Professor Richard Coates

About me

I am a linguist with special interests in the area where linguistics, history and geography meet. I come at language from two directions: I do data-driven historical work, and I also work in linguistic theory.

Mostly I focus on proper names, especially place- and personal names. This discipline is called onomastics. My place-name work is mainly about finding out the origin of English place-names created before about 1500 A.D., but frankly any place-name of any period can be interesting if you look at it in the right way. Most long-established place-names are of Old or Middle English or Scandinavian origin, though a small but significant number are Celtic (deriving from the language ancestral to Welsh and Cornish, or from Irish), and a few are Latin or French. So those are also the languages that interest me most these days. My personal name work is on surnames, and I am involved with a major project (FaNUK) to explain the linguistic origin of as many surnames found in the UK as possible within nearly seven years of funded research (finishing in December 2016). These interests also lead to a more general interest in names as linguistic objects, and I have published work on name theory (labelled The Pragmatic Theory of Properhood) in such journals as Linguistics, Language, Journal of Linguistics and Onoma.

The interest in history and geography leads me naturally to work on dialectology, and I have published a book on the traditional dialect of Sussex (called The Traditional Dialect of Sussex!) I am also deeply interested in local history - previously of Sussex and now of the Bristol area.

I did a degree in Modern and Medieval Languages and got my PhD in Linguistics at Cambridge, and started my working life at what is now Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, before spending many years at Sussex, where I was professor of linguistics from 1991-2006 and dean of the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences from 1998-2003. I moved to UWE Bristol in 2006, where I have worked happily with a great team of first-class linguists.

I am currently a Vice-President of the International Council of Onomastic Sciences, and was formerly its Secretary.


Area of expertise

History of western European languages (Germanic, Romance, Celtic); onomastics (the academic study of names) - place-names, personal (given) names and surnames; name theory; dialectology and history of English dialects; phonetics and phonology of regional accents.

General interests in British place-names and surnames.

Local specialisms in the place-names of Hampshire, Sussex, Lincolnshire and the Bristol area.

Local history of the Bristol area, especially north-west Bristol.

My Publications