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UTSC Jackman winner ‘captivated’ by the English language

Diana Demian won the 2013-2014 JHI Undergraduate Fellowship. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Diana Demian’s love of the English language started when she was studying at the American International School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Studying English was considered a privilege in a country where the primary language of communication is Arabic, and that is what stirred her interest in pursuing a career in English and literature.

“I fell in love with the language and it captivated me,” says the 4th-year English and sociology student at UTSC, adding that as a youngster, she also loved reading and writing.

Her family, originally from Egypt, eventually immigrated to Canada and she continued on the same career path, defying what has become a family tradition of science careers. However she still got the full support of her family, who she says understands her passion for English.

In a boost to her career dreams, Demian recently won the prestigious Jackman Humanities Institute Undergraduate Fellowship for 2013-2014. Six of these $1,000 fellowships are offered every year and provide U of T outstanding undergraduate recipients with the opportunity to produce and present a research paper under the supervision of a faculty research fellow.

“It’s such an incredible opportunity,” Demian says. “This is something I hope I will be pursuing in graduate school, and I’m also hoping that I can contribute to the dialogue that’s going to be held next year at JHI.”

This year’s theme for research is Translation and the Multiplicity of Language, and Demian’s research project will focus on language as a repository for trauma and culture. Her theory is that the first generation of immigrants faces the difficulty of conveying their feelings in English, and the second generation acts as a mediator doing the translation for the first generation. But in turn, the second generation also feels the guilty of being unable to tap into their native language and being unable to understand it.

Part of her project is looking at how the second generation still tries to translate the weight of culture and trauma that the first generation is carrying, even though they lack that language facility.

Demian has in the past received a U of T Scholar award twice, a Social Sciences In-Course Scholarship, a Karlheinz Theil Prize in English and the Oxford University Press English Essay Prize.

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