May 10, 2007
Vol. 26 No. 16

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    Linguistics concentrator wins Beinecke scholarship

    By Julia Morse
    News Office

    John Sylak

    College third-year John Sylak received an e-mail on Friday, April 20, that he said has changed his life.

    “Ultimately, winning this scholarship means I will have a better opportunity to achieve my goals and aspirations in graduate school and for the rest of my life,” said Sylak of learning he had been named a 2007 Beinecke scholar. “It certainly made for a great weekend!”

    Sylak, whose concentration is in Linguistics with a minor in Slavic Languages & Literatures, will receive $2,000 immediately and an additional $30,000 for graduate study—at either the University of California, Berkeley, or Stanford University, his top two choices to study linguistics.

    Beinecke scholarships, which fund graduate study in the arts, humanities and social sciences, are awarded annually to no more than 20 students nationwide. Sylak is the second Chicago student in two years to receive the scholarship.

    Sylak said he came to Chicago with a well-established interest in language, but his time in the College has helped him hone his interest into a passion.

    “I really love studying lesser-known languages,” said Sylak, who studied Vietnamese in high school and who has focused on Russian while in the College. “Chicago is one of the best places to learn languages that are uncommon and unusual.”

    In addition to studying Russian, Sylak has recently found a love for Lak, a language, that is spoken in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia and by less than 150,000 people worldwide, he said. Although he has been studying Lak only this quarter, Sylak said it is one of the most important academic experiences he has ever had.

    “Lak has incredible and complex verb conjugation, and a really interesting sound inventory,” he said of the language, which will be the focus of his bachelor’s thesis next year.

    Before he graduates from Chicago in 2008, Sylak said he hopes to take an East Asian language course and “continue to take advantage of the extraordinary faculty at the University.”

    The Beinecke scholarship program was established in 1971 to honor wealthy brothers Edwin, Frederick and Walter Beinecke, who are best remembered for the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library donation they made to Yale University in 1963.