Philip Leverhulme prize awarded to University of Glasgow academic


15 October 2019
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Professor Marc Alexander has been awarded the prestigious Philip Leverhulme prize to allow him to continue pioneering research into the evolution of the English language.

The prize honours researchers whose future career is seen as “exceptionally promising” and whose work has already attracted international recognition.

Speaking on the University of Glasgow website, Professor Alexander explained his hopes for the future direction of his research: “I am very honoured to be awarded this prize. I have been fortunate to spend my career surrounded by a thousand years’ worth of words, and it is wonderful to be able to take a deeper dive into them.

“The big question I want to explore is where the language has unusual patterns and anomalies – why do we have the most words for ‘bad weather’ in 1850 and fewer nowadays, for example, or why do our words for ‘kissing’ triple in the 1540s? We want to explore where and why this happens, and the prize lets me work with new and exciting researchers and use new cutting-edge software to analyse the richness of the Historical Thesaurus.

“In another strand of the work, we will also be exploring Parliamentary language in Hansard across the last two hundred years and seeing where the language used by politicians reflects – or hides – the country’s concerns during major crises.”

The Historical Thesaurus of English

The Historical Thesaurus has 793,733 words arranged by meaning, spanning more than 1,000 years of the English language.

Professor Alexander and his team are currently working on the second edition which is seeing 35% of the entries in the Thesaurus being re-dated with new evidence, over a third of the meaning categories being revised, and 20,000 new words added.

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(report and image courtesy University of Glasgow)