19 November 2015 15:44

Lancaster University’s world-renowned language pioneers, spanning four generations of researchers, are to receive The Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

The award for Lancaster’s Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) was announced at a reception at St James’s Palace on Thursday evening (November 19).

The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes are awarded every two years to universities and colleges who submit work judged to show excellence, innovation, impact and benefit for the institution itself and for people and society generally in the wider world.

Researchers at the Centre, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, charitable trusts and other research councils, have provided valuable insights into the understanding of language by using computers to analyse billions of words - in writing, speech and online - for the past 45 years.

The work has resulted in a huge range of important, ‘real world’ applications such as vastly improved dictionaries and has also influenced policy towards important issues in society such as online aggression, hate speech and the way in which end of life care is discussed.

By providing fresh perspectives to such problems, CASS, part of the longer-standing University Centre for Computer Corpus Research on Language, has helped develop new approaches to challenging practices both in terms of raising awareness and of informing policy makers and other stakeholders of how such language may be used to inform, manipulate, wound and offend.

Computers have enabled the centre, which draws staff from nine departments across campus, to analyse massive datasets of language to account for the changing patterns of use of written and spoken language in everyday contexts.

Their work, which began in English, has reached out to an ever wider range of languages over the years such as Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Spanish and Urdu. This work supports a number of crucial industries, notably the UK English Language Teaching industry which is worth £2.5 billion in exports to the UK economy annually. Lancaster works closely with key players in the industry such as Cambridge University Press and Trinity College London to make sure that the UK keeps its competitive edge in this marketplace.

The Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, Professor Mark E. Smith, said:  “I am delighted that Lancaster’s world-leading contribution to the computer-aided analysis of language over the last 45 years has been recognised. Lancaster is very proud of this work which has had very real impact on the study of language worldwide, has a real role to play in public policy making and which plays an important role in supporting the UK’s valuable language industry.

Director of CASS and Distinguished Professor of English Language and Linguistics at Lancaster University Professor Tony McEnery said: “The award is recognition for everyone past and present who has worked for the Centre. The Centre has built on the work of four generations of researchers at Lancaster. I am proud to lead it and look forward with keen anticipation to what future generations of researchers in this area achieve.”

Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science, says:  “The UK is a world leader in science and research and The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes celebrate the achievements of our universities and colleges. The outstanding academics recognised with these awards bring benefits to the everyday lives of millions of people in the UK and deserve this high honour for their work.”

The award will be presented, at an honours ceremony, by the Queen, with the Duke of Edinburgh, at Buckingham Palace on February 25.

Blackpool and The Fylde College was also awarded the Queens Anniversary Prize for bespoke and dedicated work in the field of Project Management in partnership with Lancaster University and regional and national employers.

This is the fourth Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education to be awarded to Lancaster. In 1994 the University received the award for its work with students with physical and learning difficulties, in 2005 for its pioneering work in the development of broadband and in 2009 for its work in plant science applied to water shortage, crop yield and global food security.