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My name is Jesse Hrebinka, and I'm a third-year in the College of Arts and Sciences, studying linguistics, Arabic, and philosophy. I was born in Mountain Home, Idaho, and I've lived all over the United States (Texas, Missouri, Maryland, oh my!), due to being in a military family. Growing up as the daughter of a linguist, I learned from a very early age to appreciate different languages, their structures, and their importance. My father speaks Russian, and has studied Ukrainian and Serbo-Croation extensively, and my grandfather is a native speaker of Ukrainian, having immigrated to the US from Ukraine during World War II. Some of my favorite childhood memories are learning different languages with my father, or tackling the literature/language quizzes he would sneak into my lunchbox. Our dinnertime conversation often included discussions of phonology, Russian grammar, and the significance of language.
Since then, I have studied eight languages, including some rare/dead languages like Old Church Slavonic and Scottish Gaelic! When I came to UVA as an Echols Scholar, I saw the Echols Major as the perfect way to incorporate all different aspects of my academic interests. I've focused on French, Arabic, and Tunisian dialect during my three years here, and I was lucky enough to study abroad in Tunisia during the time of their first elections after the Arab Spring. While continuing my foreign language studies, I am beginning the research for my senior thesis, which will incorporate my love of linguistics and philosophy as well. I plan to inquire into the evolution of language, specifically studying the motivations behind the development of the complex, unique phenomenon of human language by considering semantic change over time, pragmatics, and the relationship between thought and language. Basically my question is this: what does an observation of the shifts in various kinds of meaning in the different communication systems in the natural world reveal about the evolutionary origins of language?
I believe that studying language, as a universal, unique trait of human beings not only has psychological or anthropological implications, but also can help us to make sense of humanity as a species, from a philosophical point of view.
While preparing for my thesis, I also work at Digital Curation Services in the Harrison Small Special Collections Library, helping to create digital representations of rare or antique materials as well as working as a pantry cook for Orzo Kitchen and Wine Bar in the Main St. Market! In my free time, I love to play ice hockey (I hope to play for the UVa Club Team in the fall!), play piano and the oud, an 11-stringed lyre-esque instrument, and write for an academic blog on the evolution of language. After UVa, I hope to continue my studies at the graduate level, ideally obtaining a Ph.D in Linguistics and continuing my research in the evolution of language.