UG Scholars opportunities in LEL

Posted on November 1, 2019 by

Manchester LEL colleagues are ever so keen to include UG students in their research on language, as evidenced by our enthusiastic uptake of the summer UG internship programme, Learning through Research. While summer is well and truly over, UG linguistics research is not, and students can now apply to participate in the following research activities in our department. These projects are part of the UG Scholars programme, and applications are welcome until 11th November.

Editing a Georgian archive

Project Lead: Professor David Denison

This project allows students to edit letters from a fascinating archive of material dating from around 1760 to 1820. The Mary Hamilton Papers are held in the John Rylands Library at Deansgate, and we work from high-quality digital images, with encouragement to visit the Library and handle the never-before-edited originals. There will be an introduction to the archive and its historical context (it spans the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars), a brief guide to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), an introduction to the English language of the Georgian period and how to use the Oxford English Dictionary, a visit to the Library to learn about the history of post and letter-writing. We will edit one or two letters each, preserving all aspects of spelling and punctuation, working collectively and/or individually to decipher handwriting and understand what we find. The finished result will be published online (see our current website at with full individual credit to the transcribers. This year the UG Scholars will be working alongside, and contributing to, a nationally funded research project.

Students will also be encouraged to explore their edited letter(s) in the context of the wider archive, according to their interests, whether linguistic, historical (social, economic, political, military, etc.), literary, art historical, musical or others. The group presentation at the end will display the edited letters and discuss research findings.

Mary Hamilton (1756-1816) was a precocious young woman, already treated as wise beyond her years at 12, learning Latin at a time when intellectual pursuits were discouraged in women, later working in the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte as sub-governess to the young princesses, becoming a confidante of the Queen and the amorous target of the Prince of Wales, leaving to become a member of the literary and intellectual Bluestocking circle, friendly with Hannah More, Frances Burney, the Duchess of Portland, Mary Delany and Eva Maria Garrick, dining frequently at the houses of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Horace Walpole. She maintained a meticulously detailed diary recording her daily activities, conversations and private thoughts. She had a fond relationship with her uncle Sir William Hamilton, ambassador in Naples and art collector. In 1785 Mary Hamilton married John Dickenson (c.1757-1842), son of a mercantile and landowning family with property near Manchester, who was quickly accepted into her many social circles. He wrote witty, fond, descriptive letters to her on his travels, and she had a wide circle of other correspondents (there are some 3000 items all told).


Visual Storytelling for Language Documentation

Project Leads: Dr Vera Hohaus  and Dr Margit Bowler

How many languages do you think there are? While counting languages is hard, Simons & Fenning (2018) estimate the number of languages currently spoken on the planet at around 7,000, a number that speaks to the incredible diversity of what is possible within the human mind. It is also a number that might make you wonder whether there’s anything that all of these languages have in common.

Worse-case scenarios predict that 90 percent of these languages will have become extinct by the end of this century (Krauss 1992). At the same time, we lack written and recorded data for a majority of the existing languages in the world (Velupillai 2012). Projects aimed at documenting the languages of the world have arisen in response to this crisis of language loss. Language documentation is the project of collecting data from understudied languages with the goal of describing the language’s grammar and use. The linguistic data that is collected can take many different forms, grammatical description, traditional narratives, oral histories, songs, and so on. As such, language documentation is an interdisciplinary enterprise that can benefit from insights from anthropology, musicology, and the visual arts. Given both the urgency of language documentation efforts and the interdisciplinary nature of documentation projects, we propose a UG Scholars research project on this topic.

Topics that we will discuss will include the factors leading to language loss, the ethics of carrying out documentation projects in marginalised language communities, best practices for language documentation, and pros and cons of particular documentation methods. We will ultimately focus on one particular methodology: the use of visual storyboards to collect short narratives in a target language, typically with the goal of studying a particular component of the language’s grammar (Burton & Matthewson 2015).  For examples of such storyboards, see the Totem Field Storyboards website at

We will train students in how to develop, test, use and publicise storyboards for language documentation. This will involve working as a group with speaker(s) of languages spoken in Manchester to apply the developed storyboards and collect linguistic data. We hope to submit the storyboards developed in the project to the Totem Field Storyboards website, and as a journal article to the Semantic Fieldwork Methods journal. 

Creating storyboards requires not only linguistic insight, creative writing skills and a talent for visualisation, but also curiosity and cultural awareness. The project will give students an opportunity to engage with the unique multilingual landscape that Greater Manchester has to offer, and also learn about open access and best practice for managing language documentation data.


·     Burton, Strang & Lisa Matthewson (2015), “Targeted Construction Storyboards in Semantic Fieldwork,” in M. Ryan Bochnak & Lisa Matthewson (eds.), Methodologies in Semantic Fieldwork (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 135-156.

·     Simons, Gary F. and Charles D. Fennig, eds. (2018), Ethnologue: Languages of the World (Dallas: SIL International).

·     Krauss, Michael (1992), “The World’s Languages in Crisis,” Language 68 (1): 4-10.

·     Velupillai, Viveka (2012), Typology (Amsterdam: Benjamins).