25th International Conference on Historical Linguistics (ICHL25), Oxford

written by James Tandy (University of Texas at Austin)

The 25th International Conference on Historical Linguistics (ICHL25) took place at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford from August 1-5, 2022. It was attended by about 400 scholars from around the globe. This was a time of reunion for many, as one of the first major in-person linguistics conferences since the pandemic began. For me as a younger scholar from the U.S., the conference provided an opportunity to meet many historical linguists from outside my home country.

Because I study Mayan languages, which have limited historical attestation, I find it inspiring to see the depth and specificity of research topics that people are exploring in better-documented language families. It also made me aware of some broader principles and ideas that my future research could engage with. Two talks that particularly stood out to me were one by Tine Breban on actuation (explaining why a given change occurred when it did), and one by Matthew Baerman and Mirella Blum on “incongruent analogy” in Dinka (showing a case where analogical levelling was heavily localized, creating a pattern that was irregular with respect to the whole paradigm).

I presented a paper as part of the Tuesday afternoon workshop The Typology of Contact-Induced Changes in Morphosyntax. My talk “Direct affix borrowing: Evidence from two Mayan perfect suffixes” discussed the perfect participle suffixes -ɓil and -maχ, both of which are common in the Mayan language family. I argued that both suffixes spread areally through direct affix borrowing: rather than borrowing the suffix indirectly by way of morphologically complex loanwords, bilingual speakers transferred the suffix directly from the donor to the recipient language. As a result, the borrowed perfect suffix is fully productive even with native roots in the recipient language. Direct affix borrowing is more likely in situations with heavy bilingualism, and where there are strong structural similarities between the languages (Winford 2005, Seifart 2015, Thomason 2015), factors which are enhanced with closely related varieties such as Mayan languages (Law 2013, 2014).

In the presentation, I focused on the spread of -maχ in the Guatemalan highlands, which had some typologically interesting outcomes. I claim that -maχ originated in the Poqom subgroup as a fusion of the older Mayan perfect suffix *-ʔm with a passive suffix *-aχ. Poqom languages retain -m for the perfect in active voice and -maχ in passive voice (Mó Isém 2006). In spreading westward, following a known salt trade route (Hill and Monaghan 1987), -maχ was borrowed into the closely related languages Uspanteko, Sakapultek, and Sipakapense, and slightly more distant Mam and Tektiteko. In Mam, borrowed -maχ augments the inherited participial form -ʔn (from *-ʔm), leading to double-marked forms in -ʔn-maχ (England 1983). This is an example of “reinforcement multiple exponence” in the terms of Harris (2017), notable in that both suffixes are cognate. In Sakapultek and Sipakapense, -maχ is used in both active and passive voice (Du Bois 1981, Barrett 1999), so that the -aχ portion of –maχ has been bleached of the passive meaning it contributed in Poqom.The full slides for my presentation may be found on my website.

I am grateful to the Philological Society for a travel bursary which helped to defray the cost of my international flight and lodgings in Oxford. This opportunity has allowed me to get feedback on my research from a wider audience and to be inspired by the amazing community of historical linguists.


Barrett, Edward Rush, III (Rusty). 1999. A Grammar of Sipakapense Maya. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin.

Can Pixabaj, Telma. 2006. Jkemik yoloj li uspanteko (Gramática uspanteka). Guatemala: Cholsamaj.

DuBois, John. 1981. The Sacapultec Language. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of California, Berkeley.

England, Nora C. 1983. A Grammar of Mam, a Mayan language. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Harris, Alice C. 2017. Multiple exponence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hill, Robert M. II, and John Monaghan. 1987. Continuities in Highland Maya Social Organization: Ethnohistory in Sacapulas, Guatemala. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Law, Danny. 2013. “Inherited similarity and contact-induced change in Mayan Languages.” Journal of Language Contact6(2), 271-299.

Law, Danny. 2014. Language Contact, Inherited Similarity and Social Difference: The story of linguistic interaction in the Maya lowlands. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mó Isém, Romelia. 2006b. Fonología y morfología del poqomchi’ occidental. Licenciate thesis. Guatemala: Universidad Rafael Landívar.

Seifart, Frank. 2015. “Direct and indirect affix borrowing.” Language 91(3), 511–532.

Thomason, Sarah G. 2015. “When is the diffusion of inflectional morphology not dispreferred?” In Gardani, Francesco, Peter Arkadiev, & Nino Amiridze, eds., Borrowed Morphology, 27-46. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Winford, Donald. 2005. “Contact-induced changes: Classification and processes.” Diachronica Vol. 22 No. 2, 373-427.

Attrition and (Pseudo-) Relative Clause Attachment Ambiguities in Italian

written by Alex Cairncross (University of Cambridge)

Successful language comprehension requires hearers/readers to resolve ambiguities which can arise at various levels of representation. For example, in (1) there a syntactic ambiguity as the bracketed relative clause (RC) may modify either the son or the doctor. These two readings are known as the high attachment (HA) and low attachment (LA) readings respectively.

  1. a. Gianni ha visto il figlio1 del medico2 [che correva la maratona].
  1. b. Gianni saw the son1 of the doctor2 [that was running the marathon].

Traditional psycholinguistic models assumed that when presented with this kind of ambiguity, a universal principle of locality (e.g. LATE CLOSURE, Frazier 1978) would guide hearers/readers to prefer LA. Since Cuetos & Mitchell (1988) however, we have known that speakers of different languages exhibit contrasting biases in their interpretation of sentences like those in (1). While speakers of languages like English have been found to exhibit the expected LA preference, speakers of languages like Spanish and Italian have been observed to exhibit an unexpected preference for HA.

Following Grillo (2012) and Grillo and Costa (2014), this crosslinguistic difference in attachment biases is due to a hidden structural difference, namely the existence of pseudorelatives (PRs) in some languages but not others. While identical to true RCs on the surface, PRs exhibit a number of structural and semantic differences. Crucially, if the embedded clause in (1) is parsed as a PR, this forces a HA interpretation. Thus Grillo & Costa (2014) suggest their PR-FIRST HYPOTHESIS. This basically states that when we are presented with strings as in (1) we universally prefer PR readings over RC ones, all other things being equal. In a language like Italian or Spanish this would drive the observed HA bias. In a language like English, which lacks PRs, a LA bias with true RCs is expected.

Independently however, it has been observed that prolonged exposure to a second language (L2) during adulthood may affect parser biases in one’s first language (L1), a phenomenon known as attrition. While native speakers of Spanish have been repeatedly shown to exhibit a HA bias (e.g. Cuetos & Mitchell 1988, Carreiras & Clifton 1993, 1999), after migrating to an English-speaking country, previous studies using both online and offline measures have found that native speakers of Spanish begin to exhibit a LA bias in their L1 (Dussias 2003, 2004, Dussias & Sagarra 2007).

Thus, on the one hand it has been argued that we can derive the differences between languages from a set of universal parser biases once PRs are taken into account. On the other, it has been observed that parser biases may change within an individual speaker in certain multilingual contexts. How to reconcile these two positions is unclear as the multilingual studies predated the PR account and so did not take PRs into account. In response, I am conducting a series of experiments to explore the attrition of parser biases in a new language pair, L1-Italian, L2-English. In the stimuli for these experiments, PR availability is always directly manipulated so that we can try and disentangle which parser biases (i.e. locality or PR-firstness) are affected by attrition.

Thanks to the fieldwork funding provided by the Philological Society, I was able to travel to the Italy to conduct an eye-tracking-while-reading experiment with native speakers still living in their L1 community. That experiment serves two purposes. First, it will allow us to test some predictions made by the PR account regarding online language processing. Second, these participants will serve as a control group against which to test L1 Italian speakers living in the UK. Although recruitment of the UK based group is still ongoing, results from the group in Italy do provide partial support for the PR account. In items in which PRs were blocked in Italian, participants exhibited a clear and early online LA bias with true RCs. When PRs were available however, the expected HA bias was not observed in online measures but did surface in the accuracy to comprehension questions for the same items.


Carreiras, M., & Clifton, C. (1993). Relative clause interpretation preferences in Spanish and English. Language and Speech, 36, 353–372.

Carreiras, M., & Clifton, C. (1999). Another word on parsing relative clauses: Eyetracking evidence from Spanish and English. Memory & Cognition, 27(5), 826–833. doi: 10.3758/bf03198535

Cuetos, F., & Mitchell, D. C. (1988). Cross-Linguistic Differences in Parsing: Restrictions on the use of the Late Closure strategy in Spanish. Cognition, 30(1), 73–105. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(88)90004-2

Dussias, P. E. (2003). Syntactic Ambiguity Resolution in L2 Learners: Some effects of bilinguality on L1 and L2 processing strategies. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 25(4), 529–557. doi: 10.1017/s0272263103000238

Dussias, P. E. (2004). Parsing a first language like a second: The erosion of L1 parsing strategies in Spanish-English bilinguals. International Journal of Bilingualism, 8(3), 355–371. doi: 10.1177/13670069040080031001

Dussias, P. E., & Sagarra, N. (2007). The effect of exposure on syntactic parsing in Spanish–English bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10(1), 101–116. doi: 10.1017/s1366728906002847

Frazier, L. (1978). On Comprehending Sentences: Syntactic parsing strategies (Doctoral dissertation). University of Connecticut.

Grillo, N. (2012). Local and Universal. In V. Bianchi & C. Chesi (Eds.), Enjoy linguistics! papers offered to Luigi Rizzi on the occasion of his 60th birthday (pp. 234–245). Siena, Italy: CISCL Press. Retrieved from https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/110188/

Grillo, N., & Costa, J. (2014). A Novel Argument for the Universality of Parsing Principles. Cognition, 133(1), 156–187. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.05.019

The International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE) Postgraduate and Early Career Summer School 2022

written by Prof. Karen Corrigan (Newcastle University)

The International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE) has held Postgraduate and Early Career Schools since 2013 in various locations across Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. The themes have varied depending on the expertise of the host institution and have included ‘Englishes in a Multilingual World’, ‘Methods in English Linguistics’, ‘Variation in World Englishes’ and ‘Using the Past to Explain the Present’. The next School will take place between 4th and 8th July 2022. It will be hosted by Prof. Karen Corrigan (current ISLE President and member of Phil.Soc. Council from 2016-2020). The venue will be Newcastle University, UK where Dr Martin Luther King received an Honorary Degree in 1967 and where Barbara Strang became the University’s first female professor in 1964. The Newcastle Summer School will address the theme: ‘The Empire Speaks Back in a Postcolonial Dialect: Decolonising English Linguistics for the 21st Century’. The teaching is designed to encourage participants to rethink global Englishes from decolonising and raciolinguistic perspectives. It offers presentations, workshops and social activities that seriously engage with the colonial and settlement histories of diverse World Englishes with a view to questioning and reshaping how they can best be modelled by the next generation of researchers. 

Martin Luther King

The ‘Empire Speaks Back’ is envisaged as a hybrid meeting (i.e. partially online and partially in person). This will allow speakers and participants to choose their mode of delivery or registration according to their own circumstances. It also permits the Summer School to pivot wholly online should public health guidance necessitate doing so. 

Participants will be actively involved in three kinds of learning opportunity – Presentations, Workshops and Pop-Up Mentoring slots. Presentations will be delivered by leading scholars in postcolonial Englishes around the world. They also have expertise in novel approaches to our understanding of these varieties as products of colonialism, empire and racism. Workshops will provide opportunities to acquire practical skills and expertise for coding, transcribing, visualizing and statistically analysing linguistic data. There will also be hands-on sessions exploring manuscript materials relevant to the history of English and postcolonialism. The importance of acquiring expertise in how to exploit your research to benefit wider publics will be demonstrated in our on-site Digital Kitchen which has been used to teach languages using motion sensor technology. Every early career researcher needs to understand how to navigate the job market. As such, one of the workshops will be devoted to preparing for the next steps in your career. Pop-Up Mentoring slots will be offered as one-time, no strings attached, mentoring sessions that give you the chance to have an informal chat with a mentor about your career, impact or research plans outside of your official support system.

Digital Kitchen

Public health guidance permitting, excursions and social activities will be built into the programme. They include visits to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and a place name tour of Newcastle which played a key role in both the Slave Trade and the Abolition Movement.

For further details on how to register and apply for bursaries, see: https://www.isle-linguistics.org/activities/isle-summer-school/. Please book early as places are limited.

Voices from the Past: 19 – 20 November 2021

PhilSoc members may be interested to know about the following event, taking place this coming week and featuring contributions from members of the society. Organised by the Institute for Digital Archaeology, the ‘Voices from the Past’ symposium will take place in Oxford and online (Zoom).

It is free to register on the symposium website, where you can obtain a Zoom link via the booking form (there are unlimited Zoom spaces). It should be an accessible event for non-specialists as well as those with more prior expertise, so please do share this link with other interested parties.

Voices from the Past
Friday 19th – Saturday 20th November 2021, Oxford, UK

Voices from the Past brings together specialists working broadly on how people spoke in the past – and why this matters – in a unique, inventive symposium. Academics and practitioners share their research and discoveries on a range of topics, from how pronunciation can be meticulously reconstructed from contemporary sources through to practical conundrums in advising actors and directors on original pronunciations. This exciting event showcases the the state-of-the art of these different approaches, concerns, and priorities from cutting-edge leaders in the field. 

This symposium owes its origins to the Keats Bicentennial Event  on 23 February 2021, commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the poet’s death. This exciting collaboration between experts from numerous fields brought Keats to life in CGI form, dressed in his likely attire in the room in which he died at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. The IDA’s CGI Keats wrapped up the event in thrilling style, reciting his last poem ‘Bright Star’, voiced by Broadway star Marc Kudisch, in the pronunciation painstakingly reconstructed by Dr. Ranjan Sen.

We are delighted to continue exploring the theme of reconstructing historical forms of language in its socio-historical context in this symposium, bringing together views from many angles to facilitate a unique perspective on this exciting enterprise.
Speakers include:

Joan Beal, Emeritus Professor of English Language, University of Sheffield and the Principle Investigator on the Eighteenth-Century English Phonology Database (ECEP) project. 
John Coleman, Professor of Phonetics, University of Oxford. Learn more about Dr. Coleman’s Ancient Sounds Project. 
Aditi Lahiri, Professor of Linguistics, University of Oxford, Honorary life member of the Linguistics Society of America, Fellow of the British Academy, and winner of the Leibniz Prize and Professor Sukumar Sen Memorial Gold Medal.
Chris Montgomery, Senior Lecturer in Dialectology, University of Sheffield. Specialist in non-linguists’ perceptions of language variation and real-time reactions to regional speech, as well as wider field of folk linguistics and language attitudes.
Yvonne Morley-Chisholm, Vocal coach, Associate of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the National Theatre, and vocal profiler for the Richard III Project. 
Ranjan Sen, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, University of Sheffield and voice reconstruction consultant on the CGI Keats projects, and co-investigator on the ECEP project.
Graham Williams, Senior Lecturer in the History of English, University of Sheffield. Expert in the pragmatics of Medieval and Early Modern Englishes, historical letters, and palaeography. 

The Symposium features an online Q&A with David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics, University of Bangor, writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster, and curator of the Original Pronunciation website. 

Report on PhilSoc-funded summer school

written by Vaughan Pilikian (PhilSoc associate member 2371)

Comparative study of the ancient world can be approached in different ways. Linguistic genealogical connections are evident, for instance, between Indo-European languages like Sanskrit and Greek, or Semitic languages, like Arabic and Akkadian. In addition, the Greeks were in contact with Mesopotamian peoples for centuries, and it is tantalising to consider how these different groups might have influenced one another. Indeed, Akkadian was the language of a high literary culture for over 2,000 years and, as the main vehicle through which we have contact with Sumerian (a language isolate), its significance extends at least a millennium prior to this period. There are extraordinarily beautiful and mysterious poems written in both languages and a vast quantity of mostly untranslated prose. With a background in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, I had been for some time on the lookout for an opportunity finally to edge my way into the ancient Near East. Generous support from PhilSoc and the Martin Burr Fund made this possible for me at last.

Manishtusu obelisk in Akkadian by unknown artist – Mbzt, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16898522

The Académie des Langues Anciennes is a utopian and brilliantly European endeavour, a peripatetic ten-day summer school offering courses in Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Hebrew and several of their lesser-known cousins. Currently it is resident on the campus of the Université de Pau et des Pays de L’Adour in the south of France, a beautiful and serene arrangement of wildflower meadows and ingenious architecture that somehow shields its occupants from the region’s often formidable heat. I was studying the dialect of Old Babylonian with Dr Victor Gysembergh, a scholar of ancient Greek and Akkadian at the Sorbonne, who took us patiently through an elegant, compact and as yet unpublished introduction to the language written by two eminent French Assyriologists.

2nd millennium BCE (c. 1600 – 1400) Old Babylonian / Kassite divination text. Incised clay, 14cm x 10.5cm x 2.4cm. Département des Antiquités orientales © RMN, Musée du Louvre https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010168332

The course was demanding and intensive but tremendously rewarding: the sinuous rhythms and sonorities of the Akkadian language are a true delight and Victor brought them potently forth. Of course, only a beginning can be made in a mere ten days. But the combination of ambition and rigour were bracing and there is always great advantage to working as part of a group when grappling with a new language. The one hundred or so students present at the Académie were mostly from France, as one might expect, but that need not be so. My own French is far from perfect: Victor was sensitive to the fact, and I found the organisers uniformly approachable and supportive. There was a single case of coronavirus while the school was in progress, but this was dealt with professionally and with minimal disruption. In sum, I can say that the entire experience felt like a blessing in these increasingly beleaguered times.

I am very grateful to the Society and to the Martin Burr Fund for supporting the trip. It was hugely stimulating, and it gave me the opportunity to take first steps into a topic I have been wanting to investigate for a good while. A new journey has begun.

In memoriam Professor Erik Charles Fudge

written by Keith Brown (University of Cambridge) and Nigel Vincent (University of Manchester)

We are sorry to report the passing of Erik Charles Fudge, member of the Society throughout his career and a member of Council from 1980-83. His first degree was in mathematics and modern and medieval languages at the University of Cambridge (1955). After graduating he spent some years as a school teacher, before moving to Indiana University to take part in a project on machine translation and information retrieval. He returned to Cambridge to undertake a PhD in linguistics (awarded in 1967), and in 1965 joined the newly formed Department of General Linguistics in Edinburgh as a lecturer in Phonology. In 1968 he was back in Cambridge, this time as lecturer in Phonetics and Phonology, before taking up the foundational chair in Linguistics at the University of Hull in 1974. During his time there he also served as editor of Journal of Linguistics (1979-84). The Hull department was a victim of the 1980’s university cuts and in 1988 he moved to a chair in Linguistic Science at the University of Reading where he remained until his retirement in 1999. A lifelong committed Christian, he had served as a lay reader in the Church of England from the 1960’s and was ordained priest in 1994.

The main focus of his research was syllable structure and word stress, as evidenced in a string of journal articles and his book English Word Stress (Allen & Unwin, 1984). He took a wide-ranging view of the relevance of different theoretical approaches to the study of language in general and phonology in particular, as can be seen in the volume he compiled for the Penguin Modern Linguistics series Phonology: Selected Readings (1973). He was the section editor for Phonology in the first edition of Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (Pergamon Press, 1993) and for Language and Religion in the second edition (Elsevier, 2006).

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.