Professor Richard Coates

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About me

I'm 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 have been 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). This work resulted in the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (2016). I recently co-edited with Harry Parkin (University of Chester) a special issue of the journal Genealogy dealing with surnames: (2023/4). 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 Language, Linguistics, Journal of Linguistics, Mind and Language, and Onoma, as well as in various conference proceedings.

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. I 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.

I was a Vice-President of the International Council of Onomastic Sciences (2011-17), and was previously its Secretary. Till 2019 I was Hon. Director of the Survey of English Place-Names, and am now in my second term as President of the Society which conducts the Survey.


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, and Monmouthshire.


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