Ten Minutes With… George Walkden

Posted on December 5, 2014 by

Welcome to ‘Ten Minutes With…’, Manchet’s new interview series. Over the course of this year we’ll be grilling some of the LEL department’s legendary lecturers and asking them answers all the questions you’d never thought to ask, and perhaps never wanted to know.

It only seems appropriate that our interview series kicks off with Manchet Overlord, George Walkden. Perhaps most famous for his office train set (and its amazing ability to cheer up the most tearful of students), George previously studied at Cambridge, and has been specialising in Historical Linguistics and Syntax in the department for the last 3 years. George agreed to kick off ‘Ten Minutes With…’, giving us an excuse to see the train again…

Manchet: Why does linguistics matter?
George Walkden: It’s kind of a cliché but, when you think about it, language really is what makes us human more than anything else. There doesn’t seem to be much in the animal kingdom that approaches what we have as language, certainly nothing that approaches the diversity of languages that we have.

M: You’re famous amongst LELers for your train set, so we can’t conduct a proper interview without asking you about it. So, does it have a name? And what’s the story behind it?
GW: Well, there’s several parts to the story. I always wanted a train set but could never afford one until I got a proper job. And then the other side is that I need something to remind me that life is not all about linguistics, and that’s what the train set is there for. I look at it and I think ‘yes, there’s a whole world out there’. It’s amazing how such a small train can remind you of such a big thing.
[M: FYI the train is called Duchess of Abercorn]

The Duchess of Abercorn.

The Duchess of Abercorn.

M: What is the greatest thing that has never been invented?
GW: A proper functioning drawbridge for a model railway. Because even when the railway was maximally functional, it never went all the way around the room. It had to stop at the door so that people could come in and out. And a little signal outside so when the red light is on, do not enter.

M: What utterly insignificant achievement are you most proud of?
GW: I’ve actually got quite a lot of insignificant achievements. I got nominated for a teaching award which I thought was bloody miraculous. I was teaching all the boring stuff and thought that would reflect on me as a person, but apparently not. I think I’m the youngest member of the council of the Philological Society, by about 50 years. That’s pretty insignificant.

M: If you weren’t a linguist, what would you be doing?
GW: Well, I still fantasise about this sometimes. I’d like to go into computer game design – I’ve got quite a taste for the fantastical and sci-fi and generally dreaming my life away. So I’d design the plot, the possibilities. I get very excited by the possibilities that modern games are bringing up. Sometimes I think I’ll still do that once I’ve achieved all my academic goals.
[M: It turns out George’s favourite game is Skyrim]

M: Describe the LEL Department in 3 words (of any language).
GW: The first is ‘big’. It’s a huge department compared to others in the UK doing similar things. The second is ‘friendly’. The staff get on so well and there’s such a good community. We go on hikes, go to the theatre, that sort of thing. And the third one would be ‘exciting’, actually, from a research perspective. There’s so many people pursuing top-level research on stuff that really interests me.

NB: George wishes to point out that the Ten Minutes With… interviews are not carried out by him, as that would mean that the above interview was just him talking to himself. Check back soon for more insights from Manchet’s roving interviewer!