Survey Seminar Series Spring 2016

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 took place during the Spring term.

Thursday 3rd March

  Simon Horobin (Oxford)
‘No gentleman goes on a bus’: H.C. Wyld and the historical study of English

H.C. Wyld was one of the most important linguists of the early 20th century. He began his career as a student of Henry Sweet and later went on to hold the Merton chair in English Language at Oxford. Wyld wrote numerous books on English philology; A History of Modern Colloquial English was published in 1920, with further editions appearing into the 1950s. As the standard textbook, Wyld’s work defined the historical study of English throughout much of the twentieth century. Wyld embarked on his career as a neutral observer, for whom one variety of English was just as valuable as another – a key axiom of modern descriptive linguistics. However, this stance of scientific objectivity found itself on slippery ground when it came to describing the relationship between regional dialect and Standard English. In this paper I shall argue that Wyld’s ideas of dialect and standard continue to influence modern studies of the history of Standard English.

Wednesday 16th March

Nele Pöldvere (Lund)
‘I think you're clearly wrong’: A corpus-based and experimental study of dialogic engagement in spoken discourse

This study examines the dialogic functions of expansion and contraction of first-person epistemic and evidential Complement-Taking Predicate constructions (CTPs), such as I think, I suppose and I know, in spoken discourse. It combines corpus and experimental methods (i) to investigate whether CTPs are used to open up the dialogic space for new ideas or counterarguments, or to fend off alternative views, and (ii) to identify what contextual factors play a role in determining their dialogic force.

First, an exploratory analysis of CTPs in the London-Lund Corpus (LLC) of spoken British English is carried out with the aim to identify important contextual factors and generate hypotheses about their effects. Then, a laboratory experiment is conducted to test the impact of the three most prominent factors for speakers’ interpretations of utterances containing CTPs. In contrast to the a priori classification of expressions of engagement in appraisal theory, the results indicate that CTPs do not only serve to expand the dialogic context in which they occur, but to put a lid on alternative views. Interlocutor status, the co-occurrence of contractive markers and prosodic marking of the CTP are shown to have a significant effect on the dialogic function of the expressions. These findings call into question some assumptions in the appraisal theory about the role of CTPs in discourse, and highlight the need for a flexible approach in the analysis of these poly-functional stance expressions.

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