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)

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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.

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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.


References
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.

Language change in its socio-historical context

On 16 November, a panel of three Early Career Researchers will convene to present their research on language change in its socio-historical context; the presentations will be followed by a round table discussion chaired by Ranjan Sen (Sheffield). The speakers are: Christien Wallis, Claire Childs, and George Bailey; abstracts of their talks can be found below.

The presentations and round table discussion will take place at the University of Sheffield, Humanities Research Institute, 4.15pm.


Standardisation and the Old English Subjunctive

by Chrstine Wallis (University of Sheffield)

Traditional accounts of Old English (‘OE’) (Campbell, 1959; Hogg, 1992) often focus on early or otherwise dialectally marked manuscript texts for evidence of the history of the language.  Such manuscripts are chosen as the basis of this evidence because they are closest to the original author’s or translator’s work, and are felt to reflect ‘real’ OE in a way that later copies do not (Miller, 1890: v-vi).  Where more than one manuscript of a text exists, those which diverge most from the most conservative versions are rarely discussed in detail in general histories.

This paper presents an alternative way of viewing the development of OE, through the more sociolinguistically-orientated lens of scribal copying.  A text with several surviving manuscript witnesses allows us to see what linguistic forms were deemed acceptable to individual language users/writers (i.e. features which were copied literatim), and which were not (i.e. those emended or updated by later copyists) (cf. Laing, 2004).

The OE translation of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica is one such text, surviving in four main copies, whose scribes diverge to varying degrees from the Mercian dialectal character of the translator’s (now lost) original text.  The paper focuses on one case study, that of plural, preterite subjunctives, which in the earliest manuscripts commonly appear with denasalisation (e.g. hie wolde instead of hie wolden ‘they wanted’).  A range of strategies is used by the scribes studied and this talk will show examples of the different responses of the Bede scribes to this feature when they copied the text.

This paper shows how evidence not normally considered in larger histories of the language can usefully be brought to bear on ideas of standardisation in the pre-Conquest period.  In the absence of direct metalinguistic comment, the actions and decisions of copyists and correctors have much to tell us about attitudes to correctness and linguistic norms in the period.


The present-day interaction of longitudinal changes: Stative possession and negation

by Claire Childs (University of York)

This talk will focus on the modern-day variation between stative possessive HAVE and HAVE GOT in negative contexts, which is the result of two intersecting historical changes. Firstly, DO-support as a means of expressing negation arose in English around the 15th century, but not immediately in stative possessive contexts (Warner 2005). Secondly, stative HAVE GOT came to be used as an alternative to HAVE in around the 16th century (Lorenz 2016: 489). It was not until the 19th century that DO-support became possible with stative HAVE (Hundt 2015: 70). Contemporary studies of British English have indicated that HAVE GOT is becoming increasingly used for the expression of stative possession in affirmative contexts (Tagliamonte 2003), but DO-support is also thought to be rising (Trudgill et al. 2002: 6). With these two tendencies seemingly pulling in different directions – since HAVE GOT is incompatible with DO-support (*I don’t have got any money) – how does this manifest itself in present-day British English?

To answer this question, I will present initial findings from a quantitative variationist analysis of HAVE (GOT) in negative contexts in British English, based on a 2.5-million-word sample of conversational speech from the British National Corpus 2014 (Love et al. 2017). The results reveal that while HAVEN’T GOT was the favoured way of negating a stative among speakers aged 60+, this decreases in apparent-time to the extent that DON’T HAVE becomes the majority form among younger speakers. Although British English is thought to be more variable in terms of the syntactic status of HAVE – i.e. it can behave like an auxiliary or a lexical verb – HAVE is actually rarely contracted and thus has the syntactic properties of a lexical verb, just as in Canadian English (D’Arcy 2015). My findings allow two independent observations of subject-type constraints on contraction (McElhinny 1993) and stative possession variation (Tagliamonte et al. 2010) from the literature to be reconciled. More broadly, my analysis shows how insights gained from separate analyses of single linguistic variables can be explained as part of a larger system within the grammar.


When sound change isn’t led by social change: The case of Northern English (ng)

by George Bailey (University of Manchester)

Incorporating sociolinguistic evaluation into explanatory models of language variation and change has become increasingly popular in recent years (e.g. Eckert 2000; Zhang 2005; Podesva et al. 2015), dating back to Labov’s (1963) influential study of Martha’s Vineyard. However, not all objects of linguistic variation can accrue social meaning (Eckert & Labov 2017), and there remain a number of apparent limitations relating to its role in the incrementation and propagation of sound change (Bermúdez-Otero forthcoming). This paper bears directly on this debate by reporting on a recent change in Northern English /ŋɡ/ clusters, which sees increasing post-nasal [ɡ]-presence in words like wrong and hang when in pre-pausal position (Bailey 2018). Post-nasal /ɡ/-deletion progressed along a systematic pathway of change throughout the Modern English period, following an ordered set of stages laid out by the life cycle of phonological processes (Bermúdez-Otero & Trousdale 2012). However, this new pre-pausal behaviour does not represent the next natural stage along the same pathway of change laid out by the life cycle, but is rather an entirely separate and unpredicted innovation. As such, it is amenable to an analysis in which external factors – such as sociolinguistic evaluation – play a central role.

Independent evidence from a matched-guise task reveals another source of apparent time change: the indexical strength of [ŋɡ] as a feature of northern dialects is increasing over time. However, this does not translate to uniform evaluation, with no evidence of a shared evaluative norm among these subjects. Furthermore, despite the change in production being restricted to pre-pausal contexts, this change in the social meaning of (ng) is not concentrated on any particular environment, suggesting that the two are operating at different levels of granularity and that there is no causal link between them. Consequently, these results cast further doubt on the extent to which social meaning is involved in producing macroscopic patterns of sound change.