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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

Jenny Cheshire Lecture Series

Each year, to mark the retirement of Professor Jenny Cheshire FBA, a distinguished sociolinguist is invited to give a public lecture at Queen Mary.

The Jenny Cheshire Lecture series was founded in 2010 to mark the retirement of Professor Jenny Cheshire FBA. Jenny is a founding member of the QMUL Linguistics department and holds a unique place in the wider community. She has made and continues to make uniquely influential contributions in the areas of grammatical variation, especially syntax and discourse structures, language in education, with a focus on conversational narratives and spoken English, adolescent speech, and especially the identification and documentation of Multicultural London English. 

Each year a distinguished sociolinguist is invited to give a large public lecture open to the wider Linguistics community, with audience members coming from around London and southeast England. The lecture has become a celebration not just of Jenny's unique place in our field, but also a friendly social gathering to mark the end of the academic year.  
A headshot of Prof. Crispin Thurlow

Prof. Crispin Thurlow

We are excited to be welcoming Prof. Crispin Thurlow (University of Bern) to Queen Mary on 31st May 2024.

Previous invited speakers

In recent years, our community has benefitted from an exceptional series of Jenny Cheshire Lectures. You can read more about our distinguished speakers below:

Elinor Ochs is a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA. She researches the role played by language and culture in the course of the lifelong human learning. Her work has helped to develop the linguistic sub-field of language socialisation. 

Lecture abstract:

Experiential Precarity of Ordinary, Everyday, Informal Co-Narration

Narrating an account of incidents in ordinary, everyday, informal social moments exacts improvisational labor entailed in conversation more generally (Sacks 1992a [1968]).  Yet, improvisation does not capture the experience of narrating with other co-tellers in informal conversation.  Narratives generally evoke present-time reactions, including realizations, sentiments, and physical actions. These experiential responses may be generated by rhetorical design by a narrator for an audience or spontaneously as co-tellers try to comprehend and express feelings about narrated events. In informal conversational narratives, the possibility that interlocutors can co-tell events means that they can cast events in unanticipated ways, generating experiences from surprise, delight, and creativity to distress and fury. Conversational co-telling of accounts is, in this sense, cognitively and emotionally promiscuous. This lecture revisits conversational narrative through an analysis that marries its sociological and experiential potentialities.  Informality generates sociological affordances on the level of who can narrate what to whom, when, and in what manner.  Informality also generates experiential affordances that are complex and fascinating as they continually reconfigure narrative.  Of central interest is the intertwining of informal narration and the ragtag emergent conscious realization that a non-ordinary ‘event’ has transpired.  Such realizations take co-narrators on experiential journeys that may exceed one’s control. Detail by detail, informal conversational narratives about the past can be so ethically and affectively charged that their apprehension sparks interlocutors to enact present-time emotionally precarious dramas.

Miriam Meyerhoff is Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford University. She has made key research contributions in the fields of sociolinguistic variation, language and dialect contact, Creole linguistics, language and gender, linguistic theory, and the symbolic construction of social identity through language.

Lecture abstract:

On aesthetics and language variation

Most people know that different ways of saying things sound “nice” or “funny” or “sexy”. But linguists are curiously reluctant to engage directly with the fact that we have an aesthetic response to language variation. Qualitative sociolinguists, following anthropologist colleagues, are more open to discussing attitudes, ascriptions, qualia and other forms of overt aesthetic commentary. But variationists have largely shied away from the topic. In this paper, I will suggest that covert aesthetic evaluations play a role in variation and change. The approach to aesthetics used here is less akin to a Western tradition of aesthetics, and has more in common with Asian notions of aesthetics. I present two case studies of variation and change. One is an instance where aesthetic considerations seem to be feeding change, the other is an instance where aesthetic factors seem to be retarding change. (This is work undertaken in collaboration with Norma Mendoza-Denton.)

Susan Gal is Professor of Anthropology, Linguistics, and of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. She conducts research on the political economy of language, including linguistic nationalism, language and gender, and especially the rhetorical and symbolic aspects of political transformation in contemporary eastern Europe and post socialism generally. Her work focuses as well on the construction of gender and discourses of reproduction.

Lecture abstract:

Ideological work: How linguistic practices gain and lose authority (and for whom)

Ideologies are not doctrines, policies, or creeds; they are forms of interpretation (uptake) that rely on presuppositions and on unspoken value judgments. Differentiations among possible uptakes create positionalities in the social world, signaled by speakers through register differences. How do ideological presuppositions endow some linguistic practices with authority, while stripping authority from others? In this lecture, I consider one text and its enabling ideological work that is losing authority, at least for some: a beloved translation of Winnie-the- Pooh into Hungarian. In contrast, a second example is a discursive practice – one that opposes what it labels as "genderism," or "gender ideology," – and is gaining authority in Hungary, across Europe, and Latin America. Sociolinguistic theories have revealed several processes that establish linguistic authority: Standardization and its institutional supports authorize linguistic practices via ideologies of correctness. The performativity of rituals establishes the legitimacy of what is ritually transformed, as in marriage speech acts. And one site of linguistic practice can interdiscursively anchor another and thus authorize it, as in baptism or licensing. But my two examples differ from these. The first example involves changing ideological presuppositions about the intertextual practice of translation. In the second, the authority of the discourse of "anti-gender" – its persuasiveness for some audiences – is achieved, I argue, through a process of grafting. The discourse paradoxically "rides on" the authority of widely accepted, dominant values like rights and gender equality, while undermining and opposing them.


Paul Foulkes is a Professor in the Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York. His teaching and research interests include forensic phonetics, laboratory phonology, phonological development, and sociolinguistics. He has worked on over 200 forensic cases from the UK, Ghana and New Zealand.

Lecture abstract:

Sociophonetics from a child's perspective

Sociophonetic variation is ubiquitous, systematic, and meaningful. It is one of the design features of human language, offering us the evolutionary advantage of enabling group members to identify each other via their shared vocal traits.

Despite major advances in sociophonetics in recent years, mainstream theoretical models of speech and language are still largely unrevealing about sociophonetic variation. The focus of theoretical models tends to be on universal or language-specific properties, with variation on the periphery. Sociophoneticians, meanwhile, have largely ignored a key subject group: children. How do children learn aspects of sociophonetic variation? What implications does this have for our understanding of language development in general, and in turn our understanding of the cognitive representation and processing of language?

In this talk I outline a number of studies which address these questions, considering how children are exposed to sociophonetic variation in language learning and how they learn to produce and interpret sociophonetic variation.

Helen Kelly-Holmes is Professor of Applied Languages and is currently Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Limerick, Ireland. Her research focuses on the relationship between media and language and on the economic aspects of multilingualism with a particular interest in minority languages and the global political economy of languages.

Lecture abstract:

Hyperlingualism: How and why more might be less

Rapid advances in digital technology over the last decade have meant that it is now possible to produce more content in an increasingly large number of languages. Many search engines, websites, social networking sites and apps seek to offer more and more language options as part of their distinctive brand and customer service. A key feature of this is the attempt to tailor and even individualise language offerings – to create apps that ‘speak your language’ – and to involve the user in co-creating this language.

In this paper, I want to discuss the pros and cons of this phenomenon of ever-increasing online linguistic diversity and differentiation, which I’m calling ‘hyperlingualism’. On the one hand, it can be seen to be a democratising process, with control of language shifting from professionals to speakers; in addition, any increase in the presence of more languages online is surely a good thing, enhancing multilingualism and challenging the supremacy of English globally. On the other, analysing these practices suggests they may in fact be reinforcing monolingualism as normal and assuming an essentialised link between language and territory, which supports contemporary nativist public discourses.

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