ISLE 5 Conference Workshops

5. Historical Semantics in the 21st Century

Marc Alexander (Glasgow University), Kathryn Allan (University College London), Fraser Dallachy (Glasgow University), Seth Mehl (University of Sheffield), Justyna Robinson (University of Sussex) & Louise Sylvester (University of Westminster, UK)


Tuesday 17 July



Philip Durkin - Historical dictionary senses and theories of diachronic semantic change: How approaches to indeterminacy and complexity in historical lexicography can interface with advances in understanding semantic change

15:00-15:30 Marc Alexander & Fraser Dallachy - Historical Semantics in the 21st Century: Semantic Annotation Using the Historical Thesaurus Semantic Tagger Abstract
15:30-16:00 Sara M. Pons-Sanz - The Gawain-Poet’s Terms for SPEECH in the Context of the Gersum Project
16:00-16:30 Coffee Break
16:30-17:00 Justyna Robinson & Seth Mehl - Linguistic DNA and new ways of exploring conceptual variation and change
17:00-17:30 Kris Heylen & Dirk Geeraerts - Of Hereticks and Schismaticks: Showcasing the Diachronic Analysis of Conceptual Construal in the Nephological Semantics Project
17:30-18:00 Panel discussion, Kathryn Allan, Jane Roberts & Louise Sylvester

All timings are approximate.


Recent developments in historical semantics have pointed in the direction of large collections of data, distant reading, and computational methods. The study of historical meaning has also expanded to include work in pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and discourse analysis, and those domains, too, have evolved alongside corpus linguistic and computational methods. At the same time, scholars in the discipline have increasingly been under pressure to attract funding. To date there has been little interrogation of what impact these changes have had and are having on the discipline and on related fields. This workshop is focused on relatively large-scale projects which have received substantial grants or other funding in the last decade. It interrogates and evaluates the impact of these projects on the field, and addresses the question of how far they have given rise to new research questions or offered new ways of thinking about unresolved issues.

Lexical semantics has a long-established tradition of collecting vocabulary on a relatively large scale in dictionaries and thesauruses. Developments in technology within the digital humanities have resulted in a great deal of energy being devoted to the creation of new resources and the revision of established sources of data such as the Oxford English Dictionary, and these offer opportunities to ask new questions and reconsider old ones about semantic variation and change. Alongside this work, the practice of close examination of lexis at the level of individual words is still the focus of much research, though it too may be informed by, as well as informing, big-data projects. One of the themes of the workshop will be the way in which research in semantic change and semantic theory has changed as bigger and better data offers new possibilities. A second theme is the way that research into historical semantics overlaps with, influences, and is influenced by research in pragmatics, discourse, sociolinguistics, and other textual meaning.

As the variety of papers shows, one already discernible effect is the foregrounding of the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary nature of the field. Projects discussed here interact with literary and cultural studies; functional grammar; pragmatics; and sociolinguistics. The session thus points up the effects of the current methodological and disciplinary transition point in which cognate disciplines are turning towards linguistics, and more specifically semantics, to answer questions in the digital humanities and beyond.

The workshop will feature five papers from scholars who work on, or whose work draws on, recent or ongoing national and international projects, including some of the following:

Each paper will start with a brief description of the aims and objectives of the project, along with its methodology. The main part of the paper will offer a case study that includes some research findings. Research results may be preliminary at this stage, but the papers are intended to show the way in which lines of enquiry, and the state of our knowledge, are being changed by these large-scale undertakings in historical semantics. The session will conclude with a panel-led discussion which draws together the common themes and concerns of the papers, and considers future directions for the discipline.

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This page last modified 11 July, 2018 by Survey Web Administrator.