Episode 47 (Teaching Dialects and Grammar)

Willem Hollmann

Paul’s final guest for 2021 is Willem Hollmann, who has been generating headlines recently with his thoughts on how we teach grammar and dialects. A professor of linguistics and associate dean in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at Lancaster University in England, Hollman encourages a more robust discussion of regional English dialects and grammar in English education. But his views have also been distorted by the media, so in this month’s podcast, Paul and Willem set the record straight.

All dialects are equal, but are some more equal than others? Find out by listening to the December podcast.

To learn more about Paul’s guest, go here, or read the following biography, supplied to us by Professor Hollmann:

Willem was born in the Netherlands, where he grew up and went to school. He did an MA in English linguistics and literature at the University of Amsterdam, after which he got funding for an MA in English language and lnguistics at the University of Manchester, a university he picked because of the fantastic combination (at the time) of expertise in historical linguistics (especially Prof. David Denison and Prof. Richard Hogg) and cognitive linguistics (particularly Prof. Bill Croft). He managed to get AHRC funding to stay on at Manchester and do a Ph.D (on causative constructions), which was supervised by Prof. Bill Croft and Prof. David Denison.

During the last year of his Ph.D, Willem applied for and was offered a lectureship at Lancaster University, where he has been since. He does research on cognitive linguistics, including the relatively new, highly interdisciplinary sub-discipline of cognitive sociolinguistics, which he has helped pioneer. He’s interested in linguistic theory, informed by synchronic and diachronic (historical) data, and often uses corpora to get those data. In the context of his interest in cognitive sociolinguistics, he looks at linguistic variation, including dialect variation, and has published several papers on Lancashire dialect, studied through the lens of cognitive, usage-based linguistics.

Willem also has a strong interest in educational linguistics and has done consultancy work for the Department for Education (including on the literacy skills tests for newly qualified teachers in England) and for the exam board OCR (their revised, 2015 A-level English Language). He is a long-standing member (and former secretary and chairman) of the Committee for Linguistics in Education (https://clie.org.uk) and also chairs the Education Committee of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (http://www.lagb.org.uk/).

Willem’s broad interests have seen him develop and teach many different modules, including cognitive linguistics and construction grammar, general linguistics, English grammar, language change, the history of English, forensic linguistics, and research methods.

Willem is married, and he and his wife have two boys, ages five and seven. The boys are being raised trilingually, and their linguistic and cognitive development often features in his lectures — and occasionally also on Twitter, which Willem has recently discovered, following discussion there about the way in which his two articles on The Conversation, published in September and October this year, had been (mis)represented in mainstream media.


(Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G Major BMV 1007 Prelude (by Ivan Dolgunov) courtesy of Jamendo Licensing.)