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Sinja Stentoft

Potrait of Sinja Stenthof by Robin de Puy

Who? Sinja Wojnarowicz Stentoft
What? Students of Linguistics
First job: Babysitter
Favourite spot at the UvA: The spot in the corner of the canteen at PC Hoofthuis, with big chairs in front of a window looking out onto the canal. 
Essential: Good research skills, so you can get all the different perspectives, analyse reliable sources and know where to find your information.

Sinja Wojnarowicz Stentoft (1995) is a Bachelor's student in Linguistics. Language is definitely her thing. Sinja grew up in five countries – Austria, Denmark, Italy, Germany and India – and speaks an equal number of languages. After a brief dalliance with Psychology, she stumbled upon the Linguistics degree programme on the UvA website. This turned out to be spot on. She wrapped up her first year with a BA project, a mini-thesis on bilingualism, multilingualism and swearing, she is a member of the Programme Committee for Linguistics and she teaches the Academic Writing course as a student assistant.

What about language appeals to you?

‘The whole world revolves around language. It's also an extremely versatile instrument. You can use language to manipulate someone, or to foster love, war or peace. Language can serve any purpose imaginable, provided you know how to use it. Linguistics, by the way, is very different than communication science. It gives you an entirely different perspective on language and language usage. I think the only way to understand communication is to understand language first. If you ask me, honest and direct communication that avoids unnecessary ambiguity is essential. You can study either Specified Linguistics or General Linguistics. In Specified Linguistics, you focus on a specific language or language family: if you're studying Italian Linguistics, for instance, you will focus solely on Italian. I myself opted for General Linguistics because I very much wanted to understand how language works in general. In a subject such as Morphology, which deals with the smallest meaningful units of language, we use examples drawn from languages from all around the world. We might, for instance, examine a language spoken by twenty people in Brazil, or analyse examples from Afrikaans or Chinese. That makes my heart beat a bit faster, I admit.’

Language can serve any purpose imaginable, provided you know how to use it.

Has the Linguistics degree programme stolen your heart yet?

‘I feel that Linguistics doesn't get enough publicity. It is a fantastic study programme, so I'd like to help raise awareness – which is why I promote it as an ambassador during the UvA Open Days. On those days, I'm assigned a number of ‘shadowers’. I take these prospective students along to the lectures of their choice, so that they can see what to expect and have a chance to explore the campus a bit. One thing I think is really cool is that, in the first year of the Linguistics degree programme, you get to choose a so-called “Language X”. You then attend lectures with students who are studying this language, for instance students from the Mediterranean Studies, Slavic Studies or Scandinavian Studies programme. If you are motivated and put in enough time and effort, you can achieve B1 level by the end of the year. I know people who, after just one year, were able to hold entire conversations or even write articles in their Language X. You conclude the year with a BA project, which is a kind of mini-thesis. That turned out to be one of my favourite components. Together with my group, I examined bilingualism, multilingualism and swearing. Our focus was the phenomenon known as code-switching. For example: say we're speaking English to one another and I suddenly use a Danish swear word. I had noticed that, while having a conversation in one language – depending on the situation – I sometimes use swear words in a different language. My bilingual and multilingual friends have experienced this as well, and so we decided to investigate it further. We wanted to find out how language skills and language usage impact this type of code-switching.’

I like that you learn to form your own opinions here.

Do you feel that you're really diving into your degree programme and making the most of it?

‘One hundred per cent. I am a member of the Programme Committee for Linguistics, which is a kind of quality assurance committee for the degree programme. We review the course evaluations and make sure students are represented fairly and effectively, and that our rights are established fairly within the university as well. In addition to my work for the Programme Committee, I also serve on the Unibuddy Platform. New students who have questions can send me a message via the platform and I can give them advice. And on top of all of that, I'm also a student assistant at the moment. I teach the Academic Writing course for first-year students together with a friend. I consider academic writing to be very important; it's crucial that students understand the underlying process. There are so many aspects involved and you have to master every one of those aspects in order to write a good academic article. If you can, that's a very valuable skill set. I'm very enthusiastic about the subject and really enjoy doing it.’

The UvA supports international students in all kinds of areas to help them get started.

And what do you think of the UvA itself?

‘The lecturers at the UVA are quite approachable. The field of linguistics is home to a wide range of theories and opinions. Our lecturers are always candid about – and make sure to discuss – the different perspectives that are out there. By doing so, they keep our education from becoming subjective. The fact that the staff here consists of both people who support theory A and proponents of theory B is very unique. Other universities tend to choose one specific point of view, which then provides the framework in which their courses are taught. At the UvA, you learn to form your own opinions on things. I see this as very important and a major advantage. You don't have to agree with something in order to able to explain it. So when there is a theory you don't believe in, our lecturers will support you no matter what their own opinion may be. From experience, I also know that the UvA will help you with all kinds of matters. I sometimes struggled to find the information I needed in English. If you've just moved here, like I had, you can make an appointment and they'll help you sort out the initial tasks like requesting a citizen service number, opening a bank account, getting a telephone number... those kinds of things. I think that's amazing, and you can always find friendly Dutch students who are willing to help.’