In Memoriam Professor Frank Palmer

by Aditi Lahiri (University of Oxford)

It is with great sadness that the Philological Society has been informed of the death of Professor Frank Palmer, a former Vice President of the Philological Society since 1992, who passed away on the 1st November 2019.

 Professor Palmer was educated at New College, University of Oxford and then became a member of the teaching staff at the SOAS in London, with a post of Lecturer from 1950 to 1960. He then became Professor of Linguistics at University College, Bangor  in 1960. In 1965, along with a number of Bangor colleagues, he moved to the University of Reading to establish the Department of Linguistic Science. He was appointed Professor of Linguistic Science the department rapidly acquired an outstanding international reputation under his headship. In 1955 he was inducted into the Linguistics Society of America (LSA)In 1971, Professor Palmer was appointed one of the Professorship Holders of the LSA. He was later made a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Academia Europea.   

Professor Palmer carried out important descriptive research on Ethiopian languages, and his seminal work on mood and modality, was highly influential, with his CUP textbook on the topics being widely used internationally. For further information about his life and work see Keith Brown and Vivien Law 2002. “Linguistics in Britain: Personal Histories“. Wiley-Blackwell (PhilSoc Publication 36). He retired in 1987 with the title of Emeritus Professor of Linguistic Science. 

Ancient Greek enclitics: some new light from ancient grammarians

by Philomen Probert (University of Oxford)

Ancient Greek is a language rich in enclitics (little words forming some sort of prosodic unit with what precedes), and ancient grammatical texts give us important information on how an enclitic affects the accent or stress of the preceding word. But in some situations we struggle to understand what ancient authors are telling us. For example, what happens when enclitics follow one another in sequence? Some ancient texts tell us that every enclitic except the last gets an accent on its last syllable, while others present us with the same idea plus a series of apparently unlikely exceptions. This talk will argue that the ancient grammarians are consistently getting at a recursive rule, but that they deploy ingenious strategies for not talking about recursion.

19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences – 2019

by Caitlin Halfacre (Newcastle University)

In August 2019, I was supported by a PhilSoc travel bursary to attend the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, to present a poster. The conference was in Melbourne, hosted by The Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association and had 422 oral presentations and 397 poster presentations. The poster I presented was based on my MA and was also included in the Congress proceedings papers. My title was North-South Dividers in privately educated speakers: a sociolinguistic study of Received Pronunciation using the foot-strut and trap-bath distinctions in the North East and South East of England.

Figure 1: Accent Variation in England, adapted from Wells (1984)

There is a model of accent variation in England that demonstrates the interactions between regional variation and variation based on social class. The high level of regional variation found in working class speakers seems to reduce going up the socio-economic spectrum, see, with the top of the triangle forming the accent called Received Pronunciation (RP – popularly known as BBC English). However, this model has not been updated for almost 40 years. My research involves recording speakers from different regions whose socio-economic status would place them near the top of this triangle and investigating a variety of accent features that would general display regional variation.

The paper I presented discussed what are known as the FOOT-STRUT and TRAP-BATH splits, descriptions of what vowels speaker uses. The FOOT-STRUT split is whether the two words (and those in the same sets) rhyme or not, and the TRAP-BATH split is whether words like BATH have the same vowel as trap, generally found in the North, or the same vowel as PALM, generally found in the South. In 10 privately educated speakers from the North East and South East I found that they all behaved the same as each other in the FOOT-STRUT split, demonstrating that this feature acts in a non-regional manner. However, regarding the trap-bath split, I found that the speakers reflected the patterns found in their local region. This is likely due to the social salience of the feature; non-linguists have a strong awareness of how people in different regions pronouns words in the BATH set (e.g. glass, path, mast) and see it as a regional identity marker.

Figure 2

Presenting this poster gave me the opportunity to gain feedback on both my methods and results, invaluable information for data collection for my PhD. I also was able to meet and discuss my findings with leading researchers in the field, whose work has greatly influenced mine. Including the researcher who illustrated the above model, and another who is the only other person currently publishing sociophonetic research on RP.

I would like to thank PhilSoc for awarding me the travel bursary, I used it to supplement the funds my department were able to give in order to make up the required amount. This congress only happens once every four years and I could have missed out on the opportunity to attend without their support.

My poster and proceedings paper can be found on my website.

International Congress of Phonetic Sciences – The Phonetician’s Olympics

by Bruce Xiao Wang (University of York)

The International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS) 2019 was held in Melbourne from August 5th to 9th. I would like to thank The Philological Society at the beginning of this blog, because this trip would not be possible without the travel bursary from Philological Society.

ICPhS is the Olympics for phoneticians which is held every four years. The congress covers broad topics in phonetic sciences, including sociophonetics, phonetics in psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics, forensic phonetics and speech corpora tools. Attending ICPhS is an eye-opening experience for me, which made me realise that there are many different topics in phonetic sciences that I never thought of. Even different phonetic studies from different areas are not directly related, I could still be inspired by methodologies used from different phonetic studies. The full programme can be found here.

Apart from being able to listen various talks during the congress, I also had a chance to present my own poster in forensic voice comparison (FVC). FVC is normally carried out during the legal process, and the experts’ duty is to assist the trier of fact in decision-making. A typical FVC case involves the comparison between two or more recording samples, in which the experts need to assess not only the similarity between each recording samples, but also typicality under a broader population. My poster for ICPhS concerns the sampling effect on the system performance in FVC, which is a joint work with my two supervisors, Prof. Paul Foulkes and Dr. Vincent Hughes. I consider our poster session a success, because we received highly praised comments from Prof. Phil Rose and Prof. Shunichi Ishihara who are both world-renowned forensic phonetic experts based in Australian National University. Apart from academic events, I have also got the chance to do some sightseeing in Melbourne, such as St. Kilda breakwater, where many little penguins can be seen at night; winter night market at Queen Victoria Market, where various cuisines and souvenirs from different culture backgrounds can be found, and Moonlit Sanctuary Conservation Park, which gave me an unique experience to “hang out” with kangaroos, koalas, and dingo.

Building Meaning in Context: A Dynamic Approach to Bantu Clause Structure

by Hannah Gibson (University of Essex)

When I first started on my doctoral research, I had access to two sentences from the Tanzanian Bantu language Rangi which seemed to show that the language allowed for post-verbal auxiliary placement. This word order was unexpected given that Rangi has a dominant SVO order. It is also unusual in the context of East African Bantu languages where auxiliary-verb order dominates.

I subsequently spent a year spent in Tanzania working with Rangi-speakers and Rangi-speaking linguists, and gathering data. Luckily for me, the two sentences I had started off with were indeed representative of the language. And the picture was in fact more complicated than that. While verb-auxiliary order is obligatory in the two future tense constructions, this order is ‘reversed’ in a range of syntactically-conditioned contexts: wh-questions, sentential negation, relative clauses, after subordinators and in cleft constructions.

Fast forward several years, and at the end of 2018, my monograph Building meaning in context: a dynamic approach to Bantu clause structure was published as part of the Philological Society’s Monograph series. The book adopts a parsing/production-based approach to modelling Bantu clause structure, employing the tools and assumptions laid out in the Dynamic Syntax framework. It includes a chapter which looks at this auxiliary placement alternation in Rangi in more detail, as well as examining a number of other features of Bantu morphosyntax.

Dynamic Syntax (DS; Cann et al. 2005, Kempson et al. 2001, 2011) is a grammar formalism that aims to capture this real-time parsing process. Under the DS perspective, linguistic knowledge is considered to be the ability to parse language in context, whilst syntax is considered to be the constraint-based way in which representations of content can be built up from words encountered in a string.

The book presents an overview of the key tools and mechanisms adopted by the Dynamic Syntax framework (Chapter 2). It then goes on to show the application of these assumptions to modelling the Bantu clause, drawing primarily on data from the East African Bantu language Swahili (Chapter 3). A number of key phenomena relating to Bantu morphosyntax – inversion constructions and passives (Chapter 4) and negation (Chapter 5) – are also examined.

Chapter 6 presents an account of the word order alternation found in Rangi that I set out to examine after seeing those two sentences all those years ago. There is also a chapter which goes beyond data from the Bantu languages and explores cross-linguistic similarities that emerge as a result of the formal account presented (Chapter 7).

One of the contributions made by the study of auxiliaries in Rangi, is that it further supports the predictive power of the DS framework. The formal tools used in this account of Rangi auxiliaries show parallels with accounts of distinct phenomena in unrelated languages – clitic placement phenomena in Cypriot Greek and Medieval Spanish, as well as cleft constructions in Japanese and ‘scrambling’ in Korean.

The book will be of interest to those working on African languages, and particularly the languages of the Bantu family. But also those interested in word order phenomena, lexicon-based formal approaches to modelling language, as well as those wanting to find out more about Dynamic Syntax.

Opportunities for Linguistics in Modern Foreign Languages

by Michelle Sheehan (Anglia Ruskin University)

On 31 May, the ‘Linguistics in Modern Foreign Languages’ project held a conference at Anglia Ruskin University, funded by Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, the British Academy and the Philological Society.

The conference brought together exam boards, publishers, advocacy groups and academics and teachers to learn about findings from the project so far and to explore outcomes of comparable international initiatives. The ‘Linguistics in MFL’ project assesses the potential for the inclusion of linguistic topics in the secondary school languages curriculum. It aims to introduce students to linguistics and deepen their interest in language, including its historical, cultural and social reflexes.

Talks were given by Teresa Tinsley, author of the British Council’s Language Trends surveys and Chris Pountain, member of the A-level Content Advisory Board for MFL, amongst others. The full programme is available here.

Discussants at the event included Dora Alexopoulou, Editor of Language, Society and Policy, Victoria Dutchman-Smith, Commissioning Editor (MFL), OUP, Bernadette Holmes, Director of Speak to the Future, Rhona Thompson, Curriculum Manager for Languages at AQA, and four teachers: Sophie Hentschel, from Thirsk School and Sixth Form College, Olly Hopwood, from Westminster School, Susan Stewart, Head of Multilingualism at International School of London and Janette Swainton, Head of MFL at Longsands Academy, St Neots.

The PhilSoc grant allowed us to offer travel bursaries for teachers to attend the event, and they did so in great numbers from all over the UK. Many commented on how inspiring they had found the event and how it has made them think about their teaching practice.

Claire Robinson from Suffolk One (a state VI form college) said:

Just wanted to thank you rather in haste for a great day on Friday.  I really enjoyed it, and even though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect I found it very inspiring.  My particular take-aways were:

  1. Linguistics really delivers on equity – this came home to me as a really pressing need after Teresa Tinsley’s talk which showed how uptake is narrowing to become the preserve of elite schools, and again as a huge opportunity highlighted by the fact that anyone can ‘do’ linguistics in relation to their own L1, thus giving the lie to students who think it’s ‘posh’ to talk about language.
  2. Mary Wenham’s talk has inspired me to resurrect some materials I used to use years ago to introduce L2 teaching, as I’m offering a ‘Tongue Twisters’ session on our ‘Raising the Bar’ day when we invite Year 6 students from primary schools in Ipswich to join us for a taste of sixth form life – I’ll let you know how it goes!

For more information about the project, click here.

Oblique predicative constructions in English

by Bas Aarts (University College London)

English allows for a predicative phrase to occur after the prepositions for and as in constructions like the following:

(1) We took her for a friend.
(2) They left her for dead.

(3) I regarded her as a genius.
(4) She rates his work as excellent.

The phrases introduced by for and as in these constructions introduce either a noun phrase or adjective phrase constituent that is predicated of the postverbal noun phrase in each case. I will call the V + NP + [PP P+NP/AdjP] construction the oblique predicative construction, and the complement of the preposition an oblique predicative complement. The construction with for is the older one, and is found in many unrelated languages, including Gothic, Greek, Latin, Russian, Spanish, Dutch and German, as Jespersen (1909-49, IV: 386) has shown.

In this paper I will trace the history of predicative oblique constructions involving for and as and a number of additional prepositions from Old English onwards. I will then discuss the huge range of constructions in which predicative for appears, and how these differ from constructions with as, which gradually became dominant in Present-Day English. By looking at a range of data I will investigate whether the claim that for and as are interchangeable, made by the OED, Jespersen and Poutsma, is valid. I will argue that for a number of reasons it is unsustainable. I will look at one of these reasons in detail, namely the observation that for has acquired a subtly specialised meaning which has come to differentiate it from as.


This paper will be read at the Annual General Meeting of the Philological Society in Cambridge, Murray Edwards College, Buckingham House Seminar Room, on Saturday, 15 June 2019, 4.15pm.