Thursday, 2 March 2017

ROLLS 8th March: Conceptualising language and communication in the context of dementia

For our next ROLLS talk on the 8th of March, we are very lucky to have Alison Wray visiting us to talk about how knowledge of language and communication can help with our understanding of dementia. With us living longer lives, and developing as a result more complex health needs, greater knowledge of this challenging condition is vital for helping people and their families live with the illness. This talk represents a fantastic example of how linguistic study can be applied to good use in the real world, and we are very excited to welcome Alison. The talk is on Wednesday the 8th at 1pm in Jubilee G36.

Conceptualising language and communication in the context of dementia
Alison Wray
Centre for Language and Communication Research,
Cardiff University

This talk will consider some of the many aspects of language and communication that relate to our understanding of dementia. Language plays many roles in the dementia context – as the means of communication between researchers, clinicians, carers, the media, families and people with dementia; and as an object of investigation in its own right, since dementia is diagnosed and tracked through a person’s language. Two vignettes will be used to illustrate the complexity of this big picture: (1) Linguistic patterns in early adulthood that appear to predict future Alzheimer’s; (2) Ethical dilemmas when communication problems in dementia result in disruptive behaviour.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

ROLLS: Gerlinde Mautner from WU Vienna talks to us about corpus analysis of UK court judgements

Gerlinde Mautner from WU Vienna talks to us about corpus analysis of UK court judgements

Come along to ROLLS for linguistic stimulation and biscuits. We are in Jubilee G36 at 1pm. We can't wait to see you.

UK Supreme Court Judgements: A Corpus-Based Genre Analysis

Founded in 2009, the UK Supreme Court is the UK’s final court of appeal for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The judgements handed down by its 12 justices decide points of law ‘of the greatest public importance’. From a linguistic perspective, over and above the judgements’ practical relevance, they are also an interesting vehicle for reappraising several aspects of discourse, including the following:
·        Performativity
·        Intertextuality
·        Meta-discourse
·        (Pseudo-)dialogicity
 Using a purpose-built corpus of 58 judgements, totaling over 900,000 words, the talk presents an exploratory study of the above issues. Moreover, on the level of methodology, it critically examines the potential and limitations of computer-assisted discourse studies.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Thomas Devlin gives ROLLS talk on tone in CPE

For our first ROLLS talk of 2017, we are delighted to welcome back Thomas Devlin to talk about his work on tone in Cameroon Pidgin English. The data promises to be fascinating, and we hope to see you there (1pm, Wed 08/02, Jubilee G36)!

Investigating tone in a spoken corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English
Thomas Devlin (University of Derby), Sarah FitzGerald (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), Melanie Green (University of Sussex)

Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE) is an expanded pidgin/creole spoken by around 11 million people, often alongside the prestige languages French and English and a variety of indigenous languages (Lewis et al. 2016). In advance of the publication of the first grammar of CPE (Ayafor and Green 2017), this paper explores the use of tone in a sample of 15 CPE speakers from the larger corpus, balanced for sex, age, geographic locations, professions, educational and linguistic backgrounds.  
Although previous studies of tone in West African Pidgin Englishes (WAPE) are patchy in terms of their descriptions and have shown inconsistencies in terms of findings, it is possible to hypothesise some sort of partial tone system in CPE based on this existing literature. Using acoustic analysis to investigate tone in a selection of monosyllabic, disyllabic and multisyllabic words, spanning different parts of speech, the initial findings from this research largely corroborate the literature suggesting that CPE is a tone language with 3 levels (low, mid and high). The results show some difference in tone between lexical and grammatical words and a tendency to distinguish lexical pairs, in line with other WAPEs.

Ayafor, Miriam and Melanie Green (in press for 2017). Cameroon Pidgin English [London Oriental and African Language Library 20]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2016. Ethnologue: languages of the world. 19th edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version:

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Research news: September 2016-January 2017

As usual, we are starting the new term with a round-up of what we have all been doing when not in the classroom with our lovely students.

Charlotte Taylor was on research leave in the autumn term starting a new project investigating the representation of migrants over time. She spent the term as a visiting researcher at Lancaster University working on a wonderful archive of nineteenth century newspapers. In September she co-organised a panel on comparative approaches to migration discourse at the conference for Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines (CADAAD) and co-presented a paper on Evaluation of communities in migration discourse. From her other research area of pragmatics, in October her new book was published Mock Politeness in English and Italian: A corpus-assisted metalanguage analysis. She also published a research paper on Mock politeness and culture: Perceptions and practice in the journal Intercultural Pragmatics (November) and gave an invited paper at Edge Hill University on Mock politeness: Perceptions vs practice (October).
In the spring term, Roberta Piazza will be on research leave working on a monograph investigating the discourse that reflects and constructs the relation between identity and space in mobile and marginal individuals. She presented some of her work on this topic at the Sixth Conference on Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication: Diversities in global societies in Stockholm (September) with a paper on Diverse mobile geographies: The impact of unsettled place on individuals’ identity. In this area, she has also been awarded a HEIF grant to for an impact event to sensitise Brighton and Hove citizens about Irish travellers’ rights. Together with Charlotte Taylor, she organised the excellent symposium on Discourse: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (November) where she presented a paper on Corbyn by the BBC. The symposium is now leading to a special issue of CADAAD Journal.

Lynne Murphy was on research leave in the autumn term continuing work on her new book on British and American English. While on leave, she made a research trip to the Oxford University Press archives as part of her 'British and American Dictionary Cultures' grant project (January). She has also talked about the relationship between British/American English in her usual blog, Separated by a Common Language, and she featured on The Verb (BBC Radio 3) in November, talking about American and British election words. The segment then featured in Radio 4's Pick of the Week. She has continued her work of bringing the wonder of linguistics to a wider audience. In a very busy October, this included an article in Quartz on Linguistics explains why Trump sounds racist when he says “the” African Americans, an interview on KCBS talk radio San Francisco about  Donald Trump’s ‘othering’ language, and discussing Trump’s use of language on Talk the Talk (RTR FM, Australia).

Postgraduate research students

Many congratulations to: Alexandra Reynolds (co-supervised by Jules Winchester & Roberta Piazza) and Rukayah AlHedayani (supervised by Lynne Murphy) who were awarded their PhDs at the winter graduation!

New faces on campus

We are pleased to welcome two visiting researchers to Sussex this term. We still have Prof. Gerlinde Mautner with us and she will be sharing her research on ‘UK Supreme Court Judgements: A corpus-based genre analysis’ on 22 February as part of ROLLS.
We also welcome Shuyun Huang from Huaiyin Normal University in Jiangsu Province, China. She will be spending the spring term with us, working with Charlotte Taylor & Roberta Piazza to develop her research project on ‘A critical discourse analysis of the reported speech in disaster news’.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Who needs dictionaries in 2016? Doctoral researcher Rhys writes about Michael Rundell's recent ROLLS talk...

Who Needs Dictionaries in 2016?
This blog-post serves to re-cap the talk given by Michael Rundell (henceforth MR), editor-in-chief of Macmillan dictionaries, at the University of Sussex’s English colloquium on the 7th of December 2016. It also serves as an introduction to some contemporary and some enduring controversies in lexicography. MR’s abstract asserted that dictionaries in print form were ‘going the way of the dodo’. Despite this, MR was optimistic that although digitalisation is necessary, the nature of this transition can be controlled by lexicographers, which, if done well, could provide the catalyst for a new dawn in lexicography. Before we go any further, what exactly is ‘lexicography’, and what is a ‘lexicographer’? As the entry for ‘lexicographer’ in his famous dictionary of 1755, Dr. Samuel Johnson, known for possessing an excess of whimsy, mischievously wrote “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge…”. More contemporarily, MR’s dictionary, Macmillan, defines ‘lexicography’ as “the job of writing dictionaries”. Yet this definition creates as many questions as it answers. How does one write dictionaries? In the age of Google is dictionary writing still relevant?  These questions and more were answered by MR. In the blog post below I attempt to relay some of the insight and wisdom that he espoused as well as adding some observations of my own. 


MR discussing the addition of ‘bawbag’ into Macmillan’s online dictionary.
 MR began his talk by dissecting a quote from an article written by Allan Brown in The Times (2009) in which Brown referred to lexicographers as “white-haired, cardiganed index-carded old duffers … boffinish, pedantic and obsessed; for them the words disinterested and uninterested are as distinct as lions and tigers”. As well as the demonstrably aesthetic falsities of this statement (e.g. sartorial preferences and hair colour), the methodological practices that Brown assumes remain current, e.g., the use of index cards, MR assures us were left behind in the early 1980s (although more recently in the U.S.A.). This was the first of many preconceptions about lexicography and lexicographers that MR proceeded to refute. Lexicography has become a remarkably modern endeavor. Armed with mind-bogglingly large corpora, lexicographers use computational tools to mine almost infinite linguistic data in order to detect subtle semantic change or lexical innovation. Lexicography has become a quasi-scientific practice, yet, as is all too common, public perception trails reality by a number of decades. 
“What’s your favourite word?”, “doesn’t it just annoy you terribly when people use [insert innovative semantic usage/ lexical item] in this way…?”, “so do you get to decide what becomes a real word?”. Such are the questions with which lexicographers are bombarded in any social situation in which they reveal their true identity- a dictionary-maker. After over 35 years as a lexicographer, MR explained that such questions indicate a near ubiquitous misunderstanding of dictionaries and of those who make them. Lexicographers are not ‘gatekeepers’ of a language, and nor do they want to be. In a seminal talk to the philological society in 1857, Richard Chenevix Trench argued that the role of lexicographers should be akin to that of historians, not critics. In Britain, lexicographers have largely been faithful to this central commandment. However, the contrast between what MR (and his colleagues) would like to be, and what the bulk of his readership (the lay-public) would like them to be, is indicative of an ideological schism between the lexicographer and dictionary user. It appears that authoritarianism sells dictionaries. This is antithetical Trench’s ‘lexicographer as historian’ idealisation. Although lexicographers must be intensely interested in language, it is the consensus from within the field that they should be disinterested the lexical composition of their dictionary. MR outlined various criteria based on longevity and frequency of use throughout a corpus, particularly across sub-corpora, which are necessary for a new lexical entry in a Macmillan dictionary. As such, whether or not a word makes it into a dictionary is based on quantitative, not qualitative, criteria.
 Lexicographers can wax lyrical about the nuances of their dictionary and the beauty of serendipitous word-discovery experiences (see Erin McKean’s TED talk) with which they are so well acquainted. However, the extent to which the lexicographers’ experience of a dictionary differs to that of its prototypical user could hardly be more different. Dictionaries often provide the battle-ground for the prescriptivism vs. descriptivism debate. Although MR firmly positioned himself and the vast majority of other lexicographers on the descriptive side of this enduring controversy, many readers are ardent prescriptivists. Lynch (2009: 224—5) suggests that for some prescriptivists “admitting ain’t into the dictionary seemed tantamount to handing over America’s nuclear launch codes to Nikita Krushchev”. As a result, lexicographers are faced with a trade-off. Do they forgo some of their lexicographical integrity and dismiss the advice of Richard Chenevix Trench, or do they stay true to their descriptive ideals, possibly at the expense of selling dictionaries?
 Lexicography and Linguistic Controversy
 A language is the ultimate user-generated-content. Even if they wanted to, lexicographers would be powerless to contribute linguistic change. William Labov (see 2010) often uses the metaphor of ‘ocean currents’ to describe linguistic change. Literally using a dictionary to counter these ocean currents is a spectacularly doomed endeavour. Despite almost every lexicographer’s vehement denial of their role as arbiters of language, it is how they are perceived by most dictionary users, and therefore, their de facto role in society. This is not surprising, as Curzan (2000: 91) notes, “‘look it up in the dictionary’ is a mantra learnt early in life”. The use of the definite determiner, the, before dictionary implicitly refers to an “abstraction that transcends all specifics, such as publishers, editors, dates, or editions” (Curzan ibid.) MR explained that this monolithic perception of dictionaries could hardly be further from the truth. Each dictionary is motivated and ultimately shaped by editorial policy. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is widely considered to be ‘descriptive about prescriptivism’. That is, prescriptive attitudes are reflected in the dictionary’s lexical entries without being endorsed. This balanced, pragmatic approach to lexicography which serves to appease both prescriptivists and descriptivists is by no means a universal of lexicography. A case in point is the entry for ain’t in the first-edition of the Random House Dictionary an American dictionary, published in 1966. The usage note that accompanied a frankly dismissive lexical entry for ain’t is as follows: 
Ain’t is so traditionally and widely regarded as a nonstandard form that it should be shunned by all who prefer to avoid being considered illiterate. Ain’t occurs occasionally in the informal speech of some educated users, especially in self-consciously or folksy or humorous contexts, but it is completely unacceptable in formal writing and speech… the well-advised person will avoid any use of ain’t
It is important to view the first edition of the RHD in context. It was a part of a larger reactionary prescriptive lexicography in the 1960s, along with the ‘American Heritage Dictionary’, which began in order to fill the prescriptive lexicographical niche which formed as Webster’s dictionary (now Miriam-Webster) effectively abdicated their role as arbiters of the (American) English language by employing a more descriptive approach. This shift in editorial policy invoked a maelstrom of prescriptive outrage and was undoubtedly responsible for a wave of tutting (for the phoneticians amongst you, the dental click ǀ), head-shaking, and fist-shaking across America. It was claimed that the editors of Webster’s 3rd “made a sop of the solid structure of English” and that the dictionary destroyed “every obstinate vestige of linguistic punctilio, every surviving influence that makes for the upholding of standards” (see Sledd and Ebbitt (1962) for more choleric outbursts of prescriptivism from contemporary journalists). On the other side of the Atlantic, in England, the lexicographic tradition has been much more inclusive, owing largely to the descriptive outlook of the OED. Yet still, Victorian sensibilities prevented many taboo words from entering the first edition of the OED. Gradually, as dictionaries began to more accurately reflect the contemporary state of the language such words have become commonplace in many, at least most unabridged, dictionaries.
The Future of Dictionaries
 Although it is obvious that lexicographer’s hands are being forced into digitalising their content, this is something that many dictionaries, including Macmillan, have embraced. To remain competitive in this digital age, lexicographers must evolve in response to socio-cultural/ technological changes. After all, dictionaries must remain economically viable. In the age of Google, most publishers are very much aware that paper dictionaries are becoming less relevant to the everyday end-user. Dictionary apps are now widely used. Not only do these have the obvious advantages such as increased mobility and searchability, but the IPA transcriptions- with a nice target-audience- of paper-dictionaries have been augmented by exemplar pronunciations which can be heard on demand by a much wider audience. Such practical functionality perpetuates the need for dictionaries. The descriptive formula for lexicography is now, to varying extents, rather ubiquitous. For dictionaries to survive in such a competitive marketplace, it is innovation that will be the point of difference between those dictionaries that thrive, and those which, to use MR’s phrase, ‘go the way of the Dodo’ (e.g. Chamber’s dictionary).  By employing corpus-based methods, MR argued that, better than ever, lexicographers can keep up to date with the latest lexical and semantic innovations. However, again, lexicographers must consider the role of the end-user. MR was critical of the interface used by many now-online dictionaries. User friendliness/ ease of use is a central concern to online dictionaries. Such dictionaries have many advantages over their physical counterparts. For example, they do not have to be abridged. Many paper dictionaries must make a conscious decision to omit many lexical entries and/or supplementary metalinguistic information from their print editions, simply as a result of a lack of space. If they did not do so, dictionary would become impracticably cumbersome and filled with proper nouns and incredibly niche scientific jargon. In cyber-space, the would-be paper-Brobdingnag, becomes accessible through something as small as a mobile-phone. 
Online dictionaries can act as a springboard to a range of other lexical semantic or lexicographic material. For MR, this is the key point-of-difference between paper and online dictionaries. For example, many dictionaries have a sister thesaurus, which can be accessed online through nothing but a click of a button. Moreover, detailed phonetic, etymological or usage-based information can be included. Such information would overwhelm the archetypal user of a paper dictionary. Yet, by making this information accessible through a simple click, online dictionaries can restrict this information so that only those that actively seek it are exposed to it. Those who are simply looking up the meaning of a word need not drown in the vast information that is available. Another substantial advantage of online dictionaries is that mistakes can be quickly rectified (dictionary writers are not lexicographic automatons- they are prone to error!). Moreover, innovations can be added as soon as the lexicographers believe that a new word or sense justifies inclusion. Whereas the production of paper dictionaries would dictate that innovative forms could not be included until the next print-edition, online dictionaries can add or retract content almost instantaneously. Flexibility need not stop at the traditional lexicographical aspects such as lexical entries. Additional content, such as Word of the Dayfeatures, or interactive materials such as crosswords or word searches can be continually updated or withdrawn.  
Although traditional print-dictionaries are rapidly becoming antiquated, it seems that online dictionaries have begun to drag lexicography and its reputation as the work of “white-haired old-duffers” into the 21st century. By appropriating digital tools and repurposing the functional purpose dictionaries, it appears that they will continue to perform their role as to not only to reflect the state of language, but as a pedagogical tool which can also serve to incite a widespread interest in linguistic, particularly lexical semantic, usage. This is in contrast to the pejorative view of linguistic change that has hitherto dominated public discourse on the matter.  Dictionaries have a role to play as a bridge between linguistics and the general public. With over 35 years of experience in lexicography, MR has seen a veritable lexicographic revolution. The practice of lexicography now is almost unrecognisable from that which he first learnt working on COBUILD in the early 1980s. Lexicography has evolved rapidly in the past 30 years. In order to stay relevant, it must continue to do so. With lexicographers such as MR who embrace, not only linguistic but also technological, change, dictionaries surely do have a role to play in the future.

Picture 2
Back- Rhys Sandow (Doctoral Researcher), Margarita Yagudaeva (Doctoral Researcher)- Centre- Michael Rundell- Front- Dr. Lynne Cahill, Dr. Lynne Murphy.

Rhys Sandow - doctoral researcher
Selected References
Curzan, Anne. 2000. Lexicography and questions of authority in the college classroom: Students “deconstructing the dictionary”. Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, 21, 90—99.
Labov, William. 2010. Principles of Linguistic Change: Cognitive Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.
Lynch, Jack, 2009. The Lexicographer’s Dilemma. New York: Walker and Company.
Sledd, James. & Ebbitt, Wilma. 1962. Dictionaries and “That” Dictionary: A Casebook on the Aims of Lexicographers and the Targets of Reviewers. Chicago: Scott, Foresman.  
TED. 2012. Erin McKean: Redefining the Dictionary [Video File]. Retrieved from