Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Portland TESOL/AAAL schedule, March 21-28

Here is what I'll be doing at AAAL / TESOL in Portland.

Sat 3/22 [AAAL] -
Sun 3/23 [AAAL] -
Mon 3/24 [AAAL] -
Tues 3/25 [AAAL]
 - my AAAL presentation 8 AM / AAAL awards 1:30 pm
Wed 3/26 - [CELT / TESOL]  CELT presentation - 10am, TESOL PhD forum poster PM.
Thu 3/27 - [TESOL] AM - TESOL volunteering PM - (non-conference) Reading from my book!
Fri 3/28 - [TESOL] AM TESOL volunteering

Sat 3/28 - [TESOL]
10 AM: Perspectives on Teaching in Different Contexts Book Series- Andy Curtis (I will talk about the book on teaching English in China that am co-writing with my friend and colleague Jiang Dong)
leave PDX 1/2 pm or so

11:30 AM: Co-presenting with Jim Hu on ESL writing accuracy (see below)


Joel's handy guide to what I am doing at these events

AAAL: Acceptability in Context: Interviews with English Language Teachers

This paper proposes that acceptability judgments need to be re-theorized as socially constructed, and presents data from a study involving interviews with Chinese English teachers about unacceptable English usage in writing. Using discourse analysis, I show how the (un)acceptability of particular usages is not fixed, but depends on contextual influences.

TESOL: ESL writing inaccuracy: Voices of employers (2nd author with Jim Hu)

Given little interest of many university ESL students in improving English writing accuracy, this session explores employers' perspectives on ESL employees' writing inaccuracy. The study discussed found a disconnect between academic and professional worlds and recommends ESL students and universities endeavor together to create the next generation of competent employees.

CELT: Language Difference and Love: the Ethics of World Englishes

This presentation, drawing on the literary scholar Alan Jacobs' theory of "charitable interpretation,” develops an approach to language difference—recognizing the diversity of English in various cultural, social, and political contexts around the world—rooted in the primary Christian virtue of charity.

TESOL Doctoral Forum (poster): Between error and variation: A sociolinguistic approach to globalized academic writing

My study adopts a non-error-based approach to teachers’ reactions to nonstandard language use in Chinese students’ English writing, using the construct of “acceptability” (Greenbaum, 1977) and situating the project in a world Englishes framework. This poster session describes the application of non-error based theoretical approaches to studies of lexical and grammatical variation in L2 writing, presents data from the study, and describes theoretical and methodological challenges and innovations of this approach.

READING @ First Christian Church in downtown Portland:
Do you love/hate Christian rock? Were you, at one time, "down with the DC Talk?" Do you think the 1990s maybe have been rock and roll's greatest decade? Have you owned at least one Amy Grant album? Does the thought of Christian rock elicit at least two of the following emotions for you: revulsion, nostalgia, embarrassment, love, sheepishness? Join Joel Heng Hartse (Paste, Geez, Christianity Today, the Mercury, etc) as he reads from Sects, Love, and Rock & Roll (Cascade Books), an essay collection about being an Evangelical teenager in the 1990s and what it means to fall into and out of love with Christian rock. Musical guests for this reading include:

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fancy Words Aren't Necessarily Better

Think I'll stick with "teacher."

pedagogue |ˈpedəˌgäg|
a teacher, esp. a strict or pedantic one.
ORIGIN late Middle English : via Latin from Greek paidagōgos, denoting a slave who accompanied a child to school (from pais, paid- ‘boy’ + agōgos ‘guide’ ).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What variationist sociolinguistics is, and whether it has anything to do with writing

According to Gordon’s (2013) book on Labov, there are three tenets of the “Labovian paradigm,” aka “a variationist approach” to language:

1. Variation is inherent to linguistic structure.
2. A socially realistic linguistics offers valuable insights to the study of language.
3. Quantitative methods can reveal patterns where casual observation sees only chaos.

This is useful to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, when I started the project I am working on (both the dissertation project and the larger ‘project’ of conceptualizing deviation from SWE in writing), I had absorbed a little sociolinguistic theory by osmosis and wanted to call what I was doing “a variationist approach” to L2 writing. While I am very interested in variation, it isn't appropriate to call what I'm doing “variationist” because a) I am not a linguist, so strictly speaking I am not studying linguistic structure, even though I might be interested in contributing methodological tools for people whose interest is in studying features of ‘new’ varieties of English and b) I am not using quantitative methods to look for patterns in usage based on social variables.

As I have read Coulmas and Lillis, I have been wondering where variation fits into their work. I wonder the same about Milroy and Milroy. “Variation” to most sociolinguists has to do with differences in pronunciation across social contexts, and also sometimes words, grammar, etc.

I'm increasingly convinced that Horner et al’s ‘translingual approach’ to writing, which collapses all variation/deviation from SWE into the category of ‘language difference,’ is extremely fruitful for studying readers’ reactions. Making everything fair game for acceptability is a really good way to go, since ‘acceptability’ is actually in large part what underwrites social and institutional concepts of good writing, standard English, and even to some extent the very notion of “a language.”

Yet I do think Labov’s theory, or variationist sociolinguistics,  has something to offer a program of research that is (as mine is) primarily interested in writing. Gordon says that for Labov, “the fundamental question driving sociolinguistics” is “understanding why anyone says anything.” I appreciate how open-ended this leaves things in terms of methodology and what to focus on, even if Labov ultimately went a very specific direction. Coulmas, too, calls sociolinguistics “the study of language choice”.

Gordon points out that the “third wave” of sociolinguistic variationist research focuses more on “what language does” and “its social and cultural functioning” as well as “how social meaning is constructed from linguistic resources.” The focus of this ‘wave’ tends to be, according to Gordon, on what was called “style” by early sociolinguists -- that is, “intra-speaker variation.”

I need to back up a little here. If we're looking still at how sociolinguistic theory/approaches can influence the study of writing, the  introduction of style looks scary at first, because it sounds like something that is already included in ‘register,’ or ‘genre' -- pretty well-covered territory in traditional studies of writing. But remember, ‘style’ here is referring to individual choices that individual language users make.

Even though ultimately my own study is more in the realm of attitude (or really, ‘ideology’), I think we finally arrive at a very robust and worthwhile place here. The sociolinguistics of writing, whatever else it comprises, is going to be a place where we look carefully at the choices writers make, and their reasons for making those choices (whether they be related to traditional sociolinguistic variables like class, race, gender, etc, or not), in terms of social and cultural factors and meanings. It will be about "understanding why anyone writes anything." And of course, for my purposes, the ‘uptake’ of lexicogrammatical features of texts by readers (i.e. teachers, editors, etc) is a prime site for examining these sociocultural factors and meanings.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Writing is Language

Language is a natural faculty, writing is an artefact. That is the reason why children acquire language, but not writing, without guidance. The difficult art of writing requires skills that must be taught, memorized, and laboriously practised. The place to do this is the school. The school is the institution that most obviously depends on writing and serves its dissemination. No writing, no school; no school, no writing. These equations are basically valid. (Writing & Society, Florian Coulmas)
No no no.

No. Mostly.

I get that linguistics and sociolinguistics had valid reasons for wanting to approach language as speech. Coulmas explains how Sausseure & Bloomfield successfully banished writing from the study of language in the field of linguistics, and addresses the paradox between the alleged "tyranny" of writing in how language is conceived in the popular imagination, and what I would call the opposite "tyranny of speech" in (socio)linguistics: the idea that only speech is authentic language, and that writing is just the recording of language. It is impossible for me to agree with this, and Coulmas seems to be wanting to move in that direction too, in his first chapter, but then the above passage occurs in a chapter on writing and institutions.

I will just say this now, and probably many times later: Writing is language. It just is. It isn't (just) putting little marks on paper to represent things we say or would say. It is a way of languaging, just like speech is. Language use -- all language use -- is cultural. Our use of writing and speech for language is always already embedded in sociocultural context. That is just how we humans do. There is no reason for us to demand that writing is so fundamentally different from speech that one is language and the other is not, or that speech is more authentic than writing, or that because speech is more "natural" than writing it is more representative of "real" language than writing is.

We absolutely have to start with writing if we are going to get anywhere in the sociolinguistics of writing. This is why I find it easier to go along with Lillis (whose book I finally finished last week) than Coulmas: Lillis is primarily a writing specialist arguing for greater engagement with sociolinguistics; Coulmas is (more or less) primarily a (socio)linguist arguing for more engagement with writing.

I think it would be very hard for a person of my background, training, and generation not to take writing as a starting point in this discussion. I don't carry the disciplinary baggage of linguistics, for a start, but I also come from a time and place where communication in writing is just a simple, obvious, everyday fact of communication. People of my generation (and social class), and younger, constantly write. We write all the time. We write to each other to make plans for the times that we are going to speak to each other. We switch between writing and speaking all the time, and in some domains we do most of our communication in writing.

So here is some talking back to the passage above.

1. Of course writing and speaking are different in many ways. But I'm not convinced that the 'learning vs. acquisition' argument is all that helpful. My son is 1 1/2 years old and I would argue that he is laboriously learning to use speech. We know that people who grow up without anyone to talk to -- that is, anyone to learn from -- do not develop language. You cannot possibly develop language without observing/hearing how other people do it. We can argue that people have a "language instinct" and not a "writing instinct," but that doesn't really change the fact that in a conventional understanding of human society, almost any symbolic behavior that people do has to be learned from other people.

2. "No writing, no school; no school, no writing" strikes me as untrue for many, many people. Certainly people learn how to read and write (or do it better, or a certain way) in school. But certainly not everyone. I could read before I went to school, and most of the reading and even a lot of the writing I did when I was a child and teenager was done outside the auspices of school -- and this is much, much more common now than it was 20-25 years ago. I am sure there are scores of young people who write much more on the internet than they ever do in school. 
Where I really want to see the relationship between writing and sociolinguistics expand, though, is the area of variation. I need to read some more sociolinguistics stuff before I can really make this argument, but the problem is that it's too easy for sociolinguists to say "well, writing is highly standardized, just because, so let's just focus on variation in speech, which isn't very standardized." There are a lot of problems with this, especially when you think about language varieties across cultural and geographical differences. Which, of course, is what world Englishes is all about.


More on this soon.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"After all, what is condemned actually exists" - Ge Chuangui

Another excerpt from Ge, this time from 21st Century. Emphases mine.

24 June 1982 Dear Comrade Deng, 
Though I can produce no evidence, I feel that the "Yes" as a reply to your "It's not bad" is correct. "Not bad" is almost a fixed phrase = "quite good" or "fairly good" and is different from "not clever", "not happy", "not a boy" etc, all of which are semantically opposed to "clever", "happy", "boy".  
"... So what did it matter if she was married or not?" Is now very common, if still condemned by some people. After all, what is condemned actually exists. 
Incidentally, "so what did it matter if or not she was married" would sound worse, though it is not impossible in informal style. Certainly it is more condemned than" if ... or not ". You might say I seem to be non-committal. But usage is something that one often has to be non-committal about. 

With best wishes, Yours sincerely, Ge Chuangui 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chinese Books wish list (books hard to get outside of China) Updated 2013

1. OUYANG HUHUA, Remaking of Face and Community of Practice: An Ethnography 
of Local and Expatriate Teachers’ Reform Stories in Today’s China. Beijing: Beijing 
University Press, 2004. ISBN 7–3010–7729–7

2. Any books by Ge Chuangui except for his dictionary.
(I already have The Writing of English)

(see here for some info

3. Zhangxian Pan (2005). Linguistic and Cultural Identities in Chinese
Varieties of English. Beijing: Peking University Press. 280 pp. 
ISBN 7-301-10261-5. 

4.  Contrastive Discourse in Chinese and English 

5. Review of Applied Linguistics in China Volume 1 only中国应用语言学评论(Vol.1 Vol.1)


I am also interested in these, but they are a low priority:

 Zhang Haidi - Beautiful English
张海迪 - 美林的英语