In memoriam Sir John Lyons

by Peter K. Austin (SOAS)

The Philological Society regrets to advise members that Vice-President Sir John Lyons passed away on 12 March 2020 at the age of 87 after a long period of ill health. Lyons grew up in Stretford, Lancashire, and won a scholarship to Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1950 where he read Classics. After national service he returned to Cambridge in 1956 to begin his PhD in Linguistics under W. Sidney Allen, moving to a lectureship at SOAS in 1957 (the same year he joined PhilSoc) and completing his PhD under R. H. Robins on ‘Some lexical sub-systems in the language of Plato’. In 1960 he went to Indiana University to work on machine translation and gave his first courses on general linguistics. From 1961 to 1964 he taught at Christ’s College and from 1964 to 1984 he was Professor of Linguistics at the Universities of Edinburgh and Sussex. Between 1965 and 1969 he was the founding editor of the Journal of Linguistics. His 1999 paper, published in our Transactions Vol 97 (‘Diachrony and synchrony in twentieth-century linguistic semantics: old wine in new bottles?’), reflects on aspects of his intellectual history, noting “both the Philological Society and the London School played a crucial role in my intellectual development … in what, as far as linguistics is concerned, were my formative years”.

John Lyons was a leading scholar in the field of semantics and pragmatics, and his textbooks Introduction to Theoretical LinguisticsSemantics (2 volumes), and Language, Meaning and Context are models of care, clarity and precision. He was a Fellow of the British Academy, the recipient of honorary degrees from UK and international universities, and in 1987 was knighted ‘for services to the study of linguistics’. In 2016, he was awarded the Neil and Saras Smith Medal for Linguistics by the British Academy ‘for his outstanding lifetime contribution to the field of linguistics’. After serving as Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, from 1985 he retired to France in 2000.

For those interested in an autobiographical account of Sir John Lyons, see Linguistics in Britain: Personal Histories by Keith Brown & Vivien Law, 2002.  Publications of the Philological Society 36. pp 170-199.

In memoriam Professor Glanville Price

by Nigel Vincent (University of Manchester)

Professor Glanville Price, a longstanding member of the Society and Council member 1973-79, 1984-87, passed away on 22 December 2019, aged 91. After posts at the universities of St. Andrews, Leeds and Stirling, in 1972 he returned to his native Wales as Professor of the Romance Languages at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth (as that institution was then known) where he remained until retirement in 1995. He was best known for his work on French, especially A Comprehensive French Grammar (5th ed, 2003), but in addition he edited and contributed to numerous works on the Celtic languages including The Celtic Connection (1994) and Languages in Britain and Ireland (2000).  He also conceived and edited Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe (1998) and for many years co-edited The Year’s Work in Modern Language Studies.

Masters Bursary Scheme

The Philological Society is pleased to offer a limited number of annual bursaries for students embarking on a taught postgraduate programme in the areas of linguistics or philology.  The intention is that the bursaries will make a contribution to maintaining and furthering the breadth and diversity of language-study in the UK by providing support for outstanding young scholars in the field. As one of the bursaries, the Council of PhilSoc decided in December 2014 to establish the Anna Morpurgo Davies Masters Bursary which would be given normally to someone working on Ancient Languages (including non-Indo-European ones). Each bursary is valued at £5000 p.a., which may be used for either fees or maintenance.  A bursary will not be granted to anyone who has full fees and maintenance from any other award but it may be used to supplement another award which covers only fees.  The application form for the current competition is available below:

In Memoriam Professor Frank Palmer

by Aditi Lahiri (University of Oxford)

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. 

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.

On Writing « The Secret Life of Language »

by Simon Pulleyn (London)

Secret Life Language front cover-1

In September 2017, I was asked by Trevor Davies, Commissioning Editor at Octopus Books, whether I would write a book about language for the general reader. Octopus already had titles such as The Secret Life of the Periodic Table and The Secret Life of Equations. Now they wanted to try linguistic science. They had some general ideas about scope, but I was offered a free hand as to the text. Octopus specialize in illustrated books. This was quite new for me. My previous experience was that pictures cost money and, as the author must pay for them, they are best avoided. But Octopus has an entire department dedicated to sourcing images; the project also had a talented artist who produced drawings tailored to my ideas. PhilSoc readers will not be slow to spot anachronisms in cartoons depicting Cicero or Babylonian scribes. But the aim of the book is to appeal to the bright general reader, not the specialist; the designers thought that the drawings would have broader appeal if they did not incorporate my niggles about period costume and furniture.

Once I had been signed up as the author, I was in the unenviable position of being expected to know everything. Sadly, I don’t but I was able to consult knowledgeable friends who dug me out of some of my ignorance. I began with an almost blank sheet of A3 paper. It contained just a series of empty rectangles called spreads: these correspond to what you see when you open the book at any given point and look at the two pages in front of you. My job was to decide, in outline at first and then in detail, what would go onto each page or spread. What were the topics to cover and how many spreads should be devoted to each? All this was against the background that the number of pages for this series is fixed at 192 and not all of those are for the author: there must be titles, picture acknowledgements, and an index.

I began with evolution, looking at the anatomical apparatus needed for speech and how this developed. I am no expert in this field and those who specialize in primate evolution will probably find things that they would say otherwise. I went on to look in detail at the constituent elements of linguistics: two spreads on phonetics, three on phonology, four on morphology, two on lexicon and three on syntax. The book then moves on to proto-languages and the problems with arranging languages into families. The book has on its cover an attractive tree diagram of the Indo-European languages. Anyone familiar with the field will know how contentious a topic this is and will either want to draw the branches in a different way, change the labels or object altogether to the notion of trees. But I hope that the text of the book makes it clear that the enlightenment enthusiasm for genealogies, which also brought us Linnaean classification of plants and the periodic table of elements, is not taken by linguists today as the last word on the topic. The problems of areal influence are discussed in detail, particularly in respect of the Semitic languages and those of mainland Southeast Asia.

The deadline for the book was strict. Whereas those of us accustomed to academic publishing often have years in which to write a monograph, my brief from Octopus was to write 50,000 words in ten weeks. Furthermore, the text was to be delivered in three batches so that the design team could be getting on with the illustrative content for one part of the book whilst I was writing the text for the next. Because of the need to fit in illustrations, this meant that one had generally to write in units of 610, 1220 or 2440 words depending on the number of pages to be covered.

Because I wanted to give the reader the broadest immersion in the field, the book goes on to tour the world either by looking at language families or at the speech of large geographical areas. There are thus sections on the Celtic, Semitic, Turkic, and Iranian languages and others on the languages of India, the Caucasus, the Pacific and the Americas. On some days, this meant that my task was to write 610 words on the idea and reconstruction of the Indo-European family. This is a challenge in terms of choice and compression but also a wholesome discipline. Other days were much harder. It is not encouraging to wake up knowing that the business of the moment is to produce 1220 words on the languages of North and South America. Quite aside from problems of choice and compression, the greater challenge was that I knew so little about the topic and needed to educate myself before presuming to write a single word. By the end of the day, I had not written the required number of words but at least had read a great deal and mapped out the way forward.

Specialist readers will disagree over what ought to have been included, what left out and what emphasis ought to have been given to individual elements. But I hope that the general reader new to language and browsing in a high-street shop will be enthused and drawn in to our wonderful subject. If a person is motivated to start learning another language or to buy some books on linguistics (there is a select bibliography), that is a result. The cartoons are meant to allure. But that does not mean that the text is small beer. I asked my editor if I could discuss things like syllabic nuclei and sonority hierarchy. ‘Yes,’ he replied without missing a beat, ‘Of course!  Just make sure that you explain it all clearly.’ The diagrams help to do that and there is a full glossary at the back.


Simon Pulleyn’s The Secret Life of Language was published by Octopus Books on 30 August 2018 (Cassell, 192 pp, £12.99, ISBN 9781788400244).