- Contemporary and historical Semantics, especially Cognitive Semantics
- History of the English Language
- Lexicology and Lexicography, especially thesauri
- The use of databases and corpora in teaching and research
A list of publications is available here.
Professor Emeritus Christian Kay joined the English Language Department in 1969 as a Research Assistant on the Historical Thesaurus of English project. Forty years later, in 2009, she saw the project published by Oxford University Press as the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (HTOED). The book met with considerable media interest and critical acclaim, winning the Saltire Society Research Book of the Year Award in 2009. Sales have far exceeded expectations, and royalties are being used to fund postgraduate scholarships in English language.
Professor Kay’s primary research interests are in historical semantics, classification, and the application of the cognitive semantics paradigm to the development of the English lexicon. In addition to the Historical Thesaurus of English, a classification of the English lexicon from Old English to the present day, she co-edited A Thesaurus of Old English (Roberts and Kay 2000), and directed its online version (British Academy funding, 2005). She initiated two spin-off packages from the thesaurus projects, both funded by the Higher Education Academy English Subject Centre: Learning with the Thesaurus of Old English (with Carole Hough, 2007), and Word Webs: Exploring Vocabulary (with John Corbett, 2008).
Professor Kay has a longstanding interest in the use of computers in teaching and research and was a founding member of the STELLA project (Computers in Teaching Initiative, 1987), serving for many years as its director. Units she authored on Punctuation, Metre and Grammar are still available there. She co-directed the LILT project (Languages into Language Teaching, funded by the Scottish Office Education Department), a database of linguistic terminology and classroom materials, in co-operation with the Departments of Education at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities . She founded SCOTS (Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech, EPSRC and AHRC grants), the first corpus of its kind for contemporary Scots and Scottish English, and contributed to its successor, the Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing (CMSW). Her commitment to language in Scotland is further shown by her convenorship of Scottish Language Dictionaries, the body responsible for the major academic dictionaries of Scots, including the online Dictionary of the Scots Language.
Professor Kay is also interested in how colour is expressed in languages, and was a founder member of the interdisciplinary Glasgow Colour Studies Group, which meets regularly and has run two conferences, Progress in Colour Studies 2004 and 2008.
Future plans include writing a textbook on Historical Semantics and a history of the English language based on evidence from HTOED. Although she no longer teaches regularly, she is happy to meet students interested in any of the above topics.