I have very good active command of Romanian, Italian, and French, and am reasonably at home in Spanish (I can speak and write somewhat inaccurate Portuguese and Catalan if I am in the mood), and have a very good passive understanding of these and many other Romance languages and dialects (and, of course, Latin). I have embarrassingly ‘asymmetrical’ German (I understand what I read and hear quite well, but am then incapable of expressing myself in response). I can read Russian (but with difficulty and usually with the aid of a dictionary). Despite this inadequate knowledge of German and Russian, I have considerable fun trying to make sense of cognate languages such as Dutch or Swedish, or Czech or Bulgarian.
Since studying French, Spanish and Latin at school I have been captivated by Romance languages in particular, and especially by the grammatical and lexical similarities and differences between them, and the way in which an understanding of their historical relation can make new Romance languages accessible. One of the most exciting experiences in comparative and historical Romance linguistics is the discovery that things that may at first look quite alien are actually quite familiar. As a student at Cambridge I learned Italian, and that is the language which I have principally taught and researched. More accurately, I have worked on ‘Italo-Romance’: the particular fascination of Italy is that it offers not ‘one’ language but multiple, connected yet sometimes startlingly different, ‘Italo-Romance’ dialects (of which Italian is merely one). My PhD at Cambridge was in comparative Italian dialectology. Latterly I have developed a strong interest in Romanian (and its various dialects), born of a long-standing fascination with some of the (often hidden) similarities between Romanian and Italo-Romance. Much of my recent research has been on Romanian and its structural development. Our work on intelligibility across languages for this project will both help us to demonstrate how new languages can be accessible on the basis of language knowledge that we already have, but also investigate how people understand (or fail to understand) other languages.