Mary Haas – Patron Saint of March 2020

It’s the first (full) weekend of a new month! And, coincidentally, today is also International Women’s Day!

Therefore, it is only suitable that we celebrate
Professor Mary Haas!

Mary Haas, born in 1910 in Richmond, Indiana, completed her PhD in linguistics at Yale in 1935. She went on to become a multifaceted linguist during her career. She specialised in North American Indian languages, Thai and historical linguistics.

During the 1930s, she studied a number of languages, mainly spoken in the American southeast. Shortly after publishing her paper A Visit to the Other World, a Nitinat Text in 1933, she went on to conduct fieldwork with the two last native speakers of the Natchez language. Though her notes of the language went unpublished, they are considered a highly reliable source of information on the now, sadly, dead language.

She conducted fieldwork on the Creek, also known as the Muscogee, language and was actually the first modern linguist who collected extensive texts in that language. The texts were later published posthumously.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Professor Haas also developed a program to teach the Thai language during the tumultuous time of World War II. Professor Haas, aside from implementing the new program, also wrote the authoritative Thai-English Student’s Dictionary, which was published in 1964. The dictionary remains in use today.

In 1948, she was appointed assistant professor of Thai and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. She became one of the founding members of the UC-Berkely Department of Linguistics and became the long-term chair of the department.

Additionally, Professor Haas was Director of the Survey of California Indian Languages between 1953-1977.

Again, as if that wasn’t enough, her student Karl Teeter famously stated in her obituary that “she was responsible for training more scholars as Americanists than Boas and Sapir together”, an undoubtedly impressive feat.

During her career, she received quite a few awards and honors for her amazing work in her field. Among others, she was President of the Linguistic Society of America in 1963, awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964, elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974 and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1978. She also received four (!) honorary doctorates between 1975 and 1980.

In addition to all of these honours, I am more than happy to add Patron Saint of March 2020 at the HLC to the list!

Happy international women’s day!



For this post, I’ve used the following:

Mary Haas

Survey of California and Other Indian Languages: History

Mary Haas Obituary by Karl Teeter

Karl Luick – Patron Saint of February 2020

It’s a new month! Time for yet another of our monumental people in the linguistic field! Today, I want to introduce you to Karl Luick!

Luick was born on the 27th of January, 1865, in a town called Floridsdorf, which is now the 21st district of Vienna. Although later moving around quite a bit, he got all of his degrees from the University of Vienna, specialising in English.

Luick was, and remains to this day, a monumental name in the field of historical phonology. His Historische Grammatik der englischen Sprache was published in two volumes and remains, in its 1964 edition, a key text in historical phonology.

Another key text of Luick’s is the earlier publication Untersuchungen zur englischen Lautgeschichte, which was published as early as 1896. In this publication, Luick focused on the Great Vowel Shift and developed a tentative hypothesis, now called the push chain hypothesis.

Some background first.

Middle English /u:/ diphthongised, eventually becoming modern /au/, in large portions of England. However, it had not done so in Scotland and parts of the north.

Noticing this, Luick suggested that there must be some kind of causal relationship between the non-diphthongisation of /u:/ in those northern areas and the fronting of /o:/, which had previously occurred in the northern dialects.

As a result, the push-chain hypothesis suggests that lower vowels basically raised and push the higher vowels out of their place – thus forcing the highest vowels to lower and diphthongise. 1 As the northern dialects no longer had /o:/ in its original place, it couldn’t raise and push /u:/ to diphthongise!

Although Luick never pursued this idea further, 2, it became quite famous and a discussion about whether the Great Vowel Shift was indeed a push chain or a drag chain3.

Regardless of whether you believe in the push or drag chain (or have no preference), I believe we can all agree with Bauer, who once stated that:

Luick always had fresh insights, some of them of almost revolutionary potential[.]

Gero Bauer (1985: 10)

and as a brief acknowledgment of the amazing work done by this linguist, he is the HLC’s Patron Saint of February 2020!

Want to learn more about Luick? Check out my references and footnotes below!



As my German, unfortunately, is not good enough to read Luick’s own works (don’t worry – I’m working on it!), I have relied on:

Dieter Kastovsky/Gero Bauer. (eds.). 1985. Luick revisited. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag Tübingen (particularly the introduction for this post).

If your German is better than mine though, you can find volume 1 of Historische Grammatik der englischen Sprache here and volume 2 here. You can also find Untersuchungen zur englischen Lautgeschichte here.

I’ve also had a look at Wikipedia’s page on Karl Luick.


M.L. Samuels – Patron Saint of January 2020

It’s the first weekend of the first month of a new decade!

Because it is the first weekend, I will introduce you to another amazing linguist. Today, I decided to go with a professor whose works are well-known in the community of historical linguistics. But, they might be less familiar to those who do not spend most of their life hanging around other historical linguists.

So, today, allow me to introduce you to
Professor Michael L. Samuels.

Professor Samuels was born on September 14, 1920. He tragically passed away on November 24, 2010, having been retired since 1990.

Retired or not, though, Professor Samuels kept working and his publications are among the most cited works in works focused on the English language 1. Quite a feat.

Projects of Professor Samuels that are, perhaps, most well-known are A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English (which I talked about in more detail here) and the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Having already taken a look at LALME, let’s focus this post on the Historical Thesaurus!

The Historical Thesaurus is a unique, amazing resource. It contains almost every single word in English from Old English to present day!

So, what does it do?

It allows its users to discover synonyms for individual words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then, you can trace their development throughout the history of the English language!

Samuels had announced the project to the Philological Society in 1965. Forty years later, the dream came true in October 2009, when it was first printed.

Unfortunately, Samuels passed away a mere six days before its launch alongside the Oxford English Dictionary Online. The launch, however, ensured a continued spread of his (and his co-creators/editors) amazing work.

As if these amazing massive projects weren’t enough, Professor Samuels contributed immensely to the study of medieval English through his many publications.

Perhaps most famous is his article “Some applications of Middle English dialectology“, first published in 1963. In it, Professor Samuels outlined four types of written “standards” in late Middle English. The word “standard” here has been problematic and heavily discussed in the linguistic community, but should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt. (Jeremy Smith introduced a very helpful distinction between a fixed standard and a focused standard. The distinction could perhaps be kept in mind when reading Samuel’s suggested four types, but I won’t get into that now (see the references though).)

Professor Samuels’s contributions to the field of historical linguistics are, without a doubt, substantial, but they may not be as commonly known as other linguistic names, outside the field of historical linguistics itself.

So, when considering the very first Patron Saint of 2020, I felt it is more than appropriate to celebrate the many contributions that Professor Samuels made to the field and, I hope, introduce some of you to a (to you) previously unknown amazing linguist!

Hats off to Professor Samuels,
the first Patron Saint of 2020,
here at the HLC!



Michael Samuels obituary by Christian Kay (15 Dec, 2010)

Michael Samuels at the Historical Thesaurus of English

Michael Samuels in University News, June 2006, University of Glasgow

The Historical Thesaurus of the OED

Samuels, M.L. 1963. Some applications of Middle English dialectology. English Studies. 44: 1-6. 81-94. DOI: 10.1080/00138386308597155

Smith, Jeremy J. 1996. An Historical Study of English: Function, Form, and Change. Routledge. ISBN 9780415132725

Jean-François Champollion – Patron Saint of November, 2019

It’s the first weekend of November 2019! Allow me to introduce you to our Patron Saint of this month: Jean-François Champollion!

Born on the 23rd of December 1790, Jean-François Champollion gave his first public paper at the tender age of 16 (!). At this point, he was already fluent in six ancient Oriental languages!

He is most famous for his work in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. As a result of that work, he is often considered one of the founding fathers of Egyptology.

Primarily, he worked on the Rosetta stone. The stone is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC. The top and middle texts are written in Ancient Egyptian, using the hieroglyphic and demotic scripts. The bottom of the stone is written in Ancient Greek.

Discovered in 1799, the stone became the ultimate key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is here that Champollion comes in.

The first to recognise that some signs of the Egyptian script on the Rosetta stone were alphabetic, some syllabic, and some determinative (that is, representing a whole idea or object that has been introduced earlier in the text), Champollion focused first on trying to find names of known rulers in the text.

This made it possible for him to assign 12 phonetic values for the symbols he was seeing, which soon allowed for further names to be discovered and more signs recognised for their phonetic value. And on the story goes.

Although heavily criticised by Thomas Young, a contemporary of his who felt that his previous contributions and work had not been sufficiently recognised by Champollion, Champollion’s work eventually led to us being able to start interpreting Egyptian hieroglyphs and thus opened a door to loads of Egyptian history.

So today, we recognise Champollion’s great contributions to the field by naming him Patron Saint of November 2019!

Roman Jakobson – Patron Saint of October, 2019

It is October! And today is Saturday the 5th of October, meaning that it is the first weekend of a new month! You know what that means!

Allow me to introduce you to Roman Osipovich Jakobson.

A Russian-American linguist and literary theorist, Professor Jakobson was born in Russia on the 11th of October, 1896. He lived there until 1920 when he moved to Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, professor Jakobson lived in turbulent times and was forced to flee Czechoslovakia in 1939.

He eventually wound up in Norway and, in 1940, he walked across the border to Sweden. Unfortunately, Sweden proved to be a poor choice and Professor Jakobson fled to the United States in 1941.

Once in New York, professor Jakobson taught at The New School. In 1949, he moved on to teach at Harvard University, where he stayed until his retirement in 1967.

Professor Jakobson was a pioneer in structural linguistics. Together with colleague Nikolai Trubetzkoy, he pretty much founded the modern discipline of phonology!

Among his substantial achievements, we find a pretty remarkable one: together with colleagues Nikolai Trubetzkoy and Si.I. Karcevskij, Professor Jakobson further developed the concept of the phoneme, by suggesting that it has binary features. What this means is that phonemes are, for example, either voiced or unvoiced, aspirated or unaspirated. Today, we know that to be true; a truly momentous discovery in the world of phonology.

However, this is actually not what Professor Jakobson is most famous for.

Instead, Professor Jakobson’s most famous work might be claimed to be on the communicative functions. That is, the elements that make up any verbal act.

Any act of verbal communication, Jakobson claimed, is dominated by one of six functions:

ContextReferential - describes a situation, object or mental state
AddresserEmotive - relates to the Addresser (the one who is talking), internal state, usually with the help of interjections, such as "Wow, what a view!"
AddresseeConative - these are forms that addresser the hearer directly, for example, by use of vocatives and imperatives
ContactPhatic - is language for the sake of interaction - like saying "Hello" to strangers
CodeMetalingual - also known as metalinguistic, this is the use of language to describe itself.
MessagePoetic - is the focus on the message more than anything else. This is common in, for example, poetry and slogans.

His work proved very influential. Influenced by the organon model, developed by Karl Bühler, Jakobson’s own model was published in 1960. It was widely adopted, but, like anything in research, it also received its share of criticism.

In the end, Professor Jakobson’s valuable contributions to the field still play a major role in linguistic typology, markedness and the study of linguistic universals. There can thus be no doubt that Professor Jakobson certainly earned his place in the linguistic Hall of Fame and his (newly) appointed title as Patron Saint of October for the HLC!



If you want to know more about Professor Jakobson’s work on the functions of language – check out this link.

For the general information found here, check out Wikipedia’s entry on Professor Jakobson (which also includes some information about his work).

For work that Professor Jakobson did on the phoneme – check out Britannica’s entry.

Peter Nielsen Ladefoged – Patron Saint of September, 2019

September is upon us, dear friends, and this being the first (full) weekend of that month, allow me to introduce you to Professor Peter Nielsen Ladefoged!

Born on the 17th of September, 1925, Professor Ladefoged was a British linguist and phonetician, whose works on phonetics is highly valued in the linguistic community. His most famous work is perhaps that which he performed at the phonetics laboratory at UCLA, which he established in 1962. His work closely revolved around the massive task of listening to, and describing, every sound used in spoken human language, which he estimated at 900 consonants and 200 vowels (!!!). This research eventually became the basis of much of the volume “The Sounds of the World’s Languages”, co-authored with Professor Ian Maddieson, and published in 1996. This book is based on data from about 400 (!) languages and describes the contrasting phonetic categories, meaning the ways in which phonemic sounds may differ in human languages.

His book “A course in phonetics” is a common introductory text to phonetics (you might even have read it – I know I’ve used it on occasion), and with his great emphasis on the importance of considering the full diversity of human speech sounds, there can be no doubt calling Professor Ladefoged “the father of the field of linguistic phonetics” is an accurate description and a well-deserved title.

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin – Patron Saint of August, 2019

It’s the first weekend of a new month! You know what that means, right?

Allow us to introduce you to Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin!

Born on the 16th of November, 1895, Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher, literary critic and semiotician, who also worked on literary theory, ethics and philosophy of language.

There can be no doubt that Bakhtin had a significant influence in a number of different fields of study: for us, though, the most important work Bakhtin did might be the work known as The Dialogic Imagination, a collection of four essays about language first published as a whole in 1975. In this work, some terms that are now in common use in linguistics (and other fields) were introduced. Among others, we find important terms such as heretoglossia, dialogism, and chronotope.

You might recognise some (or all) of these as important concepts in today’s study of language and they all originated in this one person – quite a feat, wouldn’t you say?

Bakhtin also proposed that all languages represent a distinct point of view on the world. As such, there are no “neutral” words because language is always “shot through with intentions and accents” and even the most unremarkable statement therefore possesses a taste or conveys an attitude.

So there, your topic for Monday’s coffee-break chat is there for the taking: is there something like a neutral statement?

Next month, we’ll give you some small insight into another one of those influential, and inspiring, linguists throughout time! Join us then.

Paul Grice – Patron Saint of June, 2019

It being the first weekend of a new month, time for another lovely little introduction to an influential linguist, whose work has had great impact on meaning.

Ladies and gents, let us introduce you to Paul Grice!

Professor Grice was born in Harborne, nowadays a suburb of Birmingham, in the UK. First attending school at Clifton College, he later attended Corpus Christ College, Oxford, and a bit later still, went back to Oxford, this time to St. John’s College, where he imparted his knowledge to students until 1967. After that, he moved to the States to take up a professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught until his passing in 1988.

In the field of linguistics, Grice’s work greatly impacted the field of semantics (that is, meaning). What most budding linguists may think about when they think of Grice is his famous “Maxims”. Generally known simply as “Grice’s Maxims”, these belong to a broader principle that Grice named “the Cooperative principle”, which Grice meant that all speakers in a conversation generally follow.

But what does that mean?? Let’s quote the author: “Make your contribution such as it is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.” (Grice 1989: 26). To this principle, Grice added his Maxims that basically say:
1. The Maxim of information – make your contribution to the conversation as informative as possible but not more than what is necessary.
2. The Maxim of Quality – Basically: don’t lie. To be more specific: don’t say things you believe to be false, or things for which you lack adequate evidence.
3. The Maxim of relation – Be relevant, won’t you?
4. Maxim of Manner – avoid being unclear, ambiguous, overly chatty (be brief) and be orderly.

Obviously, these aren’t the only Maxims used in conversations, but they are the ones traditionally recognised as Grice’s Maxims. Also, obviously, not everyone plays by these rules – people lie, they say stuff that’s completely irrelevant to the conversation, and so on. BUT, according to Grice, conversational implicatures (that is, an implicit speech act: what is meant by the speaker rather than what is explicitly said) are possible because we all assume that the person we are talking to is actually obeying these Maxims: we assume that they’re telling the truth (mostly) and that what they’re saying is informative, relevant and clear (again, mostly). And when they don’t, like when they purposely say untrue things (think “Yeah, and I’m a monkey’s uncle”)? Well, you, and they, rely on these Maxims to reach an appropriate conclusion: you’re ignoring what the speaker is actually saying and instead infer the speaker’s meaning!

Isn’t that fun? If you want to know more about Professor Grice’s amazing work (‘cause obviously, there is so much more that it’s ridiculous), check it out by following this link. In the meantime, next time you have a conversation, try to think of what Maxim you’re relying on and send a thankful thought to Professor Grice for his long hard work that helped us understand so much more about what’s going on in every single conversation.

Have fun!

Ferdinand de Saussure – Patron Saint of May, 2019

Our patron saint of linguistics for May is Ferdinand de Saussure (b. 1857, d. 1913), a Swiss linguist considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics.

As a student, Saussure studied Latin, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit, and even Celtic. In 1878, at the age of 21, he published a Dissertation on the Primitive Vowel System in Indo-European Languages. In his work on Proto Indo-European, he proposed the existence of missing phonemes in PIE not accounted for by reconstructions through the comparative method. He was proven right 50 years later when Hittite was deciphered.

As impressive as his work as a student was, and as much as he himself focused on historical linguistics (which in most senses was the focus of the whole field at the time), Saussure’s legacy lies in ideas he presented through his later lectures. Throughout his career, he lectured on IE, Sanskrit, and even some of the Germanic languages. Then, in 1907, he offered his first Course of General Linguistics, a class he offered only three times between 1907 and 1911. After Saussure’s death, some of his students published a book based on notes from his lectures.

This book, entitled Course in General Linguistics, contains the theories that became the foundation for structural linguistics, wherein language is collected and its elements classified at different levels. Saussure distinguished between an abstract level of language and actual speech. He proposed that the relationship between a signifier (like a word) and what it signified was arbitrary. His ideas on the relationships between the elements of language opened up the fields of phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. He put forth theories about dialects and language change based on geography. What’s more, he said it was just as important to study language synchronically, ie as a complete system at a point in time, as it was to look at diachronic, or historic, developments. (His analogy here was that it’s one thing to look at the history of chess and another to understand the rules at a given time.)

Pardon the wall of text. In essence, Saussure revolutionarily encouraged the synchronic study of languages and paved the way for some of the most fundamental disciplines within the field—no linguist escapes undergrad without studying such basic subjects as phonology and syntax.

In the past hundred years, there have been many strides within linguistics. New theories and schools of thought have arisen, and Saussure’s status has diminished, but his influence is never gone. Just try to find an introductory text today that doesn’t mention the arbitrary relation between sign and meaning!

Adam J. Aitken – Patron Saint of April, 2019

A is for April and also for Adam J. Aitken – coincidentally, this month’s Patron Saint!
A.J. Aitken (1921-1998) is known for his scholarship on the Scots Language and his work as Editor on the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST). He is perhaps not as widely known in linguistics as the previous Patron Saints we’ve presented, but as a Scots scholar, and an alumni of the HLCs alma mater the University of Edinburgh, he is one of particular importance to us.

Aitken graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1947 with an MA in English Language, and shortly after took up work as assistant to the editor of DOST. He took over the editor position in 1956, meaning that his contribution can be noticed from the letter J (or, volume III). During his time as editor, he developed a new reading programme which diversified and nearly doubled the source material for DOST. He was also early to explore computer methods for the dictionary work, and set up the Older Scots Textual Archive (also called the DOST corpus); a digital archive of the DOST source material, which makes one of few digitised text data sources for research on Older Scots.

During his time at DOST, Aitken also worked as Lecturer and Reader for the department of English Language at the University of Edinburgh. There, he essentially created ‘Scots Language’ as a university subject – something this particular HLC writer is still reaping the harvest from, as a PhD student researching the Scots Language. Apart from producing teaching materials on Scots, which to this day constitute some of the more comprehensive descriptions of Scots grammar, vocabulary and sound system, Aitken also formulated the Scottish Vowel Length Rule (also called Aitken’s Law), which describes a pattern of meaningful vowel length alternation in Scots and Scottish English, and he created a numbering system for the Scottish Vowels so that they more easily could be described and studied.

In the spirit of the Year of Indigenous Languages, it feels especially appropriate to raise awareness of someone who has contributed so much to the recognition and awareness of Scots. Braw!

At the Dictionary of the Scots Language website,, you can find more info about DOST (and search it, of course), as well as an online text book about the origin and history of Scots which incorporates material written by Aitken – look under the “About Scots” tab.