Summer internships

As in previous years, the Bristol Centre for Linguistics are advertising for student interns to work with us over the summer.  Information about the role and the application process can be found here: https://bit.ly/2H59HLc We hope to make two appointments.  Here is a summary from Aleks Mihok, who carried out an internship with us last summer:

BCL Summer internship programme: A review

Last summer I had a great privilege of working as an intern at our own Department of English Language and Linguistics. For me, it was a fantastic opportunity not only to get some hands-on experience in working with languages but also to boost my CV and earn some money at the same time.

I worked part-time, on a job-share basis with another student-intern, which was ideal, as it gave me a lot of flexibility and allowed me more time for other commitments.

I was meeting up with the project leader on the regular basis, however, most of the time, I could work from home on my computer.

Working on an Experimental Language Relativity project and assisting the project leader in preparing materials for psycholinguistic experimental studies helped me gain an insight into linguistic research methods. I was also very lucky, as I was involved in a project that looked at Finnish and Polish, giving me an opportunity to put my linguistic skills into practice. However, very much to my surprise, preparing materials in Polish – my mother tongue, turned out to be one the most challenging part of this tasks!

All in all, an internship is a great opportunity to develop your existing skills and built up new ones, especially critical thinking and problem-solving and creativity, as you need to approach the tasks from various perspectives. Internships are also great for networking and waking up your inner researcher!



Can a language really die?

By Jodie Sutton

A language ‘dies’ usually as the result of cultural assimilation, or the abandonment of one language to instead use a lingua franca, i.e. a common language adopted between speakers of different native tongues. The term ‘extinct language’ describes one that no longer has any speakers (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006:18), and we often use the term ‘dead’ when talking about Ancient Greek or Latin for example, but can a language really die?

Sleeping Languages

David Crystal (2000:19) argues that a language can be declared dead even if the last few native speakers are still alive. “If there are only a few elderly speakers of a language remaining, and they no longer use that language for communication, then the language is effectively dead.

In 2011, a Reddit user was approached to visit to a small town in British Columbia, and document the South Tsimshian (Sgüüx̣s) language with its last remaining speaker. He spent 6 months there, recording around 300 hours’ worth of video and audio with the end goal of making it possible for someone to “wake up” the language when the last speaker passed away.

After the last speaker’s death in 2014, the user stated that “the South Tsimshian language […] is now sleeping.” Sgüüx̣s is now technically extinct, but with its extensive documentation, it can still be heard, studied and even learnt again. This isn’t the case for every language that has ever existed, but with today’s technology, we can potentially preserve ‘sleeping’ languages with the ability to wake them up again in the future.

Recreated Languages

One type of con-lang (constructed language) is one that has been reconstructed or revitalised. Cornish is a good example of a language that has been brought back from the ‘dead’ to become a con-lang. The Cornwall Travel and Tourist Information website recounts how Cornish went from being the common language of Cornwall in 1300, to being extinct by 1900 when the last native speaker died (disputed to be either in 1891 or 1777).

After determination and lots of government investment, around 300 people had managed to recreate Cornish and were speaking it regularly again, (albeit with each individual’s version differing slightly in pronunciation and spelling.) The Telegraph (2015) reports that in 2002, Cornish was officially recognised in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Then in 2015, 12,000 people had signed up to learn Cornish on various courses across the county, putting the Cornish language back on the map.

Language Evolution

Latin is probably the most well-known ‘dead’ language. But McMahon (1994, cited by Eckert, Tanja, et al, 2004) suggested that instead of dying, it has simply undergone “the normal processes of linguistic change,” and evolved.

The older form of a language is completely different and often unintelligible to how we recognise it today. Latin, over a long period of time, morphed and split into modern languages such as Italian, French and Spanish, (as seen on the Proto-Indo-European language tree.) However, Latin is still studied all over the world, and is very much present in science, law and religion. Even without possessing any native speakers, Latin may still be considered alive.

Another example is Old English. It is considered dead, but traces of it still live on today in Modern English. That particular phase of the English language is gone, but over time the grammar, vocabulary and phonology have reshaped into the English we speak today. McMahon (1994, cited by Eckert, Tanja, et al, 2004) describes this process as “not death, but metamorphosis.”

Language is dynamic, always changing and evolving into something new. The language we use today will unlikely be the same in even as little as 10 years’ time.

We now have the ability to study languages that were spoken thousands of years ago, the ability to document languages on the brink of extinction to learn again and the ability to recreate extinct languages altogether. Therefore, can a language ever really be well and truly dead?


Cornwall Travel and Tourist Information. Available from: http://www.cornwall-calling.co.uk/cornish-language/language.htm [Accessed 13 February 2018]

Crystal, D. (2000) Language Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eckert, T., Johann, A., Kanzig, A., Kung, M., Muller, B., Schwald, C., Walder, L., (2004) Is English a ‘killer language’? The globalisation of a code. [online] Available from: https://s3.amazonaws.com/online.fliphtml5.com/gcpz/qcbw/index.html [Accessed 13 February 2018]

Grenoble, L. Whaley, L. (2006) Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Harley, N. (2015) Council splashes out to try to stop the Cornish language dying out. Telegraph [online]. 05 November. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11976596/Council-splashes-out-180000-to-try-to-stop-the-Cornish-language-dying-out.html [Accessed 13 February 2018].

Lynch, J. (Unknown) Proto-Indo-European Language Tree [online] Available from: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/language.html [Accessed 14 February 2018]

Reddit thread. (2014) Available from: https://www.reddit.com/r/linguistics/comments/1t5l5m/an_amazing_woman_has_gone_to_sleep_and_her/ [Accessed 01 February 2018].

The language of tourism

by Pippa Wordie

Tourism terminology is a veritable jumbo-jet of jargon! “Technological inventions have always arisen from necessity…[and gives rise to the] Fallacy: the idea that technology changes society. It is exactly the reverse. Society develops technology to address the changes that are taking place within it. Society changes, and that change creates new needs.” (Kurlansky, 2017, pp. xiii-xiv). Although tourism may not be regarded as a ‘technology’, the rapid growth of the industry since the late 1800’s has necessitated the invention of a ‘new’ vocabulary. This is being constantly updated and requires that both “tourism practitioners and tourists [have] to endlessly learn it.” (Chiwanga, 2014). How do they do this?

Fortunately, tourism has created its own solution, travel literature. Bradt, Eyewitness, Frommer, Lonely Planet, Marco Polo and the Rough Guides are the industry’s leading names, wedged onto shelves among a growing plethora of travel guidebooks. Their purpose: to inform the first time visitor or seasoned explorer, both tourists – you and me – on everything of primary importance and more about the chosen destination. They may equally convince you a specific tour has to be experienced and, added value is gained if you hire the services of a local ‘Tourist Guide’; perhaps a tour of travel alliteration would be more apt!

Practical as these guides are, the solution has also created a divergence of communication between provider and user. It is here we return to the ‘jumbo-jet jargon’ and what I reveal next may explain why the air ticket you bought recently was not what you anticipated. But, it was what you asked for! In airline speak no matter where you fly to, you have two alternatives: either a ‘direct’ flight or a ‘non-stop’ flight. The tourism professional will explain a ‘direct’ flight will stop at least once in the journey, other than the main destination. Conversely, the ‘non-stop’ flight is ‘direct’ and goes straight from A to B, with no stops. Simple to comprehend how the confusion has crept in; most of the English-speaking world understand ‘direct’ to mean as defined by the Oxford English dictionary: “extending or moving in a straight line or by the shortest route; not crooked or circuitous.” It is apparent that ‘direct’ is not direct and has another meaning within the tourism industry.

Why would an entire industry change the meaning of just one word and for what purpose? As stated previously, the industry has evolved at a dramatic rate and part of this has been the development of commercial air travel. Larger aircraft have enabled the airlines to cover greater distances offering their customers the opportunity of going further in one go. However, the subsequent fuel cost can only be offset when a high percentage of seats onboard are sold. Not an easy task for any airline but more achievable if the journey is broken to allow a fresh market of consumer to refill the airplane for the onward leg. The air ticket can then be split into two separate portions or bought as one trip, both offering a cheaper alternative because of the stopover. Adapting the use of ‘direct’ was a conscious decision and enabled airline sales departments to make a clear distinction when selling the same long haul destination for varying prices (and experiences).

We have seen how the travel industry has changed the meaning of one word. The consumer may not agree with it and the tourism industry could have better communicated its nuance but “The fact is that none of us can unilaterally decide what a word means. Meanings of words are shared between people – they are a kind of social contract we all agree to – otherwise communication would not be possible.” (Trudgill,1998, p.19). And I hope that in partnership with modern technology, social media, this article can spread the flying word!


Bauer, L. and Trudgill, P. (1998) Language Myths [Online]. London: Penguin. [Accessed 18 November 2017]

Chiwanga, F.E. (2014) Understanding The Language of Tourism: Tanzanian Perspective. International Journal of Applied Linguistics [online]. Volume (24/2). [Accessed 25 November 2017].

Kurlansky, M. (2017) Paper, Paging Through History. New York: W.W.Norton & Company Inc

Fowler, F.G and H.W. (1924) The Pocket Oxford Dictionary. Reprint. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992

Language myths: Swearing shows limited vocabulary and low intelligence

by Elena-Andreea Oprea

Despite the fact that curse words have been introduced to the English language as early as 1,000 years ago (Hughes, 1998), swearing is still considered a bad habit, and people who swear are automatically perceived as less intelligent and as possessors of a limited vocabulary. For example, Mulac A. (1976) concluded that speakers who use obscenity were placed lower in socio-intellectual ranks than those who refrain, and James V. O’Connor (2000) has stated that “Swearing corrupts the English language. […] It doesn’t communicate clearly. It’s the sign of a weak vocabulary.” This is belief is named the poverty-of-vocabulary (POV) hypothesis.  The following article will discuss arguments contrary to the POV view.

Language studies do not confirm the POV notion. Assuming that people use taboo words because of  restricted vocabulary entails that foul language is used when people cannot access alternative lexical items. Nevertheless, numerous linguistics explorations (Erard, 2007; Jay, 2003; Levelt, 1989) reveal that when speech participants cannot express themselves, they produce utterances such as “er” or “um”, rephrase, or ponder their discourse, rather than exhibiting taboo language.

A recent study conducted by psychologists at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (Jay et al. 2015) compares general language fluency to swearword fluency, in order to invalidate the concept that swearing indicates inarticulateness. In consideration of this analysis, Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT) was employed, which requires volunteers to come up with words beginning with a specific letter, such as F, A and S, in the duration of a minute. The researchers agree with the “fluency is fluency” theory, which implies that there is a positive correlation between taboo fluency and verbal fluency, whereas the POV view anticipates a negative correlation between the two fluencies.

The study results indicate that the individuals who achieved the highest at the general language test also had higher swearing language fluency, whilst the others had poor results in both tests. This research not only proves that expletives are not indicators of impoverished vocabulary, but it certainly demonstrates that swearing is, as Dr. Richard Stephens from Keele University describes (2015, p.69), “one of the many features of language that a skilled and articulate speaker has at their disposal to communicate with maximum effectiveness.”

Using data from a resource named British National Corpus, researchers from Lancaster University analysed how the F-word and its derivatives were used by individuals according to their gender, age and social background (McEnery et al. 2004). For the purpose of this essay, the social background is the only category of interest. Unsurprisingly, the most constant users of the particular curse word are participants from lower classes (DE and C2), whereas people in junior managerial and administrative positions (C1), who are perhaps aspiring towards AB occupations, are more aware of the utterances they produce, hence demonstrating a significantly lower usage. What is particularly interesting, however, is that swearing increases substantially at the very top of the social ladder. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that unlike people from C1 social rank, AB graded participants are in more secure positions, and, hence, less attentive to the language they use; but they might also prefer to proclaim their authority through cursing.

This population has a high verbal and intellectual capacity, which qualifies them for their superior positions; otherwise they would be unable to retain their authoritarian post. Therefore, what the previously mentioned study shows is that since there is an increase of swearing fluency in higher social ranks, taboo words have no correlation to IQ and lexicon size.

Based on the evidence provided by the aforementioned investigations, one can conclude that despite the stigma associated with taboo words, expletives are not indicators of limited vocabulary and low intelligence; on the contrary, people who use profanity demonstrate higher cognitive capacity and a more voluminous lexicon.




Erard, M (2007) Um – Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and what They Mean. New York: Pantheon.

Hughes, G. (1998) Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English. 2nd Revised Edition. London: Penguin

Jay, K.L. and Jay, T.B. (2015) Taboo Word Fluency and Knowledge of Slurs and General Pejoratives: Deconstructing the Poverty-of-vocabulary Myth. Language Sciences. [online] 52, pp. 251-259 [Accessed 27 January 2017]

Jay, T.B. (2003) The Psychology of Language. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Levelt, W.J.M. (1998) Speaking: From Intention to Articulation. 1 MIT pbk ed. Cambridge, Mass: Mit Press.

McEnery, A.M and Xiao, R.Z. (2004) Swearing in modern British English: the case of fuck in the BNC. Language and Literature. 13 (3), pp. 235-268.

Mehl, M and Pennebaker, J. (2003) The sounds of social life: a psychometric analysis of students’ daily social environments and natural conversations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 84 (4), pp. 857-870.

Mulac, A and , (1976) Effects of obscene language upon three dimensions of listener attitude. Communication Monographs. 43 (4), pp. 300-307.

O’Connor, J. (2000) Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Stephens, R. (2015) Black Sheep: The hidden benefits of being bad. Great Britain: John Murray Learning.

Language myths: Bilingualism rots the brain

by Jack Fifield


If you’ve got children, you’ll probably have been told that raising them bilingual will be a useful advantage, with the potential of facilitating many opportunities throughout life that monolinguals don’t have access to. However, this has not always been the accepted point of view. Throughout history, bilingualism has been historically seen as a handicap by the west, often akin to a mental handicap; many researchers claimed that being bilingual slowed the minds of children and that they would never be able to achieve the same level of intelligence as their monolingual counterparts (Kaplan, 2016). For the purposes of this report, ‘bilingualism’ and ‘multilingualism’ will both mean ‘a person who speaks several languages’, rather than the more restrictive ‘a person who speaks two languages’. This report seeks to debunk the myth that bilingualism has negative effects on intelligence levels in speakers.

A paradigm shift

So, why the shift in attitudes? How could bilingualism go from universal ridicule, with warnings of childhood retardation and split personalities, to something regarded as so important that UNESCO has said that bilingualism should be encouraged “at all levels of education” (UNESCO, 02 November 2001). The answer may lie in the definition of intellectualism. What may be considered an example of intelligence in one context, may be considered quite the opposite in a different context; as earlier studies on bilingualism’s effects on intelligence failed to take this in to account, they may have falsely attributed a lack of intelligence to bilingualism that may have been caused due to bias or a failing of the study itself (Hakuta and Suben, 1985).

It was not until the mid-twentieth century that this shift in attitudes towards the intelligence of bilinguals started to take place; a study by Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert compared French-English bilinguals in Canada with monolinguals with a multitude of tests, and showed that the bilinguals scored higher on IQ tests than their monolingual counterparts (Grosjean, 2012). So, why the change? You’d be hard-pressed to find many reasonable academics or teachers that would claim that bilingualism is anything but an advantage. The change is due to the way the studies were realised, with failings to control for variables such as socioeconomic factors, including class (Kaplan, 2016). These variables were controlled in Peal and Lambert’s study (Kaplan, 2016).

Size of the lexicon

One interpretation of the definition of ‘intelligence’ within bilingual children is the rate of language acquisition; an assumption could be made that a more limited vocabulary is a symptom of low intelligence. A common thought is that bilinguals acquire language at a lower rate than monolinguals (Grosjean, 2012). However, as bilingual children begin the important language-acquisition-events, such as the ‘babbling’ process and first word process, amongst others, at the same time as their monolingual counterparts (Grosjean, 2012), this is clearly a misconception. This would seem in stark contrast to the notion of a lowered intelligence level.

This is not to say, however, that this is considered a universal truth amongst the academic community. Some studies have concluded that bilinguals control a smaller vocabulary in each respective language than monolinguals have in one language (Bialystok, 2009), but, whether it is appropriate to consider a more limited vocabulary as lower intelligence could be considered a matter of opinion. Despite this, most recent academic research would support the claim that bilingualism does not impede intelligence (Kaplan, 2016).

Bilingualism and its positive cognitive effects

It is undeniable that language and intelligence are closely linked. As language-speakers grow older, they may find that their cognitive functions begin to slow, word recollection starts to falter, and faster speech becomes increasingly unintelligible (Grosjean, 2012). However, according to recent studies, elderly bilingual speakers show a later onset of cognitive slowing associated with ageing, with multilingual speakers having the highest cognitive ability measured when compared against a group of monolingual speakers (Kavé et al., 2008). This would provide further evidence to put into doubt the findings of studies of the early twentieth century that stated that stated that bilinguals have lower cognitive ability when compared with their monolingual counterparts.


In conclusion, from combining the failures by academics to implement proper control methods within their studies to control for socioeconomic and other external factors (Kaplan, 2016), with the fact that many American studies were influenced by heavy nationalistic and racial biases within researchers (Hakuta and Suben, 1985), and the fact that modern research shows evidence contrary to earlier studies – that bilinguals actually have a higher cognitive ability than monolinguals (Kavé et al., 2008), I find the notion that bilingualism can impede cognitive development to be largely fallacious, based mostly on failings and biases of researchers at the time.


Bialystok, E. (2009) Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. 12 (1), pp.3.

Grosjean, F. (2012) Bilingual: Life and Reality. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Hakuta, K. and Suben, J. (1985) Bilingualism and Cognitive Development. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. 6 (March 1985), pp.35.

Kaplan, A. (2016) Women talk more than men: And Other Myths about Language Explained. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kavé, G., Eyal, N., Shorek, A. and Cohen-Mansfield, J. (2008) Multilingualism and cognitive state in the oldest old. Psychology and Aging. 23 (1), pp.70.

UNESCO (02 November 2001) UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Available from: http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13179&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html [Accessed 04 November 2017].


Language myths: Some languages are more complicated than others

by Joey Barber

It is a commonly held belief that two or more given languages can be compared with one another on some hierarchical scale of virtue: that some languages are simply “better” than others. This statement evidently presents some immediate problems, the most glaring of which is: what is “better”? Clarity? Mellifluousness? Simplicity? Complexity? All of these aspects are comment-worthy in their own right, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on the idea that one language’s complexity is quantifiably comparable with another’s.

One seemingly obvious way in which we would guess complexity must be well defined is in the field of grammar. If German, for example, has four grammatical cases (ways in which nouns are modified depending on their role within the sentence), then surely it is more grammatically complicated than English, which, depending on how you measure it, has just the remnants of two cases. This may be true from a certain point of view, however (at least in most situations), grammar exists to add distinction and thus provide further clarity, and this case is no exception: explicit case markers in languages such as German (which would often be referred to as analytic languages), help to make the meaning more salient. Thus, surely English is the more complicated language, as the lack of such explicit case marking means more cognitive work has to be done to arrive at the intended meaning.

A similar problem could be encountered when we consider second-person pronouns. In English, in the first and third person, there is grammatical-number distinction. That is, there is a difference between the singular and the plural (I/we, (s)he/they). With the second person however, this is not the case: “you” can refer indiscriminately to one person or multiple people. But in other European languages, there is this number distinction with the second person, just as there is with the first and third persons. In Dutch, for example, “je” is singular and “jullie” is plural; in Romanian, “tu” is singular and “voi” plural. Does this mean that these languages are more complicated, with their two different words where we have one, or that English is more, as the distinction is not explicitly drawn and we have to examine the context to reach meaning? It may be argued that interpreting the context is not difficult, in which case, why can’t we do that with the first and third persons? Clearly, this inconsistency in English is a thorny issue.


Having established that it is not as easy as we might expect, to arrange grammatical matters into different levels of complexity, we will now analyse the lexicon. Though the number constantly changes, the Oxford English Dictionary currently lists more than 170,000 entries “in current use”[i], and more than 47,000 “obsolete words”. This may seem like a large number, but when we consider that the University of Iceland claims Icelandic contains more than 600,000 words[ii], English’s number appears rather small. The very difficult question of exactly what is a word is beyond the scope of this article, but let us for now take the definition from the online version of the Cambridge Dictionary: “a single unit of language that has meaning and can be spoken or written”[iii]. In this sense, words are similar to morphemes in that they are single units of meaning. Therefore, an Icelandic ‘word’ such as ‘jarnbrautarlest’ (‘train’), comprising the two words ‘jarnbraut’ (‘railway’) and ‘lest’ (‘caravan’/’train’) would not be considered a word here, as it contains two normally separate units of meaning. Thus the following question is posed: is the lexicon more complicated if it contains individual units that can not be added together to create a compound (such as English ‘dustbin’), or more complicated if it allows such compounding, thus rendering the potential size of the lexicon limitless? It depends. Compounded words’ meanings are generally fairly self-explanatory, provided the audience is familiar with the individual elements (i.e. the standalone words) that make up the compound. And thus, speakers and writers may feel at ease with ‘coining’ new compounds at leisure, without necessarily having to worry about their audiences’ capacities to understand them. However, most people if asked, would probably say that the larger a vocabulary, the more complicated the lexicon. And so again, we find these conflicts.

Having looked at two of the most important aspects of language – grammar and lexis – and determined that trying to determine complexity yields only questions and few answers, we may conclude that if it is possible, it is certainly not easy to place languages on a spectrum of complication.

[i] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/how-many-words-are-there-in-the-english-language

[ii] https://www.visindavefur.is/svar.php?id=738

[iii] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/word

Language myths: ‘Animals have language just like us’

In semester 1 of the first year module English: Past, Present and Future students are introduced to a variety of myths about language by the English Language & Linguistics team.  As part of their assessment, students tackle a language myth in a 750-word blog post.  In this series of posts, we will take a look at some of the best examples.


“Animals have language just like us”

by Ellie-Mae Campbell

Although many of us would like to be convinced by Doctor Doolittle’s secret, it seems difficult to claim that animals have language just like us (or a language at all). Indeed it is true that animals have systems of communication within their own species, however animal communication systems and human language differ greatly. It could be argued that, according to Hockett’s design features, some animals share rudiments of human language with us, but essentially language is ‘uniquely human’ (Anderson, 2006, p.7) and it is in fact a common myth that “animals have language just like us”.

Despite this, animal communication and the human language are not worlds apart. This can be demonstrated through Hockett’s design features; a set of characteristics that define the human language. I will be focusing on the four which are apparently unique to the human language.

Design Feature 1: Displacement

This feature describes how human language users communicate about things which are ‘not present’ (yule. 2006, p.13) at the time of communication (e.g. fictional stories). Animal communication systems lack this feature and creatures predominantly communicate in the ‘here and now’ (Yule, 2006, p.13). However, Yule (2006) states that studies show honeybee’s in fact do utilise displacement in their communication, as they can use dance to indicate the location of a nectar source not present in the ‘here and now’. For example, they display a round dance to indicate a nearby food source and a tail wagging dance with a varying tempo to indicate a farther away one (even outlining how far). Therefore, in the case of honeybee’s, animals may indeed have language “just like us” with regard to displacement. Although, their displacement is limited as they can only communicate the most recent past and not, for example, discuss the ‘future’ (Yule, 2006, p.13).

Design Feature 2: Productivity

Human language users can be creative with language and continually create new expressions to describe new objects and situations, which means that the potential number of utterances are ‘infinite’ (Yule, 2006, p.14). Animals on the other hand have a lack of productivity in their communication, and predominantly use ‘fixed references’ (Yule, 2006, p.15): a limited set of communicative signals. For example, another study of honeybee’s demonstrated the lack of productivity in animal communication. A honeybee was shown a food source at the top of a radio tower, but failed to direct the rest of the hive to its location. It was shown that this was down to a lack of productivity, as honeybee’s have a ‘fixed set of signals’ (Yule, 2006, p.14) and can only communicate horizontal location, as opposed to vertical. However, in the case of creatures more closely related to humans, primates seem to have the potential of utilising productivity. Washoe, the chimpanzee who was taught American Sign Language, referred to a swan as a ‘water bird’ (Yule, 2006, p.17). Perhaps this shows animal communication as not too different from our own… in terms of chimpanzee productivity, that is.

Design Feature 3: Arbitrariness

In terms of human language, this feature outlines that there is ‘no natural connection’ (Yule, 2006, p.13) between the message being conveyed and the signal used to convey it. This feature is also present in animal communication, but some linguists argue that this is probably because the sets of signals in animal communication are finite. However, in a study of Sarah the Chimpanzee (trained by Ann and David Premack), it was found that she was able to learn new complex arbitrary signs as she used a grey plastic shape to convey the meaning of the word red. It is controversial to say that this is language however, as psychologists such as Herbert Terrace have argued that ‘chimpanzees are clever creatures who learn to produce a certain type of behaviour (e.g. symbol selection) in order to get rewards and are essentially performing sophisticated “tricks”’ (Yule. 2006, p.19).

Design Feature 4: Cultural Transmission

Through culture and socialisation humans pass language on from one generation to the next. Bauer, Holmes and Warren (2006) argue that ‘language … is not innate’ (although it is known that we are born to acquire language in a general sense). Essentially, babies growing up in isolation produce no “instinctive” language. This can be seen through the case of Oxana Malaya, the child that grew up with dogs, as she imitated the animal’s communication as opposed to speaking some ‘innate’ human language. In contrast, animal communication lacks cultural transmission on the whole, as creatures have an innate set of messages which they inherit and are born with- such as a dogs bark.

So, do “animals have language just like us”? The answer is probably no. Although 9/13 of Hockett’s design features are shared with animal communication, there are 4 features that are (predominantly) ‘uniquely human’ (Anderson, 2006, p.7): Displacement, Productivity, Cultural Transmission and Duality.


Anderson. S. (2006) Doctor Doolittle’s Delusion: Animals and the Uniqueness of Human Language. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Bauer. L, Holmes. J, Warren. P. (2006) Language Matters. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Yule. G. (2014) The Study of Language. Fifth Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Summer Internships

The following is the first of a series of posts from students who were undergraduate interns over the summer with the Bristol Centre for Linguistics.  First up: Poppy and Armony.


So you’re thinking of applying for that internship?! Here’s what you need to know.

An undergraduate internship in Linguistics is a great opportunity if you want to spend a summer learning about topics within your course in more depth. You will get an insight into your lecturers’ work and research and what life would be like in an academic position, with an added bonus of extra cash!

As interns over the past few months, we have consolidated knowledge relevant to our final year which has helped us in our studies, especially with choosing a topic for our final year project.

The positions that were available last year related to Linguistic Relativity and The ‘Sounds Bristolian’ project, both part of the research conducted by the Bristol Centre for Linguistics (BCL).

The main tasks of the Linguistic Relativity position focused on the development of experimental materials, including ethical considerations (e.g. putting together documents for ethical approval, etc.), and analysis of child language data. Using transcription software (ELAN) and literature research were also part of this position.

The focus of the ‘Sounds Bristolian’ internship was work towards the project itself, including ELAN transcription and interview organisation. Other tasks included corpus research (from Hansard political corpus to twitter), poster production, and assisting with the FaNUK project (Family names of the United Kingdom).

We also had the good fortune of being invited to help in a faculty event at M-Shed. This event was a large display of interesting work carried out by different researchers within the Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education at UWE. As undergraduate interns, we were made to feel fully involved in the showcase of linguistic research and a valuable addition to the team. For this, we would like to thank the BCL staff and faculty members. (An honourable mention also goes to the catering team at M-Shed who provided food and cake)

–Armony & Poppy.



L–R: Richard Coates holds court; Poppy with some of the BCL crew; the view from M-Shed.

Welcoming new staff

We’ve been making additions to the team over the summer!  We are pleased to introduce Charlotte Selleck and Luke Rudge as our two new Senior Lecturers in English Language and Linguistics.  This makes three new members of the team in 2017 since Minna Kirjavainen joined us in January.  We are really excited to welcome Charlotte and Luke to the department.  Here’s what they have to say about themselves:


Charlotte Selleck

Hi. I’m very much looking forward to starting at UWE later this month. I’m coming to UWE having spent the last 2 years working at the University of Worcester, teaching English Language and Linguistics.

I started out on my academic journey (not that I ever planned to complete a PhD!) when I studied music as an undergraduate student at Cardiff University. During these fun-filled days I taught English as a foreign language in an attempt to pay for my shopping habit! Little did I know that it would spark an interest in all things language and linguistics and I went on to complete my Masters in Applied Linguistics and then subsequently a PhD in Sociolinguistics at Cardiff University. My PhD research addressed students’ experiences and perceptions of language ideologies in bilingual Welsh/English education and questioned the gulf between inclusive policy and exclusionary practice. I have published a number of articles on this work and have some exciting new research plans!

In TB1, I will be teaching the Constructing a Humanity module as part of the new Liberal Arts programme as well as the Language, Research and the Workplace module. I will also be covering a session in English Past, Present and Future.  In TB2, I will teach Meaning, Style and Discourse; English Past, Present and Future and Language, Research and the Workplace.

Outside of work, I’m kept busy by my two young children and have a complete addiction to booking holidays and travelling (I have a travel blog as a sideline!).


Luke Rudge

My academic career so far could be described as a boomerang:* over the past 10 years and between different jobs, I’ve completed my undergraduate degree in French and Linguistics, my PGCE, and my Ph.D research, all at UWE. And here I am again… although this time around I’m the tutor rather than the tutee!

My Ph.D research explored if and how languages in the visual-spatial modality – in my case, British Sign Language – may be modelled in the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics (spoiler alert: it can!). However, my research interests also include: the intersection of language and technology, the social and contextual elements of interaction, and aspects of non-verbal communication. I’m not averse to interdisciplinary research, and I’m looking forward to doing more collaborative projects as I progress through my career.

For the 2017-18 academic year, I’ll be leading two modules on the English Language and Linguistics course: “Language and the Mind” (Year 2) and “Analysing Spoken English” (Year 3). I’ll also be teaching in other modules such as “Constructing Languages” (Year 1) and “Analysing Culture: Language and the Visual” (Year 2). If you’re on these courses, expect immersive content, interactive seminars, and the more-than-occasional pun and/or meme (sorry, not sorry).

Outside of academia, you can find me** travelling, gaming, learning languages, thinking of creative excuses for not going to the gym, and spending far too much time on the Internet. That latter is all in the name of research, though. Honest.

See you around S-block!

* But then there’s the question of agency: am I the boomerang, or is UWE boomeranging into my life? Place bets now!

** Not to be interpreted as a challenge.

Summer reading — Level 2

This is the first in a series of posts giving suggestions for reading that you could be getting on with over the summer.   Students going in to level 2 will be well advised to dip into some of these texts in preparation for the new academic year (I know — we’ve only just finished this one, but you can’t start too early!!).

Language Acquisition

TB1 a reading list consisting of a number of chapters from different textbooks, but recommended reading is:


  •  Ambridge & Lieven
  • Selected chapters from Handbook of cognitive linguistics and second language acquisition (2008) (Eds. Robinson, P. & Ellis, N. C.)

Language and the Mind

TB1: a mixture of different books. Recommended reading includes:

  • Harley, T.A. (2010) Talking the Talk, chapters 5-8: LINK
  • Paul Warren’s (2012) Introducing Psycholinguistics, chapters 1-9: LINK

TB2: a mixture of texts, including as recommended reading:

Boroditsky, L. Schmidt, L. & Phillips, W. (2003) Sex, syntax, and semantics. In Gentner & Golding-Meadow (Eds.) Language in Mind: Advance in the study of Language and Cognition.

Language, research and the workplace

TB1: reading is set weekly on a variety of journal articles.  Students may wish to consult: Holmes, Janet & Maria Stubbe. 2015. Power and politeness in the workplace. Abingdon: Routledge.

TB2: most of the reading on this half of the module will be led by the research project that you undertake.  However, a useful book on research methods is:

Podesva, Robert & Devyani Sharma (2013) Research methods in linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Analysing culture: language and the visual

TB1: to be confirmed.

TB2: Jackson, H., and E. Ze Amvela (2000) Words, meaning and vocabulary. Bloomsbury.