Samuels and Kay Lectures

An annual lecture is held to celebrate the life and work of Michael Samuels (1920-2010) and Christian Kay (1940-2016). These lectures also commemorate the print version of the Historical Thesaurus by Oxford University Press on 22 October 2009. From 2012 to 2016, these were known as the Samuels Lectures. From 2021 onwards, the Samuels Lecture and the Kay Lecture will alternate to celebrate the outstanding contribution to the study of the English language made by these two scholars.

Samuels Lecture 1: David Crystal

Author and honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Bangor

"From Super Dictionary to Super-dictionary": Tuesday 16 October 2012, 5.15 pm, Western Infirmary Lecture Theatre


Lexicographers, especially when they have had a drink or two, fantasize about the super-dictionary – the ultimate, unprecedented and of course unpublishable (on paper) collection of all the lexical items in a language. Such a project, discussed here with reference to the limitations of sources available in English, would require the integration of coverage from several sources: dictionaries of the standard and nonstandard language; the specialized lexicons of encyclopedic domains; the emerging vocabulary of 'new Englishes'; and Internet neologisms. Thesaurus organization would need to play a more dominant role than is usually found in dictionaries. It is a crazy, super idea, but like another crazy, super idea, whose genesis is celebrated in this lecture series, its true value would be appreciated only after a first edition is completed. With the opportunities provided by the Internet, a super-dictionary now seems achievable. All we need is a second Samuels prepared to take it on.

The text of Prof. Crystal’s lecture is available here.

Samuels Lecture 2: John Simpson

Former Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary

“What goes on in an editor's head, and why?”: Tuesday 12 November 2013, 5.15 pm, Western Infirmary Lecture Theatre


John Simpson, Chief Editor of the OED until October 2013, talks about the way historical dictionary editors think about words: what this tells us about words themselves, about the contexts and cultures in which they exist, and why it's important to keep one eye on the past as well as one eye on the future. John will also stray away from the OED to several other historical projects he's currently working on, to show that it can be done.

Samuels Lecture 3: Beatrix Busse

Professor of English Linguistics, University of Heidelberg

“The Language of Blindness, Sightedness and the In-between in the History of English”: Thursday 27 March 2014, 5.15 pm, Gannochy Room, Wolfson Medical Building


Working within the interdisciplinary field of medical humanities, scholars from many disciplines have investigated the language of the senses. Prof. Busse will discuss linguistic representations and concepts of blindness, sightedness and stages in between in medieval and early modern English optical, philosophical, literary and scientific texts, and ask whether the concept of the 'in-between' is also applicable to representations of hearing and deafness.

More details are available here.

Samuels Lecture 4: Bettelou Los

Forbes Chair of English Language, University of Edinburgh

"Information structure in the history of English": Thursday 15 January 2015, 5.15 pm, Yudowitz Lecture Theatre, Wolfson Medical Building

This lecture also celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Historical Thesaurus project, which was begun on 15 January 1965 by Michael Samuels. In honour of the occasion, Professor Jeremy Smith delieved a talk before Professor Los' lecture, titled The Historical Thesaurus: A celebration, the text of which is available here.

Samuels Lecture 5: Jane Roberts

Professor Emerita of Medieval English Language and Literature, King's College London; Fellow, Institute of English Studies, University of London

"Loss, Replacement and Some Old English Words that Died Out": Monday 3 August 2015, 5.30 pm, Western Infirmary Lecture Theatre

Professor Roberts' talk took place during ISAS 2015 at the University of Glasgow (3-7 August 2015), and was both a Samuels Lecture open to the public and the keynote lecture for that conference.

Kay Lecture 1: Terttu Nevalainen

Professor of English Philology, University of Helsinki

The first Kay lecture will be given by Professor Terttu Nevalainen in 2021.