Welcome to PhilSoc

The Philological Society (PhilSoc) was established in 1830 and  is the oldest learned society in Great Britain devoted to the scholarly study of language and languages. As well as encouraging all aspects of the study of language, PhilSoc has a particular interest in historical and comparative linguistics, and in the structure, development, and varieties of Modern English.

Next Meeting


June 2024

AGM & the President's Lecture: Seeing meaning: Using visualisation techniques to explore conceptual patterns in Early Modern English discourses
Susan M. Fitzmaurice (Sheffield)

The lecture will be given in hybrid modality, online and in person at St Catharine's College, Cambridge; details TBD.

If you wish to attend via Zoom, please register using this simple registration form.

The lecture will be preceded by the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Society.

Please note that all ordinary meetings commence at 4:15pm. Members are welcome to come for tea at 3:45 pm.


The work discussed in this talk is part of the Linguistic DNA research project (linguisticdna.org), whose principal aim was to identify the cultural and intellectual concepts marking early English modernity. To enable the search for an innovative bottom-up method for identifying concepts in discourse, the project developed an automated processor for generating concepts from a corpus of early modern English discourse, Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership. The resulting process, concept modelling,  generates billions of ‘quads’ (four lemmas that co-occur within a span of 100 tokens of text) (Mehl, 2022). The immediate problem was how to interpret the strong association between lemmas in a quad; work thus far has focused on developing a theory of discursive meaning and using analytical techniques to map conceptual meaning onto the quads. Although close semantic-pragmatic analysis is a thorough and nuanced approach to  identifying the structure of concepts, it is time-consuming and impractical when the datasets are so large.  Distant reading, using lexical co-occurrence data and visualisation techniques, has the potential to help us see patterns in the data, to form hypotheses about conceptual structures, and thus dramatically enrich the close semantic-pragmatic inspection of quads. In this talk, we zoom back out from the inspection of manageable sets of quads (as explored in Fitzmaurice 2021, 2022) to tackle quad constellations–namely all of the quads associated with a particular node word–to explore how data visualisation techniques might assist in revealing their conceptual meaning.


Fitzmaurice, Susan. 2021.  Looking for Concepts in Early Modern English: Hypothesis building and the uses of encyclopaedic knowledge and pragmatic work. Journal of Historical Pragmatics. 22:2 (2021) 282-300.

Fitzmaurice, Susan. 2022. From Constellations to Discursive Concepts; or: The historical pragmatic construction of meaning in Early Modern English. Transactions of the Philological Society 120:3 (2022) 489-506.

Mehl, Seth. 2022. Discursive quads: New kinds of lexical co-occurrence data with linguistic concept modelling. Transactions of the Philological Society 120:3 (2022) 474-488.

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