I read English at Somerville College, Oxford, and then studied for my doctorate – on spoken English language in the Victorian period – at St. Cross College, Oxford after being awarded a Senior Scholarship. I later became a Junior Research Fellow at St. Cross, as well as teaching English language and linguistics at various colleges across Oxford. I became a Fellow at Pembroke College in 1989, and Professor of the History of English in 2005.
I teach Old English and Middle English, and a wide range of language options, both for Pembroke and for other colleges, as well as centrally for the English faculty. I’ve recently been convenor of the English Language Master’s programme, for which I taught modules on the History of English and on Eighteenth-century Language, while for the Victorian Master’s Programme (and for the final-year of the undergraduate course), I have taught modules on Language and Identity in Victorian Fiction. My lecturing for the Faculty covers a range of aspects of the social, cultural, and linguistic development of English, both for Course I and Course II.
My research focuses on three main issues: (1) the history of the spoken language, especially in the nineteenth century; (2) metalexicography and the cultural, social, as well as linguistic history of dictionaries; (3) language change and the First World War. The role of language as social institution provides the hinge between the three. My work on nineteenth-century language has investigated a range of aspects of social thinking about language, most prominently perhaps in the rise of the peculiarly English obsession with accent, discussed in Talking Proper. The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol (the 2nd revised paperback edition, 2007). In my recent work on dictionaries, I have similarly been engaged in looking at aspects of social formation – especially on what is left out alongside what is sanctioned for inclusion. My new project on language in the First World War uses a vast archive in the Bodleian to explore the nexus of history and language in a time of critical change and reformation.
- Dictionaries: A Very Short Introduction (2011)
- ed. The Oxford History of English (OUP, revised ed. 2012)
- ed. Samuel Johnson: The Arc of the Pendulum (2012)
- Samuel Johnson and the Journey into Words (2015)