New Series: The Faces of PhilSoc

The Philological Society has hundreds of members all over the globe, and it is sheer impossible for all members to know or be acquainted with one another – especially if they abroad. Yet, for those who (more or less) regularly attend PhilSoc talks, the Society quickly develops a personal side as well.

It is this personal side that we hope to engage with on another level with a new series of blog posts: The Faces of PhilSoc.

In the style of (by now probably somewhat old-fashioned) magazines, we have asked members of Council and the Society’s officers a set of questions, the answers to which will allow members to gain a better idea about the people behind the Philological Society: who they are, what they do, how they came to be linguists and PhilSoc members, and a few other things.

So, watch this space and/or subscribe to our blog. Any suggestions for questions or other ideas for new series of blog posts? Let us know in the comments!

‘The Word Detective’ serialised on BBC Radio 4

by John Simpson (Chief Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, 1993–2017)

Picture1
John Simpson
(© Bloomington Photography)

A generation ago, my colleagues and I at the OED were starting to become increasingly aware that the dictionary was in danger of drifting away from its audience. Or, to put it more accurately, the dictionary was standing still while its audience moved into the twentieth and then the twenty-first centuries.

Historical lexicography is demanding. There are few short cuts; standards are exacting. The editors of the First Edition of the OED had laboured for many years to capture the history of our language, and its format reflected nineteenth-century expectations about how knowledge should be presented. Nowadays the level of scholarship at the OED is the same – it has to be. But a wider audience expects to be able to access and understand the dictionary in radically new ways.  One of the challenges of the last few decades has been how to present the content of the OED to a new readership in the digital age.

Picture2I wrote The Word Detective to give readers an informal, behind-the-scenes look at the OED and the extraordinary things it has set out to achieve over the last forty years. In addition, I wanted to convey to readers the excitement of researching and defining the language – because that’s what we all felt as editors.

The Word Detective will be broadcast at 7.45 p.m. this Monday to Friday (13–17 March), on BBC Radio 4. See if I achieved it!

 

 


John Simpson’s ‘The Word Detective’ is published by Little Brown in the UK, and Basic Books in the USA.

Membership survey 2016 

by Richard K. Ashdowne (University of Oxford; Honorary Membership Secretary, PhilSoc)

In spring 2016 the Council of the Society ran an online survey to find out members’ views on matters to do with the Society’s current activities, and in particular its programme of meetings.

More than 200 members completed the survey, from a wide range of the Society’s very diverse membership, including new and student associate members and those who have been members of the society for many decades.

The chief results of the survey were that more than half of the respondents typically do not attend any meetings of the Society each year, while less than 10% of respondents said they typically manage to attend three or more meetings. Over a quarter of those who completed the survey said they had never attended a meeting of the Society.

The most frequently given reasons for being unable to attend meetings were the difficulty and/or cost of travel to meetings and the pressure of other work or family commitments. A number of other reasons were given by smaller numbers of respondents.

The Society very much understands that the investment of time and money for a member to attend a meeting in person is often considerable. For this reason we have now encouraged speakers to provide a brief abstract that will enable members to make a more informed decision about attending.

With a view to making its meetings more accessible to UK members living outside the southeast of England the Society is continuing to arrange at least one of its regular meetings each year outside of this area. Recent events of this kind have included the events in Newcastle and Leeds in 2016. The Society – via the Secretary – is keen to hear from members who would be willing to host such events in the future.

The survey asked whether respondents had viewed the videos of some of the Society’s joint events with the British Academy and whether members would watch recordings of other meetings in addition to or instead of attending. Since this possibility was generally welcomed by those who responded, the Society has now begun to experiment with making video recordings of some of its regular meetings and making these available via YouTube. It is hoped that members who are unable to attend meetings in person may find these of interest. We would be interested in any feedback on these videos in comments on this post.

Council keeps the arrangements for meetings under regular review and so we’d also be interested in any comments in general on the Society’s events via the comments on this post.

PhilSoc and other learned societies react to Brexit

On 23 June 2016, the British public voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with a majority of 51.9% and a turnout of 72.2%. Since then, only few details of HM Government’s plan for “Brexit” have emerged. In part, this delay is owed to the Prime Minister’s policy of non-disclosure, but has also been affected by the long-awaited decision of the Supreme Court regulating that Parliament need be consulted on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. A bill to this effect has been approved by the House of Commons on 8 February 2017, and will now be considered by the House of Lords.

In view of these events and owing to the as yet unspecified possibility of changes to regulations in the education and research sector, a number of learned societies including the Philological Societies have drafter a letter of response to “Brexit” and its impact on language and language learning in the United Kingdom.

The letter calls on HM Government to develop a language policy emphasising four points:

  1. Foster a positive public attitude towards language, language learning and working with languages.
  2. Maintain and enlarge the UK’s international diplomatic, regulatory, and security networks.
  3. Encourage the development of multilingual skills at all stages of the National Curriculum.
  4. Provide for research on language as on of many aspects of human nature and society.

The Society looks to its members for comments on this statement in the comments section. The full text of the letter can be found below. Continue reading “PhilSoc and other learned societies react to Brexit”

The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

by Peter Gilliver (Associate Editor, Oxford English Dictionary)

The origins of the Oxford English Dictionary, and indeed its fortunes for much of the period when its first edition was compiled, were so closely bound up with the Philological Society that it is hardly surprising that it was long known in some quarters as ‘the Society’s Dictionary’. Accordingly, the Society’s members may be interested to know something about the new history of the project which has just been published by Oxford University Press.

9780199283620

It has been many years in the making. In the late 1990s, about a decade after I took up a position as a member of the Dictionary’s current editorial staff, I began to contemplate the idea of compiling a new history of it. Many will be familiar with some of the other histories of the OED that were already available at that time, or have appeared since: Caught in the Web of Words for example, Elisabeth Murray’s magisterial biography of her grandfather James Murray (which inevitably only manages to tell his story by also telling the story of the work with which his prodigious energies and intellect were taken up for over half his life), or Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything. However, I thought that my own knowledge of the Dictionary, gained through years of constant engagement with its text as a practising lexicographer, might qualify me to take a fresh look at the subject. Moreover, I had already begun to explore the Dictionary’s archives, having become interested in the lexicographical work done by J. R. R. Tolkien as one of my predecessors on the staff (and given a conference paper on the subject in 1992), and I could see that there was a great deal more to be discovered.

I decided that there might be advantages in combining the task of researching and writing the history of the OED with my ‘day job’ as one of the team of lexicographers engaged in preparing the Dictionary’s third edition. Working on the two tasks concurrently has indeed been beneficial to both—the cross-fertilization between ‘doing lexicography’and writing the history of one of its greatest projects has taken place in both directions—but it has also had the disadvantage that it took me fourteen years to complete the book.

james-murray
James Murray in the Scriptorium

It gives me great pleasure to take this opportunity to acknowledge, as I already have done in the preface to the book, the generosity of the Council of the Philological Society in allowing me to consult the Society’s records; many of these records are currently deposited in the archives of Oxford University Press, making it easy to consult them at the same time as the OED‘s own enormous archive. In particular, the minute books for the Society’s meetings—both ordinary meetings, and meetings of the Council—from the earliest years of work on the Dictionary have greatly enriched the story, with fascinating detail about such matters as the protracted behind-the-scenes manoeuvring with key figures in the Society that preceded the eventual signing of contracts with OUP in 1879, and the thorough briefings about the project’s progress during the ensuing decades, which Society members received (usually directly from one or other of the Dictionary’s Editors) at regular ‘Dictionary Evenings’—privileged information, which the Society was often the first to hear, and which in some cases never got written down anywhere else.

The history of the OED has an intrinsic interest to anyone interested in linguistic scholarship, the history of English, and British cultural history more generally; I hope that the Society’s close association with the Dictionary will give further interest to my book for Society members. They certainly have good reason to be proud of the part played by the Society, and by many of its individual members, in the inception and compilation of the Dictionary, arguably one of the greatest philological projects ever undertaken.

‘The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary’ is published by Oxford University Press (ISBN 9780199283620).

Before we go live: an update

It has been just over a month since we announced that the Philological Society Blog would go live in mid-October, to coincide with the first regular PhilSoc meeting of the academic year 2016/17. So far, the results are very encouraging!

Since the beginning of September, we have received more than a dozen offers to write blog posts from members at varying stages of their careers and from a variety of places: from master’s students to permanent postholders, working at the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford, Reading, Sheffield, and Surrey.

Come October, members can expect interesting insights into new research projects, fieldwork reports, and outlines of doctoral research, next to general news from the Society such as abstracts of papers to be read at meetings and articles to appear in the Transactions.

In the meanwhile, we encourage all members to think about writing a blog post about their own research, projects, fieldwork, books, or recent/future conferences (whether organised or attended). As outlined in our new style guide, contributors have great freedom in their choice of topic and form – and we hope that they will use the opportunity to share their findings, thoughts, and questions with other linguists.

All members interested in writing a post are asked to get in touch via the contact form or by email to studentassoc {at} philsoc.org.uk .

Welcome to our blog!

Over the course of the last academic year, PhilSoc has decided to launch a blog for news, research reports, and announcements that will be of interest to members of the Society.

Beginning with the first regular meeting of the Philological Society in the academic year 2016/17 on 14 October, the blog will be updated on a regular basis (at least every 10 days) and will offer a variety of entries:

  • abstracts of papers to be read at PhilSoc meetings and of the papers to appear in TPS
  • reports on Outreach activities facilitated by the Society
  • summaries of members’ activities funded by the Society (conference travel, fieldwork, etc.)
  • news from Master’s Students on PhilSoc Bursaries
  • research reports from members of the Society

We strongly encourage PhilSoc members to use this blog as a platform to share their recent, current, and future research projects, elicit informal feedback on their ideas, and to advertise events and projects they are involved in.

Similarly, we hope that members at all stages of their career (doctoral, ECR, permanent postholders) will share their news, thoughts, and projects with the rest of the Society. These can take the form of short abstracts, longer outlines of projects, questions concerning a research area, calls for participants or contributors, opinion pieces concerning current linguistic topics, or announcements of larger research projects.

Members who have received a bursary or other funding from the Society in the past year are requested to compose a short report on their work or activities.

Every entry will be open to comments from the PhilSoc membership, which we hope will allow members to exchange opinions, links, and other resources with one another.

All members interested in contributing to the blog are invited to do so directly by following this guide. For any further questions or suggestions, feel free to comment on this entry, or to get in touch with the Secretary for Student Associates (Robin Meyer, studentassoc {at} philsoc.org.uk).

We look forward to your contributions!