Meet the team: five questions for Kathryn Allan

Following from Bas’s post about his background and interests, next up is Kathryn Allan.

  1. What is your role at the Survey, and what led you to your current position here?


I am a senior lecturer in the history of English in the English Department, and I’ve been here since 2008. I was the Deputy Director of the Survey from 2009 until 2016, when Sean Wallis took over, and I’m still very much part of the community. I share courses with colleagues here and we often collaborate on other projects, such as events like the Bloomsbury Festival or academic conferences.


  1. What are your main areas of interest in linguistics, in five words?


Historical semantics, lexicology, language change.


  1. What’s your favourite thing about working at the Survey?


It’s a privilege to be part of such a collegial, focused group of linguists, and although we have fairly diverse interests these overlap in interesting ways. In term time most of us are physically here for a large proportion of the time, and that means it’s easy to talk about teaching and research; I enjoy that kind of daily interaction. Plus there’s always good cake in the Survey office.


  1. What do you enjoy most about teaching?


We have great students here, who show real intellectual curiosity and independence, and because we’re a relatively small group of linguists we see them a lot and get to know them well. We try to teach in a way that encourages participation, and that makes for very interesting discussions; I’m often surprised and impressed by the ideas that students bring to classes. I also think our tutorial system works brilliantly: we have regular one-to-one meetings with each student to discuss their essays, and it’s great to be so closely involved in someone’s progress and see how their ideas and interests develop.


  1. And finally, what’s one way in which research in linguistics has applications to the real world?


Of all the academic disciplines, linguistics might be the most relevant to everyone. We all use language all the time, for a range of different purposes and in a range of different contexts, so it really matters why we make particular choices and how other people might interpret these. My own area, semantic change, is inextricably linked to social and cultural change, and that means it can be very revealing: studying how individual word meanings have changed, and trying to find tendencies in these changes, can give fascinating clues about societies in different historical periods, and about the way speakers think.


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