25 February 2016 15:49

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

The award for Lancaster’s Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) was presented by their Royal Highnesses, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, at an honours ceremony in the Ballroom at Buckingham Palace on Thursday morning (February 25).

Receiving the award were the Vice Chancellor, Professor Mark E. Smith, and the Director of CASS and Distinguished Professor of English Language and Linguistics Professor Tony McEnery.

Professor McEnery said after the ceremony: “The Prince of Wales asked the Vice-Chancellor about our work and was fascinated to discover what we have undertaken in the past 40 years.

“Princess Anne, also at the ceremony, talked to me and was particularly interested in the impact of our work on dictionary making.

“The Duchess of Cornwall asked me about the practical applications of our work in social media and made a point of talking to all of the students and staff with us to find out about their work.

“In addition our group was visited by the Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson and Sir John Chilcott, both of whom were very interested in Lancaster's pioneering work in this area.”

Accompanying the Vice-Chancellor and Professor McEnery were the Chancellor of Lancaster University, the Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chief Administrative Officer Nicola Owen, Dr Claire Hardaker (Lecturer, CASS/Linguistics and English Language), Dr Václav Brezina (Senior Research Associate, CASS/LAEL) and CASS/LAEL PhD students Roisin Knight and Gill Smith and MA student Mathew Gillings.

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.

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.

View images from the day here.