News & Announcements

In memoriam Professor Neil Smith (1939–2023)

Published Monday, November 20, 2023

We are sorry to report the passing after a long illness of Professor Neil Smith, a leading figure in British and world linguistics for many years and a member of the Society since 1962.

Neil read Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge, graduating in 1961, before moving to University College London (UCL) to undertake fieldwork-based doctoral research on the Nigerian language Nupe. He received his PhD in 1964 with the results being published as articles and in the monograph An Outline Grammar of Nupe (1967, SOAS Press). From 1964 to 1970 he was Lecturer in West African Languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) to which title Linguistics was added in the period 1970-2 before he moved back to UCL to be Reader and then Professor of Linguistics, a post he held until his retirement in 2006.

By his own account, a key stage in his intellectual development and subsequent career was the Harkness Fellowship which allowed him to spend the years 1966 to 1968 at MIT and UCLA, making the acquaintance of Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle and other leading figures of the time and deepening his knowledge and understanding of generative linguistics. Following his appointment at UCL he set about building a department centred on that approach which rapidly acquired a national and international reputation. Generative thinking and theoretical constructs also underpinned his studies of the phonological development of his elder son (The Acquisition of Phonology 1973) and grandson (Acquiring Phonology 2010, both published by Cambridge University Press), and of the linguistic capacities of the polyglot savant Christopher (The Mind of a Savant co-authored with Ianthi Tsimpli, 1995, Blackwell, and The Signs of a Savant co-authored with Ianthi Tsimpli, Gary Morgan and Bencie Woll, 2011, CUP). He saw it too as important to move beyond the specialist academic community in books aimed at a general audience such as Modern Linguistics: The Results of Chomsky’s Revolution (co-authored with Deirdre Wilson, 1979, Penguin Books), and Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals (1999, CUP, 2nd ed. 2004, with a third extended edition co-authored with Nicholas Allott, 2016). The Twitter Machine: Reflections on Language (Wiley-Blackwell, 1991) is in the same vein, its apparently prescient title notwithstanding.

Neil was an instrumental figure in the development of the discipline at a national level, serving not only on the Society’s Council but also as a member of the Linguistics panels of the SSRC and ESRC. He was President of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain from 1980 to 1986, and President of the Association of Heads and Professors of Linguistics from 1993 to 1994. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1999, and an honorary member of the Linguistic Society of America in 2000.

He was married to Saras (née Keskar, d. 2018) and together they endowed the Neil and Saras Smith Medal, awarded annually by the British Academy for lifetime achievement in the study of linguistics. He is survived by two sons and two grandsons.

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Please find below, as a PDF, a copy of the entry for Neil Smith from: Keith Brown and Vivien Law (eds, 2002) Linguistics in Britain. Personal Histories, Publications of the Philological Society 36, Oxford/Boston: Blackwell, 262–273.



Henry Bradley (1845-1923): A Celebration of his Life and Scholarship

Published Tuesday, November 7, 2023

It has been Henry Bradley’s fate to be remembered as ‘only’ the second Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, always overshadowed by James Murray. This event aims both to celebrate and recontextualize his achievements – not just as a lexicographer, but as a writer, historian, and scholar in a variety of contexts. When he died in 1923, his former OED assistant J. R. R. Tolkien paid tribute to him, in Old English, as a sméaþoncol mon (a ‘man of subtle thought’). One hundred years after his death we offer a long-overdue reappraisal of his life and scholarship in a series of papers.

The event will be chaired by Professor Simon Horobin and will be followed by questions and discussion.

Speakers include:

  • Charlotte Brewer, Professor of English (Hertford College, Oxford), and Dr Stephen Turton, Research Fellow in English (Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge): ‘Henry Bradley from his Letters’.
  • Dr Peter Gilliver, Executive Editor (Oxford English Dictionary): ‘Henry Bradley: a lexicographer and more’.
  • Lynda Mugglestone, Professor of the History of English (Pembroke College): ‘The Making of English’: Bradley, the OED, and the Text Behind the Text’.
  • Tania Styles, Senior Editor (Oxford English Dictionary): ‘Henry Bradley: Greatest of English Place-Name Scholars’.
  • Simon Horobin, Professor of English, (Magdalen College, Oxford).

The event will take place at the Weston Library, Oxford, on Friday, 17 November 2023, 3–6pm. Talks and discussion will be followed by a reception in Blackwell Hall. Registration via Eventbrite is required.

This event is supported by the Philological Society.

In memoriam Professor P.H. Matthews (1934–2023)

Published Friday, April 14, 2023

We are sorry to report the death after a long period of illness of Professor P.H. Matthews, President of the Society from 1992 to 1996 and thereafter Vice President until his health problems prevented his active participation in the Society’s affairs. Peter, as he was known to friends and colleagues though for publication purposes he preferred to stick to the initials, was born and grew up in Devon and went on to study first Classics and then Italian and Linguistics at St John’s College, Cambridge. After various periods of postgraduate work in Britain and the USA, he took up his first academic appointment in 1961 as lecturer in the newly founded department of linguistics headed by Frank Palmer at the University College of North Wales (now Bangor University). In 1965 Palmer moved to establish a new department at the University of Reading and Peter moved with him. Together they were instrumental both in developing full undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes in the discipline and in establishing the international profile of the Journal of Linguistics, which John Lyons had founded in 1965, and which Peter edited from 1970 to 1979. At that time he was also a regular attender at and participant in the meetings of the recently created Linguistic Association of Great Britain (LAGB). In 1980 he moved to Cambridge as the first holder of the Chair of Linguistics, at the same time returning to St John’s as a professorial fellow. He remained in the Chair until his retirement in 2001. His achievements were recognised publicly in a variety of ways: by election as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1985, by the award of the DLitt degree in 1988 and by election as an Honorary Member of the Linguistic Society of America in 1994.

Peter’s published work, for the most part in book rather than article form and extending well into his retirement years, has several strands. He is perhaps best known for his contribution to morphological theory. His monograph Inflectional Morphology: A theoretical study based on aspects of Latin verb conjugation (CUP, 1972) has been a seminal influence in the revival of the Word and Paradigm approach, and the volume in the CUP ‘red’ series of textbooks Morphology: An introduction to the theory of word-structure (1974, 2nd revd edition 1991) has laid the foundations for several generations of students and researchers. As Peter would have been the first to recognise, morphology and syntax cannot always be easily separated, and it is no surprise therefore that he also produced a red series textbook on Syntax (CUP, 1981) and the theoretical monograph Syntactic Relations: A critical survey (CUP, 2007). Both these works balance traditional concepts with modern theory in a way that is typical of his thought, and which does not always make them easy reading for anyone brought up within a single theoretical framework. The same breadth of vision and analytical skills are put to descriptive use in his study of The Positions of Adjectives in English (OUP, 2014).

A persistent theme in Peter’s thinking has been the need to recognise linguistics as a unified discipline rather than a series of disparate fields, a theme which manifests itself in his impressively thorough and wide-ranging The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics (OUP, 2005, 3rd revd edition 2014) and in his personal, and it has to be said in places idiosyncratic, overview of the field Linguistics: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2003). Both books, designed ‘to bear in mind the interests of beginners in the subject’, are written with the lucidity of style that has been a distinguishing characteristic of all Peter’s work.

Peter’s vision of the reach and unity of his discipline have also shaped his contributions to the history of linguistics and in particular his careful dissection of Chomskyan modes of thought in Generative Grammar and Linguistic Competence (Unwin Hyman, 1979; republished Routledge, 2014) and the place of these ideas in the broader context of American linguistics in Grammatical Theory in the United States from Bloomfield to Chomsky (CUP, 1993). The American orientation is balanced by a consideration of European thinking in A Short History of Structural Linguistics (CUP, 2001). With his final work in this vein, What Graeco-Roman Grammar was About (OUP, 2019), he returns to his classical beginnings, but here illuminated by the reflections on past and present linguistic terminology prompted by his OUP Dictionary and by his revision of the entries for such items commissioned by the OED. In his final published chapter, Peter returns to his career-long engagement with Chomsky, ending the volume with a discussion of what modern theorists could learn from attending to the voices of their ancient predecessors.

Nigel Vincent and Sylvia Adamson

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Please find below, as a PDF, a copy of the entry for Peter Mathews from: Keith Brown and Vivien Law (eds, 2002) Linguistics in Britain. Personal Histories, Publications of the Philological Society 36, Oxford/Boston: Blackwell, 200–212.



In memoriam Tony Kroch (1946–2021)

Published Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Society is sorry to report the passing of Anthony (Tony) Kroch, who has died of cancer at the age of 75.

Although in the course of a long and distinguished career he made contributions to several different areas of linguistics, including sociolinguistic investigation with William Labov and the development of the formal model of Tree Adjoining Grammar (TAG) with Aravind Joshi, he is probably best known for his work in the field of historical syntax. In this domain, he was exceptional for the way he combined mastery of formal grammatical theory with the statistical techniques of sociolinguistic investigation and modern methods of research based on the computerised text corpora he had constructed together with his colleagues and students. As a result, he and his co-workers over the years built up a formidable body of original results and publications, particularly but not exclusively in the analysis of the historical syntax of English and other Germanic languages.

In addition to the fruits of his own research and the inspiration and support he provided for many generations of doctoral students and postdocs, his legacy to the field includes the journal Language Variation and Change, co-founded with Labov and David Sankoff, and the conference series Diachronic Generative Syntax (DiGS) which he initiated together with David Lightfoot and Ian Roberts, and at which he was a regular speaker and participant.

In memoriam Professor Erik Charles Fudge

Published Sunday, November 22, 2020

We are sorry to report the passing of Erik Charles Fudge, member of the Society throughout his career and a member of Council from 1980-83. His first degree was in mathematics and modern and medieval languages at the University of Cambridge (1955). After graduating he spent some years as a school teacher, before moving to Indiana University to take part in a project on machine translation and information retrieval. He returned to Cambridge to undertake a PhD in linguistics (awarded in 1967), and in 1965 joined the newly formed Department of General Linguistics in Edinburgh as a lecturer in Phonology. In 1968 he was back in Cambridge, this time as lecturer in Phonetics and Phonology, before taking up the foundational chair in Linguistics at the University of Hull in 1974. During his time there he also served as editor of Journal of Linguistics (1979-84). The Hull department was a victim of the 1980’s university cuts and in 1988 he moved to a chair in Linguistic Science at the University of Reading where he remained until his retirement in 1999. A lifelong committed Christian, he had served as a lay reader in the Church of England from the 1960’s and was ordained priest in 1994.

The main focus of his research was syllable structure and word stress, as evidenced in a string of journal articles and his book English Word Stress (Allen & Unwin, 1984). He took a wide-ranging view of the relevance of different theoretical approaches to the study of language in general and phonology in particular, as can be seen in the volume he compiled for the Penguin Modern Linguistics series Phonology: Selected Readings (1973). He was the section editor for Phonology in the first edition of Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (Pergamon Press, 1993) and for Language and Religion in the second edition (Elsevier, 2006).

Keith Brown & Nigel Vincent

The Eleventh RH Robins Prize of the Philological Society

Published Monday, October 12, 2020


PhilSoc is delighted to launch the 11th R. H. Robins student Prize for an article on a linguistic topic that falls within the area of the Society's interests.

The Prize will be awarded in open competition to anyone who was both:
(i) a registered student (at the time of submission); they should submit a letter from their supervisor, or from a person of similar standing, attesting to their status and that the submission is their own work); and,
(ii) Members or Student Associate Members of PhilSoc.

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PhilSoc announces new President

Published Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The PhilSoc AGM held on 13 June 2020 saw the election of a new President. After completing her three-year term of office, President Prof. Aditi LAHIRI stood down. She was thanked for her service and elected Vice President for life. The new President Prof. Susan FITZMAURICE was warmly welcomed.

PhilSoc announces new members of Council

Published Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The PhilSoc AGM held on 13 June 2020 saw the election of five new ordinary members of Council. Five Council members stood down, namely, Prof. Karen CORRIGAN, Prof. Susan FITZMAURICE, Dr Seth MEHL, Prof. Patrick SIMS-WILLIAMS, and Dr Laura WRIGHT. The retiring members were thanked for their service, and their replacements were welcomed, namely, Dr Kate ALLAN, Prof. Jenny CHESHIRE, Dr Sam HELLMUTH, Prof. Martin MAIDEN, and Dr Ranjan SEN.

The President's Lecture and AGM

Published Saturday, June 6, 2020

The AGM of PhilSoc will be held remotely on Saturday 13 June at 4.00 p.m. BST, replacing the planned event at Newnham College (Cambridge). It will conclude with the President’s Lecture at 5.00 p.m. BST, scheduled as a separate remote event. Prof. Aditi Lahiri will speak on ‘Converging evidence for morpho-phonological pertinacity: diachrony and experimental psycholinguistics’. All welcome (including guests). Please register here.

Next meeting

Published Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The next meeting of PhilSoc, originally scheduled at SOAS University of London, will be held remotely using Zoom. It will take place on Friday 1 May 2020 at 4pm (BST). Prof. Jeff Good (University of Buffalo) will speak on ‘Modelling the development of the morphologically hybrid nature of the Bantu Final Vowels.

To register, please sign up here. You will need to have Zoom on your device and will be sent a link before the meeting.
All welcome!