages and three different scripts by the age of 6 — in my case Bengali (Brahmi script), English (Latin alphabet), and Hindi (Devanagari). No one considered this to be a hindrance to intellectual development and education, nor was code-switching a sign of social incompetence. As to other languages, German came next (taught at the Goethe Institute, locally known as Max Müller Bhavan), followed at university by “dead languages” such as Gothic, Old English and Sanskrit. After my two PhDs (Universities of Calcutta and Brown), I was employed in academic institutions in the USA, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, where I have been since 2007.
My main interest as a linguist has been to understand how languages change and how that is related to the way in which the human brain processes and stores words, despite the incredible variability in every-day language production, native as well as non-native. To do this, I have used a mixture of techniques ranging from the philological study of old manuscripts to experiments where we measure people’s brainwaves (EEG recordings) to see how they respond to a variety of different speech sounds or words.