Master’s Bursary from the Martin Burr Fund

written by Chris Watson (University of Oxford)

Originally a modern languages student, I was drawn into historical linguistics after stumbling across an article on the comparative method. This sparked off an interest in language change which quickly developed into a fascination, and so I chose to study Ancient Languages for my BA with a focus on Indo-European languages. This course gave me the opportunity to study Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit (as well as a brief course in Hittite and a year of Ugaritic), but after graduating I was keen to take my study further and move into linguistics.

I was drawn to the MPhil in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology at Oxford as it would allow me to gain a grounding in theoretical linguistics while also giving me the chance to focus on historical linguistics and look specifically at the history of Latin. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study, amongst other things, phonology, phonetics, syntax and linguistic typology, alongside the chance to take a range of classes and seminars on Latin and philology. For my final exams, I took papers in the development of the Latin language as well as a more general course in historical linguistics. To be able to learn about these topics through tutorials taught by leading academics in the field was invaluable, and has considerably broadened my knowledge.

Having been interested in early Latin for some time, I chose to look at the poet Ennius for my thesis. The thesis, supervised by Professor Wolfgang de Melo, examined whether the Latin of Ennius’ Annals is an accurate reflection of the language of the time. Though the language of the Annals has been much discussed, particularly since the publication of Otto Skutsch’s 1985 edition, I took a systematic approach to the text in order to ascertain just how much of the work that remains to us can be considered “early”. The Annals are fragmentary, which poses considerable problems when trying to gauge what the language of the text as a whole looked like; many lines are preserved by grammarians specifically because they contain non-Classical usages. The longer fragments that remain are likely to give a more accurate picture of the language of the Annals overall. In contrast to the linguistic oddities catalogued in the short fragments, the longer pieces of the work show a Latin that is barely distinguishable from Classical Latin, with only a handful of specifically “early” usages.

Without PhilSoc’s generosity, this research would not have been possible, and so I am immensely grateful for the Master’s Bursary, which has given me the opportunity to follow my passion. I am now moving into employment but hope to return to graduate study in the future.

PhilSoc Master’s Bursary Report

written by Hannah Jenkins (University of York)

When I set out to apply for the BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Sheffield, I had only a vague understanding of linguistic study. Like many, I believed it to be solely focused on sociological questions such as accents, dialects and gendered speech. Throughout my degree, however, I uncovered the intricacies of theoretical linguistics, the patterns and parameters that govern languages across the world and the hidden layers of phonetic and sociological complexity of everyday speech. I developed a particular interest in language disorders and the ways in which these can be sparked by damage to specific regions of the brain. It was this passion that led me to apply for the MA in Psycholinguistics at the University of York.

During my master’s degree, I have had the opportunity to apply my abstract, theoretical knowledge into a real-world context. I have explored how syntactic errors in language learners can be prompted by interference from their first language; I have analysed brain scans to uncover neurological patterns in Aphasic speakers; and I have investigated the effects of processing limitations in child language acquisition. This study has culminated in my dissertation project, which explored the impact of working memory abilities on reading strategies in dyslexia. My research questioned whether working memory limitations amongst dyslexic readers would prompt them to adopt alternative strategies when processing English Wh-questions. Using a memory span task and a self-paced reading experiment, I uncovered that dyslexic readers do demonstrate inefficient parsing strategies which are less able to recover from misanalysis, but crucially these difficulties can be disassociated from working memory abilities.

On completing my master’s degree, I quickly began working in the Student Services department at the University of York. This role allows me to draw upon my own experiences to put the needs of the student first. This has been particularly important during the Covid-19 pandemic, in which I have worked in teams to deliver emergency funding to students and to consider special circumstances for research students. I am also now in the early stages of applying for the PhD in Linguistics at the University of York to further pursue my passion for Psycholinguistics.

Without receiving the Philological Society’s Master’s bursary, none of this would have been possible. On a practical note, it enabled me to purchase a laptop through which I used specialist computer software to conduct my experimental paradigm and run complex statistical analysis. More importantly, the bursary allowed me to focus solely on my studies and to make the most of postgraduate life. As one of only two UK students on my course, my MA provided the treasured opportunity to interact with students from all around the world with different backgrounds, insights and interests. Finally, the bursary allowed me to move to York to study; the city that I now call home. The PhilSoc Master’s bursary ultimately opened the door to postgraduate study, which otherwise felt like an unattainable dream. For that, I will be eternally grateful.