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Dr. Khairunnisa

Khairunnisa (PhD 2022), Researcher at BRIN, The National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia

Dr. Khairunnisa

Dr. Khairunnisa, who also goes by “Nisa,” completed her PhD in the Department of Linguistics in 2022 and has recently joined BRIN, The National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia, as a permanent researcher. BRIN is the sole research agency of the Indonesian government, and Nisa is now a key member of the Language and Literature Preservation Research Center at BRIN, where she will continue using the language documentation skills she learned as a doctoral student at UH.

Nisa, who is a speaker of the Ampenan Sasak, a variety of Sasak language of Lombok island in eastern Indonesia, first joined the doctoral program in linguistics at UHM as a Fulbright scholar. She wrote her dissertation on morphosyntax in Ampenan-Sasak, and while she was a student she was able to share her language with her classmates by spending four semesters as the consultant for the Field Methods course taught by professor Brad McDonnell. “It was an honor for me to get to study and describe my own language so deeply,” says Nisa. 

“Saparua is a really interesting place for language documentation. In past decades, there was inter-religious conflict between villages on Saparua, but today different groups live side-by-side peacefully,” says Nisa. 

Nisa appreciates the way UH trains linguists who want to work in language communities. “The department really instills aloha into the students. It’s been great to see how UH graduates treat members of marginalized language communities with so much respect.” 

Dr. Khairunnisa (right) conducts fieldwork with two speakers of varieties of Saparua

After graduation, Nisa moved back to Indonesia and continued teaching at UNDIKMA (Universitas Pendidikan Mandalika) in her hometown, but soon her interests turned back to language documentation research, for which she sought funding. “I taught pragmatics and educational linguistics for two semesters, and then I started working on the grant proposal.” Nisa and her co-investigators, UH Linguistics professor Leah Pappas and Indonesian scholar Erniati, were awarded a Major Documentation Project grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme to document Saparua, an endangered language spoken on the island of Saparua, in the Indonesian province of Maluku.

Nisa credits her passion for language documentation to the time she spent in the Department of Linguistics at Mānoa. “I didn’t know much about linguistics when I first started thinking about going abroad for graduate education. One of my late professors in Indonesia introduced me to the idea of language endangerment. One day I decided to send an email to [late UHM professor] Bob Blust about the PhD program at UH, and he was very friendly and encouraging in his reply.”

Looking ahead, Nisa is excited for her language documentation research in Indonesia. “I would love to welcome students from the linguistics program at UH who are interested in conducting their own research in Indonesia.” Her advice to current students is straightforward: “Take your studies seriously, but also don’t forget you live in Hawaiʻi. Enjoy the sun and sand once in a while too!”

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