Professor David Willis awarded funding for major UK-German (AHRC-DFG) Research Project

Congratulations to Prof. David Willis who has been awarded funding for a major UK-German (AHRC-DFG) research project to collaborate with Prof. Roland Meyer of Humboldt University Berlin on an investigation of subject pronouns (‘I’, ‘she’, ‘they’) and how their form and functions change over time.


The two teams will be looking in-depth at the history of subject pronouns in three language groups broadly speaking spanning northern Europe. The group in Oxford will focus on Celtic (Welsh, Irish, Breton etc.) as well as the Germanic languages, English and Dutch, while a parallel group in Berlin will focus on Slavonic (Russian, Polish, Bulgarian etc.) and German.


Languages create new pronouns (neither ‘she’ nor ‘they’ are directly descended from Old English). They change the way they are used, typically becoming less stressed and weaker, being replaced in a cycle of renewal by newly created pronouns. Some languages, like Italian, Latin or Polish, allow pronouns to be omitted and the rules for this too can change over time. The central question of this project is how and why so much to do with subject pronouns is variable over time.


The research groups will come together to collaborate on techniques for textual annotation, to shed light on the histories of the languages under investigation and to address broader questions about how and why pronominal systems and language in general change over time.

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