We are thrilled to announce that the plenary talks will be delivered by:
Dr Tino Oudesluijs
Research Associate, University of Manchester

(in collaboration with Anita Auer, Professor of English Literature, University of Lausanne)

Urban Vernaculars and Supralocalisation Processes in Late Medieval England 

Historical urban vernaculars play an important role in the explanation of language standardization processes and particularly supralocalisation, i.e. “the process by which, as a result of mobility and dialect contact, linguistic variants with a wider socio-spatial currency become more widespread at the expense of more localised forms” (Britain 2010: 193). In the history of the English language, the emergence of a written Standard has already received much attention by philologists and historical linguists, with much focus on the role of the Chancery (cf. Fisher 1977; see Benskin for a critical discussion), and more recently addressing aspects such as multilingualism and the emergence of the written vernacular (cf. Wright ed. 2020), as well as linguistic variation in Middle English local documents (cf. Stenroos 2020). Another way of shedding new light on the uniformisation of written English focus is by systematically investigating and comparing historical urban vernaculars in Late Medieval England. After all, the existence of religious and civic writing centres, as well as trade, led to greater text production in cities (in contrast to rural areas).  

Within this context, this talk focuses on historical urban vernaculars and supralocalisation in Late Medieval England. It is based on findings of the research project Emerging Standards: Urbanisation and the Development of Standard English, c.1400-1700, which has aimed at shedding new light on the complex processes of language standardisation by shifting the focus from the pre-eminent urban community London to important regional centres, notably York (North), Bristol (Southwest), Coventry (West Midlands) and Norwich (East Anglia) (cf. Kermode 2000: 442; Trudgill 2010: 53). Based on newly compiled manuscript-based corpora of civic and other documents of the individual cities, a number of different linguistic variables, notably (a) the third person singular inflections and plural markers, and (b) DO periphrasis, will be discussed. The systematic comparison across text types and region, within the context of other relevant studies, allows us to gain a better understanding of the processes involved in the development of written Standard English.   

References: 

Benskin, Michael. 2004. Chancery Standard. In C. Kay et al. (eds.), New Perspectives on English Historical Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1–40. 

Britain, David. 2010. Supralocal Regional Dialect Levelling. In Carmen Llamas & Dominic Watt (eds.), Language and Identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 193–204. 

Fisher, John H. 1977. Chancery and the Emergence of Standard Written English in the Fifteenth Century. Speculum. A Journal of Medieval Studies 52: 870–899. 

Kermode, Jenny. 2000. The Greater Towns 1300-1540. In D.M. Palliser (ed.), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain. Volume I. 600-1540. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 441–465. 

Stenroos, Merja. 2020. Regional Variation and Supralocalization in Late Medieval English: Comparing Administrative and Literary texts. In Merja Stenroos & Kjetil V. Thengs (eds.), Records of Real People: Linguistic Variation in Middle English Local Documents, 95–128. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 

Trudgill, Peter. 2010. Investigations in Sociohistorical Linguistics. Stories of Colonisation and Contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Wright, Laura (ed.). 2020. The Multilingual Origins of Standard English. Berlin/Boston: Mouton de Gruyter. 

Tino Oudesluijs is a historical (socio)linguist with an interest in diachronic aspects of language variation and change in English. He has previously worked on variation and change in Late Middle and Early Modern English, as well as on supralocalisation and standardisation processes. He is particularly interested in how linguistic behaviour changes over time in specific socio-historical contexts, both on a micro and macro level, and in a variety of registers. His current research focuses on (a) the role of historical urban vernaculars in standardisation processes (see also the Emerging Standards project); (b) the effects of copying practices on written English, and (c) language use in Late Modern English ego-documents. He is also part of a team constructing an online Late Modern English letter & diary edition and linguistic corpus.

Tino Oudesluijs is currently a Research Associate at the University of Manchester, where he works on the AHRC-funded project Unlocking the Mary Hamilton Papers. Prior to this position, he has held posts at the University of Lausanne (CH), where he completed his PhD, and the University of Amsterdam (NL).


Prof. Elaine Treharne
Roberta Bowman Denning Professor, Stanford University

Disrupting Categories of Old and Middle English: Literature, History and Script, 1050-1250

This lecture will focus on English case studies—The Grave and The Letter of Eadwine—to highlight how damaging and erroneous modern scholarly categories can be. These three short textual items trouble impulses of periodization, disciplinary framing, linguistic siloing, and presentist narratives. I hope to show that by disrupting labels and prescribed value judgements, medieval texts and those who produced them can be productively and joyfully reappraised and re-appreciated, both within and between contemporary disciplines of literature, linguistics, and history creating a new mode of discovery and interpretation. 

Elaine Treharne is Roberta Bowman Denning Professor of Humanities and Professor of English at Stanford University, where she is also the Robert K. Packard University Fellow in Undergraduate Education and the Director of Stanford Text Technologies. She is the author of numerous books and articles on medieval manuscripts and Early English literature, and on the long history of technologies of communication. Her latest books include Perceptions of Medieval Manuscripts: The Phenomenal Book (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021) and Text Technologies: A History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019, with Claude Willan). She is the General Editor of Oxford Textual Perspectives (with Greg Walker, for OUP) and Stanford Text Technologies (with Ruth Ahnert, for Stanford UP). She is currently working on a new Introduction to Manuscript Studies (for Boydell and Brewer) and a book on Disrupting Categories 1050-1250. She and Mateusz Fafinski are about to launch their new digital project on thirteenth-century religious scribal cultures—Medieval Networks of Memory. Elaine is a qualified archivist; a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, the Royal Historical Society, the English Association, and the Learned Society of Wales; and she is a Trustee of the National Library of Wales.


Prof. Jeremy Smith
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow

Rethinking Philology

The ‘material turn’ has affected many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences in the last two decades. It is therefore no surprise that there has been an ongoing reimagining of traditional philology: a reimagining that requires the breaking down of traditional boundaries between disciplines that have gradually become distinct, such as book history (including such subjects as paleography, codicology and bibliography), textual editing (or ‘criticism’), and historical linguistics, and an enhanced dialogue between them.

In this presentation, part of an ongoing research-programme, a series of witnesses for texts from the Middle English period are investigated. Some are well-known (The Canterbury Tales, Piers Plowman, the poetry of John Lydgate), others rather less so (Wimbledon’s Sermon, The Lay Folks’ Mass Book). Some of these witnesses are found in locations outside the traditional codex. An attempt will be made to show that reimagined philology, as defined above, can lead to new insights into how textual form and sociocultural function relate in these witnesses.

Until retiring in August 2021, Jeremy Smith was Professor of English Philology in the University of Glasgow, where he now holds a Senior Research Fellowship. He is also an Honorary Professor in the University of St Andrews. A specialist in English historical linguistics, the history of Scots, book history, and medieval language and literature, he is the author/editor of many books, chapters in collections, and articles in academic journals, including Transforming Early English (Cambridge: University Press, 2020), which was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and is part of the Textual Afterlives project (with John Thompson, Queen’s University Belfast, and Ian Johnson, St Andrews). Current projects include a survey of the deployment of the English religious discourse in devotional and controversial texts (working title: Uncomfortable Words), and (with David Jasper) research into the reworking of medieval liturgical writings in the Victorian period (Liturgical Reinvention, under contract with Boydell and Brewer).

Jeremy Smith has served on the UK’s Research Excellence Framework sub-panels for English language and literature (2014, 2021), as Convener of the Board of Trustees of Scottish Language Dictionaries (now Dictionaries of the Scots Language), and as President of the International Society for the Linguistics of English. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of the English Association and of the Royal Society of Arts, and an Honorary Fellow of the Association of Scottish Literary Studies. He is currently convener of the RSE’s Schools Programme, and co-convenes the RSE’s Public Engagement Group.