Linguistics and English Language

66th Language at Edinburgh lunch

The Language@Edinburgh Lunch is a bi-monthly opportunity to present your work to an interdisciplinary audience in an intimate and feedback-rich setting, all while enjoying a buffet lunch.

Posters by both postgraduate students and academic staff are welcome on any area of human language research - including all sub-fields of linguistics, philosophy of language, natural language processing, psycholinguistics, and any other language related discipline. Reporting on work in progress is equally welcome.


A Quantitative Analysis of Political Change on Eighteenth-Century Scots - Sarah van Eyndhoven

The Union of the Parliaments between Scotland and England in 1707 seemed to signal the final blow for the Scots language (Murison, 1979), opening the doors for political and linguistic assimilation. Yet in the decades following the agreement, underlying political tensions within Scotland increased, fed both by international affairs and periods of turbulent unrest at home (Phillipson, 1970). During this time the Scots language also became increasingly associated with patriotism, and the period saw a resurgence in Scots vernacular poetry (Dossena, 2005). It is not clear however, whether such influences operating in the eighteenth century had a tangible influence upon writers known to have been for or against the Union.

Utilising modern statistical methods such as random forests (Breiman, 2001), I undertook a quantitative examination of eighteenth-century Scots in a custom-built corpus (POLITECS), which contains writings both from general society and politically-active authors. First, the changing frequencies of a number of Scots lexical items were tracked across the corpus. This was followed by a sociolinguistic analysis of various extralinguistic factors, to explore the importance of political affiliation in determining authors’ choice to use Scots. Finally, a number of politically- motivated individuals were analysed in more detail, to identify whether their linguistic choices were split along pro- or anti-union lines.

From “linguicide” to “linguistic suicide”: An examination of the role of governmental language policy in the decline of indigenous regional languages in France - Stephen McNulty

In both the academic and non-academic worlds, the decline and death of languages remains a widely debated topic. The extent to which minority languages “naturally” die through “voluntary” shifts by their speakers to majority languages is an argument that permeates various sectors of society today including cultural, political, educational and humanitarian spheres. While some view the death of such languages as the end result of external manipulation which seeks to force speech communities to alter their linguistic practices to conform to the will of the majority – i.e. instances of “linguicide” (Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson, 1995) – others maintain that the shift from lesser used to more widely spoken languages constitutes a “pragmatic” (Edwards, 1985) and “utilitarian” (Beck & Lam, 2008) decision made by speakers, contributing to the social and economic betterment of themselves and their children – a form of “linguistic suicide” (Beck & Lam, 2008).

This poster will consider both conceptualisations of language decline and death, before proposing that neither alone seems sufficient. While speakers, indeed, must be seen as having the final say on whether they will continue using their language, it is argued that external ideological forces often serve to influence the “attitude shifts” (cf. Sallabank, 2007) necessary for speakers to make the choice to shift. Drawing on governmental language policies from throughout France’s history, this poster will present potential “linguicidal ideologies” which, internalised by speakers, may have led to their decisions to leave behind their mother tongues, and ultimately to the rapid decline in France’s langues régionales witnessed today.

To conclude, a possible “critical juncture” in French governmental language policy is highlighted, and its potential effects in reversing attitude shifts are contemplated.

Using structural priming to test links between constructions - Tobias Ungerer

Cognitive theories of grammar (e.g. Goldberg, 1995) view speakers’ linguistic knowledge as a hierarchically structured network of form-meaning pairings, or constructions. I propose that the relationships between these constructions in the network can be tested with the help of structural priming methods, extending Branigan and Pickering’s (2017) recent arguments for using structural priming to investigate linguistic representations.

I present the results of an online experiment testing structural priming effects between caused-motion and resultative sentences; see examples (1) and (2) below. The study used a novel experimental design combining self-paced reading with speeded acceptability judgments. Participants were found to read resultative sentences faster after being primed with caused-motion sentences than after reading unrelated constructions. This suggests that resultative and caused-motion are different but related constructions.

  1. Bill rolled the ball down the hill.
  2. Herman hammered the metal flat.

Further studies will, I argue, reveal whether differences in the size of priming effects can be reliably used to distinguish between types of constructional links. If so, structural priming promises to provide a powerful tool for advancing our models of the structure of the linguistic network.



Language at Edinburgh Lunch committee

Lisa Gotthard, Hana Jee, Alex Lorson, Raji Satarai Madhavan, Hans Wilke

Further information

The Language at Edinburgh Lunch is made possible through funding from the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences and the Human Communication Research Centre, with the intent to facilitate interdisciplinary language research at the University of Edinburgh.

Feb 14 2019 -

66th Language at Edinburgh lunch

2018-02-14: Lunch meeting

Room G.07, The Informatics Forum, 10 Crichton Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AB