Explore the RSE school talks on languages.

Authors and readers

Dr Alice König

Authors like J. K. Rowling and Michael Morpurgo are amazing at creating characters who feel very real to us and at describing places and events that we get drawn into. But unless their books are read, their stories and characters lie dead. This talk will look at what happens when a reader takes a book off the shelves and opens its pages. What does the reader her/himself bring to the story? What relationship do they have with the book (and how does that change depending on its format – paper/electronic/audio etc)? How do readers relate to authors? How do authors communicate with or manipulate readers? And how do successive generations of readers gradually change the story? We will begin with Judith Kerr’s tale of The Tiger Who Came to Tea…

Learning to love literature

Professor David Jasper FRSE

Reading books is a lifelong adventure. We all have different tastes in the books we read and the films we watch, and I would like to share with you some of the books that I have loved – some of them for more than sixty years. In poems, novels and plays we can enter into new worlds and the lives of extraordinary people. A book is a companion for life. Authors whom I discuss, some of whom I read when I was at school, include Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Tennyson, and T. S. Eliot. You will find them much funnier – and much more readable – than you might think!

Patterns in poetry

Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE

Why (and how) is poetry different from prose? Do sheep really say baa? Have you ever noticed that words like sing and this are to do with ‘now’ and ‘near’, while words like sang and that are to do with ‘then’ and ‘far’? How do rhymes work, and are we allowed to rhyme great and seat? And what is all that stuff about iambic pentameter? And why do these questions matter in poetry? This workshop is concerned with the study of patterns in verse, from how sound effects work to issues of page-layout. We will be examining a set of wellknown English and Scots poems dating from the earliest times to the present day, including limericks, a concrete poem by Lewis Carroll, sonnets by William Shakespeare and John Donne, Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter, poetry from the First World War, and more recent verse by Liz Lochhead and Edwin Morgan.

The way Scots talk and way they write

Professor Ian Brown FRSE

This talk explores from the perspective of a playwright and poet who writes in English and Scots, who is also a Scottish literary and cultural historian, the ways in which creative writers, novelists, poets and playwrights have worked with Scotland’s ancient languages – Scots, Gaelic and English – in recent years. It relates current attitudes to writing (and
speaking) these languages to historic attitudes to them since the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

Scots And English: Your Language, Your History

Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE

Scots is at the heart of many current debates on language and identity in present-day Scotland. But is Scots a language, or is it a dialect of English? What is the difference between Scots and Scottish Standard English? Is there one form of Scots or many? Where did Scots come from? These are some of the questions addressed in this talk.

Speaking More Than One Language

Professor Antonella Sorace FRSE

Do you speak another language besides English? Are you learning another language at school?

Find out why knowing more than one language is good for you – not just for travelling and talking to more people, but also for your brain. It can make you better at understanding other people’s points of view. It can make you better at solving problems and focusing your attention. Discover why you don’t need to be a ‘perfect bilingual’ for all this to happen, you just need to use both languages and have fun with them!

You will also have a chance to try some of the tests and experiments that scientists use in their labs and see how they study bilingual people’s minds.

Spelling And Sounds

Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE

Have you ever wondered why some people rhyme good and food, while others don’t? Why does meat rhyme with meet, but great with mate? Have you ever wondered why sight, site and cite sound the same but are spelt differently? Why is the letter ‘y’ pronounced differently in yacht, fly and jolly? Why don’t people rhyme plough and tough? Why has ghost got an ‘h’ but go hasn’t? And is it really possible to pronounce ghoti as…? Well, let’s not give the game away.

In this talk, we will find out whether English spelling really is as inefficient as is often claimed, and how – and why – it ended up the way it is.

What happens when books talk to each other?

Dr Alice König

Have you heard anyone talking about ‘intertextuality’ before? The word ‘intertextuality’ was coined by a French philosopher called Julia Kristeva in 1969 to describe the conversations which build up between different texts over time. Sometimes authors deliberately allude to earlier works to add new meaning to what they are trying to say; sometimes texts are indirectly influenced by other texts; sometimes they actively ignore each other; and sometimes readers spot connections between texts which authors did not intend. What difference does all of this make? How do intertextual conversations between books change our responses to them? And what effect does intertextuality have on wider habits of thinking. In this talk, we will look at the ways in which intertextuality has shaped all sorts of social and political ideas (about race, gender, religion, etc), and we will think about its ongoing impact in our modern, digitally-connected world.

RSE school talks programme

Activities to support the curriculum for excellence

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), offers free school talks, aimed at P6-S6, at any point during the school terms, either in person at your school or online.

Download the RSE school talks programme 2023/24 (PDF, 2MB)

All RSE school talks

Explore the RSE school talks on astronomy and astrophysics. Professor Martin Hendry MBE FRSE More than 50 years after Apollo
Explore the RSE school talks on biology. Professor Karim Labib FRSE The first living creatures can be traced back to
Explore the RSE school talks on expressive arts. Professor Ian Brown FRSE In this talk, Ian Brown draws on over
Explore the RSE school talks on health and wellbeing. Dr Roger Scrutton FRSE In this talk, we’ll move outdoors for
Explore the RSE school talks on languages. Dr Alice König Authors like J. K. Rowling and Michael Morpurgo are amazing
Explore the RSE school talks on mathematics. Dr Michael J. Barany Numbers and calculations play a major role in our
Explore the RSE school talks on physics. Alison McLure Mountain Rescue Teams go out in all weathers, at any time
Explore the RSE school talks on religious and moral education. Professor Michela Massimi FRSE What counts as evidence in science?
Explore the RSE school talks on social studies. Dr Alice König Did you know that modern medical students still learn
Explore the RSE school talks on astronomy and astrophysics. Dr Joyce Klu It is essential that any measurement is as
Explore the RSE school talks on technologies. Dr Caroline Wilkinson FRSE This talk will focus on describing facial depiction from

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