Before Ounu Zakiy Sukaton came to ANU, he was helping to solve crimes alongside his father, a police officer.
Ounu applied some of the skills he’d learned through his undergraduate degree in his home country of Indonesia, and engaged in the work of forensic linguistics, analysing text messages and posts on social media to help shed light on a suspect’s guilt or innocence.
“It involves matching data the police have with data that comes from the suspect,” Ounu explains.
He says that it’s about identifying patterns – such as the expressions or acronyms someone uses. If you use ‘btw’ a lot in text messages to a friend, that could be seen as something like your signature if you also use ‘btw’ in texts to others too.
“I really like that language can be like a fingerprint,” Ounu enthuses. “You’re identified because people use language to express and identify themselves – although it has to be done very meticulously so you don’t accuse the wrong person.”
Ounu was keen to advance his skills and knowledge in forensic linguistics, and applied to study it at ANU, as part of the Master of General and Applied Linguistics.
“I came to ANU because it was advertised everywhere in Indonesia as Australia’s #1 university and I was really interested in the linguistics department. Their academics, such as Dr Susy Macqueen and Dr Yuko Kinoshita, are very well known,” he says.
“I was also interested in forensic linguistics and ANU offers the best forensic linguistics learning in Australia.”
Although Ounu came to ANU with high expectations, he said that they were exceeded by the reality on the ground.
“It was hard but the standards were very good,” Ounu says.
“[I enjoyed] working with those professionals, people who are good in their field. We did hands-on exercises on how to use specific tools, computer tools or real analysis on a specific case. You get to practice what you learn in class, not just talk about it in theory.”
On the basis of Ounu’s work with the police department, the Indonesian government provided Ounu with a scholarship that covered his study fees, living costs, and books. In return, when Ounu goes back, he’ll work for the government for a few years.
“I told my sponsor [I’d like] to teach at a university as well as help them with cases involving language as evidence,” he says.
“But mostly [I want] to teach. I really need to pass this on to other people in Indonesia. That way I think I can contribute to society.”