Thursday 19th May 2022
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Sri Lankan Tamil Anjali Kantharuban Awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Anjali Kantharuban is a first-generation American of Sri Lankan Tamil heritage. She has been awarded the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which fully funds graduate study in the UK at the University of Cambridge.

Anjali, who studies Computer Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, grew up in the Bay Area and has never lived outside of the U.S.

She will join 22 of the most academically outstanding and socially committed young U.S. scholars and approximately 50 international peers in the U.K. this fall. In addition to being chosen for their outstanding intellectual ability, Gates Cambridge scholars also have demonstrated leadership potential and are committed to improving the lives of others.

“I enjoy learning new languages and have spent five semesters learning Tamil and Telugu, two low-resource Dravidian languages, under a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship via the Department of Education.”

As a speaker of Sri Lankan Tamil, a non-standard dialect that is dying out, Anjali has experienced first-hand how “globalized communication has intensified pressures on minority language populations to convert to standardized languages in exchange for economic reward.” She notes that while natural language processing has the capacity to make information and tools more broadly accessible, the field still primarily focuses on a small set of mainstream languages. Anjali’s goal is to make natural language interfaces for computational systems equally functional for all languages, in all their variations, to prevent further loss of linguistic and cultural diversity.

During her upcoming year at Cambridge, Anjali will pursue her interest in natural language processing (NLP) and language revitalization by conducting research in Dr. Anna Korhonen’s Language Technology Laboratory. Dr. Korhonen is a key player in the small community of scholars working in the emerging field of natural language processing for “low-resource” linguistic dialects, so Anjali is honored to be pursuing her M.Phil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics under her mentorship.

With the Gates Cambridge Scholarship and an M.Phil. lined up, Anjali is now in the enviable position of deciding between offers from top-notch PhD programs for the following year.

The Gates Cambridge Trust was established in October 2000 by a donation of US$210m from the Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge. This remains the largest single donation to a UK university, the Gatescambridge.org website says.