English Language Research Seminar abstracts 2012/13

Seminars are all recorded using Aston Replay for the convenience of distance learning students.  All welcome.

Wednesday 24th October
Dr Urszula Clark, Aston University

“Tings a gwan”: Linguistic Superdiversity in Contemporary Minority Ethnic Artistic Performances

This paper considers patterns of language identification and identity construction conveyed in two performances given by young minority ethnic performers in the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham. The data upon which this paper draws has been gathered as part of an ongoing ESRC standard grant project entitled Language, Performance and Region: Discourse and Sociocultural Identity in the wider western Midlands. One major aim of this project is to investigate the part played by performance in creating, maintaining and challenging imagined communities; the extent to which both local and global linguistic forms are present within performance data and the ideological implications of such use.

The two performances under discussion here were recorded in 2011 at two different performance venues in Birmingham associated with the minority ethnic arts scene. They show how the performers incorporate the Black British English prevalent in use by Brummie performers claiming Afro-Caribbean heritage, whilst at the same time, drawing upon other linguistic influences, especially ones taken from more contemporary, global and musical genres. In this way, the paper argues, performers such as Andre ‘Soul’ Hesson and Deci4life can be described as mixing linguistic forms of the past and the present, and across place and space, giving rise to new linguistic forms that cannot be straightforwardly categorised as of simply ‘Black’ performers. The paper also considers what the performers have to say about the language they use in their performances, and how, if indeed at all, these register a sense of place and identity.

Through analysis of performance recordings, performer and audience member interviews, this paper identifies the ways in which these performers enregister specific features. The paper shows how they do this by drawing  upon both  the linguistic usage of earlier generations, and  linguistic features traditionally associated with the broader Brummie community. Analysis also shows that these features defy categorisation. Our performers draw on a range of contemporary music genres for their influences, whilst still incorporating Rastafarian lexis into their vocabularies. They can switch in the course of one speech segment between phonological systems which are redolent of Birmingham, and those which index American English alongside Jamaican Creole and varieties of British English, most notably London English. The performers,  Andre ‘Soul’ Hesson and Deci4life,  are highly talented linguistic players, who draw on the various influences that circulate within and beyond Birmingham’s minority ethnic communities and the musical cultures associated with these (Back 1995). In this paper, we attempt to disentangle some of the linguistic patterns which their performances and subsequent rationalisations of these performances display; thus highlighting the complexity of youth identities and language forms in contemporary super-diverse settings.
Wednesday 7th November
Dr Rachel Wicaksono and Nathan Page, York St. John University

English as a Lingua Franca: Implications and applications for UK Higher Education and International Voluntary Work

The use of English in multi-lingual contexts has been described and defined from a range of perspectives. In this presentation we locate our own work within this contested and rapidly developing field, before focusing on implications and applications in two very different using/teaching situations.
Internationalising universities in the UK are complex environments in which institutional policies around the language learning ‘needs’ of ‘international’ and ‘home’ students are built on monolithic, native speakerist ideas about English. In this part of the presentation, we review empirical evidence of lingua franca English use in mixed language classrooms (Wicaksono, 2012) and put forward a proposal for a bottom-up, discourse-analytic approach to language awareness in lingua franca situations (Hall et al, 2011). We demonstrate one possible application of this proposal; an online Creative Commons resource which aims to raise university students’ language awareness. The resource is designed to demonstrate to students how 'international' English arises in specific contexts of use. It aims to sensitise students to the role played by their own communication strategies, attitudes and linguistic identities, and to the interactional effects of their talk on the achievement of (mis)understanding, task goals and mutual assessments of linguistic (in)competence.
The next part of the presentation will describe a situation where English functions as a useful lingua franca alongside various local languages and dialects in order to achieve international communication. This description will focus on the experiences of Japanese volunteers who have studied English intensively for 10 weeks before being dispatched to various parts of the world for overseas voluntary work. A combined ethnographic and interactional sociolinguistic approach was used to study the linguistic experiences of volunteers currently working in India, Jamaica and Kenya. Extracts from interviews with the volunteers and examples of their communication with local people in each context will be presented. These will reveal processes of adaptation to new linguistic landscapes and varieties, along with examples of interactional processes which take place in international communication. The implications for English language pedagogy will be considered, both for future volunteers on this particular programme and for other learning contexts where the goal is successful communication in diverse, multilingual contexts.

Hall C. J., Smith, P.S., & Wicaksono, R. (2011). Mapping applied linguistics: A guide for students and practitioners. London and New York: Routledge. http://www.mappling.com [last accessed 12/08/12].
Wicaksono, R. (2012). 'Raising students' awareness of the construction of communicative (in)competence in international classrooms'. In J. Ryan (Ed.) Cross cultural teaching and learning for home and international students: Internationalisation of pedagogy and curriculum in Higher Education. London and New York: Routledge. 

Wednesday 21 November
Dr. Sophie Reissner-Roubicek, University of Warwick

“The guys would like to have a lady” – Gender and professional identity in engineering graduate interviews

This paper explores the discursive negotiation of novice female engineers’ professional identities and how these are co-constructed dynamically in interaction with gender identities in first encounters with employers. The analysis, which draws on examples from a dataset of 20 naturally occurring interviews between engineering recruiters and final-year students at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, focuses particularly on the interplay of gender in the necessary synthesis of personal and institutional discourses in constructing a professional identity. Ways in which gender is oriented to explicitly and/or implicitly in these gatekeeping encounters are shown to resonate with existing gender divisions in the androcentric professional context of engineering – and thus to undermine a pro-women recruitment stance.

Central to the validation of professional identities by interviewers was the demonstration of “passion for engineering”, but their normative expectations about the ways it might be demonstrated, such as through reasons for career choice and outside interests, were arguably gender-circumscribed. Added to the existing competency-discourse-driven requirement to fit candidates into prescribed categories, this contributes invisibly to maintaining the homogeneous identity of the engineering profession. The tension between conflicting requirements for “difference” and “sameness” in the professional identities of female engineers is reflected in the various ways gender is made relevant in the co-construction of these identities.

Wednesday  5th  December 
Dr. Jack Grieve, Aston University

Computational Dialectology

In this presentation I will discuss a series of dialect studies where I have applied new computational approaches to the analysis of regional linguistic variation. These studies are computational in two senses. First, as opposed to traditional dialect studies, which are based on data collected through linguistic interviews, in these studies I examine corpora of natural language, hit counts harvested from Google, and the results of computer simulations. Second, as opposed to traditional dialect studies where regional linguistic variation is analysed by hand, in these studies I analyze regional linguistic variation using advanced techniques borrowed from geographic information systems, data mining, and quantitative corpus linguistics. I will argue that by adopting computational methods it is possible for regional linguistic data to be collected and analysed with greater efficiency and precision than is possible using a traditional approach. I will also discuss some possible forensic applications of these techniques.

Wednesday 20th February

Jane Gravells

Nailing jelly to the wall – some challenges of gathering data for a linguistic investigation of representations of the BP crisis

The BP Deepwater oil spill in April 2010 generated a vast amount of media (as well as publicly available personal) accounts of events. Any attempt at language analysis and description, particularly one which makes claim to an inductive rather than hypothesis-led approach, first faces the practical task of managing data selection in such a way that the selection does not drive the findings.  This is an account of the route I took through my data, from my first encounter with the millions of possible texts for study, to my final data set.  I discuss how my emergent findings led me to modify my data selection approach, data selection for qualitative and quantitative analysis, and being reflexively aware about the inevitable compromises I have made.

Elisabeth Wielander

Integrating content and modern foreign language learning in British higher education: The example of German

Throughout Europe, the L2 English is increasingly used in higher education to teach a variety of specialized subjects at undergraduate and postgraduate level as part of an increasingly prominent drive towards internationalisation and in recognition of the importance of English as an international lingua franca (Aguilar / Rodríguez 2007; Costa / Coleman 2010). In contrast, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in tertiary education is much less common in Anglophone Britain. It sometimes features in Modern Languages undergraduate programmes where content modules are taught through the medium of an L2 to maximise exposure to the foreign language. However, there is currently little research available on the integration of content and language in UK Higher Education.
This paper presents findings from an on-going PhD project investigating CLIL, and more specifically, the use of German as the medium of instruction, in British undergraduate education. It reports first findings of an online survey of British universities to determine the extent to which CLIL is implemented in German degree programmes before focussing on one university’s CLIL approach in its German undergraduate programmes, based on evidence from student questionnaires and instructor interviews. Their experiences, and the institutional parameters characterising this particular educational setting, are investigated against the backdrop of the existing body of scholarship on CLIL in European Higher Education to determine how the British case converges with and diverges from European models of CLIL.
Aguilar, M. / Rodríguez, R. (2012). ‘Lecturer and student perceptions on CLIL at a Spanish university’. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 15:2, 183-197
Costa, F. / Coleman, J.A. (2010). ‘Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education in Italy: Ongoing Research’. International CLIL Research Journal, Vol 1 (3). Available at: http://www.icrj.eu/13/article2.html

Keywords: Foreign language acquisition, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), Higher Education

Wednesday 27th February
Mariam Attia

Becoming aware of the possibilities and complexities of researching multilingually

Mariam Attia, Prue Holmes, Richard Fay, and Jane Andrews

In these times of increased researcher mobility, wider access to information, and globalisation of the knowledge economy, institutions in the UK are witnessing internationalisation processes reflected - among other things - in the rise in numbers of researchers undertaking cross language research (Robinson-Pant, 2009). The exponential potential of cyberspace has also allowed more researchers to connect to institutions of higher education in the UK from their home countries. Despite their significant presence in research practice, the complexities of researching multilingually have not, as yet, been systematically developed (Halai, 2007) as reflected in researcher education programmes, supervisor training courses, and research methodology textbooks.

This presentation addresses the main findings of the one-year AHRC project “Researching Multilingually” (November 2011 - December 2012) which aimed at investigating the possibilities and complexities of researching in more than one language. Researchers with experience of multilingual research practice (in whatever disciplinary context and with whatever combination of languages) were invited to join that network in order to share insights into how researchers working multilingually theorize and operationalize their research design. Data is drawn from 35 seminar presentations and 25 researcher profiles posted under Researcher Network on the project website (www.researchingmulitlingually.com). The three research questions that addressed here are:

RQ.1: How is researcher awareness developed vis-à-vis the processes of researching multilingually?
RQ.2: What possibilities and complexities are researchers aware of in relation to their multilingual research practice?
RQ.3: What implications does this have for researcher development?

Researcher onsite and online contributions demonstrated developing awareness vis-à-vis the processes of undertaking cross-language research. We understand that several factors trigger awareness, such as who the academic supervisors are, the bi/multilingual facility of many doctoral researchers, and the fact that many research projects entail (large-scale) cross-language research.

Researchers become aware of a range of possibilities and complexities especially in relation to consulting literature in different languages; data collection, analysis, and representation; language choice and the geopolitics of academic publishing; and handling institutional policies and practices. Findings emphasize the role of awareness and intentionality (Stelma, 2011; Stelma & Fay, 2012) in researcher development in relation to researching multilingually.


Halai, N. (2007). Making use of bilingual interview data: Some experiences from the field. The Qualitative Report, 12, 344-355.
Holmes, P., Fay, R., Andrews, J., Attia, M. (2013, forthcoming). Researching multilingually: New theoretical and methodological directions. International Journal of Applied Linguistics.
Robinson-Pant, A. (2009) ‘Changing Academies: exploring international PhD
students’ perspectives on ‘host’ and ‘home’ universities’, Higher Education Research and Development, 28(4), 417 - 429.
Stelma, J. (2011). An ecological model of developing researcher competence: the case of software technology in doctoral research. Instructional Science 39,(3) 367-85.
Stelma, J. & Fay, R. (2012). Intentionality and developing researcher competence on a UK master's course: an ecological perspective on research education, Studies in Higher Education, 1-17. First Article.

Wednesday 13th March
David Wright, University of Leeds

A corpus-based genre-focused approach to identifying idiolect: Implications for forensic authorship analysis

The linguist approaches the problem of questioned authorship from the theoretical position that every native speaker has their own distinct and individual version of their language, their own idiolect (Coulthard 2004:431). However, the lack of empirical research into idiolect is well noted (Kredens 2002; Barlow 2010). The result of this is that (forensic) linguistic authorship analysis relies heavily on a largely abstract and inaccessible theory. As such, there have recently been discussions surrounding the status of idiolect in authorship analysis, and how it might be best conceptualised for application in forensic contexts (Grant 2010; Turell 2010).

Using email data from the employees of the former American company Enron, this paper offers a contribution to the empirical investigation of idiolect, and aims to demonstrate the ways in which corpora can be used to identify author-distinctive linguistic choices. Drawing on the relationship between genre and language use (Hymes 1974), it is argued that a less abstract, more accessible way of investigating idiolect may be to identify a person’s distinctive linguistic behaviour within the conventions of specific genres, or their individuating genre-lects. In particular here, the aim is to identify how distinctive an author’s linguistic choices within two conventions of the email genre – greetings and farewells – can be when tested against a relevant population of writers.

Analysis of the ‘Trader Sent Corpus’, a subcorpus of 2,622 emails sent by four former traders of Enron identifies 31 greeting and farewell forms which can be used to distinguish between the emails of the four traders. The ‘population-level distinctiveness’ (Grant 2010) of these forms is then tested against the ‘Enron Sent Email Author Reference Corpus’ (ESEARC) containing 40,236 emails and over 3 million words sent by an additional 126 Enron employees. Results show that some variants are up to 500 times more likely to appear in an email written by the trader in question than another writer in the relevant population. The potential significance of these findings is discussed in relation to the methodological and theoretical implications they may have for forensic authorship analysis.

Barlow, M. 2010. Individual Usage: A corpus-based study of idiolects. 34th International LAUD Symposium, Landau, Germany.
Coulthard, M. 2004. Author Identification, Idiolect, and Linguistic Uniqueness. Applied Linguistics 24(4): 431-447.
Hymes, D. 1974. Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach. London: Tavistock.
Grant, T. (2010) Txt 4n6: Idiolect free authorship analysis?. In M. Coulthard and A. Johnson (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics 508–522. London: Routledge.
Kredens, K. (2002) Towards a corpus-based methodology of forensic authorship attribution: a comparative study of two idiolects. In B. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk. (ed.) PALC’01: Practical Applications in Language Corpora. 405–437. Peter Lang: Frankfurt am Mein.
Turell, M. T. (2010) The use of textual, grammatical and sociolinguistic evidence in forensic text comparison. The International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law 17(2): 211-250.

Wednesday 24 April
Maggie Kubanyiova, University of Birmingham

Ethical challenges in applied linguistics research

When we talk about ethics in applied linguistics research, we typically refer to at least two distinct, albeit interrelated, areas: an ethical conduct in research involving human subjects and the moral ends of our research activity. The first set of concerns has traditionally been embedded in Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) or codes of ethical practice, such as Recommendations on Good Practice in Applied Linguistics Research (BAAL, 2006) or TESOL Quarterly Research Guidelines. With a few exceptions, these have until recently not received much scholarly attention beyond the routine treatment in research methods manuals. On the other hand, engagement with values and moral purposes of applied linguistics research has been pursued alongside the epistemological debates in the field (Cameron, Frazer, Harvey, Rampton, & Richardson, 1994; Firth & Wagner, 1997) and reflections on the relevance and social use of applied linguistics has become even more prominent in recent years. Scholars have examined the values and purposes of applied linguistics in general (Bygate, 2005), or in relation to specific sub-disciplines, such as language testing (McNamara & Roever, 2006), language teaching (Crookes, 2009; Johnston, 2003), forensic linguistics (Shuy, 2009) or second language acquisition (Ortega, 2005; Thomas, 2009).

In this talk, I will argue that an increasingly changing landscape of applied linguistics research involving diverse linguistic, sociocultural and socio-political, virtual as well as material, contexts, collaborative research relationships or multimodal means for collection, analysis and presentation of language data has renewed the urgency with which the field needs to engage with both moral ends and moral conduct. Using examples from research involving endangered language documentation fieldwork, multilingual interaction, and computer-mediated communication, I will argue that ethically important moments (Kubanyiova, 2008) can arise in the specific research contexts regardless of the methodological or epistemological approaches adopted by the researchers. Drawing on the work outside of applied linguistics (Guillemin & Gillam, 2004; Haverkamp, 2005; Helgeland, 2005) I will outline more situated approaches to ethical decision-making, namely ethics of care and virtue ethics and discuss implications for the development of future researchers. 

Wednesday 8 May
Pamela Rogerson-Revell, University of Leicester

Chairing international business meetings: investigating humour and the construction of leadership identity in the workplace

This talk reports on a study investigating  the way  meeting chairs use humour as a discursive resource to construct aspects of their leadership identity in a series of international business meetings. It draws on a corpus of meeting data from two international organisations  to illustrate how humour is used strategically as a leadership tool  both to ‘do solidarity’ and to ‘do power’ (Holmes and Marra 2006).  Despite obvious differences between the two data sets, patterns can be observed regarding the use of humour to fulfil relational and transactional goals. What does emerge  is that meeting chairs have different approaches to constructing their leadership identity. They draw on a range of discursive strategies, including humour, to achieve their leadership objectives  but their choice of strategies is stylistically-sensitive, in other words it is dependent on what they consider to be appropriate interactive behaviour, in a particular socio-cultural context.
The study aims to contribute to the field of interaction-based research  into workplace communication, in  particular  exploring  the relationship between interactive style and professional identity in international workplace contexts.

Holmes, J. and Marra, M. (2006)  Humor and leadership style. Humor:International Journal of Humor,  19, 2, 119-138.