In memoriam Professor Dr. Gabriele Stein

written by Keith Brown (University of Cambridge)

Gabriele Stein was born in July 1942 in Tilsit in what was then East Prussia. In the closing years of the war, with the Russian armies approaching, her family moved west to Tübingen. There she became an assistant to Hans Marchand in the University of Tübingen and in 1971 gained her PhD in English linguistics. She went on to positions in English Language and Linguistics in the Universities of Siegen (1974-81) and Hamburg (1981-1990) and from 1990 was Professor of English Linguistics in the University of Heidelberg. In 1984 she and Randolph Quirk married. She was the founder and president of the European Association for Lexicography. She died on March 6, 2020.  

She will be remembered for her work in historical and contemporary lexicography and in English language. Stein 2014 and Stein 2017 are studies of Renaissance lexicographers such as Thomas Elyot and John Palsgrave and their attempts to understand the semantic range of a word and to explain and transpose it into other languages. Stein 2002 examines how contemporary EFL dictionaries approach a similar range of issues. Of course she taught English grammar in her various professorial posts in Germany. She also collaborated with Randolph Quirk on work for the British National Curriculum.


Stein, G.  2014. Sir Thomas Elyot as Lexicographer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stein, G. 2017. Word Studies in the Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stein G. 2002. Better Words: Evaluating EFL Dictionaries. Exeter University Press. 

How linguistics helps us reconstruct ancient fire mythology

Report on the ‘Martin Burr Fund’ grant offered for a monograph on the Norse God Loki

written by Riccardo Ginevra (Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University)

The historical and comparative approach to Indo-European poetic language and myth has developed greatly in the second half of the 20th century, particularly thanks to the efforts of, among others, Rüdiger Schmitt (1967; 1968), Enrico Campanile (1977; 1990) and Calvert Watkins (1995). By means of this methodology, linguists have been able to highlight several parallels between the poetic phraseology, divine names and mythological narratives occurring in texts in the Indo-European languages of oldest attestation, in particular Hittite, Vedic and Epic Sanskrit, Ancient Greek and Latin.

Sources in Old Norse and in the other ancient Germanic languages, however, have been somewhat overlooked by scholars of comparative Indo-European poetics, mainly because, in comparison with, for instance, Hittite and Greek (already attested in the 2nd millennium BCE), these languages were first written down at a relatively late date (the Early Middle Ages). The antiquity of a tradition’s written sources, however, should not be the main criterion in assessing its importance in reconstruction: in contrast, as demonstrated by Calvert Watkins (1995: 414ff.) in his classic discussion of dragon-slaying myths, Germanic traditions often preserve very archaic features of Indo-European poetics and myth. In my opinion, this truth may be even further demonstrated by a linguistic analysis of the names, phraseology, and narratives concerning the mischievous Scandinavian god Loki, a topic to which I have devoted much of my PhD research at the Università per Stranieri di Siena and the University of Cologne between 2015 and 2018.

My interest in Loki actually arose in 2014, when I was still a Master’s student at the Università Cattolica of Milan, writing a thesis on the several parallels between (among others) some Ancient Greek myths involving the god Hermes (the – at least partial – reflex of an ancient fire-god, as already argued by van Berg 2001) and the titan Prometheus (the “Fire Thief” par excellence), and some Norse mythological narratives involving Loki, who had already been analyzed as a fire-deity by Jacob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie (1835). Even though Grimm’s interpretation of Loki was later challenged on various grounds (cf. e.g. Liberman 1992:131), the god’s association with fire is supported not only by parallels in Scandinavian folklore (cf. e.g. Heide 2011) and archaeology (cf. Gestsson 1961), but also by the linguistic analysis of his myths both within their Scandinavian context and in comparative Indo-European perspective, as I have proposed in two publications (Ginevra 2018a; 2018b) and as I argue extensively in a corresponding monograph, on which I am currently working and whose preparation has been partially supported by the “Martin Burr Fund” from the Philological Society.

Depiction of Loki from an Icelandic manuscript (16th-century).

As a first example of the inner-Norse and comparative evidence for Loki’s interpretation as a fire-god, I would like to discuss the Norse myth of Loki’s capture and binding (Vǫluspá 35; prose finale of Lokasenna; Gylfaginning 50), whose plot may be briefly summarized as follows: the gods capture Loki and bring him to a cave, where he is chained to three stones and a venomous snake is fixed above him, in such a manner that the reptile’s poison constantly drips into his face; standing by his side, Loki’s wife Sigyn tries to collect the snake’s venom into a basin, but, every time she has to leave her husband’s side in order to pour the liquid away, the snake’s poison drips directly into Loki’s face and the god shakes so violently that the whole earth trembles, causing earthquakes.

Now, according to Norse cosmology, earthquakes were caused by the violent movements of underground fires (cf. Konungs skuggsjá 14 ms. b.,Brenner 1881:30 “You also said that so vast are the fires in the bowels of the land that earthquakes arise out of fire’s violent movements”); furthermore, the poison which torments Loki may be analyzed as a reflex of the Old Norse kenning “poison of the fire” for ‘water’ (cf. Sigvatr Þórðarson, Lausavísa 1.2–4 “snake of the poison of fire” = “snake of water” = “fish”). These considerations allow for the interpretation of Sigyn’s act of collecting and pouring out the poison which drips onto Loki’s face as a mythical representation of the pouring of water or other liquids onto fire, possibly reflecting corresponding pre-Christian Scandinavian fire-rituals which have been reconstructed by Kaliff 2005 on the basis of archaeological evidence.

This is further supported by Sigyn’s name (actually to be scanned as Sígyn, as shown by Skaldic meter), which may be the Old Norse outcome of a Proto-Indo-European formation *sei̯k-én-ih2/sei̯k-n̥-iéh2‘she of the pouring’, a reflex of the root *sei̯k‘pour’ which is widely attested in Vedic Sanskrit in the context of fire-rituals, cf. Rigveda 8.9.7cd “Here he will pour (siñcād – another reflex of the root *sei̯k) the most honeyed soma and the hot milk in the presence of the fire-priest”. The same reconstructed formation *sei̯k-én-ih2may also underlie Vedic °sécanī– ‘pouring’ (upa-sécanī- ‘id.; pouring ladle’ in RV 10.21.02c; 10.105.10a), and it would closely parallel the (Latinized) Celtic river-name and theonym Sēquana (modern-day river Seine in France), which is the reflex of a similar formation *sei̯k-en-eh2 ‘she of the pouring’.

Depiction of the myth of Loki and Sigyn on the Gosforth Cross (mid-11th

As a further example of the comparative evidence for Loki’s identification as the reflex of an Indo-European fire-god, let us take into consideration the Norse myth of Loki’s wager with the dwarf Brokkr (as told in Skáldskaparmál 35): as a punishment for shaving all the hair off the head of Thor’s wife, Loki has to forge beautiful gifts for the gods; after having done so, Loki pledges his own head in a wager with the dwarf-smith Brokkr, challenging him to forge better treasures; when Brokkr succeeds and wins the wager, Loki tries to flee, but is soon captured by Thor, and his lips are finally sewn together by Brokkr.

Several parallels for this narrative may be found in the Sanskrit myth of Fire’s cursing by the seer Bhr̥gu (Mahābhārata 1.5–7; 9.46.12–20), in which the god Fire betrays the trust of Bhr̥gu’s wife and is therefore cursed by the seer to become an “eater of everything”, thus losing control over his own mouth; ashamed, Fire flees, but his hiding place is discovered by the gods, who convince the supreme god Brahma to restrain Fire’s mouth (slightly modifying Bhr̥gu’s curse).

Various phraseological and structural parallels between these Norse and Sanskrit narratives allow for the reconstruction of an Indo-European “Myth of the Mouth of the Fire-god”, in which, after committing a crime against a woman, the fire-god risks losing control over his head or mouth because of a wager or curse; the fire-god flees, but is later found by the other gods, and his mouth is restrained – either literally (Loki) or metaphorically (Fire).

Furthermore, these correspondences allow for the assumption of a direct connection between the Norse god Loki’s rival Brokkr and the Sanskrit god Fire’s opponent Bhr̥gu, whose names may in fact be traced back to *bhr̥g-nó– and *bhŕ̥g-oṷ- respectively, two related formations which are derivatives of one and the same root *(s)bh(h2)g– ‘crackle, roar’, among whose reflexes are, for instance, Homeric σφαραγέομαι ‘crackle, sizzle’ and Vedic Sanskrit sphūrjáyant- ‘crackling, sizzling’ and bhūrjáyant- ‘id.’ (reflexes of *[s]bhr̥h2g-éi̯e- ‘crackle, sizzle’). The possibility of a common etymology for the names of their respective enemies thus supports an identification of Loki as the Norse counterpart to the Sanskrit god Fire.

Depiction of character with his mouth stitched (currently interpreted as a reference to the myth of Loki and Brokkr) on the Snaptun Stone (10th-11th century).

As these two examples suggest, an analysis of Loki’s mythology from a comparative Germanic and Indo-European perspective allows for the identification of several inherited features of religious onomastics, poetic language, and narrative structures in Scandinavian pre-Christian religion and myth, improving our understanding of the meaning and origin of these ancient texts. Thanks to the partial support of the Philological Society’s “Martin Burr Fund”, my book-length discussion of these topics hopefully will, on the one hand, match the late Martin John Burr’s academic interest in Comparative Philology and Old Germanic languages and cultures, and, on the other hand, contribute to the Philological Society’s mission “to investigate and promote the study and knowledge of the structure, the affinities, and the history of languages”.


van Berg, Paul-Louis. 2001. Hermes and Agni: a fire-god in Greece?. In: M. E. Huld, K. Jones-Bley, A. Della Volpe and M. Robbins Dexter, Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, 189-204. Washington DC.

Brenner, Oscar. 1881. Speculum regale. Ein altnorwegischer Dialog nach Cod. Arnamagn. 243 Fol. B und den ältesten Fragmenten. München.

Campanile, Enrico. 1977. Ricerche di cultura poetica indoeuropea. Pisa

Campanile, Enrico. 1990. La ricostruzione della cultura indoeuropea. Pisa.

Gestsson, Gisli. 1961. Mynd af Loka Laufeyjarsyni. Árbók Hins íslenzka fornleifafélags 58:47–51.

Ginevra, Riccardo. 2018a. Old Norse Brokkr, Sanskrit Bhr̥gu- and PIE *(s)bh(h2)g– ‘crackle, roar’. In: David M. Goldstein, Stephanie W. Jamison, and Brent Vine (eds.), Proceedings of the 28th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, 71–93. Bremen.

Ginevra, Riccardo. 2018b. Old Norse Sígyn (*sei̯k-n̥-i̯éh2– ‘she of the pouring’), Vedic °sécanī– ‘pouring’, Celtic Sēquana and PIE *sei̯k ‘pour’. In: David M. Goldstein, Stephanie W. Jamison, and Brent Vine (eds.), Proceedings of the 29th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, 65–76. Bremen.

Heide, Eldar. 2011. Loki, the Vätte, and the Ash Lad: A Study Combining Old Scandinavian and Late Material. Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 7.63–106.

Kaliff, Anders. 2005. The Vedic Agni and Scandinavian Fire Rituals. Current Swedish Archaeology 13.77–97.

Liberman, Anatoly. 1992. Snorri and Saxo on Útgarðaloki, with notes on Loki Laufeyjarson’s character, career, and name. In: Carlo Santini (ed.), Saxo Grammaticus. Tra storiografia e letteratura. Bevagna, 27-29 Settembre 1990, 91–158. Roma.

Schmitt, Rüdiger. 1967. Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit.Wiesbaden.

Schmitt, Rüdiger (ed.). 1968. Indogermanische Dichtersprache. Darmstadt.

Watkins, Calvert. 1995. How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics. New York.

Third International Workshop on Syntactic Cartography (IWSC2019)

Written by Keith Tse (Ronin Institute, New York)

On what has been a regular fixture in the past few years, the biennial Third International Workshop on Syntactic Cartography (IWSC-3) took place on the 26th-27th October 2019 at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) which happened at the end of Open Access Week in China and was preceded by a separate yet related workshop called ‘Changing Boundaries’ on the 25th. This year’s joint event had a special significance as it was the first IWSC to take place at BLCU after the establishment and inauguration of their Linguistics Department which was celebrated in a similar event at the end of October 2018 (to which the author was also invited to present a poster), and these three days were marked by an impressive number of keynote and invited speakers as well as many local and external presenters who assembled from all around the world to take part in what was to be a rich and dynamic academic forum on cutting-edge issues in biolinguistics and formal cartography using data from a wide range of languages. After a competitive round of abstract reviewing, I was fortunate enough to have my abstract on Chinese Voice alternation (my native language) selected for oral presentation, and my presentation dealt with the use of two famous morphemes in Chinese ba (把) and bei (被) which are widely known to involve object preposing. Since Wang (1959), ba– and bei-constructions have been identified as parallel constructions, since in both constructions the object of the main lexical verb seems to be raised from its base-generated position in the lower VP to a higher position (object i … PRO i), the copy of which can be resumed by a coreferential pronoun:

1) subject BA object i verb (PRO i) (Feng (2002:148))

e.g. 李四 把 壞蛋        殺-了         (他)

        Lisi ba huaidan    sha-le        ta

        Lisi BA scoundrel kill-PERF him

        ‘Lisi killed the scoundrel.’ (Huang, Li, Li (2009:153))

2) object i BEI subject verb (PRO i) (Feng (2002:148))

e.g. 張三         被   李四  打-了       (他)

       Zhangsan bei  Lisi  da-le        ta

       Zhangsan BEI Lisi  hit-PERF him

       ‘Zhangsan was hit by Lisi.’ (Huang, Li, Li (2009:112))

Despite the voluminous work that has been done on Chinese ba and bei-constructions (see Li (2006) and Li (1993) respectively), mainstream movement analyses (Tsao (1987), Feng (1995), Huang (1999)) do not adequately account for their empirical complexities, and my new proposal is that ba and bei are light verb projections denoting Voice (Active and Passive respectively), and the fact that these are merged higher than an optional unaccusative marker gei (給) denoting affectedness (3a-b) (Tang (2001), Cao (2012)) suggests that the preposed object may in fact be merged in an A-position, namely the specifier of gei (Kuo (2010)). In light of the fact that bei can be merged higher than ba which is in turn higher than gei (3c), the cartographic arrangement indicates three distinct A-heads above Asp(ect) to which the lexical verb moves (BEI (Passive) – BA (Active) – GEI (Affect)):

3a) 一-把      火    就      把  阿房-宮           給    廢-了

       yi-ba     huo jiu     ba afang-gong    gei  fei-le

       one-CL fire  then BA afang-palace GEI ruin-PERF

      ‘One torchwas enough to ruin A-fang Palace.’ (Chappell and Shi 2016:471))

3b) 杯子  被    他  給   打-破-了

       beizi bei  ta  gei  da-po-le

       cup   BEI he GEI hit-break-PERF

       ‘The cup got broken by him.’ (adapted from Tang (2001:259))

3c) 他  被    朋友         把  一-個      太太    給  騙-走-了

       ta  bei  pengyou ba yi-ge      taitai  gei  pian-zou-le

       he BEI friend      BA one-CL wife   GEI cheat-go-PERF

       ‘He was cheated of a wife by his friend.’ (Chen (2003:1173))

Due to the tightness of time as there were so many presentations that each presentation was only allocated twenty minutes including Q&A, only one question was allowed for my presentation, and it was made by Professor Marcel den Dikken who asked whether it was possible to use ba and bei with set idioms, and if so, whether this would suggest that the object in the idiom could be raised via movement rather than be generated as new arguments by bei/ba/gei, which might pose as a counter-example to my analysis. This reminded me of Li’s (2006) analysis where she does explicitly use phrasal idioms in Mandarin Chinese (e.g. 佔便宜 ‘to take advantage of’, 開刀 ‘to have an operation’, 幽默 ‘to be humorous’, 小便 ‘to have a pee’) to support her movement analysis as all such idioms are permissible in ba– and, by extension, bei-constructions, though she also recognises that there are constraints on ba-constructions as the raised object must have a certain thematic relationship with the lexical verb which is implicit in gei-insertion, namely affectedness, and this also applies to set idioms (他把便宜(給)佔去了 ‘he took advantage of it’, 他把刀(給)開完了 ‘he finished the operation’, 別把默(給)幽壞了 ‘don’t humour badly’, 你趕快把便(給)小了吧 ‘hurry up peeing’). I pursued this discussion with Professor den Dikken afterwards and discussed some of the technical details with him and Professor Ian Roberts whose first book I cited, and these discussions clarified certain technical details in my analysis. As the invited speakers were invited to the dinner banquet, non-invited presenters such as myself returned to our accommodation, and since most of us stayed at the same hotel in the vicinity of BLCU, I was able to say goodbye to most participants and all speakers upon their sober return from the banquet. I held further discussions with Dr. Joseph Perry and Professor Roberts about the nature of IWSC-3 and how impressed we were by this year’s edition, which is a tribute to the local organisers and all the participants, and as I made my way to the airport, I left our capital feeling not only a sense of mission accomplished but also a job well done. 

I would hence like to place special thanks to members of the Philological Society, especially Professor Klaus Fischer and Professor Peter Austin, for accepting my application to the Martin Burr Fund and to the patrons of the Martin Burr Bequest for their generous sponsorship of my participation in such a prestigious international conference at which I was able to share my research with so many distinguished members of our field. I am now in the process of writing this up for the forthcoming publication of the conference proceedings in which I shall express all my ideas with more clarity and purpose.


Cao, D-G. (2012): ‘ “被” 的雙重語法地位和被字句的生成’. Dangdai Yuyanxue 13(1):73-81. 

Chappell, H. and Shi, D-X. (2016): ‘Major Non-Canonical Clause Types: ba, bei and ditransitives’, in Shi, D-X. and Huang, C-H. (eds), A Reference Grammar of Chinese, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 451-483. 

Chen, P. (2003): ‘Indefinite determiner introducing definite referent: a special use of yi “one” + classifier in Chinese’. Lingua 113(12):1169-1184. 

Feng, S-L. (1995): ‘管約理論與漢語的被動句 (GB theory and passive sentences in Chinese)’. Zhongguo Yuyanxue Luncong 1:1-28. 

Feng, S-L. (2002): ‘韻律結構與把字句的來源 (Prosodic structure and the origin of ba construction)’. In Triskova, H. (ed), Tone, stress and rhythm in spoken Chinese (Journal of Chinese Linguistic Monographs 17), Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, pp. 119-168.

Huang, C-T. (1999): ‘Chinese Passives in Comparative Perspective’. Tsinghua Journal of Chinese Studies 29(4):423-509. 

Huang, C-T., Li, A., Li, Y-F. (2009): The Syntax of Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Kuo, P-J. (2010): ‘Transitivity and the BA construction’. Taiwan Journal of Linguistics 8(1):95-128. 

Li, A. (2006): ‘Chinese Ba’, in Everaert, M. and van Riemsdijk, H. (eds), Blackwell Companion to Syntax: Volume I, pp. 374-468. 

Li, S. (1993): 現代漢語被字句研究 (Xiandai Hanyu Beiziju yanjiu). Beijing: Beijing University Press. 

Tang, S-W. (2001): ‘A complementation approach to Chinese passives and its consequences’. Linguistics 39(2):257-295. 

Tsao, F-F. (1987): ‘A Topic-Comment Approach to the Ba Construction’. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 15:1-54. 

Wang, H. (1959): 把字句和被字句 (Baziju he Beiziju). Shanghai: Shanghai Education Publications.  

PhilSoc Master’s Bursary Report

written by Greta Galeotti (Harvard University)

I was about twelve when I first came in contact with the study of an ancient language, through a Latin workshop offered at my middle school. In hindsight, this encounter proved to be fatal: I went on to join a high school with a curriculum focused on the Greek and Latin languages and literature (as it is not uncommon in Italy) and, to the surprise of exactly nobody among my friends and family, I went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Classics. However, another two encounters during the early stages of my Bachelor’s have shaped the direction of my later academic studies in a more specific direction: in the first semester of the first year, with General Linguistics, and at the beginning of the second year, with Greek Dialectology. Within the first two classes I had decided that that was what I wanted to pursue further.

The discovery of the study of language per se and its evolution felt like the most natural evolution of my interest on textual analysis, and the study of ancient dialects particularly resonates with me given the complex dialectal mosaic of my home country. Completely fascinated with the idea of language reconstruction from an Indo-European perspective, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to puruse these interests in a program that would allow me to study both general and historical linguistics, and maintain a focus on Greek: the Master of Philosophy in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford. The contribution of the PhilSoc Master’s Bursary to this end has been decisive and something I am most grateful for.

It has allowed me to complete a program where I was able to explore numerous interests and build a background in both general and Indo-European linguistics. Within the program, I have focused on Greek as my major, and gained not only a comparative linguistic perspective but also a new languages by choosing Sanskrit as my minor. I was able to take advantage of the University’s many other opportunities and so to enrich my curriculum and not neglect languages slight more commonly spoken, such as Modern Greek. I refocused on my passion, Greek dialects, during my
final Master thesis, through a study on their disappearance and the emergence of the Ancient Greek koine in Delphi, analysing a corpus of about four hundreds decrees and relating the use of dialect and koine to their formulaic nature.

I am lucky to have been offered the opportunity to continue on this path of research by by being offered a place in the PhD program in Classics at Harvard University, which I have been part of since September 2019. The Classics department maintains tight ties with the Linguistics Department on the floor above, and felt like the perfect opportunity to bring together my interests in Classics and the study of literature with those in linguistics, allowing me to maintain the various interests developed in Oxford, such as Sanskrit, with my main focus on Greek dialects. The background I have built in my MPhil I feel has been instrumental in bringing me to my current place, and I remain extremely grateful to the PhilSoc for having enabled me to pursue my passion through the Master’s Bursary scheme.

Anna Morpurgo Davies Bursary Report

written by Roxanne Taylor (University of Manchester)

I was generously funded by the Anna Morpurgo Davies bursary through PhilSoc, financial support which was of great help in the completion of my MPhil General Linguistics and Comparative Philology. Having graduated with my BA from Oriel College, Oxford, in 2017, I took up a place at Wolfson College, Oxford in the same year to commence post-graduate study.

As part of the masters programme, I undertook training in various aspects of general linguistic theory, including syntax, phonology, phonetics and morphology.  I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to study aspects of modern linguistics like phonetic transcription which are otherwise alien to those who study ancient languages. I chose to continue my study of Ancient Greek, as well as studying the history and structure of Old English. The combination of Old English and Ancient Greek is certainly unusual, and has raised eyebrows! I encountered Old English through my undergraduate study of Medieval literature, and I was grateful to be able to explore the language from a different perspective, guided by the expert staff based at Oxford. Weekly tutorials during my masters encompassed a wide range of topics, from Greek accentuation, and aspect, to Siever’s Law,  and the metrical phonology of Old English poetry.

Part of what attracted me to the Oxford MPhil was the requirement for a 25,000 word thesis. My thesis was supervised by Professor Philomen Probert, and addressed the “semantics and syntax of non-finite expressions of purpose in the Greek of Herodotos’ Histories”. The thesis explored the use of participial phrases and prepositional phrases as means of encoding a relation of purpose. The different strategies for encoding purpose relations were found to be semantically differentiated: for example, the future participle was found to be used in contexts in which the destination of some motion and the purpose intended are closely associated.

My thesis also had a syntactic dimension, using the framework of Lexical Functional Grammar. The category of participial phrases was considered, alongside the mechanics by which future participles show case and gender features.  Future participles expressing a purpose are analysed as VPs, with their own subjects (Haug, 2017). The analysis of adverbal Greek participles offered in the thesis is similar to that of Lowe (2015) for the same construction in Sanskrit. I presented aspects of my thesis research at the PhilSoc’s own “Early Career Forum” in March 2019, and also at the University of Göttingen at Christmas.

In September 2019 I embarked on an AHRC-funded PhD in Linguistics at the University of Manchester. My doctoral research focuses on the Old English noun phrase, examining argument realisation and argument structure. The research uses quantitative and qualitative methodology, and the theoretical analysis is couched within LFG, which I first encountered at Oxford. I hope to continue in academia once my PhD is completed. Some of my ideas for post-doctoral study include the left periphery of the Ancient Greek noun phrase, applying the precepts of construction grammar to poetic formulae, and charting the expansion of the “of”-genitive in the long twelfth century and Early Middle English in terms of the specific relations which the “of”-genitive can be used to express.


Haug, Dag T.T. (2017). ‘Backward Control in Ancient Greek and Latin Participial Adjuncts’. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 35(1):99-159.

Lowe, John (2015), Participles in Rigvedic Sanskrit: The Syntax and Semantics of Adjectival Verb Forms, Volume 17 in the series Oxford Studies in Diachronic and Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

From language enthusiast to UCLA linguistics PhD student

by Tom Trigg (University of California)

When I applied for my undergraduate studies, I was sure that linguistics would take secondary place to French, having originally applied for a joint honours French & Linguistics degree. However, two months before I enrolled at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), I made the somewhat crazy decision to switch to a single honours BA in Linguistics, which turned out to be the best decision. I ended up falling in love with the subject and deciding to continue my studies through to postgraduate level. My time during my undergraduate studies solidified a profound interest in the underlying facets of language structure, and culminated in an undergraduate thesis investigating case variation in Finnish. During my second year, I was determined that pursuing further education in linguistics was absolutely what I wanted to do, so I decided to apply to QMUL once again for an MA in linguistics.

It goes without saying that my MA would have been financially impossible without the PhilSoc’s Master’s Bursary. It ensured I could dedicate all my time to my MA. Graduating in December 2019, I was able to explore many more aspects of linguistics during my postgraduate studies. This included a joint project investigating the nature of so-called pluralia tantum (nouns which only have a singular form: “trousers”, “groceries” etc.). Our work, which is still ongoing, was presented at the Linguistics and English Language Postgraduate Conference (LELPGC) at the University of Edinburgh, and at the general meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB) at QMUL. I was also able to participate in the London Semantics Day (LSD) at QMUL, presenting some preliminary work which made up part of my MA thesis. My thesis was ultimately focused on investigating the nature of Finnish reflexives. I investigated and analysed Finnish anaphors (words like “himself”) and logophors (pronouns which may only refer back to an attitude holder/speaker). Given the breadth of this topic, it is an area which I very much hope to return to. Throughout my MA studies, I realised that taking part in serious research was what I wanted to do with my career. I likewise found a passion for research which relies on cross-linguistic comparison and elicitation with native speakers.

Knowing that my research interests lie firmly within the realm of formal linguistics, particularly syntax and semantics, and their interface, I applied to a number of doctoral programs in both the US and UK. I was lucky to be offered a place on the linguistics graduate program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which I started in September 2019. I’ve since had the opportunity to undertake a number of other projects, including: (i) investigating Finnish wh-movement (which forms wh-questions like “who did you see?”); and (ii) probing the syntax/semantics of British English so-called fuck-inversion (constructions like “Is John a nice guy?” “Is he fuck!”. Sailor, Craig. 2017. ‘Negative inversion without negation: On fuck-inversion in British English.’ In Cambridge Occasional Papers in Linguistics (COPiL) 10: 88-110.). Needless to say, my ability to pursue my education at Master’s level was aided, in no small part, by the Master’s Bursary. Without this, it would be unlikely that I would have been able to continue my studies in a doctoral program. So for that, I am incredibly grateful to PhilSoc for allowing me to pursue my passion.

Russian in Plain English: amazing things start with a timid first step

by Natalia V. Parker (University of Leeds)

Having taught Russian to adults in the UK for over 20 years, I most definitely did not plan a postgraduate researcher career. Living in rural Somerset, I was enjoying helping my learners discover my mother tongue and looking for ways of making it easier for them to understand how Russian works. Over the years, this search grew into my own independent research into specifics of the acquisition of Russian by English speaking beginners, which resulted in a new approach to teaching Russian. My students encouraged me to see whether I could make this methodology work for other learners of Russian and I decided to try testing it within some kind of research project.

The difficulty was that language teaching methodologies for Russian is an extremely under-researched topic in the UK. The Russianists I approached were mainly interested in Russian literature, history, politics, music, rather than language teaching methodologies, and language teaching methodologists were not Russianists: it took me over a year to find an academic who was interested in what I was doing. The other difficulty was that, having a teenage daughter and no full time employment, I was not able to fund my project in any shape or form. Nearly a hundred emails, letters and applications later, I suddenly received an email from the British Philological Society, suggesting that I could possibly apply for your Masters bursary. Receiving that bursary was so much more than financial support – it made me realize that somebody believed in the potential of my project and gave me hope that I am not on my own in striving to promote the learning of Russian.

The bursary enabled me to run my first experiment on phonological acquisition, teaching Russian pronunciation (including notorious Russian stress) to complete beginners. Its results have not only confirmed the effectiveness of my teaching approach but have led to identifying the differences in stress making by Russian and English speakers, crucial for stress acquisition, which have not been covered in the research literature to date. These findings have been presented at the BASEES (British Association for Slavonic and East European Languages), AATSEEL (American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages) conferences and SLS (Slavic Linguistic Society) meeting in Potsdam, among others. My article, based on this investigation, is under review in SEEJ (Slavic and East European Journal, published in US).

Furthermore, after two years of numerous reviews and active correspondence, Routledge accepted my publishing proposal for a beginners’ textbook, Russian in Plain English, which is due to come out in May. The book employs recent findings in language pedagogy, Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics, language processing in particular, and is anything but traditional. It is not a course book, but rather a learner-friendly starter, that helps learners understand the logic behind Russian phonological and grammar systems, as well as acquire solid reading and speaking skills. More information about the book can be found here.

The book is really why I started all this, though my research now has gone further. I was asked to develop my methodology further through a PhD. I am now in the second year of my PhD at Leeds, fully funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (through White Rose College of Arts and Humanities). My current study is investigating the acquisition of the Russian inflection system by English speakers, and how to make language instruction more processable for learners.

This might not have happened if my first timid step was not supported by your MA bursary four years ago. Thank you for helping me take it.

In memoriam Sir John Lyons

by Peter K. Austin (SOAS)

The Philological Society regrets to advise members that Vice-President Sir John Lyons passed away on 12 March 2020 at the age of 87 after a long period of ill health. Lyons grew up in Stretford, Lancashire, and won a scholarship to Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1950 where he read Classics. After national service he returned to Cambridge in 1956 to begin his PhD in Linguistics under W. Sidney Allen, moving to a lectureship at SOAS in 1957 (the same year he joined PhilSoc) and completing his PhD under R. H. Robins on ‘Some lexical sub-systems in the language of Plato’. In 1960 he went to Indiana University to work on machine translation and gave his first courses on general linguistics. From 1961 to 1964 he taught at Christ’s College and from 1964 to 1984 he was Professor of Linguistics at the Universities of Edinburgh and Sussex. Between 1965 and 1969 he was the founding editor of the Journal of Linguistics. His 1999 paper, published in our Transactions Vol 97 (‘Diachrony and synchrony in twentieth-century linguistic semantics: old wine in new bottles?’), reflects on aspects of his intellectual history, noting “both the Philological Society and the London School played a crucial role in my intellectual development … in what, as far as linguistics is concerned, were my formative years”.

John Lyons was a leading scholar in the field of semantics and pragmatics, and his textbooks Introduction to Theoretical LinguisticsSemantics (2 volumes), and Language, Meaning and Context are models of care, clarity and precision. He was a Fellow of the British Academy, the recipient of honorary degrees from UK and international universities, and in 1987 was knighted ‘for services to the study of linguistics’. In 2016, he was awarded the Neil and Saras Smith Medal for Linguistics by the British Academy ‘for his outstanding lifetime contribution to the field of linguistics’. After serving as Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, from 1985 he retired to France in 2000.

For those interested in an autobiographical account of Sir John Lyons, see Linguistics in Britain: Personal Histories by Keith Brown & Vivien Law, 2002.  Publications of the Philological Society 36. pp 170-199.