Interviewee: Professor Peggy MOK Pik Ki, Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages, Chinese University of Hong Kong, with research interests in experimental phonetics.
How did you set out on your academic journey?
My academic journey was obviously led by God. I studied Chinese language as an undergraduate and then went to the UK to study for a Master’s degree. Then I had a car accident, fortunately without severe injury. At that time, I had already obtained an offer to study for a PhD, but I did not have the money, so I returned to Hong Kong first. Clearly God responded and gave me plenty of scholarships. I was able to complete my PhD. Then, I came back to Hong Kong and it so happened that the Department of Linguistics of the Chinese University of Hong Kong needed to hire a teacher. The right time, the right place and the right people made it possible for me to follow this path.
This is indeed worthy of thanksgiving! The academic journey is about relying on human effort and not allowing laziness, whereas the faith experience you mentioned is about relying on God and being led by Him. How have you relied on God in your academic pursuits?
Faith is the key to many things on the academic path, while effort is still necessary, but it is only one of the factors. For example, who the reviewers are, whether they are familiar with the field, etc. These are factors that we have no control over, but can only rely on God’s guidance.
I once had a proposal that received a lot of positive comments. I followed their advices the following year, expecting that I would be successful in my application. However, it is rejected by a reviewer who was not familiar with my field of study, which was beyond my control.
In spite of these experiences, is there any convergence or conflict between linguistics and faith when the discipline is combined with faith?
Linguistics and faith share commonalities, for example, that man is a divine creation with the Holy Spirit of God, while linguistics emphasises that linguistic communication is unique to man and that the animal kingdom has no language. Although there is not much direct conflict between linguistics and faith, the academic community as a whole is based on evolutionary theory, which runs counter to the Christian emphasis on the sovereignty and belief of God’s creation. For example, in the Bible, the Tower of Babel is the origin of linguistic complexity, with God scattering people around speaking different languages. Evolutionary theory suggests that the earliest spoken languages may have come from Africa, where a few languages still retain the characteristic ‘clicks’ that some scholars believe were lost when humans first left Africa, so the rest of the world’s languages do not have them.
Is this kind of conflict common in the academic sector? How would you handle it?
Occasionally, this kind of conflict arises. Since evolution is a dominant academic theory, if you mention something that is not in line with evolution, people may think you are a deviant. I believe that first of all we should be competent in our own research (which is our duty) so that not only will more people get to know you, but also so that others will not easily underestimate you because of your faith and will not feel that you are inferior because you have faith. We need the courage to express our faith naturally and not be ashamed of the Gospel.
How do you testify for the Lord in an academic or disciplinary context?
Apart from academic excellence, I also value the interaction with my students. I have a very close relationship with my postgraduate students, to the extent that I see them as my sons and nephews. I hope not only to lead them along this academic path and develop their own research interests, but also to see them thrive in life.
I recently accompanied a former expatriate student through a life-transforming experience. This student, for some reasons, was unable to complete his PhD and stayed on as a member of staff at the university. I couldn’t stop thinking about him afterwards and the Holy Spirit urged me to persuade him to find another job. Later, he approached a secondary school that needed a teacher and the job seemed to be tailor-made for him, a job that God had led in an unexpected way. I had the privilege of witnessing and accompanying him through it. God allowed me to not only care for and guide the academic development of my students, but also to be there for them as they grow in life.
The path of academic is not an easy one, but it is one that God has guided Professor Peggy Mok Pik Ki along, step by step. Perhaps, like Esther, it was God’s way of making her a queen, not only to glorify the Lord academically, but also to accompany every student and graduate student as His ambassador.