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.

How linguistics helps us reconstruct ancient fire mythology

Report on the ‘Martin Burr Fund’ grant offered for a monograph on the Norse God Loki

written by Riccardo Ginevra (Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University)

The historical and comparative approach to Indo-European poetic language and myth has developed greatly in the second half of the 20th century, particularly thanks to the efforts of, among others, Rüdiger Schmitt (1967; 1968), Enrico Campanile (1977; 1990) and Calvert Watkins (1995). By means of this methodology, linguists have been able to highlight several parallels between the poetic phraseology, divine names and mythological narratives occurring in texts in the Indo-European languages of oldest attestation, in particular Hittite, Vedic and Epic Sanskrit, Ancient Greek and Latin.

Sources in Old Norse and in the other ancient Germanic languages, however, have been somewhat overlooked by scholars of comparative Indo-European poetics, mainly because, in comparison with, for instance, Hittite and Greek (already attested in the 2nd millennium BCE), these languages were first written down at a relatively late date (the Early Middle Ages). The antiquity of a tradition’s written sources, however, should not be the main criterion in assessing its importance in reconstruction: in contrast, as demonstrated by Calvert Watkins (1995: 414ff.) in his classic discussion of dragon-slaying myths, Germanic traditions often preserve very archaic features of Indo-European poetics and myth. In my opinion, this truth may be even further demonstrated by a linguistic analysis of the names, phraseology, and narratives concerning the mischievous Scandinavian god Loki, a topic to which I have devoted much of my PhD research at the Università per Stranieri di Siena and the University of Cologne between 2015 and 2018.

My interest in Loki actually arose in 2014, when I was still a Master’s student at the Università Cattolica of Milan, writing a thesis on the several parallels between (among others) some Ancient Greek myths involving the god Hermes (the – at least partial – reflex of an ancient fire-god, as already argued by van Berg 2001) and the titan Prometheus (the “Fire Thief” par excellence), and some Norse mythological narratives involving Loki, who had already been analyzed as a fire-deity by Jacob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie (1835). Even though Grimm’s interpretation of Loki was later challenged on various grounds (cf. e.g. Liberman 1992:131), the god’s association with fire is supported not only by parallels in Scandinavian folklore (cf. e.g. Heide 2011) and archaeology (cf. Gestsson 1961), but also by the linguistic analysis of his myths both within their Scandinavian context and in comparative Indo-European perspective, as I have proposed in two publications (Ginevra 2018a; 2018b) and as I argue extensively in a corresponding monograph, on which I am currently working and whose preparation has been partially supported by the “Martin Burr Fund” from the Philological Society.

Depiction of Loki from an Icelandic manuscript (16th-century).

As a first example of the inner-Norse and comparative evidence for Loki’s interpretation as a fire-god, I would like to discuss the Norse myth of Loki’s capture and binding (Vǫluspá 35; prose finale of Lokasenna; Gylfaginning 50), whose plot may be briefly summarized as follows: the gods capture Loki and bring him to a cave, where he is chained to three stones and a venomous snake is fixed above him, in such a manner that the reptile’s poison constantly drips into his face; standing by his side, Loki’s wife Sigyn tries to collect the snake’s venom into a basin, but, every time she has to leave her husband’s side in order to pour the liquid away, the snake’s poison drips directly into Loki’s face and the god shakes so violently that the whole earth trembles, causing earthquakes.

Now, according to Norse cosmology, earthquakes were caused by the violent movements of underground fires (cf. Konungs skuggsjá 14 ms. b.,Brenner 1881:30 “You also said that so vast are the fires in the bowels of the land that earthquakes arise out of fire’s violent movements”); furthermore, the poison which torments Loki may be analyzed as a reflex of the Old Norse kenning “poison of the fire” for ‘water’ (cf. Sigvatr Þórðarson, Lausavísa 1.2–4 “snake of the poison of fire” = “snake of water” = “fish”). These considerations allow for the interpretation of Sigyn’s act of collecting and pouring out the poison which drips onto Loki’s face as a mythical representation of the pouring of water or other liquids onto fire, possibly reflecting corresponding pre-Christian Scandinavian fire-rituals which have been reconstructed by Kaliff 2005 on the basis of archaeological evidence.

This is further supported by Sigyn’s name (actually to be scanned as Sígyn, as shown by Skaldic meter), which may be the Old Norse outcome of a Proto-Indo-European formation *sei̯k-én-ih2/sei̯k-n̥-iéh2‘she of the pouring’, a reflex of the root *sei̯k‘pour’ which is widely attested in Vedic Sanskrit in the context of fire-rituals, cf. Rigveda 8.9.7cd “Here he will pour (siñcād – another reflex of the root *sei̯k) the most honeyed soma and the hot milk in the presence of the fire-priest”. The same reconstructed formation *sei̯k-én-ih2may also underlie Vedic °sécanī– ‘pouring’ (upa-sécanī- ‘id.; pouring ladle’ in RV 10.21.02c; 10.105.10a), and it would closely parallel the (Latinized) Celtic river-name and theonym Sēquana (modern-day river Seine in France), which is the reflex of a similar formation *sei̯k-en-eh2 ‘she of the pouring’.

Depiction of the myth of Loki and Sigyn on the Gosforth Cross (mid-11th

As a further example of the comparative evidence for Loki’s identification as the reflex of an Indo-European fire-god, let us take into consideration the Norse myth of Loki’s wager with the dwarf Brokkr (as told in Skáldskaparmál 35): as a punishment for shaving all the hair off the head of Thor’s wife, Loki has to forge beautiful gifts for the gods; after having done so, Loki pledges his own head in a wager with the dwarf-smith Brokkr, challenging him to forge better treasures; when Brokkr succeeds and wins the wager, Loki tries to flee, but is soon captured by Thor, and his lips are finally sewn together by Brokkr.

Several parallels for this narrative may be found in the Sanskrit myth of Fire’s cursing by the seer Bhr̥gu (Mahābhārata 1.5–7; 9.46.12–20), in which the god Fire betrays the trust of Bhr̥gu’s wife and is therefore cursed by the seer to become an “eater of everything”, thus losing control over his own mouth; ashamed, Fire flees, but his hiding place is discovered by the gods, who convince the supreme god Brahma to restrain Fire’s mouth (slightly modifying Bhr̥gu’s curse).

Various phraseological and structural parallels between these Norse and Sanskrit narratives allow for the reconstruction of an Indo-European “Myth of the Mouth of the Fire-god”, in which, after committing a crime against a woman, the fire-god risks losing control over his head or mouth because of a wager or curse; the fire-god flees, but is later found by the other gods, and his mouth is restrained – either literally (Loki) or metaphorically (Fire).

Furthermore, these correspondences allow for the assumption of a direct connection between the Norse god Loki’s rival Brokkr and the Sanskrit god Fire’s opponent Bhr̥gu, whose names may in fact be traced back to *bhr̥g-nó– and *bhŕ̥g-oṷ- respectively, two related formations which are derivatives of one and the same root *(s)bh(h2)g– ‘crackle, roar’, among whose reflexes are, for instance, Homeric σφαραγέομαι ‘crackle, sizzle’ and Vedic Sanskrit sphūrjáyant- ‘crackling, sizzling’ and bhūrjáyant- ‘id.’ (reflexes of *[s]bhr̥h2g-éi̯e- ‘crackle, sizzle’). The possibility of a common etymology for the names of their respective enemies thus supports an identification of Loki as the Norse counterpart to the Sanskrit god Fire.

Depiction of character with his mouth stitched (currently interpreted as a reference to the myth of Loki and Brokkr) on the Snaptun Stone (10th-11th century).

As these two examples suggest, an analysis of Loki’s mythology from a comparative Germanic and Indo-European perspective allows for the identification of several inherited features of religious onomastics, poetic language, and narrative structures in Scandinavian pre-Christian religion and myth, improving our understanding of the meaning and origin of these ancient texts. Thanks to the partial support of the Philological Society’s “Martin Burr Fund”, my book-length discussion of these topics hopefully will, on the one hand, match the late Martin John Burr’s academic interest in Comparative Philology and Old Germanic languages and cultures, and, on the other hand, contribute to the Philological Society’s mission “to investigate and promote the study and knowledge of the structure, the affinities, and the history of languages”.


van Berg, Paul-Louis. 2001. Hermes and Agni: a fire-god in Greece?. In: M. E. Huld, K. Jones-Bley, A. Della Volpe and M. Robbins Dexter, Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, 189-204. Washington DC.

Brenner, Oscar. 1881. Speculum regale. Ein altnorwegischer Dialog nach Cod. Arnamagn. 243 Fol. B und den ältesten Fragmenten. München.

Campanile, Enrico. 1977. Ricerche di cultura poetica indoeuropea. Pisa

Campanile, Enrico. 1990. La ricostruzione della cultura indoeuropea. Pisa.

Gestsson, Gisli. 1961. Mynd af Loka Laufeyjarsyni. Árbók Hins íslenzka fornleifafélags 58:47–51.

Ginevra, Riccardo. 2018a. Old Norse Brokkr, Sanskrit Bhr̥gu- and PIE *(s)bh(h2)g– ‘crackle, roar’. In: David M. Goldstein, Stephanie W. Jamison, and Brent Vine (eds.), Proceedings of the 28th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, 71–93. Bremen.

Ginevra, Riccardo. 2018b. Old Norse Sígyn (*sei̯k-n̥-i̯éh2– ‘she of the pouring’), Vedic °sécanī– ‘pouring’, Celtic Sēquana and PIE *sei̯k ‘pour’. In: David M. Goldstein, Stephanie W. Jamison, and Brent Vine (eds.), Proceedings of the 29th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, 65–76. Bremen.

Heide, Eldar. 2011. Loki, the Vätte, and the Ash Lad: A Study Combining Old Scandinavian and Late Material. Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 7.63–106.

Kaliff, Anders. 2005. The Vedic Agni and Scandinavian Fire Rituals. Current Swedish Archaeology 13.77–97.

Liberman, Anatoly. 1992. Snorri and Saxo on Útgarðaloki, with notes on Loki Laufeyjarson’s character, career, and name. In: Carlo Santini (ed.), Saxo Grammaticus. Tra storiografia e letteratura. Bevagna, 27-29 Settembre 1990, 91–158. Roma.

Schmitt, Rüdiger. 1967. Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit.Wiesbaden.

Schmitt, Rüdiger (ed.). 1968. Indogermanische Dichtersprache. Darmstadt.

Watkins, Calvert. 1995. How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics. New York.

Third International Workshop on Syntactic Cartography (IWSC2019)

Written by Keith Tse (Ronin Institute, New York)

On what has been a regular fixture in the past few years, the biennial Third International Workshop on Syntactic Cartography (IWSC-3) took place on the 26th-27th October 2019 at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) which happened at the end of Open Access Week in China and was preceded by a separate yet related workshop called ‘Changing Boundaries’ on the 25th. This year’s joint event had a special significance as it was the first IWSC to take place at BLCU after the establishment and inauguration of their Linguistics Department which was celebrated in a similar event at the end of October 2018 (to which the author was also invited to present a poster), and these three days were marked by an impressive number of keynote and invited speakers as well as many local and external presenters who assembled from all around the world to take part in what was to be a rich and dynamic academic forum on cutting-edge issues in biolinguistics and formal cartography using data from a wide range of languages. After a competitive round of abstract reviewing, I was fortunate enough to have my abstract on Chinese Voice alternation (my native language) selected for oral presentation, and my presentation dealt with the use of two famous morphemes in Chinese ba (把) and bei (被) which are widely known to involve object preposing. Since Wang (1959), ba– and bei-constructions have been identified as parallel constructions, since in both constructions the object of the main lexical verb seems to be raised from its base-generated position in the lower VP to a higher position (object i … PRO i), the copy of which can be resumed by a coreferential pronoun:

1) subject BA object i verb (PRO i) (Feng (2002:148))

e.g. 李四 把 壞蛋        殺-了         (他)

        Lisi ba huaidan    sha-le        ta

        Lisi BA scoundrel kill-PERF him

        ‘Lisi killed the scoundrel.’ (Huang, Li, Li (2009:153))

2) object i BEI subject verb (PRO i) (Feng (2002:148))

e.g. 張三         被   李四  打-了       (他)

       Zhangsan bei  Lisi  da-le        ta

       Zhangsan BEI Lisi  hit-PERF him

       ‘Zhangsan was hit by Lisi.’ (Huang, Li, Li (2009:112))

Despite the voluminous work that has been done on Chinese ba and bei-constructions (see Li (2006) and Li (1993) respectively), mainstream movement analyses (Tsao (1987), Feng (1995), Huang (1999)) do not adequately account for their empirical complexities, and my new proposal is that ba and bei are light verb projections denoting Voice (Active and Passive respectively), and the fact that these are merged higher than an optional unaccusative marker gei (給) denoting affectedness (3a-b) (Tang (2001), Cao (2012)) suggests that the preposed object may in fact be merged in an A-position, namely the specifier of gei (Kuo (2010)). In light of the fact that bei can be merged higher than ba which is in turn higher than gei (3c), the cartographic arrangement indicates three distinct A-heads above Asp(ect) to which the lexical verb moves (BEI (Passive) – BA (Active) – GEI (Affect)):

3a) 一-把      火    就      把  阿房-宮           給    廢-了

       yi-ba     huo jiu     ba afang-gong    gei  fei-le

       one-CL fire  then BA afang-palace GEI ruin-PERF

      ‘One torchwas enough to ruin A-fang Palace.’ (Chappell and Shi 2016:471))

3b) 杯子  被    他  給   打-破-了

       beizi bei  ta  gei  da-po-le

       cup   BEI he GEI hit-break-PERF

       ‘The cup got broken by him.’ (adapted from Tang (2001:259))

3c) 他  被    朋友         把  一-個      太太    給  騙-走-了

       ta  bei  pengyou ba yi-ge      taitai  gei  pian-zou-le

       he BEI friend      BA one-CL wife   GEI cheat-go-PERF

       ‘He was cheated of a wife by his friend.’ (Chen (2003:1173))

Due to the tightness of time as there were so many presentations that each presentation was only allocated twenty minutes including Q&A, only one question was allowed for my presentation, and it was made by Professor Marcel den Dikken who asked whether it was possible to use ba and bei with set idioms, and if so, whether this would suggest that the object in the idiom could be raised via movement rather than be generated as new arguments by bei/ba/gei, which might pose as a counter-example to my analysis. This reminded me of Li’s (2006) analysis where she does explicitly use phrasal idioms in Mandarin Chinese (e.g. 佔便宜 ‘to take advantage of’, 開刀 ‘to have an operation’, 幽默 ‘to be humorous’, 小便 ‘to have a pee’) to support her movement analysis as all such idioms are permissible in ba– and, by extension, bei-constructions, though she also recognises that there are constraints on ba-constructions as the raised object must have a certain thematic relationship with the lexical verb which is implicit in gei-insertion, namely affectedness, and this also applies to set idioms (他把便宜(給)佔去了 ‘he took advantage of it’, 他把刀(給)開完了 ‘he finished the operation’, 別把默(給)幽壞了 ‘don’t humour badly’, 你趕快把便(給)小了吧 ‘hurry up peeing’). I pursued this discussion with Professor den Dikken afterwards and discussed some of the technical details with him and Professor Ian Roberts whose first book I cited, and these discussions clarified certain technical details in my analysis. As the invited speakers were invited to the dinner banquet, non-invited presenters such as myself returned to our accommodation, and since most of us stayed at the same hotel in the vicinity of BLCU, I was able to say goodbye to most participants and all speakers upon their sober return from the banquet. I held further discussions with Dr. Joseph Perry and Professor Roberts about the nature of IWSC-3 and how impressed we were by this year’s edition, which is a tribute to the local organisers and all the participants, and as I made my way to the airport, I left our capital feeling not only a sense of mission accomplished but also a job well done. 

I would hence like to place special thanks to members of the Philological Society, especially Professor Klaus Fischer and Professor Peter Austin, for accepting my application to the Martin Burr Fund and to the patrons of the Martin Burr Bequest for their generous sponsorship of my participation in such a prestigious international conference at which I was able to share my research with so many distinguished members of our field. I am now in the process of writing this up for the forthcoming publication of the conference proceedings in which I shall express all my ideas with more clarity and purpose.


Cao, D-G. (2012): ‘ “被” 的雙重語法地位和被字句的生成’. Dangdai Yuyanxue 13(1):73-81. 

Chappell, H. and Shi, D-X. (2016): ‘Major Non-Canonical Clause Types: ba, bei and ditransitives’, in Shi, D-X. and Huang, C-H. (eds), A Reference Grammar of Chinese, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 451-483. 

Chen, P. (2003): ‘Indefinite determiner introducing definite referent: a special use of yi “one” + classifier in Chinese’. Lingua 113(12):1169-1184. 

Feng, S-L. (1995): ‘管約理論與漢語的被動句 (GB theory and passive sentences in Chinese)’. Zhongguo Yuyanxue Luncong 1:1-28. 

Feng, S-L. (2002): ‘韻律結構與把字句的來源 (Prosodic structure and the origin of ba construction)’. In Triskova, H. (ed), Tone, stress and rhythm in spoken Chinese (Journal of Chinese Linguistic Monographs 17), Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, pp. 119-168.

Huang, C-T. (1999): ‘Chinese Passives in Comparative Perspective’. Tsinghua Journal of Chinese Studies 29(4):423-509. 

Huang, C-T., Li, A., Li, Y-F. (2009): The Syntax of Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Kuo, P-J. (2010): ‘Transitivity and the BA construction’. Taiwan Journal of Linguistics 8(1):95-128. 

Li, A. (2006): ‘Chinese Ba’, in Everaert, M. and van Riemsdijk, H. (eds), Blackwell Companion to Syntax: Volume I, pp. 374-468. 

Li, S. (1993): 現代漢語被字句研究 (Xiandai Hanyu Beiziju yanjiu). Beijing: Beijing University Press. 

Tang, S-W. (2001): ‘A complementation approach to Chinese passives and its consequences’. Linguistics 39(2):257-295. 

Tsao, F-F. (1987): ‘A Topic-Comment Approach to the Ba Construction’. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 15:1-54. 

Wang, H. (1959): 把字句和被字句 (Baziju he Beiziju). Shanghai: Shanghai Education Publications.  

PhilSoc Master’s Bursary Report

written by Greta Galeotti (Harvard University)

I was about twelve when I first came in contact with the study of an ancient language, through a Latin workshop offered at my middle school. In hindsight, this encounter proved to be fatal: I went on to join a high school with a curriculum focused on the Greek and Latin languages and literature (as it is not uncommon in Italy) and, to the surprise of exactly nobody among my friends and family, I went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Classics. However, another two encounters during the early stages of my Bachelor’s have shaped the direction of my later academic studies in a more specific direction: in the first semester of the first year, with General Linguistics, and at the beginning of the second year, with Greek Dialectology. Within the first two classes I had decided that that was what I wanted to pursue further.

The discovery of the study of language per se and its evolution felt like the most natural evolution of my interest on textual analysis, and the study of ancient dialects particularly resonates with me given the complex dialectal mosaic of my home country. Completely fascinated with the idea of language reconstruction from an Indo-European perspective, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to puruse these interests in a program that would allow me to study both general and historical linguistics, and maintain a focus on Greek: the Master of Philosophy in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford. The contribution of the PhilSoc Master’s Bursary to this end has been decisive and something I am most grateful for.

It has allowed me to complete a program where I was able to explore numerous interests and build a background in both general and Indo-European linguistics. Within the program, I have focused on Greek as my major, and gained not only a comparative linguistic perspective but also a new languages by choosing Sanskrit as my minor. I was able to take advantage of the University’s many other opportunities and so to enrich my curriculum and not neglect languages slight more commonly spoken, such as Modern Greek. I refocused on my passion, Greek dialects, during my
final Master thesis, through a study on their disappearance and the emergence of the Ancient Greek koine in Delphi, analysing a corpus of about four hundreds decrees and relating the use of dialect and koine to their formulaic nature.

I am lucky to have been offered the opportunity to continue on this path of research by by being offered a place in the PhD program in Classics at Harvard University, which I have been part of since September 2019. The Classics department maintains tight ties with the Linguistics Department on the floor above, and felt like the perfect opportunity to bring together my interests in Classics and the study of literature with those in linguistics, allowing me to maintain the various interests developed in Oxford, such as Sanskrit, with my main focus on Greek dialects. The background I have built in my MPhil I feel has been instrumental in bringing me to my current place, and I remain extremely grateful to the PhilSoc for having enabled me to pursue my passion through the Master’s Bursary scheme.

Anna Morpurgo Davies Bursary Report

written by Roxanne Taylor (University of Manchester)

I was generously funded by the Anna Morpurgo Davies bursary through PhilSoc, financial support which was of great help in the completion of my MPhil General Linguistics and Comparative Philology. Having graduated with my BA from Oriel College, Oxford, in 2017, I took up a place at Wolfson College, Oxford in the same year to commence post-graduate study.

As part of the masters programme, I undertook training in various aspects of general linguistic theory, including syntax, phonology, phonetics and morphology.  I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to study aspects of modern linguistics like phonetic transcription which are otherwise alien to those who study ancient languages. I chose to continue my study of Ancient Greek, as well as studying the history and structure of Old English. The combination of Old English and Ancient Greek is certainly unusual, and has raised eyebrows! I encountered Old English through my undergraduate study of Medieval literature, and I was grateful to be able to explore the language from a different perspective, guided by the expert staff based at Oxford. Weekly tutorials during my masters encompassed a wide range of topics, from Greek accentuation, and aspect, to Siever’s Law,  and the metrical phonology of Old English poetry.

Part of what attracted me to the Oxford MPhil was the requirement for a 25,000 word thesis. My thesis was supervised by Professor Philomen Probert, and addressed the “semantics and syntax of non-finite expressions of purpose in the Greek of Herodotos’ Histories”. The thesis explored the use of participial phrases and prepositional phrases as means of encoding a relation of purpose. The different strategies for encoding purpose relations were found to be semantically differentiated: for example, the future participle was found to be used in contexts in which the destination of some motion and the purpose intended are closely associated.

My thesis also had a syntactic dimension, using the framework of Lexical Functional Grammar. The category of participial phrases was considered, alongside the mechanics by which future participles show case and gender features.  Future participles expressing a purpose are analysed as VPs, with their own subjects (Haug, 2017). The analysis of adverbal Greek participles offered in the thesis is similar to that of Lowe (2015) for the same construction in Sanskrit. I presented aspects of my thesis research at the PhilSoc’s own “Early Career Forum” in March 2019, and also at the University of Göttingen at Christmas.

In September 2019 I embarked on an AHRC-funded PhD in Linguistics at the University of Manchester. My doctoral research focuses on the Old English noun phrase, examining argument realisation and argument structure. The research uses quantitative and qualitative methodology, and the theoretical analysis is couched within LFG, which I first encountered at Oxford. I hope to continue in academia once my PhD is completed. Some of my ideas for post-doctoral study include the left periphery of the Ancient Greek noun phrase, applying the precepts of construction grammar to poetic formulae, and charting the expansion of the “of”-genitive in the long twelfth century and Early Middle English in terms of the specific relations which the “of”-genitive can be used to express.


Haug, Dag T.T. (2017). ‘Backward Control in Ancient Greek and Latin Participial Adjuncts’. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 35(1):99-159.

Lowe, John (2015), Participles in Rigvedic Sanskrit: The Syntax and Semantics of Adjectival Verb Forms, Volume 17 in the series Oxford Studies in Diachronic and Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences – 2019

by Caitlin Halfacre (Newcastle University)

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.

Figure 1: Accent Variation in England, adapted from Wells (1984)

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.

Figure 2

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 their support.

My poster and proceedings paper can be found on my website.

International Congress of Phonetic Sciences – The Phonetician’s Olympics

by Bruce Xiao Wang (University of York)

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 University. 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, and dingo.

Report on the 51st International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics

by Xiaolan Cao (University of Melbourne)

With the generous bursary from the Philological Society, I was able to present my research paper at the 51st International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics held at Kyoto University, Japan, 25–28 September 2018 .

During the conference, three posters and seventy-two papers of the most recent research on Sino-Tibetan languages and linguistics were presented, including various topics in the fields of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and diachrony. Professor Sun Jackson and Professor James Matissof gave the plenary talks. All the papers presented at the conference are freely available here.

On the second day of the conference, I presented my paper on the phonology of Southern Pinghua and phonological dialectal variances. In this paper, I first present the phonology of Southern Pinghua based on the Wucun dialect. I organized this section of my paper by the order of consonants, vowels, tones, and syllable structure. After going through the phonology and phonological features of the Wucun dialect, I presented my study on the phonological variances between 32 Southern Pinghua dialects. Based on variance analysis, I concluded that Southern Pinghua dialects are relatively diverse, which partly explains the low degree of mutual intelligibility between those dialects. Thus, it is neither prudent nor rigorous to use one dialect to represent the whole Southern Pinghua group without thorough comparative studies investigating dialectal variants.

After my presentation, I received valuable feedback on my paper and connected with researchers who share research interest in Sinitic languages. With all the feedback I received, I am currenlty preparing a journal paper based on my presentation with additions on the diachrony of Southern Pinghua phonology, which I hope to submit to the Transaction of the Philological Society.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Philological Society again for the generous bursary. Without this support, I would not have been able to make my trip to the conference to share my research findings and exchange ideas with researchers from all over the world on Sino-Tibetan languages and linguistics.