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.

Why language learning opens the mind: old prejudices, trendy myths, and new research

by Antonella Sorace (University of Edinburgh)

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.

The annual Anna Morpurgo Davies Lecture, organised in co-operation with the British Academy, will take place on Friday, 10 May, 4.15pm, at the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG. Tickets are available from the British Academy website. A video recording will be made available in due course.

Members’ access to Publications of the Philological Society

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.

The first two titles to be published under the new arrangement were first made available electronically in 2016. They are The Syntax and Semantics of the Perfect Active in Literary and Koine Greek by Robert Crellin and Revitalising Languages in Provence: A Critical Approach by James Costa. Both Robert Crellin and James Costa have written about their individual books for this blog; you can find the entries here and here. Electronic access to these titles is available for all members of the Society. The Society regrets the time taken to establish the process for requesting printed copies of these titles. It will therefore accept requests for printed copies of these two titles from full members whose membership was current in either 2016 or 2017; such requests should be made before the end of 2019.

The publication for 2018 was Building Meaning in Context: A Dynamic Approach to Bantu Clause Structure by Hannah Gibson. Although not yet separately listed under monographs on the publisher’s website, this title is already available electronically to all members of the Society via this link. Full members whose membership was current in 2018 may request a printed copy using this online form; requests should be made before the end of 2019.

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.

Early Career Researcher Forum

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.


The ECR Forum will take place at Wolfson College, Oxford.  Next to paper and poster sessions, there will be two workshops on journal and monograph publishing (led by Prof. James Clackson, Cambridge, and Prof. Susan Fitzmaurice, Sheffield) and on grant applications (led by Prof. Aditi Lahiri, Oxford). After the conclusion of the Research Forum, Prof. Rudolf Wachter (Basel) will give a paper at an ordinary meeting of the Society.

The programme of the Forum is available here as pdf. Abstracts of all talks, brief academic biographies of the presenters, and a registration form can be found here.

Functions of Vowel Length in Language: Phonological, Grammatical, & Pragmatic Consequences

by Larry Hyman (University of California, Berkeley)

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:

  1. Those which maintain the free occurrence of the vowel length contrast inherited from the proto language;
  2. 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;
  3. 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);
  4. 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.

Continue reading “Functions of Vowel Length in Language: Phonological, Grammatical, & Pragmatic Consequences”

A spoken corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English: Compilation, applications and next steps

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.

Green, Melanie, Miriam Ayafor and Gabriel Ozón. 2016. A spoken corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English: pilot study. British Academy/Leverhulme funded digital database (ref. SG140663).

Nelson, Gerald. 1996. The design of the corpus. In Sidney Greenbaum (ed.). Comparing English worldwide. The International Corpus of English. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 27–35.

Ozón, Gabriel, Miriam Ayafor, Melanie Green and Sarah Fitzgerald. 2017. A spoken corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English. World Englishes 36: 427–447.

Simons, Gary F. and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2018. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twenty-first edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.