All posts by David

The Linguistics of Punctuation – Professor Jeremy Smith

The Linguistics of Punctuation – Professor Jeremy Smith (University of Glasgow) – Wednesday 11th February – 18:15 to 19:15 – Appleton Lecture Theatre 3

This talk will be looking at the development and impact of punctuation, through a historical pragmatics approach, with a focus on Scottish and English texts from over the centuries.

Professor Jeremy Smith is the Head of the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow, a professor of English Philology and has been described on RateMyProfessors as follows: “Jeremy has Sherlock Holmes cufflinks and he is smashing.”

As always, you are all welcome to join us at the bar afterwards to unwind!

Hope to see you there!

Free to LangSoc members, £1 entry for non-members.

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The Final Countdown Quiz – Last LangSoc Social

Thursday 20 November – 20:30 to 22:30 – Dining Room, Teviotclue

Contestant Number 1, come on down!

Join us for our last social of the year. Put your knowledge to the test, because we all know there’s only one way to separate the best from the rest; the venerable pub quiz. This time we’re putting a game show spin on things, so fingers on buzzers and no conferring! The questions will be tough and only one team can leave victorious! Do you (and several friends) have what it takes?

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Robert Truswell – It’s All Relative: Relative Clauses and Diachronic Typology 12/11/14

relativeWednesday 12 November – 18:00 to 19:00 – Lecture Theatre 1, Appleton Tower

Robert Truswell ( will be presenting on some joint work carried out with Nikolas Gisborne. It explores further some of the peculiar aspects of relative clauses that are currently an area of intense inquiry.


“This talk aims to make links between typological patterns and their theoretical explanations. I will focus in particular on the prospects for explaining one particularly unusual typological pattern, which we call “parallel evolution”.

Noun phrases like (1), where the relative clause has a wh-phrase in [Spec,CP], are found in roughly 1/2 of modern Indo-European languages, but only 1/40 of other modern languages.

(1) The person [[with whom] I saw John __ ]

In other words, wh-relatives are an Indo-European thing, more or less. Normally, if a phenomenon is specific to a language family in this way, we glimpse a diachronic explanation: properties of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) may be responsible for the skewed typological distribution of this construction. For instance, if PIE had constructions like (1), we would probably not be surprised if a lot of its daughter languages did too.

However, very few attested early IE languages (from more than a couple of thousand years ago) have wh-relatives like (1), so PIE almost certainly didn’t have them either. This means that wh-relatives have developed time and again, in parallel, across Indo-European, but not elsewhere. This is strange: typical models of syntactic change rely on random low-level reanalyses during acquisition, and the distribution of wh-relatives isn’t random.

Our aim is to relate this pattern to two factors: first, PIE must have some relevant distinguishing feature, or else the fact that wh-relatives are so concentrated in IE would be a mystery. We identify a likely candidate, a particular type of “correlative” construction. Second, certain types of reanalysis must be more likely than others, so that grammars are more likely to change in some directions than others. We identify certain biases operative in language acquisition that may plausibly lie behind this skew. These two ingredients, we hope, are all we need to explain the unusual typological distribution of wh-relatives.

Finally, this is work in progress, and the topic is proving to be a very rich source of research questions. We will do our best to show what it looks like at the relatively early stages of a project like this, and identify open questions and methodologies that could be used to address them.”

Entry free for members, £1 for non-members.

As usual we will be heading to Greenmantle afterwards, We hope you will join us.

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Chris Cummins – How We Do What We Do With Words – 15/10/14

You have hovered over this image. Hello! How are you this fine day? Chancellor’s Fellow Dr Chris Cummins will be speaking for us.

“The idea that language is used to perform social actions was a central insight of natural language philosophy. In recent decades, this idea has been developed within computational linguistics, particularly in work on dialogue systems, but until recently its psycholinguistic implications have largely been overlooked. In this talk, Dr Chris Cummins looks at some of the psychological issues surrounding “dialogue acts”, introduces some of the open questions and discusses how experimental research might help us address them.”

If you would like to know more about Chris’s work, past and present, you can visit his site

Entry free to members, £1 for non-members.

As usual, we will be heading to Greenmantle afterwards. You are all welcome to join us!

LangSoc Study Session

Hello all!

Now into our third week, the work is probably starting to pile up. There’s probably been mention of essays already, or for those of you in second year, the looming spectre of group projects!

If there’s anything you want to meet up and discuss with fellow students in an informal environment, anything you’re unclear on or just want to clarify, then come along to our study session this Friday.

It will be held in Room 6.11 of David Hume Tower from 14:00 to 17:00. This will be the first of many, but the time and venue going forward has yet to be decided, so this is a one-off for now.

There will be students from pre-honours, honours and possibly postgraduate level on hand to help with any queries you have, so don’t be afraid to ask!

We hope to see you there!

Last LangSoc Lecture of the Semester! Designing a Part-of-Speech Tagger for Scottish Gaelic

Click to be taken to the Facebook page for this event.

Wed. April 2nd – 18:00 – Lecture Theatre 2 – Appleton Tower

Will Lamb will be talking to us about a project he is currently heading up, here at the university. This marks our last lecture of the semester!

Language technology for Scottish Gaelic remains in an incipient state, compared to recent progress in the area for other European minority languages. It is crucial to provide certain key computational resources and tools for Gaelic if it is to participate fully in future, data-rich research paradigms, and a variety of NLP-driven applications, which would benefit a range of end users. The Carnegie Trust and Bòrd na Gaelic funded project, ‘An on-line part-of-speech (POS) tagger and gold-standard corpus of Scottish Gaelic’ was devised to help address this situation, with three main aims:

  • Develop a hand-tagged ‘gold-standard’ corpus (GSC) of Scottish Gaelic
  • Develop a POS tagger with an accuracy level of 97%, tested on the GSC
  • Make these resources freely available on the internet

As this one-year project approaches its half-way mark, Will Lamb will be reporting on work-in-progress. In particular, he will be taking stock of some of the challenges of instantiating an NLP pipeline with an under-standardised and morphologically rich language. The Gaelic nominal system, for example, is notably complex and is sensitive to variation conditioned by dialect, register and age. Dr Lamb will also present the results from their first statistically-induced tagger, based upon a finalized 12k word subset of the 80k word corpus.

ILW Film Screening – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Wednesday 19th February

As part of Innovative Learning Week, we’ll be showing the award-winning adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoirs. Paralysed by a stroke, Bauby transcribed his memoirs letter-by-letter from his hospital bed, blinking as his interlocutor reached the right letter in the alphabet.

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Marie-Josée Croze as Henriette Roi, holding a card showing a French frequency-ordered-alphabet, used in partner-assisted scanning, which enabled Bauby to write his memoirs.

Both a powerfully emotional film and an insight into alternative communication methods employed by therapists working with severely speech impaired patients.

LangSoc Members £2 – Non-Members £3

Wednesday 19th February
18:00 – Study – Teviot

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