Faces of PhilSoc: George Walkden

George Walkden
Position: Lecturer in English Linguistics
Institution: University of Manchester
Role in PhilSoc: Council member; member of the Publications Committee


About You

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

My favourite subjects at school were languages and maths, and I was always torn between them. During my first degree I gradually realized I could combine the two! I think my desire to continue in academia was born during my year abroad, during which I was clocking in and out every day to translate documents for a pharmaceutical company. I wanted to do a job that rewarded results, not a 9-to-5, and a job that allowed me to keep on learning (and studying language) until I keeled over. After that I was more or less hooked!

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

My doctoral thesis was about reconstructing the syntax of Proto-Germanic. The general conclusions – in particular that syntactic reconstruction is feasible and interesting – I would stand by. I did make at least one major mistake in interpreting results for Old English verb-late clauses, though, and I gave a talk about this at PhilSoc in 2015, retracting my earlier claim.

On what project / topic are you currently working?

Lots of different things! Negation in Middle English, preposition stranding in early Germanic, how to derive and understand Constant Rate Effects in syntactic change… I’m an obsessive collaborator and tangent-taker. I’m also looking to expand my parsed corpus of Old Saxon.

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

I’m keen to expand my knowledge of computational and mathematical approaches to language change, and am aggressively reading up in this area. Combining this with corpus-based research and predictive theories of acquisition and use is what I’d aim to achieve. One of the things I love about historical syntax is how many different skills you need to develop: philology, syntactic theory, corpus methodology, the general theory of language change, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

How did you get involved with the Philological Society?

Two events aimed specifically at postgrads and early career researchers: one in Cambridge in 2010, and another in Oxford in 2012.

‘Personal’ Questions

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

Old Saxon! It’s the underappreciated sibling of Old High German, and has been unjustifiably ignored, especially within Germany.

Minimalism or LFG?

Minimalism. But I wish we had something like XLE.


Looking to the Future

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

Gold Open Access should be the norm, not the exception. Academic publishing should be scholar-led.

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

Honestly, I find it hard to distinguish between the two.

What is your prime tip for younger colleagues?

Don’t be afraid to put your ideas out there! Senior academics are (mostly) not out to get you.

TPS 114(3) – Abstract 1

London’s Name

by Theodora Bynon

The present paper was inspired by Richard Coates’s 1998 article ‘A new analysis of the name London’, in which he refutes the traditional derivation of the name from the form Londinium recorded in the Classical sources on the grounds that its Old English ancestor Lunden presupposes a British (that is to say, Celtic) source form *[Lōndonjon] with a back vowel in the second syllable. I wish further to clarify the history of this name in two respects by showing that: (i) the British name must have reached western Germanic dialects prior to West Germanic Consonant Lengthening and thus in all probability prior to the Anglo-Saxon settlements in England, and: (ii) that *Londonion (with a short [o]) belongs to an identifiable British place-name type, even though the identity of the lexical base lond- remains rather elusive and information on a native settlement is confined to a single historical source, which locates it to the south of the Thames.

TPS 114(2) – Abstract 2

Early Old English Foot Structure

by Nelson Goering (University of Oxford)

The variable operation of high vowel deletion in Old English has long been a point of difficulty, both descriptively – a prehistoric form like *hēafudu is attested variably as hēafudu, hēafdu, and hēafod – and theoretically. Recent work, especially by Bermúdez-Otero (2005b) and Fulk (2010), has indicated that plural forms like hēafudu are most likely original, but accounting for why the medial *u is preserved in this case form, and not in hēafde, the dative singular of the same word, has remained theoretically problematic. These difficulties arise from attempting to describe the prehistoric Old English process of high vowel deletion on the basis of later Old English phonology. At an earlier stage, the nominative-accusative plural *hēafudu could be exhaustively parsed into two precisely bimoraic feet: *[hēa][.fu.du]. The dative singular historically ended with a long vowel, *hēafudǣ, in which the medial *u could not be accommodated within a bimoraic foot: *[hēa].fu[.dǣ]. High vowel deletion is therefore best characterized as the deletion of unfooted high vowels in early Old English, initially operating while length in unstressed vowels remained contrastive. Both this quantitative system and the preference for precisely bimoraic units receive support from Kaluza’s law, an archaic metrical phenomenon in Beowulf which prohibits resolution in secondary metrical ictus if the resulting unit would have more than two moras, and which is sensitive to prehistoric length distinctions. This original system was obscured, linguistically and metrically, in later Old English by the shortening of unstressed long vowels, triggering various morphological reanalyses of the effects of high vowel deletion. A review of these changes suggests that the system of metrical phonology described here provides a more plausible starting point for the reworkings that produced the forms found in later Old English than do alternative accounts such as those of Campbell (1983) or Ringe (2002).

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