Sunday, 2 February 2014


Well then! Welcome to this here blog. The intention here is twofold: to write about the PhD thesis I'm working on (or rather, on the topic of my thesis), and to write about the graphic design I occasionally do. These are two very different things, of course, but they are the two things that (actively) occupy most of my time. So the thesis is the 'work' part, and the graphic design is the 'play' bit. Sometimes one feels like the other and vice versa, but there you go. 


Right now, I'm halfway through my three years as a PhD candidate at the University of Bergen, Norway (although for the next four months I will be living in Cáceres, Spain, working under the supervision of my co-supervisor).

So, what am I working on? In short, I look for phonetic representation in a corpus of 6,000 letters and documents, written by Irish emigrants and their relatives, friends or associates, in order to trace phonological developments in Irish English between the late 1600s and 1940.

Phonetic representation means that the sounds of speech are represented in the way words are spelled. This isn't very often the case in English any more because spoken English has moved a bit away from written English (which hasn't changed all that much the last three or four hundred years). An example of this is the word knife which now is pronounced naif but, in late Old English, sounded something like kneef (the k being pronounced, and spelled cnif). For me, this means that if I see someone writing Jemmy instead of Jimmy in one of the letters, I can be reasonably certain that it is because they pronounced it that way (as is often the case in Northern Irish English). I will return to this at length at some later date.

You may (if still reading) wonder WHY I read old letters to look for clues of what the writers' speech sounded like. One reason is that machines capable of recording speech haven't been around for ever (the first was the phonograph, 1877), so that we must find other ways of figuring out what a language sounded like in the past; another is that this hasn't been done all that much for Irish English because there has never been much material available for this kind of study. But now there is, and it is being used for all it's worth by various people, including me.


Yes, so: graphic design. This is a great hobby of mine. It comes and goes, of course, but I generally have some kind of project going on, ranging from making posters for e.g. Bergen's student theatre to photoshopping myself into the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones. I first started with graphic design in 'folkehøyskole' (a, largely, Scandinavian one-year, degree-less school after upper secondary school) where I photoshopped a friend in his underwear onto the family guinea pig (don't worry, he nevertheless turned out quite successful and now runs his own gym).

Personally, I like to check out other people's work, especially if they show how they made a piece. And this is what I hope to do here as well with the 'play' part of this blog.

This was a bit of an (unstructured) introductory post, then. Next week I will return with (probably) something about the letters I work with. The idea is to alternate between work posts and hobby posts, but we'll see how it goes!

As they say in my source material: No more from me at present. I remain your humble servant, Persijn.

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