Research Seminars

Research seminars

Lovely Nurses and Rude Receptionists: A corpus analysis of patient comments about the NHS.



This talk reports on the analysis of a 29 million word corpus of over 200,000 patient comments posted on the NHS Choices website between 2013 to 2015. The study was funded by an ESRC Knowledge Exchange Grant and involved answering questions that were set by Patients and Information Directorate, NHS England. In this talk I address one area of the research project which aimed to examine key differences in patient’s experiences across different types of healthcare providers (e.g. dentists vs GPs). Taking a corpus-based approach we identified frequent forms of positive and negative evaluation for different types of NHS staff, as well as considering the most frequently associated collocates and keywords in different sub-sections of the corpus. Concordance analyses helped to interpret and explain the patterns we found. The findings from the analysis reveal insights into both the underlying nature of patient feedback and the current state of the NHS.

The importance of gesture for documenting language: A study of gesture in two Modern South Arabian Languages.


wednesday 31st october 2018

Most observers are aware that when people speak, or interact with each other more generally, they also move their bodies in a variety of ways. Such movements may be referred to as gestures. In recent years, linguists, sociologists and psychologists have explored gestures from a variety of perspectives. Research into language and gesture has demonstrated that the two are linked phonetically, syntactically, and semantically. While this observation has had a dramatic impact on theories within linguistics, it has not had a similar impact on standard practice for language documentation. This has resulted in a continued bias towards the collection of audio rather than audio-video data. 

In this talk, I will demonstrate the importance of collecting audio-video data for linguistic analysis, by showing how critical gesture is during face-to-face interaction. Throughout the presentation I will use examples from two endangered Modern South Arabian Languages, Merhi and Śḥerεt, to demonstrate the importance of gesture annotation and analysis. I argue that the collection of audio-video data is especially important for the documentation and analysis of Merhi and Śḥerεt (andmany other endangered languages) because face-to-face communicative practices (which always include gesture) constitute the language. 

“The bloodiness and horror of it”: Exploring metaphorical accounts of endometriosis pain

Stella Bullo (Manchester Metropolitan University)


This work explores the challenges of endometriosis pain communication and the conceptualisation of pain by women who suffer from the debilitating gynecological disease of endometriosis. Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women yet its worldwide average diagnosis length is 7.5 years. Among other manifestations, it causes severe pain in women. However, it is not infrequent to find health-care practitioners that dismiss and normalize pain as part of the female condition (Bullo, 2018). Studies also suggest that dismissal or normalisation leading to diagnosis delay may also happen as a result of miscommunication of symptoms, in particular, the way in which pain is communicated and explained during early consultations. Medical research advises that the endometriosis pain experience should assess not only the severity but also pain mechanisms (Morotti, et al., 2016). 

In this paper, I work with elicited and non-elicited data collected through interviews and online forum contributions to investigate metaphorical accounts of endometriosis pain by women. I compare the affordances of metaphors and similes to offer insights into how pain is conceptualised and communicated. The findings of the study have implications for endometriosis communication practices and will provide the basis for broader enquiries on the pain making sense experience and its communication.

Gendered social structure in 19th century children’s literature: A corpus linguistic approach

anna cermakova (University of Birmingham)

wednesday 17th october 2018

In this talk, I am going to investigate the social structure in 19th century children’s literature with a particular focus on gender representation. By using ChiLit, a 19th century corpus of children’s literature and other corpus resources I am going to illustrate how a range of textual evidence can help us gain access to different layers of society. With the example of how ‘mothers’ are portrayed, constructed, and otherwise present or absent in children’s books published in the 19th century, I will show how a corpus linguistic approach makes it possible to identify some of characteristics of social structures that are shared across children’s books. The shared elements of fictional worlds provide key links to the real world of the time that in turn has influenced contemporary social structures in a profound way. Gender is one of the fundamental structuring principles of our society and as such it is reflected and reproduced in everyday language practice. Everyone grows up into a gendered discourse. However, gender is constructed in different ways in different discourses and the discourses also have a diachronic dimension. In order to understand today’s discourse on gender, we need to understand its origins. 

Assertion & Presupposition: A Cross-Linguistic Experimental Investigation into the Syntax-Meaning Mapping

Kajsa Djarv (University of Pennsylvania)

Wednesday 10th october 2018

In this talk I present new data from a large-scale cross-linguistic experimental study, addressing two empirical questions regarding attitude predicates that take declarative clausal complements:

  1. (To what extent) are ASSERTION and PRESUPPOSITION syntactically encoded in the embedded clause?

  2. How does the lexical meaning of attitude verbs constrain: (i) the availability of different kinds of declarative complements; and (ii) the interpretation of the embedded clause, and the utterance as a whole?

These questions are at the heart of several theoretical debates, going back to Kiparksy & Kiparsky 1970, Emonds 1970, Hooper & Thompson 1973, and Stalnaker 1974, 1978. Much of the work in this area has centered around a family of constructions, so-called Main Clause Phenomena (MCP), which although typically confined to unembedded clauses, are also observed to be available in some embedded declaratives. The consensus view in the literature is that the availability of MCP correlates positively with ASSERTION, and negatively with PRESUPPOSITION.

However, despite its long history, providing a precise characterization---and hence a predictive theory---of this syntax-meaning relationship, has proven challenging. I attribute this to two gaps in our knowledge:

  1. First, it is not clear to what extent these constructions actually represent a (syntactically or semantically) homogeneous class.

  2. Secondly, assertion and presupposition are both multifaceted concepts; what specific aspects are relevant to the syntax?

    This talk presents new data from an on-going large-scale experimental study investigating the semantic-pragmatic conditions governing the availability of 4 different MCP, across 3 different languages, thus addressing these knowledge gaps, and paving the way for a predictive theoretical account.

Towards a corpus linguistics of sign languages: The case of indicating verbs in British Sign Language

Adam Schembri (University of Birmingham)

wednesday 3rd october 2018

In this talk, I will begin by addressing some of the widespread myths and misconceptions around sign languages (e.g., their origins, the universality of sign languages, their relationship to spoken languages) and what basic facts every (hearing) linguist really ought to know so that they can respond when they encounter these widespread misunderstandings. I will then focus on some of my work in collaboration with the British Sign Language Corpus ( team, discussing how the BSL Corpus was created, how it is being annotated, and what discoveries we are making in analysing the data. In particular, I will focus on recent work on a subset of verbs in BSL known as ‘indicating verbs’. These signs, found in the vast majority of sign languages documented to date,  can move between locations in space associated with the referents of the arguments of the verb, and thus can use space to distinguish subject and/or object. They have been the subject of intense debate, because this directionality has been compared to person agreement marking in spoken languages. A number of claims about indicating verbs have been made in the BSL and the wider sign language linguistics literature, and we will explore how corpus-based studies have begun to challenge some of these assumptions. 

The psychological validity of collocation and related association measures



In this presentation, I discuss the results of four experiments which combine methods from corpus linguistics and cognitive neuroscience in order to investigate the psychological validity of collocation and different measures of collocation strength. For each experiment, I extracted collocational adjective-noun bigrams from the BNC1994. I then constructed matched non-collocational bigrams which are absent from the BNC1994, and examined concordance lines to find suitable sentence contexts for each bigram pair. Participants then read these sentences on a computer screen one-word-at-a-time while their brain activity was recorded using scalp electrodes. This method of detecting the electrical activity of the brain by placing electrodes across the scalp is known as electroencephalography (EEG). More specifically, I used the Event-Related Potential (ERP) technique of analysing brainwave data, where the brain activity is measured in response to particular stimuli.

The aim of Experiment 1 was to pilot this procedure for determining whether or not there is a neurophysiological difference in the way that the native speaker brain processes collocational adjective-noun bigrams (e.g. clinical trials) compared to matched non-collocational adjective-noun bigrams (e.g. clinical devices). The aim of Experiment 2 was to replicate the results of Experiment 1 in another group of native English speakers, and the aim of Experiment 3 was to investigate the same phenomena in non-native speakers of English (specifically, native speakers of Mandarin Chinese). Finally, in Experiment 4, I treated collocationality as a continuous rather than a dichotomous variable in order to investigate the gradience of the ERP response, and I also aimed to investigate the psychological validity of the following association measures: transition probability, mutual information, log-likelihood, z-score, t-score, Dice-coefficient, MI3, and raw frequency. The results of this research have important implications for the field of corpus linguistics.

More research seminars coming in the new academic year!

Last week (18/04/18) we hosted the last research seminar of 2017/2018. The schedule for the 2018/2019 research seminar series will be posted here in the new academic year. 

We would like to thank everyone who came to present their work this past year. We had a brilliant line-up of speakers and their work always sparked interesting discussion after the talk. If you missed the full line up, here it is!

WYRED Project

Erica Gold, Kate Earnshaw & Sula Ross (University of Huddersfield)

18th april 2018

In this talk, we will be introducing the West Yorkshire Regional English Database (WYRED). WYRED consists of approximately 196 hours of high-quality audio recordings of 180 West Yorkshire (British English) speakers. All participants are male between the ages of 18-30, and are divided evenly (60 per region) across three boroughs within West Yorkshire (Northern England): Bradford, Kirklees, and Wakefield. Speakers participated in four spontaneous speaking tasks. The first two tasks relate to a mock crime where the participant speaks to a police officer (Research Assistant 1) followed by an accomplice (Research Assistant 2). Speakers returned a minimum of a week later at which point they were paired with someone from their borough and recorded having a conversation on any topics they wish. The final task is an experimental task in which speakers are asked to leave a voicemail message related to the fictitious crime from the first recording session. In total, each speaker participated in approximately 1 hour of spontaneous speech recordings. This talk details the design of WYRED, in order to introduce forensic speech science research utilizing this data, and to promote WYRED’s potential application in related research and in forensic speech science casework. In this talk we will also be playing a number of recordings from the database as an example of the type of data that is included in WYRED.

On reciprocity and (im)politeness

Jonathan Culpeper and Vittorio Tantucci (Lancaster University)

21st march 2018

In this presentation, I share ongoing work that I have been conducting with Vittorio Tantucci on the notion of reciprocity, specifically in the context of (im)politeness. It begins by pointing out out that reciprocity is a frequent dictum in many religions and legal frameworks, and that, as far as academia is concerned, it has been discussed in social psychology and sociology in particular. The background to our definition of reciprocity is Gouldner's suggestion that it is underpinned by “a generalized moral norm [...] which defines certain actions and obligations as repayments for benefits received” (1960: 170), and the idea of politeness as akin to a social payment (cf. Werkhofer  [1992] 2005: 170-2, 182-7; Watts 2003: 115). However, unlike these researchers, we do not restrict reciprocity to social 'credits', but include social 'debits'. Reciprocity, in our view, is simply about maintaining a balance of social payments.

Of course, interlocutors do not always comply with reciprocity. For example, in accord with the 'surplus' approach (Kasper 1990; Watts [1992] 2005), one way of achieving politeness is  to respond to a formulaic ('politic') utterance with a more creatively polite one. Such deviations from reciprocity are of particular interest because they trigger further inferencing and/or reflect social constraints. The presentation will map out and illustrate a matrix of reciprocity options. This matrix plots options according to the interlocutors' (im)politeness thresholds and whether they match or not. In addition, it will describe our current work on reciprocity in the context of requestive exchanges. The interest here is whether the (im)politeness threshold of a request is matched by the (im)politeness threshold of the response. We have been developing a particular method to explore this, involving corpus data, informant testing and a statistical model.


Gouldner, Alvin W. 1960. The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement.  American Sociological Review:161–178.

Kasper, Gabriele. 1990. Linguistic politeness: Current research issues. Journal of Pragmatics 14 (2):193–218.

Watts, Richard J. [1992] 2005. Linguistic politeness research: Quo vadis? In: Richard J. Watts, Sachiko Ide, and Konrad Ehlich (eds.) Politeness in Language: Studies in its History, Theory and Practice (2nd edn) Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. xi-xlvii.

Watts, Richard J. 2003. Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Werkhofer, Konrad T. [1992] 2005. Traditional and modern views: The social constitution and the power of politeness. In: Richard J. Watts, Sachiko Ide, and Konrad Ehlich (eds.) Politeness in Language: Studies in its History, Theory and Practice (2nd edn) Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 155-99.

CLiC: studying literature in the digital age

michaela Mahlberg (University of Birmingham)

14th march 2018

The CLiC Dickens project demonstrates through corpus stylistics how computer-assisted methods can be used to study literary texts and lead to new insights into how readers perceive fictional characters. The project was funded by the AHRC and resulted in the development of the web app CLiC (Corpus Linguistics in Context), designed specifically for the analysis of literary texts. This talk will demonstrate how CLiC can be used to support stylistic analysis.

A processing and language-based typology of poetic difficulty

Davide Castiglione (Vilnius University)

7th march 2018

This talks presents some recent conceptual refinements of my difficulty model. In particular, it posits the need for three cognitive-behavioural dimensions (accessibility, readability and interpretability) mediating between poetic difficulty as a response phenomenon and the linguistic strategies prompting it at the textual level. An important consequence of this refinement is a much firmer theoretical distinction between difficulty and obscurity, as well as the development of four aesthetic typologies solidly grounded in the textuality of poems: 1) processing baseline (high on accessibility, readability and interpretability); 2) transient difficulty (low on accessibility and readability, high on interpretability); 3) permanent difficulty (low on accessibility, readability and interpretability), of which I identify two subtypes: the chaotic poem (impeded interpretability) and the nonsensical one (unacceptable interpretability). Each type will be exemplified in stylistic terms and compared to previous typological attempts, notably Steiner (1978).

Semantic change in science fiction: a cognitive, corpus stylistic approach

louise nuttall (university of huddersfield)

14th february 2018

Corpus linguistic research has examined how new or existing words acquire meaning over time by examining the contexts in which they occur. Central to such analysis is the idea that collocational patterns can imbue words with connotational meaning, often termed semantic prosody or semantic preference (Louw 1993; Hunston 2007). In this paper, I adopt a corpus-assisted approach (O’Halloran 2007) to investigate the way in which readers come to understand unfamiliar or ambiguous language in a science fiction context.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) describes what seems to be an idyllic boarding school childhood for its narrator, Kathy. Readers are invited to comprehend the sinister reality which underlies Kathy’s childhood gradually, through the opaque references she provides throughout her narrative. Familiar words such as ‘carer’, ‘donor’ and ‘guardian’ progressively gain an alternative, darker meaning in the course of the text. By the end of the novel, we understand that in this alternative reality these words mean almost their opposite.

Uses of these words across the novel are examined through concordancing and comparison with collocations in the British National Corpus. Drawing on concepts from cognitive stylistics, I describe readers’ processing of these cohesive references across the text in terms of reference point chains (Langacker 2008) and burying (Sanford and Emmott 2012). I argue that, through a cumulative manipulation of these words and their meanings in a science fiction context, this text reveals processes by which language can disguise truths and normalise atrocities in the real-world.



Hunston, S. (2007) ‘Semantic prosody revisited’, International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 12(2): 249-68.

Ishiguro, K. (2005) Never Let Me Go. London: Faber and Faber.

Langacker, R. W. (2008) Cognitive Grammar: A Basic Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Louw, B. (1993) ‘Irony in the text or insincerity in the writer?’ In Text and Technology: in honour of John Sinclair (pp. 169–189). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

O’Halloran, K. (2007) ‘The subconscious in James Joyce’s `Eveline’: a corpus stylistic analysis that chews on the `Fish hook’’. Language and Literature, 16(3), 227–244.

Sanford, A., & Emmott, C. (2012) Mind, Brain and Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

What the /fᴧk/? An acoustic-pragmatic analysis of implicated meaning in a scene from The Wire

Erica Gold and Dan McIntyre (university of huddersfield)

7th February 2018

In the critically-acclaimed HBO series, The Wire, Detectives Jimmy McNulty and William ‘Bunk’ Moreland are investigating old homicide cases. They are revisiting the case of a young woman shot dead in her apartment, and visit the scene of the crime to try and figure out how the woman was killed. The two detectives communicate with each other using only the word fuck and its variants (e.g. motherfucker, fuckity fuck, etc.). However, the viewer is able to understand what McNulty and Bunk mean when they communicate despite using such a restricted set of words.

This paper examines the acoustic properties in the vowel realizations of fuck in combination with pragmatic classifications of the utterances to determine whether the production styles play a role in expressing meaning. All tokens of fuck were categorized using modified pre-existing classifications McEnery & Xiao (2004) and Murphy (2009). Formants and duration were measured for all vowels, and multinomial regression and box plots were used to examine the relationships between meaning and productions.

The results show that the duration of the vowels produced had a strong relationship with the meaning being conveyed – a long duration was associated with disbelief/realization, and shorter durations were more associated with insults/functional uses. Furthermore, our results shed new light on what for linguists is an old problem: how do we make sense of what people say when speakers so very rarely say exactly what they mean? Research in pragmatics suggests that we infer meaning when people break conversational norms (e.g. Grice 1989; Levinson 2000). In the scene from The Wire, while it is clear that the characters are breaking normal conventions, pragmatic accounts of implicature cannot explain how we infer such a range of meaning from such limited vocabulary. Our results suggest that this is because meaning is coming not via conversational implicature but is being conveyed at the phonetic level.


Grice, H. Paul (1975) Logic and conversation. In Cole, Peter and Morgan, Jerry (eds) Syntax and Semantics. Vol. III: Speech Acts, pp. 41-58. New York: Academic Press.

Levinson, Stephen (2000) Presumptive Meanings: The Theory of Generalized Conversational Implicature. Cambridge: MIT Press.

McEnery, Anthony & Xiao, Richard. (2004) Swearing in modern British English: the case of “fuck” in the BNC. Language and Literature 13(3): 235-68.

Murphy, Brona (2009) “She's a fucking ticket”: the pragmatics of fuck in Irish English – an age and gender perspective. Corpora 4(1): 85-106.

From cool to bad and back again: Multicultural London English and the media 2005–2018

Paul Kerswill (University of York)

31st January 2018

My talk deals with the way 'Multicultural London English' has been talked about in the British print and online media, from its origins as 'Jafaican' (a media invention) through to a variety of English that is now common currency in the media. I will discuss the different discourses associated with MLE, from an interesting, cool new variety, through a variety that was vilified by politicians and journalists as 'pushing out' the authentic dialect of Cockney, while at the same time leading to educational disadvantage. MLE was seen as the language of the 2011 London riots, three years  later also being equated with the speech of the violent jihadist Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John). Concurrently, it has emerged as the language of London-based grime, and has spread from there to be the language of choice for grime across the country. 

Non-canonical questions and “negation” in Glasgow Scots

E Jamieson (University of Edinburgh)

24th January 2018

‘Non-canonical questions’ define a broad set of interrogative constructions in which the speaker already has a belief about what the answer to the question should be. These include biased questions (1), tag questions (2), rhetorical questions (3) and interrogative exclamatives (4), all of which are produced in standard English with the negation marker –n’t (Domaneschi et al. 2017, Ladd 1981, Zanuttini & Portner 2003)

1.     Can’t he come too?

2.     He can come, can’t he?

3.     Didn’t I tell you it would be easy?

4.     Isn’t she brilliant!

In Scots varieties, -n’t is not used; instead these questions generally have low negation, no (equivalent to standard English not).

5.     Can he no come too? / He can come, can he no?

However, some Scots varieties have “negation” markers that can only be used in these non-canonical questions. In this talk I will present results of acceptability judgment tasks showing the distribution of Glasgow Scots –int.

6.     *He kint come.

7.     *Kint he come too?

8.     He can come, kint he?

9.     He cannae come, kint he no?

10.  Dint I tell you it would be easy?

11.  Wint she brilliant!

I will show that there are specific pragmatic contexts that license the use of this particle, and argue that despite looking on the surface like negation and appearing in the same contexts as negation does in standard English, –int is in fact not negation. Rather, it is a check marker that checks that the addressee also believes the proposition p that the speaker believes. Rather than being syntactically in NegP, I argue that it is situated in ResponseP, in the conversation domain of the left periphery (Wiltschko & Heim 2016). This analysis accounts for its limited distribution, lack of negation-like behaviour (such as not anti-licensing positive polarity items like too) and crucially, its ability to appear with lower negation marker no in contexts like (9).

I will round off with a brief discussion of other varieties of English which appear to have similar particles – other Scots varieties, Newcastle English and Tyrone English


Domaneschi, F., Romero, M. & Braun, B. (2017) ‘Bias in polar questions: Evidence from English and German production experiments’ Glossa 

Ladd, R. (1981) ‘A first look at the semantics and pragmatics of negative questions and tag questions’ CLS 18

Wiltschko, M. & Heim, J. (2016) ‘The syntax of confirmationals: A neo-performative analysis’ in Outside the Clause: Form and function of extra-clausal constituents

Zanuttini, R. & Portner, P. (2003) ‘Exclamative clauses: At the syntax-semantics interface’ Language 79(1)


'Colloquialization' in fiction: a corpus-driven analysis of present-tense fiction 

Reiko Ikeo (Lancaster University)

Over the past decade, more and more writers have used the present tense as the primary tense for their fictional narratives instead of the past tense. This paper shows that contemporary present-tense fiction has more characteristics which are similar to spoken discourse than past-tense fiction by comparing lexis and structures in two corpora: a corpus consisting of present-tense narratives and a corpus of past-tense narratives. It also discusses how the use of the present tense affects the management of viewpoint in narrative by relating its lexical, structural characteristics to the presentation of characters’ speech and thoughts. 

Middle Class Acquisition

Robyn Orfitelli (University of Sheffield)

One of the most discussed puzzles in language acquisition is that children learning English (and a typologically diverse array of other languages) are delayed in acquiring adult comprehension of A(rgument)-movement structures like (1)-(2) until as late as 6 years old, but acquire others (3) early (cf. Orfitelli 2012 and references within). This discrepancy has inspired numerous explanations, including appeals to structural frequency (Demuth 1989), the non-canonical thematic alignment of passives (e.g. Fox and Grodzinsky 1998, Kirby 2009), and recently, intervention effects (Orfitelli 2012, Snyder and Hyams 2015), which suggest that structures like (1) violate locality restrictions on movement, making them impossible for young children to derive, while the sentences in (2) do not violate these restrictions.

(1) Amber was seen Amber by Graham. verbal passive

(2) Amber seems to Graham [to be Amber sleeping]. subject-to-subject raising

(3) Amber believes Graham [to be Graham lying]. subject-to-object raising

This paper presents data from three experimental studies on the acquisition of the Amovement involved in the middle voice (4), and a related structure with similar properties (5, cf Ahn and Sailor 2014). Both (4) and (5) are structurally ambiguous: the nominative subject may be interpreted as either the external argument (reading i) or internal argument (reading ii) of the predicate. The internal argument reading is of particular interest to an understanding of A-movement acquisition, as it presents a non-canonical thematic alignment, but does not violate locality restrictions on movement (Ackema and Schoorlemmer 2007, Ahn and Sailor 2014). Furthermore, the results of experiment 1, a CHILDES search of sentences like (4) and (5) in four British English corpora, reveals that the internal argument usage is even rarer in the input to children than verbal passives are.

(4) Kittens sell easily. middle

i. Kittens are excellent sales-cats

ii. Kittens are easy to sell.

(5) Mad scientists make great monsters. “make-middle”

i. Mad scientists create great monsters (a la Dr. Frankenstein).

ii. Mad scientists become great monsters (a la Dr. Jekyll).

10 linguistically naïve adults and 60 English-acquiring children (mean age 5.4 years) participated in two truth-value judgement tasks (Crain and McKee 1985) investigating comprehension of sentences similar to (4) and (5). In one scenario testing sentences like (5), a handsome prince enjoys sculpting, but has no talent (Picture 1). One day, he sculpted a horribly ugly frog (Picture 2). The wicked witch saw this, and turned him into a frog too, but the prince was so handsome he became a very handsome frog. Following the story, the TVJT puppet shows the child either Picture 2 or 3, and utters a test item. The condition of interest is “In this part of the story…the prince makes a handsome/ugly frog” which can be applied to either Picture 2 or 3 with different interpretations. The adjective ugly would be the adult-like adjective for Picture 2, in which the prince is the external argument of make, while handsome is the adult-like adjective for Picture 3, in which it is the internal argument.







Based on logistic regressions with accuracy as the dependent variable and age and condition as fixed effects, neither age nor condition was found to be a significant predictor for either study. These results indicate that both adults and children readily permit both interpretations of the sentence. Thus, children allow the nominative DP to begin as an internal argument, despite the non-canonical alignment of this interpretation, and its extreme rarity in child directed speech. Of the accounts considered here, only intervention – or the lack thereof – is consistent with the early comprehension of these structures, as compared to the late acquisition of verbal passives and subject-to-subject raising.


Ackema, P. & M. Schoorlemmer. 2007. 'Middles' In M. Everaert & H. van Riemsdijk (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to Syntax.. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 131-203.

Ahn, B. & C. Sailor. 2014. The emerging middle class. In Proceedings from the 46th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society.

Crain, S., & McKee, C. (1985, October). The acquisition of structural restrictions on anaphora. In Proceedings of NELS (Vol. 15, pp. 94-110).

Demuth, K. (1989). Maturation and the acquisition of the Sesotho passive. Language, 56-80.

Fox, D. & Y. Grodzinsky. 1998. Children's passive: A view from the `by'-phrase. Linguistic Inquiry 29:311-332.

Kirby, S. (2010). Passives in first language acquisition: What causes the delay?. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 16(1), 13.

Orfitelli, R. M. (2012). Argument intervention in the acquisition of A-movement. Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

Snyder, W. & N. Hyams. 2015. Minimality Effects in Children's Passives In Elisa Di Domenico, Cornelia Hamann, and Simona Matteini (eds.) Structures, Strategies and Beyond. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Language and ‘the local’: How language indexes identity in an insular community

Emma Moore (University of Sheffield)

Discussions of language and place sometimes give the impression that the ‘local’ is a clearly defined and recognisable entity. However, as Eckert (2004:109) has noted, “the community is a contested entity that is differentially constructed in the practices and in the speech of different factions”. That is to say, different people experience ‘the local’ differently. This paper will explore precisely how life trajectory and gender interact to affect how individuals from the same small island community use language to index ‘local’.

My data comes from the Isles of Scilly, a group of islands off the south-west coast of England. I focus on the vowels in two pairs of lexical sets, one with quite clear ideological associations in English English (TRAP and BATH), and another which is regionally distinct, but less socially marked (MOUTH and PRICE). My data suggests that men define the envelope of variation for these vowels, and that this can be explained as a consequence of different educational experiences, which result in the construction of two oppositional Scillonian identity types. The women in the community show a smaller degree of variation and this can be explained as a consequence of reduced access to the range of linguistic markets available to men.

In the course of the analysis, I will question the assumption implicit in much sociolinguistic work that use of standard forms straightforwardly reflects orientation to norms external to the local community being studied (see, e.g. Labov 1963; Gal 1978; Holmquist 1985; Schilling-Estes 1998)). Furthermore, by focusing on a small, rural, island community, I’ll also demonstrate that the local is not even easily defined in communities which are often portrayed as linguistically conservative and homogeneous. Building on existing research from Schilling-Estes (2002), Smith and Durham (2011) and Burland (2017), I’ll show that what matters is not the size or type of communities we study, but the necessity for individuals to index distinct styles and identities within a particular social space.



Burland, Kate. 2017. Where Black Country meets “Black Barnsley”: Dialect variation and identity in an ex-mining community of Barnsley. In Chris Montgomery & Emma Moore (eds.), Language and a Sense of Place. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eckert, Penelope. 2004. Variation and a sense of place. In Carmen Fought (ed.), Sociolinguistic Variation: Critical Reflections, 107–120. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gal, Susan. 1978. Peasant men can’t get wives: Language change and sex roles in a bilingual community. Language in Society 7. 1–16.

Holmquist, Jonathan C. 1985. Social correlates of a linguistic variable: A study in a Spanish village. Language in Society 14. 191–203.

Labov, William. 1963. The social motivation of a sound change. Word 19. 273–309.

Schilling-Estes, Natalie. 1998. Investigating “self-conscious” speech: The performance register in Ocracoke English. Language in Society 27. 53–83.

Schilling-Estes, Natalie. 2002. On the nature of isolated and post-isolated dialects: Innovation, variation and differentiation. Journal of Sociolinguistics 6(1). 64–85.

Smith, Jennifer & Mercedes Durham. 2011. A tipping point in dialect obsolescence? Change across the generations in Lerwick, Shetland. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15(2). 197–225.