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.
The Philological Society is pleased to offer a limited number of annual bursaries for students embarking on a taught postgraduate programme in the areas of linguistics or philology. The intention is that the bursaries will make a contribution to maintaining and furthering the breadth and diversity of language-study in the UK by providing support for outstanding young scholars in the field. As one of the bursaries, the Council of PhilSoc decided in December 2014 to establish the Anna Morpurgo Davies Masters Bursary which would be given normally to someone working on Ancient Languages (including non-Indo-European ones). Each bursary is valued at £5000 p.a., which may be used for either fees or maintenance. A bursary will not be granted to anyone who has full fees and maintenance from any other award but it may be used to supplement another award which covers only fees. The application form for the current competition is available below:
Erich Round (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena; University of Queensland)
The comparative method is one of the greatest methodological achievements in the history of linguistics. And yet, despite its relatively precise formulation, we do not have an automated implementation of it, and consequently we face a very long wait to know more about the inferable history of language families around the globe. One may well ask why. As it happens, in a mathematical PhD thesis from 2010, Alexandre Bouchard-Côté demonstrated why, by showing that even the inference of sound change was computationally infeasible. Bouchard-Côté pointed to two impediments: (1) a factorial explosion in the difficulty of the computational task, and (2) a paucity of evidence when the data consists of a short list of basic vocabulary. However, recent progress in computational statistics provides reason to believe that impediment (1) may be overcome for at least some models of linguistic change. Impediment (2) might be alleviated by allowing the algorithms to look at richer sources of data (as we humans do), such as inflectional paradigms. And so, in this talk I discuss the prospects for trying to automate a core aspect of the comparative method: the inference of sound change and analogy in paradigms, with an emphasis on analogy. I discuss what is already known about analogy; what it might entail to model that knowledge explicitly; the role to be played by mathematical models of language change; and what research questions the exercise might realistically help us to ask.
This talk will take place at 4:15 on Friday 10 January 2020 at SOAS University of London, the Brunei Gallery Building (opposite the Main Building) in Room B103.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
My poster and proceedings paper can be found on my website.
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
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,