LINGUIST List 7.1828

Wed Dec 25 1996

Calls: Applying Historical Linguistics

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  1. Niki Ritt, Applying Historical Linguistics

Message 1: Applying Historical Linguistics

Date: Mon, 23 Dec 1996 17:29:15 +0000
From: Niki Ritt <>
Subject: Applying Historical Linguistics


- ------------------------------------------------------
Announcement of a Workshop to be held at
September 30, 1996
- ------------------------------------------------------

The Study of Historical English and Contemporary Society

Converners: Olga Fischer, Amsterdam, Nikolaus Ritt, Vienna

Theme and Aim of the Workshop

The workshop is intended for colleagues engaged in the study and
teaching of the history of the English language who are interested
in reflecting on the current status of their discipline within the E
uropean academic community. It seems to us that such reflection is
necessitated by the fact that after a century or so during which
historical linguistics represented one of the back bones of English
studies, it has during the last two decades tended to become
increasingly marginalised both within the English research
community, and, maybe more radically, within university curricula.
Part of the reason for this may be that, while the value of the
historical enterprise is normally taken more or less for granted by
those of us engaged in it, we are not used to making explicit what
exactly it is that we think we are contributing both to the larger
academic community we are part of and, in particular, to the
education of our students. In that respect we tend to differ from
colleagues in su ch neighbouring disciplines as socio-linguistics,
discourse analysis or applied linguistics, for example, who have had
to argue their way into the university curriculum in more recent

Since we think that the historical discipline does have more to
offer than is generally acknowledged, we feel it is time to raise,
first of all, our own awareness in that respect. The workshop at
ESSE 4 is intended to represent a first step in that direction and to
deal with problems like the following:

* Can the methods employed and/or the insights gained in the study
of the history of the English language make genuine contributions to
neighbouring disciplines whose social relevance is more immediately

* Can knowledge about the history of dialectal variety and
standardisation in English deepen our understanding of the role and
social status of standard and non-standard varieties of present-day
English, and our understanding of the nature of these varieties?

* Do the factors underlying language change throw light on the way
languages are acquired? More generally, what is the relationship
between the theory of grammar and language change (or the theory
of change)? Is the one subservient to the other, or should they be
considered different disciplines? Should the same methodology be
used for both?

* To what degree is knowledge about past stages of English necessary
for understanding the English cultural and particularly literary

* Are there any particular cognitive skills that the study of
historical linguistics helps to refine, and of what value would
these skills be to students in their post-academic lives as, for
example, teachers of English?

All those problems relate - quite generally speaking - to the nature
and justification of our discipline and should be discussed in the
light of one central question:

How might historical linguistics best be integrated in contemporary
university curricula and what are the best methods for teaching the
subject within a typical English Studies course?

Structure of the Workshop and Modes of Participation

Due to the time limit of 2 hours the workshop can only be productive
if the discussion is already well under way by the time we get
together. In our opinion this does not only preclude the reading of
actual papers, but it also makes it rather unlikely that we'll get
anywhere even by only discussing papers distributed among
participants in advance. The workshop can only succeed, we think, if
we u se it for summarising and rounding up a discussion that is more
or less finished (and we mean: FINISHED!!) when we meet. - In order
to make this possible we think the following procedure will be mos t
adequate. First, every potential participant should decide if s/he
wants to actively partake in the workshop or prefers just to listen.
We greatly hope that for most of you the former will be the c ase -
after all we are planning a workshop. Potential active participants
should then send us abstracts for papers focusing on a topic related
to the problem area outlined above. We shall then screen the
abstracts and select a small number - i.e. nor more than ten - to be
elaborated into short 'target papers'. The selection will not
exclusively be made on grounds of quality but also in order to
provide a range of 'target papers' which is representative with
regard to both topics and different European backgrounds. 'Target
papers' will then be distributed to all participants, and colleagues
with abstracts on related topics will be asked to elaborate those
into comments on and replies to the 'target papers'. These peer
commentaries will again be distributed to all participants before
the workshop. Thus, all participants will get a survey of open
questions and controversial issues, as well as a chance to form
their own opinions on them. At the actual workshop we can then try
to settl e open questions and to resolve disagreements. In the
(unlikely?) case that we all agree on everything and that all
questions are solved by September, we can use the meeting to
celebrate our consensu s and to pat each others' backs.


Colleagues wishing to participate in the workshop must register for
ESSE/4 using the appropiate form supplied in The European English
Messenger V/2 1996 and also availabe on eMail request from the
convenors. Registration for the workshop itself can be informal and
addressed to the convenors.


Colleagues should express their wish to participate in the workshop
before the end of February, and indicate if they would like to write
a target paper/commentary. Only participants thus registered will
receive further circulars, the programme as well as the papers. The
deadline for the submission of abstracts is March 31st. The deadline
for the submission of target papers is June 10th. Commentaries
should reach us before the end of July and will be distributed to
all participants at the beginning of August.


Olga Fischer
Engels Seminarium / Universiteit van Amsterdam
Spuistraat 210 / 1012 VT Amsterdam

phone: 020-5252825

Nikolaus Ritt
English Department / University of Vienna
Universitaetsstra_e 7
A-1010 Vienna

Phone: int. 43 1 40103 2064
Fax: int. 43 1 40 60 444
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