Laura Hendricksen wins CAH Outstanding Thesis Award for work on Hidatsa language

Laura Hendricksen

After graduating from Buchanan High School, Laura Hendricksen went to the University of Missouri, Columbia, where she received two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Linguistics and Spanish. She has just received her M.A. in Linguistics from Fresno State. While working on her master’s degree, she worked as a graduate teaching assistant at Fresno State and an English tutor for the Huntington Learning Center. 

Hendricksen won the 2020 College of Arts and Humanities Outstanding Thesis Award for “Demonstratives and Determiner-phrase Structure in Hidatsa Narrative Discourse: A Morphological, Syntactic, and Semantic Analysis.”

She talked about her thesis and her time at Fresno State in a Q&A.

Why did you choose Fresno State?

In the spring of 2015, I decided that I wanted to pursue my master’s, and after reaching out to the Fresno State Linguistics Department, I was able to start in the fall of that year. I had no prior knowledge of the faculty, but I was immediately impressed and consider myself quite fortunate to have studied under such qualified instructors.

What’s next for you? What are your career goals?

I am currently searching for jobs and researching fellowships. I am not quite certain of my next step at this point, but seeing as the world is currently in a bit of disarray, I am okay with taking it slow.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Fresno State?

I think my favorite memory, or collection of memories, would have to be from my first couple of semesters on campus. There was a big group of us linguistics students that hung out together in the library and outside of school. We all had the same classes and worked on assignments together; we were essentially an informal cohort. All but a few of us have since graduated and gone on to bigger and better things, but for a time, it was pretty great. I haven’t witnessed a group like that since, so I feel lucky to have had that experience.

How did it feel when you learned your thesis was picked as the 2020 Outstanding Thesis for the College of Arts and Humanities?

I felt elated. I knew I had been nominated by my department, but I was expecting the worst to not get my hopes up. When I got the email, I was speechless. I did not tell anyone for a couple of hours because I had to let it sink in. To be honest, this thesis has been in the works for a long time. I actually planned on graduating last spring and even walked in commencement. Considering that this project was two years in the making, receiving this award has made it all feel worth it. I am incredibly honored and proud.

In your thesis, you work with the language of the Hidatsa, a native American tribe in North Dakota. Why did you choose that topic? Why is it important?

I actually started working on Hidatsa fairly early on in my graduate school career. I co-authored a paper with my thesis chair and advisor, Dr. John Boyle, which we presented at the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) conference in Austin, Texas in January of 2017. A few months later, I presented another paper on Hidatsa at the Annual Workshop on American Indigenous Languages (WAIL) at UC Santa Barbara. My thesis topic actually came to mind when I was working on those papers. While reading through some of the narrative texts, I noticed that Hidatsa had a number of words that were labeled as “demonstratives” (e.g., English that, those, these, etc.). Finding this odd, I decided to make a list and ended up with more than 15 different demonstratives. I then decided to delve deeper. By doing so, I uncovered a number of inconsistencies in the data and found that this an extremely understudied area, thus sparking a thesis topic. 

The information presented in my thesis is important in a number of ways. One is that it gives scholars further insight into how Hidatsa utilizes demonstratives in narratives to aid in the logical flow of information and prevent confusion. Another is that it contributes to the ongoing debate as to the role of demonstratives and helps us better understand how they might be used in other languages and in general. It also helps with preserving the Hidatsa language, which currently has 40 fluent speakers and is, therefore, highly endangered.  

What did your research uncover?

There were too many findings to list here, but overall, my research showed that demonstratives in Hidatsa are more versatile than scholars had previously thought and contributed to clearing up inconsistencies in the data. I found that Hidatsa demonstratives can have multiple functions and that their position within sentences is function-dependent. For example, the demonstrative, hirí, not only translates as English ‘this’ but also functions as English ‘there.’ When utilized as the former, it is found to the left of the noun, and as the latter, it is found to the right of the noun and near the verb. There has actually been an ongoing debate about this in the field, and the results from my thesis contribute to this debate by suggesting that demonstrative functions and distributions are not something that can be generalized.

Is there anyone you would like to thank?

I would like to thank Dr. Honora Chapman and Dr. Sergio La Porta for honoring me with this award. I would also like to thank my thesis committee, Dr. John Boyle, Dr. John Lyon, and Dr. Brian Agbayani, and the Linguistics Department for nominating me. I am so grateful. I would also like to thank the Hidatsa tribe for allowing me to work on their language, and I want to especially thank my family, boyfriend, and friends for supporting me every step of the way. 

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