10 minutes with… Dr Lauren Fonteyn.

Posted on July 2, 2018 by

After what seemed like an eternity, Manchet is back with another ’10 minutes with’-interview. And only just in time – because the staff member featured today will be leaving LEL for another department closer to what she calls home. Dr Lauren Fonteyn, a Belgian chocolate-, frites-, and beer-enthusiast, completed her PhD at the University of Leuven and immediately afterwards moved to manchester to work as a lecturer in the history of English at LEL. While Lauren had never been to Manchester before, she fell head over heels with the city and its quirks. So while she might be moving to the university of Leiden in August 2018, we can be sure she’ll be back to visit before we even realised she’d left.

Manchet: As what kind of linguist would you describe yourself?

Lauren: A functionalist, a cognitivist linguist if I have to be specific, with a thorough interest in diachrony.

As a linguist I ‘grew up’ loving small scale, theoretical, qualitative work — and I still consider that to be a large part of what I do — but I started mixing in increasingly large corpora and quantitative analyses.

Manchet: Why does linguistics matter?

Lauren: It matters for all the reasons mentioned in the other 10-minute interviews. It’s also mad interesting because of its interdisciplinary value. So many subjects and fields have, in some way, a language component to them, whether that be the obvious ones like literary studies (‘to fully appreciate the beauty of Anglo-Saxon poetry we need to understand Anglo-Saxon’) or social sciences (‘community C identifies through language features X and Y’), more abstract questions in psychology (like ‘can we use language as a window into the human mind’), or even very applied topics (like ‘how can we maximise efficiency of doctor-patient conversations?’, or ‘who is the most likely author of this anonymous threatening e-mail?’). I realise this might sound cheesy, but before I started my PhD I actually never understood why anyone would wonder about why it matters – it always seemed so obvious that it does.

M: If you weren’t a linguist, what would you be doing?

L: I studied arts and architecture in secondary school, so realistically, I’d probably be doing something along those lines. I was quite good at physics and maths, and present-day me often regrets not studying computer science, but those subjects really didn’t appeal to teenage Lauren.

In an alternate universe where one could just invent any job, I’d probably do something that involves having lots of pets and sitting in warm comfortable baths of all sorts.

M: Exactly how good are you at scrabble?

L: I only ever play scrabble in Dutch, always with absolute vocabulary wizards. One time I think I managed to end second-to-last instead of last. Studying English for 10 years (and living in England for 2) has really done a number on me.

M: Have you ever had a conversation with anyone thinking they were someone else?

L: Once at a conference I told someone how impressed I was with the fact that he was such a legend in the field. Of course: same last name, but completely different guy. He took the compliment and happily rolled with it, though – I only realised what happened after googling a picture of the actual person I had in mind a few hours later.

A colleague told me a similar story about how he had a – impressively long – conversation with Ronald Langacker thinking it was Robert Longacre. Still makes me laugh. That definitely could have been me.

M: What the most fun thing to do in Manchester?

L: Everything. This place is ‘mint’.

M: Describe the LEL Department using 3 words (of any language)

L: Miss them already

M: Would you rather be able to remember everything you read (assuming that you can’t already, har har) or be able to talk to animals?



Since Lauren’s leaving, this is where Manchet would normally take the opportunity to write how dearly she’ll be missed. However, in this instance I’d rather take the opportunity to switch to the first person here at the very end and say that I will so, so dearly miss all my colleagues at LEL. It has been my honour to have worked with them. And I will miss all of you too, Manchet audience. Until we meet again!


(Featured image: drawing of Lauren Fonteyn by Lauren Fonteyn)