The Philological Society is the oldest learned society in Great Britain devoted to the scholarly study of language and languages. It is also a registered charity (no. 1014370). It was established in its present form in 1842, consisting partly of members of a society of the same name established at the University of London in 1830 “to investigate and promote the study and knowledge of the structure, the affinities, and the history of languages”. As well as encouraging all aspects of the study of language, PhilSoc has a particular interest in historical and comparative linguistics, and maintains its traditional interest in the structure, development, and varieties of Modern English.
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 obliquepredicative 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.
The Poor Man of Nippur, the world’s first film in Babylonian, was launched on YouTube by Cambridge Assyriology in November 2018. The Philological Society, through an Outreach grant, was one of the project’s sponsors.
The spark that led to the film was struck in
an Akkadian (i.e. Babylonian) language class, in which one of the students
suggested it would be ‘fun to dramatise’ the story. And, indeed, it’s perfect for dramatisation: multiple
speaking roles, a fairly straightforward plot, no special effects (no gods!), and
manageable length. One of the scenes
which would have been hardest to film, the butchering of the goat, had
helpfully been broken off the tablet.
You have to wonder whether a prescient scribe two thousand years ago
decided to help us …
More seriously, I think we were all also aware that in the years 2017–2018 there was a special resonance for a film about a ‘poor man’ to be made by a team at a UK University. With the United Nations calling the UK Government’s approach to poverty “punitive, mean-spirited and callous”, any highlighting of the issue, even in a medium as unusual as ours, feels like it has a streak of Resistance.
And that fact that the story is (as most
people think, but some dispute) comical gave it a light-heartedness that helped
compensate for our lack of experience.
is the motivation behind the production?
There were lots of motivations that came
together. Here are some of them:
we all wanted to have some fun!
we were curious to see how the
final product would look
it was a new way to think about
a piece of Babylonian literature
it was an opportunity to
present Ancient Mesopotamia in a new way: in museums it always comes across as
terribly static, and one can forget that it was full of real people who went
about real lives (both boring and colourful, just like us today)
more specifically: very few
people realise that Babylonian is a language we understand quite well; a film
is a great way to spread this message
it gave students a new way to
experience and think about a story they had studied on paper
the film constitutes a lasting resource
that can be used in Babylonian courses worldwide (there are, especially in
Germany, more of them than you might think!)
And of course our biggest hope of all was
that we might tempt some intellectually curious young people, with an interest
in languages and the ancient world, to think seriously about studying
Assyriology at University.
material did you use as a guideline?
The film basically follows the wording on the manuscript from the site of Sultantepe (ancient Huzirina). You can read an edition of it here.
We changed a few small things, e.g. when three characters repeat the word ‘goat’, that the Guard has just said: the repetitions aren’t in the story. And when the fake Doctor is tying the Mayor up, we smuggled in some lines from the incantation series Maqlû; that’s why they’re not subtitled – they’re not part of the story’s original wording.
A breakthrough idea came from Zach Long who suggested that we could reassign lines from the narrator to narrators-within-the story. This made it much more interesting for the viewer, and also closer to the experience of listening to a storyteller, which is probably how the story often circulated in antiquity.
We were essentially applying what you might
call the ‘modern Assyriological conventional pronunciation of Babylonian’. This has been put together by many scholars,
over a long period of time, and is still undergoing refinement. The main sources of information are:
Comparison with other Semitic languages Sometimes, Babylonian (and Assyrian) words are virtually identical to those in Arabic or Hebrew, e.g. Bab./Assyr. kalbum and Arab. kalbun, both meaning ‘dog’. Regular patterns of sound correspondence have also been found, so that e.g. the letter ayin (‘) disappears, turning neighbouring a into e. Thus Bab./Assyr. emēdu ‘to stand’ is cognate with Hebrew ‘āmad ‘he stood’.
A bit of linguistic common sense Thus it is not hard to see how imtahhar ‘he received each one’ might morph into indahhar.
Spelling patterns on Babylonian documents For instance, questions often contain a word written with an extra vowel (e.g. a-na-ku-ú for usual a-na-ku, representing anāku ‘I’). This is suspected to reflect interrogative intonation.
Rare but very helpful cases in which Babylonian words are written in the Aramaic or Greek script Examples of the latter, so-called ‘Graeco-Babyloniaca’, can be seen here.
you see a pedagogical value for UG / PG students in this production?
You can see the students talking about their experience in the video below.
For my part, something I put a lot of
emphasis on as a teacher of Babylonian and other Mesopotamian languages is that
they are not just tables of verbs and lists of vocabulary, but actual languages: they lend themselves to
different intonations depending on context and mood, they were probably
accompanied by lots of gestures, and, above all, while learning they need to be
spoken aloud. The film was a great way
for us all to experiment with this way of thinking about things.
The film was also a great way for the
Mesopotamian community at my University to come together and collaborate on
something, which is an excellent motivator.
do you hope your viewers will take away from watching the video?
Thanks to an army of incredibly generous
volunteers, the film can be viewed with subtitles in 19 languages. Such a powerful reach can potentially take
Mesopotamian culture to people who weren’t even aware it existed, and maybe
encourage them to look into it further.
That would be hugely gratifying.
But, even for people who are already aware of Mesopotamia, we hope the film will give them a new perspective about it. And that it will generally excite and nurture people’s curiosity about the ancient world and ancient languages.
The Philological Society has a fund to support Community and Public Engagement projects such as the above. For more information and an application form, please visit the PhilSoc website.
These are interesting times for both the scientific and the public understanding of multilingualism. Old prejudices about learning more than one language in childhood are still widespread, yet new misconceptions about the ‘bilingual advantage’ treat language learning as a panacea. We need two types of ‘bridges’ to debunk old and new myths: bridges that connect different research fields to help understand the interacting factors affecting multilingualism, and bridges to bring a balanced picture of multilingualism research to people from all sectors of society who need to make informed decisions. In this lecture, I will describe how the research and public engagement centre Bilingualism Matters is successfully building both types of bridges worldwide.
by Richard Ashdowne (University of Oxford; Hon. Secretary for Membership)
In pursuit of its charitable goals, and as funds permit, the Philological Society supports the work of researchers in linguistics and philology by financing the publication of a series of original research monographs, including those whose specialised topic may fall outside the remit of commercial publishers. The series is called Publications of the Philological Society and it is currently edited by Susan Fitzmaurice.
All current members of the Society are entitled to electronic access to all the publications in this series since 2016. A list of recent publications can be found on the Society’s publisher’s website under ‘Monograph Series’.
In addition to electronic access, full members of the Society (but not student associate members) are eligible to request one printed copy of any publications in this series published during the current or previous calendar year without charge, provided that any membership subscription due for the relevant year has been paid. Requests should be made using this online form.
Long-standing members of the Society will be aware that this represents a change from the previous blanket distribution of hard copies of these publications, but the Society remains committed to ensuring that entitled members who wish to receive printed copies can easily do so.
There are several further publications forthcoming in this series and details of these will be circulated to members by e-mail as they are released.
The Philological Society encourages all researchers, whether or not they are members, to submit proposals for research monographs for inclusion in the series. All proposals are subject to a rigorous reviewing process. Our standards are extremely high and only proposals with a very positive recommendation from the reviewers are considered for publication. Prior to submitting a proposal, potential authors should discuss their proposal with the series editor.
by Robin Meyer (University of Oxford; Hon. Secretary for Student Associate Members)
PhilSoc is pleased to announce the programme for this year’s Early Career Researcher Forum, to be held on 8–9 March 2019. Twenty Early Career Researchers (late-stage doctoral students and post-docs) will present their research in 20-minute talks or posters.
In this talk my starting point is to frame the different functions of vowel length (lexical, morphological, syntactic, pragmatic) in terms of how they compare with other phonological properties, in particular tone, which has been claimed to be able to do things that “nobody” else can do (Hyman 2011). Rather than providing a cross-linguistic typology, I focus on the different functions of vowel length in Bantu—as well as how these functions have changed. Although Proto-Bantu had a vowel length contrast on roots which survives in many daughter languages today, many other Bantu languages have modified the inherited system. In this talk I distinguish between four types of Bantu languages:
Those which maintain the free occurrence of the vowel length contrast inherited from the proto language;
Those which maintain the contrast, but have added restrictions which shorten long vowels in pre-(ante-)penultimate word position and/or on head nouns and verbs that are not final in their XP;
Those which have lost the contrast with or without creating new long vowels (e.g. from the loss of an intervocalic consonant flanked by identical vowels);
Those which have lost the contrast but have added phrase-level penultimate lengthening.
I will propose that the positional restrictions fed into the ultimate loss of the contrast in types (3) and (4), with a concomitant shift from root prominence (at the word level) to penultimate prominence (at the intonational and phrase level). In the course of covering the above typology and historical developments in Bantu, I will show that there are some rather interesting Bantu vowel length systems that may or may not be duplicated elsewhere in the world and that vowel length is probably second only
to tone in what it can do.
This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting at SOAS, University of London, Djam Lecture Theatre (DLT, Main SOAS Building), on Friday, 15 February, 4.15pm.
by Melanie Green (Sussex) & Gabriel Ozón (Sheffield)
Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE) is an expanded pidgin/creole spoken in some form by an estimated 50% of Cameroon’s 22,000,000 population (Simons & Fennig 2017). CPE is spoken primarily in the Anglophone west regions, but also in urban centres throughout Cameroon. As a predominantly spoken language, CPE has no standardised orthography, but enjoys a vigorous oral tradition, not least through its presence in the broadcast media. The language has stigmatised status in the face of French and English, prestige languages of Cameroon, where it also co-exists with an estimated 280 indigenous languages (Simons & Fennig 2017).
We describe the spoken corpus of CPE, a British Academy/Leverhulme-funded pilot study (Green et al. 2016, Ozón et al. 2017). The corpus consists of 30 hours of recordings made in five locations, resulting in a total of 240,000 words (80 texts of 15 minutes/3,000 words). Proportions of text types are guided by the International Corpus of English project (Nelson 1996), and the texts contain mark-up and part-of-speech-tagging. The corpus files, which are freely available from the Oxford Text Archive, include sound files (*.mp3 and *.wav), raw and annotated text files, participant metadata, a field manual, a tagging manual and a spelling list.
We then briefly describe some case studies of linguistic phenomena that the pilot corpus allows us to investigate, focusing on grammatical and lexical phenomena, as well as codeswitching, demonstrating that while a small corpus provides a robust test-bed for the investigation of grammatical phenomena, a larger dataset is required for the full investigation of lexical and sociolinguistic phenomena. Finally, we outline our plans for a 1-million-word corpus, a project for which a funding application is in preparation.
This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting at SOAS, University of London, on Friday, 18 January 2019, 4.15pm. A video recording of the presentation can be found below; the slides are available here.