Hudson Lecture 2018: Wellington Branch of the Royal Society Te Apārangi

“Scaling up: Getting to ‘language’ from individual differences” by Professor Miriam Meyerhoff FRSNZ

The lecture will be at Victoria University in the new Te Ti Toki a Rata Building (TTRLT1) on Thursday 16th August 2018, at 6pm.

Linguistics studies the structure of human languages and how languages are used. My particular interest lies in the field of language contact. What happens when speakers of languages (or dialects) collide? How do speakers bridge their individual differences? And how does the way they resolve those differences shape what we come to call separate ‘languages’?

I outline partial answers for these questions drawing on data from a number of diverse fieldwork sites: urban centres in the UK and Auckland, and smaller communities in Vanuatu and the Caribbean. In the course of this, we have developed some innovative methods for modelling the bridge between differences at the level of individuals and at the level of dialects/languages. I will also talk about how communities of speakers ‘scale up’ in order to identify their ways of talking as a distinct language by drawing on ongoing research in northern Vanuatu.


Professor Miriam Meyerhoff is with the School of Linguistics and Applied language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. Miriam is a leading sociolinguist, a discipline that studies the effect of any or all aspects of society on how language is used. Her research has focused on language use in New Zealand, the Pacific and the UK. Her latest research focusses on variation in the English of Auckland citizens, a richly linguistically diverse community. Miriam was made a Fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi in 2017.


The lecture will be at Victoria University in the new Te Ti Toki a Rata Building (TTRLT1) on Thursday 16th August 2018, at 6pm. A map of the university can be found at The lecture theatre can be found at approximately row “g” and column “16” on this map, and is on floor 0 (or down the stairs).

The Hudson Lecture is RSNZ Wellington Branch’s premier annual lecture. The Hudson Lecturer is awarded in recognition of the Lecturer’s achievements in Science or the promotion of Science and Technology. It honours George Vernon Hudson (1867 – 1946) who was a distinguished amateur naturalist and scientist. An original Fellow of what is now the Royal Society of New Zealand, he was on its Council from 1923-46. Hudson was President of this branch (then the Wellington Philosophical Society) in 1900-01 and 1911-12. A formal obituary and photograph appear in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 76, 264-266.