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FLAS Graduate Profile: Nielson Hul

Nielson headshot

By: Catarina Massa, MPA '19

Nielson Hul is a Ph.D. student in the department of linguistics. He was born in Cambodia, but he grew up in Southern California. After studying English literature in college and receiving a Master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Hawaii, Nielson decided to pursue his research at Cornell and begin focusing on Khmer linguistics. The transition from English linguistics to Khmer linguistics sprouted from a realization that Nielson knew more about English linguistics than his own native language.

According to Nielson, there are Khmer ethnic minorities living in Thailand and Vietnam that each speak their own dialect. These dialects have traditional and innovative linguistic features. Nielson’s research includes comparing the dialects of Old Khmer with Middle Khmer and collecting data on Northern Khmer. Interestingly, Northern Khmer is often seen as influenced by foreign entities, but the data show that this dialect actually has more conservative features than the standard dialect. This is important because “culture survives and is transmitted through language.”

As a FLAS recipient, Nielson will continue learning Thai since his Khmer work is in Thailand, working with the ethnic minorities in the region. In addition, he is interested in learning about Thai influences on Khmer. Luckily for Nielson, Thai is very similar to Khmer, so he is able to learn the language with relatively little difficulty. Nielson’s advice to any graduate student interested in FLAS is to focus on the essay because “it’s not easy showing someone who you are on paper.”

Before coming to Cornell, Nielson was a Khmer teacher in the U.S. for several years, and he might go back to teaching Khmer after graduation while also continuing his research. Linguistics is also becoming more prevalent in Cambodia, so Nielson may also be interested in returning to his native country.

Fun fact: Nielson and his sons do archery!