The Sixth Cambridge Postgraduate Conference in Language Research. Photograph by Christian Richardt.

Invited speakers

We are delighted to welcome the following two invited speakers:

Dr Philip Durkin

Principal Etymologist, Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press

Philip Durkin is head of the Oxford English Dictionary's team of specialist etymology editors, who are responsible for documenting the history and development of words. Philip's passion is for tracing the developments in form and sense which English words have undergone through the centuries, and identifying the influences-- both linguistic and cultural -- which have helped shape the modern vocabulary of English.

Dr Durkin will give a talk entitled "Etymology and lexis: in praise of uncertainty"
Etymologies as presented in etymological dictionaries can appear neat, streamlined, and very certain. They can seem an uninviting area for study, because most questions appear already to have received definitive answers, and those problems which remain open are well-known and unlikely to find new solutions. This paper will argue that such a presentation of etymologies, although often a necessity in the compressed format of a single-volume etymological dictionary, is in many ways unhelpful.
Most word histories are splendidly messy, and present difficulties and uncertainties at almost every turn: a keen eye for these uncertainties, and a willingness to suspend judgement on cases which are not susceptible to definite proof, can lead to new insights, and even new solutions to old problems.
Etymology typically draws on insights from a number of different linguistic levels; in particular, it draws on historical phonology and historical semantics. Traditionally arguments based on word form are the most prominent, because they can be tested more rigorously. Arguments based on change in word meaning are much more difficult, and in many cases can be reduced to no more than what 'seems likely' to a particular researcher. I will investigate some difficult cases, and the implications they have for historical linguistic data.

Dr Napoleon Katsos

Senior Research Fellow, Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge

Napoleon Katsos Napoleon Katsos specialises in semantics and pragmatics, especially in the meaning of quantifiers, number words, logical connectives, and definite expressions. He is particularly interested in how developmental and experimental research can inform theoretical linguistic inquiry and vice versa.

He is currently participating in a programme looking at the acquisition of quantification and informativeness by typically-developing children, as well as by children with Specific Language Impairment. Napoleon is also interested in the acquisition of quantifiers crosslinguistically and is working with colleagues on a novel dataset from 24 languages, trying to identify any universal patterns in the process of language acquisition. This work may further be used to develop crosslinguistically applicable tests of language impairment.

Go to Dr Katsos's webpage

Dr Katsos will give a talk entitled "Psychology for Linguists - Linguistics for Psychologists"
A tenet of some of the major strands of contemporary linguistics is that the study of linguistic competence is to be ultimately subsumed under the study of biology. As such, considerations from how language is processed in the mind and the brain ought to be relevant to linguists. In this talk I will focus on one of the many emerging synergies between linguists and psychologists in the area that I work on. In the first part of the talk I will review recent work where experimental evidence has contributed towards resolving a debate in the semantics / pragmatics interface concerning the defaultness of scalar implicatures. In the second part I will discuss how semantic and pragmatic theory is contributing towards resolving challenges for developmental psychologists, such as revealing crosslinguistically robust stages of language acquisition and establishing assessment tools for bilingual children. I will conclude with an outlook for an empirically-based linguistic science.