Dr Sally (Ake) Nicholas

Lecturer – School of Language & Culture

Sally Nicholas

Sally (Ake) Nicholas was born in New Zealand, but soon after her family moved to Rarotonga to reconnect with the Cook Islands language, culture and family.

Ake and her family lived in Rarotonga until she was six, when they moved back to Taranaki, New Zealand.

Growing up, Ake’s parents were involved in the New Zealand Māori language revitalisation movement and spent the rest of her childhood and young adult life in a New Zealand Māori context.

In this context, Ake went to the University of Auckland and accumulated a Bachelor of Arts in Māori Studies and Linguistics (2003), a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Māori Studies (2007), a Master of Arts in Māori Studies (2010) and a Doctor of Philosophy in Cook Islands Studies (2017).

In between studying, Ake worked as an Audio Engineer for over 10 years. She says beside language, music is her passion. She loves all kinds of music, from heavy rock to weird electronic music.

While completing her postgraduate studies, Ake taught as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Māori Studies department and has been a lecturer from 2012 at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Pacific Studies.

The importance of language

Ake says being exposed to multiple languages as a young child ignited a lifelong interest.

“Because my whānau and wider social context growing up committed to the language revitalisation project for New Zealand Māori, language has been centred as something very, very important in life. I was taught that the explicit nature of culture is language.”

Ake’s doctoral research is a documentation and description of southern Cook Islands Maori. She built a corpus of examples of the language, which accumulated to over 1.5 million words. Ake then used this corpus and human speakers to describe the grammar of the language, or the “rules” of the language.

“I wanted to create something that hadn’t previously existed. The two collections can now be used as a reference point for teachers and leaners to understand how the language is used. It’s also a tool to build learning materials that can help with language revitalisation. I believe it’s vital.”

In her capacity of a lecturer in the School of Language and Culture at AUT, Ake is conducting research projects from the findings of her doctoral research.

“I’m asking theoretical linguistic questions about how particular things work in the language of Cook Islands Māori. I’m looking at how a particular construction in the language works on a pragmatic level – in terms of semantics and information flow on a discourse level.

“I’m also looking at how modality works in Cook Islands Māori – which is how you express you are sure about something. It’s about how meaning gets passed along in communications.”

“What drives me is a sense of duty because this work needs to be done. I’m also delightfully fascinated by the details of my language, or any language. I’ve never lost any enthusiasm for this subject.”