AGM & The President’s Lecture: Standards, norms and prescriptivism

The Annual General Meeting of the Philological Society was held on 17 June at Selwyn College, Cambridge.

Having completed a four-year term of office, Prof. Wendy Ayres-Bennett stood down as President of the Society; she is succeeded by Prof. Aditi Lahiri FBA.

The following Members of Council have served their term on council or wished to retire early, and did not stand for re-election: Prof. Ruth Kempson FBA (KCL); Prof. Aditi Lahiri FBA (Oxford); Dr John Penney (Oxford); Dr George Walkden (Manchester).

In their place, the following new Ordinary Members of Council have been elected: Prof. Eleanor Dickey (Reading); Dr Mary MacRobert (Oxford); Prof. Maj-Britt Mosegaard-Hansen (Manchester); Dr David Willis (Cambridge).

The 9th RH Robins Prize was awarded to Jade Jørgen Sandstedt (Edinburgh) for a paper entitled ‘Transparency and blocking in Old Norwegian height harmony’, which will be published in TPS.

The outgoing President delivered her President’s Lecture on ‘Standards, norms and prescriptivism’, an audio recording and screencast of which can be found below and on the Society’s YouTube channel.

Language through Deaf eyes

by Bencie Woll (University College London)

sign20club20280022920anna20morpurgo20davies20lecture20resizedSign languages are universally found wherever Deaf communities exist, and are the world’s only truly ‘young’ languages, unrelated to the spoken languages which surround them. This presentation will review the history of British Sign Language – the language of the British Deaf community – and recent linguistic, psycholinguistic, sociolinguistic and neurolinguistic research on the language. Research on signed  language creates a new perspective on our understanding of human language generally, helping us consider the origins of human language, how language is processed in the brain, what the universal properties of human language are, and the relationship of how language is produced and perceived to the structure of language itself.

The annual Anna Morpurgo Davies Lecture, organised in co-operation with the British Academy, took place on Friday, 12 May, 4.15pm, at the British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH.

‘Counting’: quality and quantity in literary language and tools for investigating it

by Jonathan Hope (Strathclyde University, Glasgow)

The transcription of a substantial proportion of Early Modern English books by the Text Creation Partnership has placed more than 60,000 digital texts in the hands of literary and linguistic researchers. Linguists are in many cases used to dealing with large electronic corpora, but for literary scholars this is a new experience. Used to arguing from the quality, rather than quantity of evidence, literary scholars have a new set of norms and procedures to learn, and are faced with the exciting, or perhaps depressing, prospect that their object of study has changed.

 In this talk I’ll look at some specific case studies that illustrate the potential, and the problems, of quantity-based studies – and will highlight key areas where literary scholars need to reassess their expectations of ‘evidence’, and the texts we use. A possible alternative title might be ‘Learning to live with error: gappy texts and crappy metadata’.

A screencast of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in Oxford, Wolfson College, on Saturday, 11 March, 4.15pm.

Ethnopoetic philology and the power of narrative for endangered voices

by Alexander King (Franklin & Marshall College)

Ethnopoetics lies at the juncture of linguistics, comparative literature, anthropology, and activist politics. It is more of an approach than a discipline, and was inspired by the realization that indigenous oral literature, or ‘orature’ was of equal literary merit to that of the ancient and modern literary languages. Ethnopoetic analysis requires close attention to the form and performance of oral narratives, looking for patterning in phonology, morphology, syntax, as well as repetitions in word use and larger units. I will present some examples of the power of stories in the lives of Koryaks, who are indigenous to Kamchatka, Russia. The material comes from a documentation project by Valentina R. Dedyk and me (funded by a grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Project).

A video of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS Main Building, Room 116, on Friday, 10 February, 4.15pm.

Finiteness in Greek and Latin, then and now

by Dag Haug (University of Oslo)

Finiteness is a crucial notion in modern theories of grammar.  The concept originates in the work of ancient grammarians on Greek and Latin and it has often been thought to be inadequate for other languages. In my talk, I trace a very brief history of the idea and then show that Greek and Latin themselves actually display a number of phenomena relating to the syntax and semantics of participles and infinitives that challenge this traditional idea of finiteness. Thus, there is still a lot to learn from the grammar of Greek and Latin if one is willing to dig deeper than the traditional descriptions.

A video recording of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in London, SOAS Main Building, Room 116, on Friday, 13 January, 4.15pm. The slideshow accompanying the paper is available here.

Sources of evidence for linguistic analysis

Round table discussion with Aaron Ecay (Unversity of York), Seth Mehl (University of Sheffield), Nick Zair (Univeristy of Cambridge), chaired by Cécile De Cat (University of Leeds)

Is linguistics an empirical science? How reliable are the data on which linguistic analyses and theories are based? These questions are not new, but in light of the disturbing findings of the Reproducibility Project in psychological sciences, the need to revisit them has become more pressing.  This round table discussion will start with presentations from three postdoctoral researchers, who will discuss the question of data collection and analysis and the interpretation of linguistic evidence.


This panel will be held on 11 November 2016 at 4.15pm in the Great Woodhouse Room, University House, University of Leeds, LS2 9JS.

For more information about the individual panelists’ presentations, see their abstracts below. The presentations have been live-tweeted under the hashtag , and George Walkden has kindly provided a storified version of the tweets. Continue reading “Sources of evidence for linguistic analysis”

‘Is that your coat on the floor?’ – Agency and autonomy in indirection

by Rebecca Clift (University of Essex)

Why might a parent say to a child ‘Is that your coat on the floor?’ as a means of getting them to pick it up, rather than using a directive, ‘Pick up your coat’?

Work on indirect utterances has focused exclusively on what the speaker is assumed to gain from indirectness. In contrast, this talk uses insights and data—both audio- and video-recorded—from Conversation Analysis (CA) to illuminate observable recipient conduct as a means of identifying the interactional motivations for a speaker to be indirect. Central to the analysis is the observation that recipients do work of various kinds to exert agency in response; to establish that what they are doing has a degree of autonomy, rather than being purely acquiescent in response to a prior turn. It turns out that linguistic mechanisms deployed in the pursuit of autonomy figure centrally in this empirically-grounded account of indirectness.

A video recording of the talk can be found below.

This paper was read at the Philological Society meeting in London (Senate House, University of London, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU, room G21A) on Friday, 14 October, 4.15pm.