Historical Linguistics research strand at BCL

Current and recent projects under the Historical Linguistics strand of the Bristol Centre for Linguistics' research.

Family Names

Professor Richard Coates led a large team of researchers working out of the Bristol Centre for Linguistics on the Family Names of the UK project. The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council between 2010 and 2017 and allowed the team to collect detailed information on the etymology, geographical and linguistic origins and distribution of some 60,000 surnames. The research was published in a four-volume dictionary Family Names of Britain and Ireland and the team continue to explore the origins of lesser-used surnames.

Historical Pragmatics

Dr Kate Beeching has carried out significant work into the origins and development of discourse markers, such as like, you know and I mean (as well as similar words in French). She is interested to explore what functions such words have and what they can tell us about the nature of social interaction. In addition, Beeching has thought about how the meanings of words change over time and how that can be influenced by considerations of politeness.

Dr James Murphy shares these interests but with a focus on speech-acts, eg apologies, acts of blaming and questioning. He has investigated how the words associated with apologising are likely to have been treated differently by speakers over time and how that has an influence on the way that we ‘say sorry’ to one another today.


Professor Richard Coates has worked extensively on place-names, especially on English place-names created before around 1500 AD. He has written popular books on the place-names of Bristol and Bristol and is President of the English Place Names Society. His work on proper names has influenced his thinking on linguistic theory and he continues to develop his Pragmatic Theory of Properhood.

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