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.

Creoles in Costa Rica – the 22nd Biennial SCL Conference

by Marina Merryweather (Queen Mary University of London)

With the generous funding of the Philological Society’s Martin Burr fund, I was able to attend the 22nd Biennial Conference of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics, hosted jointly with the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics.

The Society for Caribbean Linguistics, as the name suggests, focuses on the many languages studied around the Caribbean, be it the post-colonial languages of the different islands and coastal regions, or the indigenous languages still prevalent in the parts of Latin America that border the sea. Meanwhile, the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics generally covers all areas of study related to pidgins and creoles, regardless of where they are found. There is, of course, a lot of overlap between the aims of the two societies, given the prevalence of creole languages all around the Caribbean basin; nonetheless, both societies have their own areas that they cover, and there is a lot that differs between them. This was evident in the talks on offer at the conference.

costa rica 3The theme of this conference was “Connecting the Caribbean: Languages, Borders and Identities”. This led to a lot of focus in the talks on concepts such as language policy, language endangerment, and minority languages more generally. For example, there were panels devoted to the discussion of Limonese creole, an English-lexifier creole spoken on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, which is closely related to Jamaican creole – and was, indeed, imported by Jamaican migrant workers in the early 20th century. The panels included the launch of a book containing a standardised alphabet for the language, as well as a round-table with local speakers on their attitudes towards it, and how they intended to preserve it as they became more assimilated into the predominantly Hispanophone Costa Rican society. There were also a considerable number of talks on indigenous languages in Central America, and especially Costa Rica. This included a plenary from Prof. Juan Diego Quesada (National University of Costa Rica and University of Costa Rica) on the typology of indigenous languages, and the way that certain typological features could be attributed to three general groups in the northern, central, and southern regions of Central America.

In addition to the panels on Limon creole mentioned above, there were some other creole and creole-adjacent languages that caught my interest at the conference. There was, for example, an entire panel devoted to languages in St Lucia, and particularly the development of a vernacular English, as opposed to both the standard English and the French creole that they speak on the island. Debate is still taking place as to whether this English is a creole, or whether something else is happening, such as relexification of the French creole, or the development of a mixed language. There was also a plenary chaired by Joyce Pereira on the huge advances in Papiamento language policy in Aruba; in a short space of time, it went from being a language entirely shunned by the Dutch government, to the centre of a pilot scheme to become the main language of education in the country.

costa rica 1The research that I was presenting at the conference was also on a creole language, specifically on the variety of Antillean French Creole spoken in Martinique. Literature on this creole, particularly written in English, is limited, but what little has been written suggests that a process known as decreolisation—whereby creole languages evolve to more closely resemble their lexifier languages—is currently underway (Lefebvre, 1974; Bernabé & Confiant, 2002; Bernabé, 2006). My MA thesis investigated whether this was still a process that was taking place. Basing my research on a study done by Vaillant (2009), I conducted a form of matched-guise test to see if certain grammatical features were considered acceptable by participants. These features were not usually considered obligatory in Martinican Creole, but are in French; if the sample sentences without these French features were considered incorrect, this would point to the French standard becoming the norm. These features included the use of a relative pronoun as well as the use of a reflexive construction with verbs typically considered reflexive in French. The results of this study, however, pointed neither one way nor another; one of the features was considered grammatical and the other was not. This pointed to a number of different possibilities, from an argument against decreolisation, to a different theory being needed to explain the changes at hand—such as the concept of interlecte (Prudent 1981)—to there being structural effects at play determining which positions the morphosyntactic features are needed in. The study was small and took place in a very restricted setting, but by bringing it to the conference, I hoped to develop a paper which could inspire future creolists to look further into the language.

costa rica 2

This was just a small flavour of some of the enormous variety of talks I listened to over the five days of the conference, which was the first I have ever attended. Between the people, the cultural events, and the luscious surroundings of Costa Rica, I had an immensely enjoyable week, and learnt a lot. I am grateful to the Philological Society for giving me the opportunity to attend, and hope that I will be able to also make their next conference in Trinidad in 2020!

Bernabé, J. (2006). Theoretical and Practical Conditions for the Emergence of a Koine among French-Lexified Creole Languages. In J. Clancy Clements, T. Klingler, D. Piston-Hatlen, & K. Rottet (eds), History, Society and Variation: In honor of Albert Valdman. Amsterdam: John Benjamins B.V, 163-77.
Bernabé, J., & Confiant, R. (2002). Le Capes de créole: stratégies et enjeux. Hermès, La Revue 1, 211-23.
Lefebvre, C. (1974). Discreteness and the Linguistic Continuum in Martinique. Anthropological Linguistics 16(2), 47-78.
Prudent, L. (1981). Diglossie et interlecte. Langages 15(61), 13-38.
Vaillant, P. (2009). Induction of French structures into Creole grammar. Gießen, Germany. Retrieved December 18, 2016, from

The Philological Society offers numerous bursaries, travel and fieldwork grants to its members; for more information, please visit the PhilSoc website.


TPS 116(1) – Abstract 2

Tracing The Development Of An Old Old Story: Intensificatory Repetition In English

by Victorina González‐Díaz (University of Liverpool)

The present paper explores the synchronic distribution and historical development of an intensificatory construction that has so far received little attention in previous literature on English; i.e. what Huddleston and Pullum (2002) label as INTENSIFICATORY REPETITION (e.g. old old story, long long way). Synchronically, the paper records the existence of two functional subtypes of repetitive intensification (affection and degree) and expands previous accounts by showing the functional versatility of the degree intensificatory subtype. At the diachronic level, the paper dates the establishment of (degree) intensificatory repetition to the Late Modern English (LModE) period. It also suggests that (a) intensificatory affection was the first repetitive (sub)type to develop in the language, and (b) that its collocational expansion from Early Modern English (EModE) onwards may have paved the way for the establishment of its degree intensification counterpart.

More generally, the paper shows that formulaic phraseology can contribute to the development of fully productive constructions and advocates the need for further study of ‘minor’ intensificatory constructions (such as the one explored here) and the way in which they may help to refine current standard descriptions of the English Noun Phrase.

DOI: 10.1111/1467-968X.12114

In Memoriam Matti Rissanen

by Sylvia Adamson (University of Sheffield)

It is with great sadness that the Society has received news of the death of Matti Rissanen, Professor Emeritus of English Philology at the University of Helsinki, at the age of 80 on 24 January 2018.


A long-time member and supporter of the Philological Society, Matti Rissanen was a pioneer in English historical corpus linguistics, and the director of the project that produced the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, which covers a thousand years of the history of English and has been used widely since its publication in 1991.

Matti Rissanen was one of the rare scholars to command the history of the English language from its early stages to the present, beginning with his PhD thesis (1967) on the Old English numeral ONE. His wide range of publications includes a number of original articles and several co-edited volumes of corpus-based research, such as Early English in the Computer Age (1993), English in Transition and Grammaticalization at Work (1997), as well as the much cited chapter on ‘Early Modern English syntax’ in The Cambridge History of the English Language (vol. 3, 1999). Also taking an active interest in early American English, he was one of the international team that re-edited the Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt (2009).

His retirement in 2001 did not mark an end to his research activities. His philological expertise made an important contribution to the publication project that resulted in a new Finnish translation of all Shakespeare’s works. One of his long-lasting research interests was the history of English connectives, on which he was working to the very last days of his life.

Active in numerous professional organizations, Matti Rissanen served as president of the Societas Linguistica Europaea and chaired the Board of the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English (ICAME). He was the founder and first director of the Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG), an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence from 2000 to 2011. He was also a driving force in the foundation of the Finnish Institute in London and the Language Centre of the University of Helsinki. In recognition of his achievements Matti Rissanen received many awards, including an honorary doctorate of the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and being elected to the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. He was an Honorary member of the Modern Language Society, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, and the Japan Association for English Corpus Studies.

On the personal level, Matti was supervisor to several generations of undergraduate and doctoral students in Helsinki, while providing unfailing encouragement and support to many more students and colleagues both in Finland and abroad. He will be greatly missed by his wide circle of friends.

Anyone who would like to share their memories and recollections of him is invited to do so by adding them as comments (in English or Finnish) to this VARIENG blog post.

This notice has been adapted, with permission, from the notice posted by Matti’s colleagues in Helsinki.

The moment of truth: Testing the Matrix Language Frame model in English–Vietnamese bilingual speech

by Li Nguyen (University of Cambridge)

Over the last few decades, there has been burgeoning interest in the study of code-switching in the research of bilingualism. Despite various definitions of what the phenomenon might entail, it is generally agreed in the literature that code-switching broadly refers to bilinguals’ ability to effortlessly alternate between two different languages in their daily speech (Bullock and Toribio 2008:1). This ability enables speakers’ behaviour of language mixing, which, as researchers have come to realise, is far from random but rather governed by specific structural constraints (Poplack 1980; Bullock & Toribio 2009). The nature of such constraints has inspired the search for a ‘universal pattern’, resulting in new investigations involving a number of language pairs, such as English–Spanish (Poplack 1980; Travis & Torres Cacoullos 2013; Aaron 2015), English–Welsh (Stammers & Deuchar 2012), Ukrainian–English (Budzhak-Jones & Poplack 1997), Igbo–English (Eze 1997), or Acadian French–English (Turpin 1998).

One of the most influential theoretical accounts in code-switching literature is Myers-Scotton (2002)‘s Matrix Language Frame model (MLF), which assumes an asymmetrical relationship between the two languages in bilingual discourse. As the MLF goes, ‘speakers and hearers generally agree on which language the mixed sentence is “coming from”’ (Joshi 1985:190–191), and it is this language that constitutes the ‘matrix language’ (ML) of the conversation. In a code-switched clause, the MLF predicts that the ML (i) supplies closed-class system morphemes such as finite verbs or function words, and (ii) determines word order. Although the need and the practicality of identifying a ML in some language pairs are debatable (Sankoff & Poplack 1981; Clyne 1987), the asymmetrical relationship between two languages involved is borne out in many existing datasets. Most often, the asymmetry is more obvious in pairs that are structurally different, with existing evidence heavily involving an Indo-European language and an Asian or African language (see Chan 2009:184 for an exhaustive list). The question is then: does the MLF actually generate accurate predictions in spontaneous speech?

In this project, I am testing the applicability of the MLF in English–Vietnamese code-switching data. This pair provides an interesting testing platform, since they share a similar surface word order (SVO) despite other typological differences. In other words, at a clausal level, the word-order morpheme principle is not applicable to determining the Matrix Language. The focus of the study thus lies on the so-called ‘conflict sites’, points at which the word order of the participating languages differs. These conflicts involve the sequence head-modifier within NPs and Possessive Phrases. Specifically, modifier and possessors precede head nouns in English, but follow head nouns in Vietnamese. When bilingual speakers are presented with such a conflict, MLF predicts that the matrix language (i.e. language of the finite verbs or function words) should determine the word order. Furthermore, as an isolating language, Vietnamese has virtually no overt morphology. This adds an extra layer to the complexity of determining the Matrix Language at the clausal level, which is traditionally is assigned by the language of the finite verb, thereby testing the MLF predictions when these two languages come into contact.

Thanks to fieldwork funding support from the Philological Society, I was able to carry out my fieldwork in Canberra, Australia, where I had existing connections with the Vietnamese bilingual community. Data collection took place between June and September 2017. My principle in building the corpus was drawn from Labov’s emphasis on the vernacular, where ‘minimum attention is paid to speech’ (Labov 1984:29).  This approach was chosen because the vernacular reflects the most natural, systematic form of the language acquired by the speaker ‘before any subsequent efforts at (hyper-) correction or style shifting are made’ (Poplack 1993:252). Recruited speakers were thus free to choose their own interlocutors, in an environment that they were most comfortable with. They were asked to self-record a conversation on their personal mobile phone device, of a minimum of 30 minutes. After the recording was returned, speakers were asked to fill in a questionnaire to obtain information on extra-linguistic variables. The questionnaire consists of 18 questions, available both in English and Vietnamese.

The data collection process was successfully completed, resulting in a corpus of 10 hours of spontaneous speech. Results from this research should offer concrete, empirical evidence for or against the applicability of the MLF in language contact situations in which the participating languages are typologically disparate. If found non-applicable, it is hoped that the patterns found will form the foundation of a new theoretical framework accounting for the data in question. Methodologically, the study demonstrates a systematic approach to determining the ML, especially in problematic situations where the overarching word order of the participating languages converge, and one of the languages lacks overt morphology. When made publicly available, the data will also constitute the first digitalised English–Vietnamese bilingual corpus, providing a valuable resource for future research on this language pair in particular, and in bilingualism research as a whole.


Aaron, J. E. (2015). Lone English-origin nouns in Spanish: The precedence of community norms. International Journal of Bilingualism 19(4), 429–480.

Budzhak-Jones, S. & Poplack, S. (1997). Two generations, two strategies: the fate of bare English-origin nouns in Ukrainian. Journal of Sociolinguistics 1(2), 225-258.

Bullock, B. & Toribio, J. (2008). Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chan, B. (2009). Code-switching between typologically distinct languages. In B. Bullock & A. Toribio (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 182-198.

Clyne, M. (1987). Constraints on code-switching: How universal are they? Linguistics 25, 739–76.

Eze, E. (1997). Aspects of language contact: A varionatist perspective on codeswitching and borrowing in Igbo-English bilingual discourse. PhD dissertation. Ottawa: University of Ottawa.

Joshi, K. (1985). Processing of sentences with intrasentential code switching. In D. R. Dowty, L. Karttunen and A. Zwicky (eds.) Natural language parsing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 190–205.

Labov, W. (1984). Field methods of the project on linguistic change and variation. In J. Baugh & J. Sherzer (eds.), Language in use: Readings in sociolinguistics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 28–53.

Myers-Scotton, C. (2002). Contact Linguistics: Bilingual Encounters and Grammatical Outcomes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Poplack, S. (1980). Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en español: Toward a typology of codeswitching. Linguistics 18(7–8), 581–618. 

Poplack, S. (1993). Variation theory and language contact. In D. Preston (ed.), American dialect research: An anthology celebrating the 100th anniversary of the American Dialect Society. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 251–268.

Sankoff, D. & Poplack, S. (1981). A formal grammar for code-switching. Papers in Linguistics 14(1), 3-46.

Stammers J., & Deuchar M. (2012). Testing the nonce borrowing hypothesis: Counter-evidence from English-origin verbs in Welsh. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 15(3), 630–664.

Travis, C., & Torres Cacoullos, R. (2013). Making voices count: Corpus compilation in bilingual communities. Australian Journal of Linguistics 33(2), 170-194.

Turpin, D. (1998). ‘Le francais, c’est le last frontier’: The status of English-origin nouns in Acadian French. International Journal of Bilingualism 2(2), 221–233.

Faces of PhilSoc: Bas Aarts


Bas Aarts Offsite Link
Position: Professor of English Linguistics
Institution: University College London
Role in PhilSoc: Council Member

About You

How did you become a linguist – was there a decisive event, or was it a gradual development?

Strangely enough, this probably has to do with the Second World War. My grandparents, who lived in the south of the Netherlands, hid British pilots whose planes had been shot down in their loft, and my father, who was then very young, developed a love of the English language as a result of talking to these pilots. He became a linguist, and our family became very anglophile. As a result I also became a linguist.

What was the topic of your doctoral thesis? Do you still believe in your conclusions?

Small clauses in English. Do I still believe in the conclusions? The field has moved on, but yes, I think at least some of the conclusions are still valid.

On what project / topic are you currently working?

I’m currently working on -ing clauses in English, and I’m editing the Oxford Handbook of English Grammar.

What directions in the future do you see your research taking?

I’m hoping to do more research with the Diachronic Corpus of Present-Day Spoken English which we developed in the Survey of English Usage at UCL. (DCPSE is a spoken corpus with materials from two different time periods.)

How did you get involved with the Philological Society?

I have been attending PhilSoc meetings since working on my PhD.

‘Personal’ Questions

Do you have a favourite language – and if so, why?

Well, apart from my native language Dutch, it has to be English.

Minimalism or LFG?

Minimalism. (Strange question, though. Why only these two?)
[We were going for extremes choices…]

Teaching or Research?


Do you have a linguistic pet peeve?

I always think it’s a shame when some linguists seem to have lack of openness towards different approaches to the study of language.

What’s your (main) guilty pleasure?

Err, pizzas.

Looking to the Future

Is there something that you would like to change in academia / HE?

Get rid of tuition fees!

(How) Do you manage to have a reasonable work-life balance?

Yes, fortunately mostly I do.

What is your prime tip for younger colleagues?

Never lose confidence in yourself and keep being passionate about your subject.

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.