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.
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,
When I first started on my doctoral research,
I had access to two sentences from the Tanzanian Bantu language Rangi which
seemed to show that the language allowed for post-verbal auxiliary placement.
This word order was unexpected given that Rangi has a dominant SVO order. It is
also unusual in the context of East African Bantu languages where
auxiliary-verb order dominates.
I subsequently spent a year spent in
Tanzania working with Rangi-speakers and Rangi-speaking linguists, and
gathering data. Luckily for me, the two sentences I had started off with were
indeed representative of the language. And the picture was in fact more
complicated than that. While verb-auxiliary order is obligatory in the two
future tense constructions, this order is ‘reversed’ in a range of
syntactically-conditioned contexts: wh-questions, sentential negation, relative
clauses, after subordinators and in cleft constructions.
Fast forward several years, and at the end of 2018, my monograph Building meaning in context: a dynamic approach to Bantu clause structurewas published as part of the Philological Society’s Monograph series. The book adopts a parsing/production-based approach to modelling Bantu clause structure, employing the tools and assumptions laid out in the Dynamic Syntax framework. It includes a chapter which looks at this auxiliary placement alternation in Rangi in more detail, as well as examining a number of other features of Bantu morphosyntax.
Dynamic Syntax (DS; Cann et al. 2005, Kempson et al. 2001, 2011) is a
grammar formalism that aims to capture this real-time parsing process. Under
the DS perspective, linguistic knowledge is considered to be the ability to
parse language in context, whilst syntax is considered to be the
constraint-based way in which representations of content can be built up from
words encountered in a string.
The book presents an overview of the key tools and mechanisms adopted by the Dynamic Syntax framework (Chapter 2). It then goes on to show the application of these assumptions to modelling the Bantu clause, drawing primarily on data from the East African Bantu language Swahili (Chapter 3). A number of key phenomena relating to Bantu morphosyntax – inversion constructions and passives (Chapter 4) and negation (Chapter 5) – are also examined.
Chapter 6 presents an account of the word
order alternation found in Rangi that I set out to examine after seeing those
two sentences all those years ago. There is also a chapter which goes beyond data
from the Bantu languages and explores cross-linguistic similarities that emerge
as a result of the formal account presented (Chapter 7).
One of the contributions made by the study
of auxiliaries in Rangi, is that it further supports the predictive power of
the DS framework. The formal tools used in this account of
Rangi auxiliaries show parallels with accounts of distinct phenomena in
unrelated languages – clitic placement phenomena in Cypriot Greek and Medieval
Spanish, as well as cleft constructions in Japanese and ‘scrambling’ in Korean.
The book will be of interest to those working on African languages, and particularly the languages of the Bantu family. But also those interested in word order phenomena, lexicon-based formal approaches to modelling language, as well as those wanting to find out more about Dynamic Syntax.
31 May, the ‘Linguistics in Modern Foreign Languages’ project held a conference
at Anglia Ruskin University, funded by Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social
Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, the British Academy and the Philological
brought together exam boards, publishers, advocacy groups and academics and
teachers to learn about findings from the project so far
and to explore outcomes of comparable international initiatives. The
‘Linguistics in MFL’ project assesses the potential for the inclusion of
linguistic topics in the secondary school languages curriculum. It aims to
introduce students to linguistics and deepen their interest in language,
including its historical, cultural and social reflexes.
Talks were given by Teresa Tinsley, author of the British Council’s Language Trends surveys and Chris Pountain, member of the A-level Content Advisory Board for MFL, amongst others. The full programme is available here.
the event included Dora Alexopoulou, Editor of Language, Society and Policy,
Victoria Dutchman-Smith, Commissioning Editor (MFL), OUP, Bernadette Holmes,
Director of Speak to the Future, Rhona Thompson, Curriculum Manager for
Languages at AQA, and four teachers: Sophie Hentschel, from Thirsk School and
Sixth Form College, Olly Hopwood, from Westminster School, Susan Stewart, Head
of Multilingualism at International School of London and Janette Swainton, Head
of MFL at Longsands Academy, St Neots.
grant allowed us to offer travel bursaries for teachers to attend the event,
and they did so in great numbers from all over the UK. Many commented on how
inspiring they had found the event and how it has made them think about their
from Suffolk One (a state VI form college) said:
Just wanted to thank you rather in
haste for a great day on Friday. I really enjoyed it, and even though I
wasn’t quite sure what to expect I found it very inspiring. My particular
Linguistics really delivers on equity – this came home to me as a really
pressing need after Teresa Tinsley’s talk which showed how uptake is narrowing
to become the preserve of elite schools, and again as a huge opportunity
highlighted by the fact that anyone can ‘do’ linguistics in relation to their
own L1, thus giving the lie to students who think it’s ‘posh’ to talk about
Mary Wenham’s talk has inspired me to resurrect some materials I used to
use years ago to introduce L2 teaching, as I’m offering a ‘Tongue Twisters’
session on our ‘Raising the Bar’ day when we invite Year 6 students from
primary schools in Ipswich to join us for a taste of sixth form life – I’ll let
you know how it goes!
For more information about the project, click here.
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.
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.
EDIT: As of Thursday 19th September, The Poor Man of Nippur has been shortlisted in the Research in Film Awards 2019. This film is one of only five films shortlisted in the Best Research Film category. The winners of the Awards will be announced in a ceremony on Tuesday 12th November.
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.