Survey Seminar Series Autumn 2022

The Survey of English Usage organises a number of seminars each year for staff and students from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and beyond. They are generously sponsored by the English Department.

The following research seminars will take place during the Autumn term.

Both seminars will be held in-person in the IAS Common Ground, G11 (Ground floor), South Wing, UCL Wilkins Building, Gower Street site. Map

Thursday 20 October, 4.15pm, IAS Common Ground

  Javier Ruano-García, University of Salamanca

Exploring the language of dialect writing, or, what can representations of dialects tell us about linguistic variation in the past?

This seminar explores the language of dialect writing in the history of English in order to illustrate what it can tell us about the language of dialect speakers in the past. Unlike in the case of standard English, the history of British English dialects remains poorly understood largely as a result of the scarcity of materials where older regional speech is documented. Among the sources that have come down to us, we may refer to literary representations of dialects, which inform us about their general characteristics, while they offer a glimpse into questions of salience relating to the linguistic forms writers consciously choose to represent. This talk looks at such representations and considers cases of literary dialect and dialect literature (Shorrocks 1996) from the Salamanca Corpus with a twofold purpose. Firstly, to introduce students to this kind of historical evidence and its usefulness for linguistic research (see e.g. Beal 2000, García-Bermejo Giner 2013, Maguire 2020, Ruano-García fc.). Secondly, I exemplify the potential contribution of dialect writing to the record with selected case studies that include grammatical phenomena such as pronoun exchange (e.g. her ate ‘she ate’). At the same time, the seminar seeks to discuss methodological aspects to analyse the linguistic data circulated in these texts.


Beal, Joan C. 2000. From Geordie Ridley to Viz: Popular literature in Tyneside English. Language and Literature 9.4: 343–59.

García-Bermejo Giner, María F. 2013. The southern dialect in Thomas Churchyard’s The Contention betwixte Churchyearde and Camell (1552). In Hans Sauer & Gaby Waxenberger (eds.), Recording English, Researching English, Transforming English. Frankfurt-am-Main: Peter Lang, 219–36.

García-Bermejo Giner, María F., Pilar Sánchez-García & Javier Ruano-García (eds.). 2011–. The Salamanca Corpus: Digital Archive of English Dialect Texts.

Maguire, Warren. 2020. Phonological analysis of early-nineteenth-century Tyneside dialect literature: Thomas Wilson’s The Pitman’s Pay. In Patrick Honeybone & Warren Maguire (eds.), Dialect Writing and the North of England. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 243–65.

Ruano-García, Javier. forthcoming. The language of dialect writing. In Merja Kytö & Erik Smitterberg (eds.), The New Cambridge History of the English Language, vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Shorrocks, Graham. 1996. Non-standard dialect literature and popular culture. In Juhani Klemola, Merja Kytö & Matti Rissanen (eds.), Speech Past and Present: Studies in English Dialectology in Memory of Ossi Ihalainen. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 385–411.

Wednesday 7 December, 4.15pm, IAS Common Ground

Beth Malory (UCL)

Using Change Point Analysis to research English variation and change

When language change happens suddenly, it can be difficult to pinpoint what has influenced the change. In language varieties that are standardized to some degree, like the Standard British English that has arisen since the eighteenth century, such changes often seem related to so-called ‘norms of correctness’, or prescriptive notions of how language should be used. It has often proven difficult to establish a clear link between such prescriptive dogma and changes in the way that language is used, however. The purpose of this talk is to introduce a corpus linguistic methodology designed to address this challenge.

By exploring two case studies of language changes prompted by prescriptivism, the talk will introduce Change Point Detection. This statistical technique, though it has rarely been applied to linguistic datasets previously, can be used to establish causative relationships between certain events and sudden changes in language use. The first case study demonstrates the power of ‘standardizing’ prescriptivism, which attempts to impose prestigious language norms, by showing that targeted prescriptivism prompted sudden, lifelong changes in the idiolect of Late Modern author Frances (‘Fanny’) Burney. The second case study highlights an emerging trend for ‘politically responsive’ prescriptivism, which attempts to impose language changes driven by moral considerations, to prompt changes in usage. This case study will show that a prescriptive intervention by a team of obstetricians in a medical journal in the 1980s changed British medical lexis.

A third case study then reports preliminary work considering the value of the Change Point Detection method in researching non-prescriptive sudden language change. This final case study shows that this method can challenge received wisdom and help us to reassess traditional assumptions about language change; by considering whether, as has traditionally been assumed, the coining of the word suffragette was responsible for the proliferation of the -ette suffix in the twentieth century.

All welcome!

Past events

This page last modified 5 October, 2022 by Survey Web Administrator.