Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sin Boldly (A Navel-Gazing Interlude)

I'm in no position to be giving advice about how to do research. I've long considered it my weakest academic skill. I've always thought that being an academic consisted of chiefly these four things: reading, writing, teaching, and doing research. Here's how I'd rank myself in terms of level of confidence in each of those:

1. Writing
2. Reading
3. Teaching
4. Doing research

Actually, bump those all down a notch and add:

1. Obnoxiously inserting my opinion about what I study into every possible conversation while deriding non-specialists' views, even though my only point is usually "well, it's complicated"

Which is also something academics are known for.

I sometimes think that I've made it this far (through -- dear God -- eight and a half years of postsecondary education now) based almost solely my ability to put together a readable compound-complex sentence, and while that may not be entirely true, a lifetime of reading widely has, I think, afforded me a certain facility with language, if I can say so without being arrogant. (I can write stupid sentences, too, of course.) I have a long way to go as a teacher, but if I get going about something I really know, I can do pretty well with it (I'm psyched to be teaching two sections of world Englishes next term -- kind of a dream come true). But research -- even after writing a 40-page paper on methods, taking courses on ethnography, surveys, and interviews, and having my dissertation proposal passed by my committee -- still fills me with dread.

I know that research never pans out exactly the way one hopes (I've had to lower my sights quite a bit on this project) -- but I have so little experience with data collection and analysis that I'm constantly fearful that each step I take is further in the wrong direction. And getting derailed by a lack of confidence at this stage has proven even more debilitating than the "oh-crap-I-don't-know-what-I'm-talking-about" anxiety of writing 100 pages worth of comps this summer. I spent the last month hemming and hawing about getting Ethics Review Board approval for my study (which I finally got last week, 2-4 weeks later than I'd hoped), and during that time I could have been analyzing my pilot data (which I've barely looked at), learning NVivo, doing other writing and reading, making contact with more potential participants, and so on. Instead, as best I can tell, most days I woke up at noon, felt sorry for myself that I had a broken arm and no BREB approval and was in China away from my friends and family, sent a few emails, read a few articles, and watched 6 hours of television.

I'm not proud of any of this. But as I look back on the last month, I can see how (and I can still feel how, every time something goes wrong) my main malady has been a constant fear that I'm somehow doing something horribly wrong and irrevocably ruining my chances to do a good project and actually finish my PhD. (My brilliant defense mechanism, apparently: avoid thinking about the work.)

Rationally, I know this is silly. My university grades (since an unfortunate incident involving sophomore year physics) have been impeccable. I was accepted by the top PhD programs in my field. I've had book reviews published in well-known academic journals. I've presented at the top local, national, and international conferences in my field.  I wrote and published a book just for fun. Yet now, more than ever, I hear a nagging voice saying you're doing this wrong.

What's the remedy?  Well, as Martin Luther once wrote, "sin boldly." When I was looking up the context of that phrase, I came across a college writing guide of the same title by David Williams, which I'd like to quote here:

One important point about your adopted voice and its argument: you have at least to pretend to believe it. Like Solomon and all great minds that ever contemplated the human condition, Martin Luther was right when he said that all of humankind are sinners and sin in every thought and deed and must necessarily sin, so far are we removed from God. His response was, he declared, to "sin boldly." Do not hide quivering under the bed. Do not shuffle shamefully onto the stage full of abject apologies. Be assertive, be bold, adopt a self-confident voice. Fake it if you have to. The cynics may be right. Our worldly institutions and values may all be relative and artificial constructs like the money in our wallets, paper with ink on it and not anything of real value at all. But few of those who believe this line can be found burning the ten dollar bills in their wallets. We live in the world "as if." To some that "if" is a constantly looming threat; to others it's a challenge.

Williams is writing about writing, but the same is true of research. Here I am; I'm in this. I'm doing what I came here to do. I'm definitely going to screw some things up. And then I've got eighteen more months to diagnose what happened, make sense of it all, and head back to point #1 above -- my ability to write sentences -- to tie it all together.

So, to conclude this pep talk to myself, here are some mantras for the next three weeks:

1. It's all data. Things that go right, things that go wrong, ever time I set foot on a campus, every newspaper article I come across about English education in China, every photograph I take, every student I talk to, every class I teach, every instant messenger conversation I have with a student or a colleague -- it's not all going to be rigorously analyzed, but it's all a part of the story of this dissertation. Really, the last four years, and the next two also, are part of it -- from the day we got off the plane in Shanghai to the day we moved to Vancouver to the day I arrived in Ningbo, to do the day we touch Canadian soil again in January. My job, what I'm doing right now, is writing a long-ass manuscript about what's going on with English in China, albeit with a particular focus on a certain research project.

2. Sin boldly. I haven't done a project like this before, and this methodology is, for the most part, unique. Nobody else has done it this way, so I get to make it up. The project isn't going to get better if I keep sitting down to do some work on it and I feel so depressed by my lack of progress that I abandon it.

3. Get out. Every day, meet with people, talk to people, email people, interview people. Check in with participants. Politely assert myself when I don't hear back. Get used to explaining it confidently.

4. If there's not enough data this time, it's possible to get more later. Sure, it won't be easy, but making contacts now could possibly lead to more and better help getting more data in the future if it's deemed necessary.

That's it for now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Some Recent Recommended Academic Articles on English in China

Fong, E. T. Y. (2009). English in China: some thoughts after the Beijing Olympics. English Today 25(1), 44-49.

He, D.  & Li, D. C.S. (2009). Language attitudes and linguistic features in the ‘China English debate. World Englishes 28(1), 70-89.

Henry, E. S. (2010.) Interpretations of “Chinglish”: Native speakers, language learners and the enregisterment of a stigmatized code. Language in Society, 35, 669-688.

Lo Bianco, J. (2009), Being Chinese, Speaking English. In J. Lo Bianco, J. Orton, & Y. Gao  (Eds.), China and English: Globalization and the dilemmas of identity (pp. 200-211). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.  

You, X. (2011), Chinese white-collar workers and multilingual creativity in the diaspora. World Englishes 30, 409–427.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Time to Face Facts: This Study Isn't About "China English"

In fact, it's a reaction to the proliferation of China English studies, when I really think about it.

What influenced me to change this from a "what is China English" study to a "what do people think about English in China" study?

1. The growing consensus that labelling individual varieties of English in the Kachruvian framework is to some extent ideological

2. The notion (promoted by Saraceni) that it's more worthwhile to look at very particular contexts rather than whole "Englishes"

3. The fact that nobody I work with at UBC is academic progeny of any WEs scholars

4. I'm not entirely enthusiastic about what can be revealed by asking people direct questions about "China English"

5. I think that ideology and attitude have important implications for WE theory, but that they don't necessarily have to be attitudes and ideologies directly expressed about a variety.

Most importantly, I think that there isn't enough done to get at people's attitudes and reactions to particular instances of language use and exploring how they make judgments about language from an ideological/social perspective.

I think that's it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interpretations of “Chinglish"

One of the smartest papers on language ideology re English in China that I've read. My only beef is the emphasis on "learners" and spoken English when I think it's arguable that it is legit to call some CE speakers legitimate 'users' rather than learners, plus there is a lot more going on than speaking. He notes this, but I'd just like to see a clearer distinction made between "somebody made a funny translation on a sign" and "students make mistakes." These are almost totally conflated in popular culture, media, online, etc. I'm not saying Henry overgeneralizes -- he susses out this phenomenon better than almost anyone else. Here's the abstract:

As a linguistic curiosity, Chinglish has long fascinated native speakers of English, prompting numerous studies that analyze its form with a view towards either eliminating it or accepting it as a viable Standard English variant. In this article, I examine how various social groups involved in foreign language education in China, including Chinese students, foreign teachers and linguists, enregister Chinglish as a linguistic variety. I argue that Chinglish is not distinguished by the presence or absence of any particular linguistic feature, but a label produced in the intersubjective engagements between language learners and native speakers. Chinglish is structured by and reinforces the relations of expertise within the Chinese English language speech community, thus representing larger anxieties about nationalism and modernization in a global context.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Almost Every Conversation I Have with Taxi Drivers in China

The following takes place several times a month:
(translated from the original Chinese)

Driver: where to?
Me: (my destination)
Driver: Your Chinese is really good!
Me: Oh, no, it's not.
Driver: Yeah, it is! How long have you been studying Chinese/been in China?
Me: about 2 years. (Optional long-winded explanation about my career)
Driver: Where are you from?
Me: The US.
Driver: Lengthy monologue about the difference between the US and China in the realm of culture, politics, economy, housing, family relationships, education system, food, or language.
Me: (during monologue) Well-meaning Chinese backchannel sounds (en, ah, oh, etc.)
Driver: (reaching the end of monologue) ... right?
Me: (smiling) Sorry, I can't understand clearly. My Chinese really isn't that good.

[Ideally, we have reached our destination by this point; otherwise, silence for the remainder of the ride.]

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Chinese construction of English

I think I've already mentioned several times that many examples of  so-called Chinglish,  usually presented for our educational  enlightenment or entertainment,  don't often seem like Chinglish to me. In some cases, the opposite can happen as well.

 Here's an example that I came across when I was in Beijing last month. In the English newspaper Beijing Today, there's a column which focuses on Chinese English mistakes. People who know me will know that I don't think this is necessarily the greatest use of column inches, but this particular example is interesting.

This column is an amusing story about a middle-aged Chinese man who cannot understand the idiom  “to drive one's pigs to market.”  You know,  that really common idiom that native speakers use all the time. What's that? You don't use it all the time? You've never heard of it?

Indeed. In fact, if you do a Google search for the phrase "drive one's pigs to market" you will pretty much  only find Chinese websites; deeper digging reveals this to be an obscure and long-abandoned reference to snoring.  A blog called “obsolete word of the day” gives an explanation of the phrase as an 18th-century regionalism from England.

As a native speaker, I want to chuckle at what I see as a misguided attempt  to improve language learning and explain a useful idiom.  That's not the only thing that's going on here, however.  The fact that mostly only Chinese English-learning websites use this phrase nowadays  suggests that it has been repurposed; resurrected, even. In the Chinese newspaper, the story of the older man not being familiar with an "English" term is used as  a rhetorical device to almost shame people into studying English.  “I must study English harder," the man says at the end of the article. What was once an obscure metaphor has been given a new life  as a motivational language learning tool.

On the other hand, I pity the poor college student who will someday use this phrase with his host family in England,  only to be met with blank stares.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Academic sports analogy fail

"When an American speaks of not getting to first base (not achieving initial success), the metaphor concerns . . . (a)n equally culture-specific- activity: the game of basketball."

Quirk et al (1972) quoted in Bhatia (1997).

Not sure whether Quirk or Bhatia got it wrong here, but man, did they ever.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

English and the "Chinese Way of Thinking" - Really?

Saying that CE is based on the "Chinese way of thinking" is just an argument I can hardly find any sympathy for. Maybe because it hews too close to the "strong form" of linguistic relativity? Maybe because Lin Yutang was a very Chinese dude but he wrote like an American public intellectual? Maybe because I am just not trained to accept arguments that seem to be based on reified ideas about culture and psychology?

Do we see this argument in other expanding circle contexts, or by other NNEST scholars of English in other countries?

Is this a "Chinese exceptionalism" argument?

Is the phrase "Chinese way of thinking" itself "Chinglish?" [See the book to the left (中国人的思维) ]

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Note to NESs: Learn to Speak English

"Strangely, many native English speakers still believe they can do all things better than non-native speakers just because they speak better English. How long will it take for them to understand that they are wrong? They have a problem that they are not able to understand. They do not see that many non-native speakers simply cannot understand them. This does not mean the native speaker’s English is bad. It means that their communication is bad; sometimes they do not even attempt to make their communication useful to everyone. Often they don’t know how."

- A reasonable section of the book "Globish the World Over" which is also part missionary tract for a particular version of intercultural communication in English (you're supposed to learn to speak Engish with only 1500 words, and everyone uses the same 1500 words). (While this, like most other attempts to engineer a language, will fail, their point above is very true.)

Further thought: If you can, as a NES, master intercultural communication in this "limited" English, you will pretty much be unstoppable. Linguistic "pwnage" can still be yours. Don't worry.

Friday, August 05, 2011

McKay on variation in written corpora

"Many studies have been undertaken to determine the types of grammatical changes that are occurring in various multilingual contexts in which English plays a significant role (see, e.g., Kachru, 2005).

Frequently, researchers begin by examining a written corpus of English of a particular multilingual context to determine what kinds of grammatical innovations exist and how acceptable these structures are to both native speakers of English and local speakers of English. In general, when investigations of language change use a  written corpus of published English, only very minor grammatical differences are found (see, e.g., Parasher, 1994).

Often the kinds of grammatical changes that occur tend to be minor differences such as variation in what is considered to be a countable noun (e.g., the standard use of luggages in the use of English in the Philippines and the use of furnitures in Nigeria) and the creation of new phrasal verbs (e.g., the use of dismissing off in the use of English in India and discuss about in Nigeria). In contexts in which such features become codified and recognized as standard within that social context there arises what Kachru (1986) has termed a nativized variety of English.

What is perhaps most puzzling in the development of alternate grammatical standards in the use of English is the fact that whereas lexical innovation is often accepted as part of language change, this tolerance is generally not extended to grammatical innovation. In Widdowson’s (1994) view, the reason for this lack of tolerance for grammatical variation is because grammar takes on another value, namely that of expressing a social identity. Hence, when grammatical standards are challenged they challenge the security of the community and institutions that support these standards."

From the Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning

Kachru, B.B.: 2005, Asian Englishes: Beyond the Cannon, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong.

Widdowson, H.G.: 1994, ‘The ownership of English’, TESOL Quarterly, 28, 377–388.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Oh snap, what about Pragmatic Acceptability?

Blum-Kulka, 1982

from here

Blum-Kulka (1982) suggested that interlanguage speech act realization might fail
to conform to target language usage on three levels of acceptability: social, linguistic and
pragmatic acceptability. Among these levels, she stresses, pragmatic acceptability as the
most important. The reason is that it can result in misunderstanding in cross-cultural
communications when one violates unintentionally pragmatic acceptability norms in the
target language

BlumKulka and Olshtain (1984) tested NNSs of Hebrew acceptability judgment on requests
and apologies and found that the answers of NNSs who had lived longer in Israel were
more similar to the native speaker norm.

Takahashi (1993) examined the transferability from Japanese to English of five
conventionally indirect request strategies. Transferability was operationally defined as
the transferability rate, obtained by subtracting the acceptability rate of an English
request strategy from the acceptability rate of its Japanese equivalent.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Defn of acceptability

A term from Chomsky (1965) for the acceptability of expressions in natural languages reflecting the view of the participant in communication, not the grammarian (grammaticality). The question of acceptability concerns performance whereas grammaticality is an issue of competence ( competence vs performance)
Acceptability is a relative term, i.e. an expression is deemed more or less acceptable according to the context. 

There are various criteria for determining non-acceptability: (
a) ungrammaticality; 
(b) complex sentence structure involving repeated encapsulating or self-embedding constructions; 
(c) semantic contradiction
(d) untruth in an expression as it relates to a situation; 
(e) an expression that cannot be interpreted because of missing reference or a differing knowledge of the world;
f) stylistic incompatibility.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CE: What you can mean and do with language (You, 2008)

This is perhaps the single most insightful perspective on the significance of "China English" I have read:

This growing meaning potential warrants a fresh, unmechanical conceptualization of China English. The language should not be understood mechanically as bearing a number of Chinese syntactic and pragmatic norms or as having “normative English as its core” plus “Chinese characteristics in lexicon, syntax, and discourse.” This characterization assumes that Chinese and English elements are easily separable, as the inference model seems to imply. Since English is used by numerous Chinese in new contexts and domains, it will undoubtedly develop a rather sophisticated, self-sustaining linguistic system. Rather than viewing the new variety of English against a native-speaker norm, it may better to view it as a new system based on “elements, structures, and rules drawn from both English and from one or more languages used in the environment” (Kandiah, 1998: 99). These elements, structures, and rules will be fused so seamlessly that it might at times be difficult to pinpoint what the Chinese characteristics are in this new variety of English. In my analysis of the bulletin board threads, I have identified patterned rhetorical strategies. Which ones can we be certain are truly influenced by Chinese discourse, and thus can safely call rhetorical strategies with Chinese characteristics? Therefore, identifying Chinese characteristics becomes less important than observing and describing the meaning potential of China English – what Chinese people can mean and can do with English in new contexts and domains.

This is what I've been thinking for a while. Searching for Chineseness (cf. Margie Berns' AILA paper) will only get you so far -- in fact, it won't get you far at all, except in essentializing, or if you want to stay on the "Chinglish = L1 interference that must be eradicated" bandwagon.

I highlight You's last point because what one "CAN" mean or two has two different possibilities: first, there's what you "can" do in the sense of literally what you are able to do. Like, if you want to say "I love you" in English instead of Chinese, because of whatever reason, you are actually able to do that. However, there is also what you're allowed to do, or what is (broadly) accepted by (educational/linguistic/etc) gatekeepers. There's an analogy here to acceptability and the "error vs innovation" distinction. You CAN write or say whatever you want in English. How other people will take it up is not up to you, yet you can use your knowledge of acceptability to your own advantage when choosing how to express yourself.

Thus, knowledge of 'acceptability' latches on to Canagarajah's pedagogy of "shuttling between communities" ... knowing how people are going to view your use can help you make decisions. See also the Matsudas' recent piece on L2 writing pedagogy and WEs.

Of course, I'm still assuming a certain stability, if not in usage, then at least in acceptability. And I think the ideology of acceptability is probably a lot more stable than usage, because what is usage anyway? You can always say whatever you want. It's always changing.

I might be making acceptability into too much of a binary --- acceptable vs unacceptable -- because obviously people react to things in idiosyncratic ways. This actually goes all the way back to J.R. Ross whose 1979 article "Where's English?" attempted to quantify acceptability and came up with some pretty weird attempts to answer that question.

Anyway. Enough rambling.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WECCL Argumentation Tasks

If anything suggests that there is a Chinese English, or at least that "performance" writing for the CET is a genre unto itself, it is this set of prompts:

01.   "Education is expensive, but the consequences of a failure to educate, especially in an increasingly globalized world, are even more expensive." Write an essay of approximately 300 words on this issue to state your own opinion.

02.   Some people think that education is a life-long process, while others don’t agree. Write an essay to state your own opinion.

03.   Nowadays, people have paid more and more attention to degree certificates.  For example, in many institutions, one’s promotion is primarily decided by whether one has obtained a graduate degree or not.  A growing number of critics say that if this tendency goes to the extreme, young people may be misled.  A degree certificate can reflect only one’s academic achievements but not all abilities essential for successful career. Write an essay of approximately 300 words on this issue to state your own opinion.

04.   An African proverb says "If you educate a boy, you educate an individual; if you educate a girl, you educate a family and a nation." Do you agree with this proverb? Write an essay of approximately 300 words on this issue to state your own opinion.

05.   Computer games are very popular among children. However, some people think that computer games have produced more negative effects than positive ones on children's physical, intellectual as well as psychological development. Therefore, they suggest that effective measures should be taken to prevent children from playing them. Write an essay to state your own opinion.

06.   Does modern technology make life more convenient, or was life better when technology was simpler? Write an essay to state your own opinion.

07.   Some people think that the animals should be treated as pets, while others think that animals are resources of food and clothing. What is your opinion?

08.   In the western world, if a family member has got a cancer, his/her family members must tell him/her about it frankly.  If not, it would be regarded as being illegal. But in the Chinese culture, a common practice is not to tell the patient the truth. Some people think that this traditional practice must be changed along with the development of modernization.  Write an essay of approximately 300 words on this issue to state your own opinion.

09.   It is right that college graduates earn higher salaries than the less well-educated in the community. But they should also pay the full cost of their study. Do you agree or disagree?

10.   Some people think that famous people are treated unfairly by the media, and they should they be given more privacy, while some others think that this is the price of their fame. Write an essay to state your own opinion.

11.   Many people say that we have developed into a “throw-away society”, because we are filling up our environment with so many plastic bags and rubbish that we cannot fully dispose of. To want extent do you agree with this opinion and what measures can you recommend to reduce this problem.

12.   Many people think that work nowadays is more stressful and less leisurely than in the past. What is your opinion?

13.   Nowadays men are becoming more and more greedy and selfish. We should return to older, traditional values and show respect for family and local community. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

14.   Nowadays, we are advised by environmentalists to use electronic cards instead of paper cards for holiday greetings. However, some people think that electronic cards do not have the same flavor of paper cards and do not display the same function, either. Write an essay to state your own opinion.

15.   Some people say the government shouldn't put money on building theaters and sports stadiums; they should spend more money on medical care and education. Do you agree or disagree? State the reasons for your view.

16.   Nowadays senior high school students are totally tired of various kinds of examinations given by their teachers in preparing for the future college entrance examinations.  It is generally agreed that this kind of examination system has destroyed students’ creative thinking abilities and hindered their all-round development.  However, the views on how to remedy the situation are various. Some people suggest that this type of examination system should be abolished completely while others think the abolishment of the examination system will bring about more problems than solutions.  For example, without a national entrance examination, we will have problems of privileges and discrimination. Write an essay of approximately 300 words on this issue to state your own opinion.

17.   Some people think the university education is to prepare students for employment. Others think it has other functions. Discuss and say what other functions you think it should have.

18.   Some sport events such as the World Cup may help reduce the tension and bias between different countries and keep the peace of the world. What is your opinion?

19.   The brain drain is a serious problem in developing countries. Some people think the reason for losing the most precious resources is the governments’ poor policy.   If the governments in the developing countries face up to the new reality, this problem can be alleviated.  However, some people think that the brain drain is a universal phenomenon.  No matter whatever measures the government takes, the problem of the brain drain cannot be solved. Write an essay of approximately 300 words on this issue to state your own opinion.

20.   Traffic and housing problems in major cities would be solved by moving big companies, factories and their employees to the countryside. Do you agree or disagree?

21.   Which skill of English is more important for Chinese learners? Some people think that we should give priority to reading in English, while others think speaking is more important. Write an essay to state your own opinion.

22.   Nowadays, electronic dictionaries (E-dictionaries) have been increasingly popular among students. However, teachers think that the overuse of E-dictionaries might have more disadvantages than advantages for English learning. For example, like the use of calculator affecting the skill of calculating, reliance on E-dictionaries may lead to the deteriorating of our spelling ability. Write an essay of approximately 300 words on this issue to state your own opinion.

23.   Some people think children should learn to compete, but others think that children should be taught to cooperate. Express some reasons of both views and give your own opinion.

24.   Will modern technology, such as the internet ever replace the book or the written word as the main source of information? Write an essay to state your own opinion.

25.   Young people are important resources to their country. But governments may ignore some problems faced by young people in running the country. By your experience, what do the government need to do for supporting or helping young people? Show these problems and give your ideas or suggestions to solve this issue.

WHERE IS #26!!!??!?!?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What is a Construct exactly?

Ted & Takk handbook - construct validity: "what an instrument truly measures." (does it measure what it claims to measure - aka construct validity)

I guess theoretical Lx AJTs do in a sense lack construct validity.

"The degree to which the constructs under investigation are captured/measured; the degree to which inferences may be made about specific theoretical constructs on the basis of the measured outcomes" (p 298)


Kaplan - 3 things that scientists measure:

1 direct observables -- the color of an apple, somebody's answer on a questionnaire
1 indirect observables -- I thought sb was a man but she checked 'female' on the questionnaire?

3 - "constructs are theoretical creations based on observations but which cannot be observed directly or indirectly" (p 119)

BUT what is a concept vs a constuct??/

lesley andres never satisfactorily explained this either.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Acceptability is everywhere! Firth and Wagner's SLA smackdown

Gass and
Varonis (1985a) present the following two extracts
involving two NNSs:
(extract 1)
1 NNS1: My father now is retire
2 NNS2: retire?
3 NNS1: yes
4 NNS2: oh yeah
(extract 2)
1 NNS1: This is your two term?
2 NNS2: Pardon me?
3 NNS1: Two term, this is this term is t term your
two term? (p. 151)

Gass and Varonis (1985a) view these extracts as
exemplifications of "exchanges in which there is
some overt indication that understanding between
participants has not been complete." According
to the authors, lines 1 from each extract
contain "unaccepted input" that act as "triggers."
These serve to "stimulate or invoke incomplete
understanding on the part of the hearer" (p. 151).
However, in the case of extract 1, it is at least debatable
whether the interlocutor (NNS2) demonstrates
any kind of "incomplete understanding,"
or that the preceding turn is somehow "unaccepted."
A more convincing case can surely be
made for the interpretation that NNS2's reuse of
the word "retire" (line 2) is seen-by NNS1-as a
request for confirmation, rather than as indicating
"misunderstanding" or "unacceptance." NNS1
provides confirmation in the subsequent turn
(line 3). Further along, NNS2 displays the acceptability
of this interpretation in line 4 ("oh
yeah"). Similar to the Faerch and Kasper (1983)
extract above, Gass and Varonis appear to be basing
their judgement of acceptability and understandability
of line 1 on an implicit assumption
that marked usage (i.e., the marked word order
of "my father now is retire") is problematic*. This
view distorts the analyst's interpretations of what
is going on in the talk, such that NNS2's repetition
of the word-here, "retire" (line 2)-is
taken to indicate a problem in understanding.

* Cf. English as a Lingua Franca & Jenkins' arguments etc. "Acceptability" is actually implicated in classic issues of Native/Nonnative Speaker, Standards, Correctness, ELF, WEs, intercultural communication, communicative competence, grammar, pragmatics, etc etc etc!

Acceptability as a construct

error acceptability - janapolous 1992, rueffet? 1994
acceptability of variations
acceptability of varieties
acceptability of certain textual features
acceptability of certain citation practices
acceptability of certain textual borrowing practices

...these are social/cultural norms, not only lx!

ACCEPTABILITY IS ALWAYS INVESTIGATED IN TERMS OF NS COMPETENCY...WEs demands an extension of the concept to NNS!!!! all grammatical judgments are suspect (within reason) until they are accepted.

A quote from "Making a bigger deal of the smaller words: Function words and other key items in research writing by Chinese learners"

Second, we cannot comment on whether the usages discussed in this paper are still communicatively effective despite being marked, as that is an empirical question that can only be answered in complex ways through further investigations. [aka my study!] What we contend is that written academic genres such as dissertations require a high level of accuracy in expression and stylistic appropriacy, and most academic writers in China aim for international intelligibility and maximal acceptability in their writing. Even if the specific usages of small words do not in themselves cause critical problems in comprehension, learners would do well to avoid them if they want to come across as language professionals, particularly since “small issues” can have undesirable cumulative and additive effects. The EXJA journal articles that we use as a yardstick are, as we mentioned at the beginning of our paper, representative simply of “good English” rather than native-speaker English, as we did not make nativeness a selection criterion in our corpus compilation. Finally, what we can say is that the choice between “local flavor” or “expert-like writing” is not a clear-cut, either/or option. 

As mentioned in the discussion of besides, the corpus-based approach allows us to formulate the following specific pedagogical strategies: (a) unlearn the clearly unacceptable and more spoken-like features; (b) maintain the use of specific constructions that are used correctly; (c) practice the use of novel or underused constructions in order to expand the active vocabulary. Perhaps what we can do is to offer our apprentice writers various alternatives—add to their rhetorical repertoire rather than subtract. Overextended uses of perfectly good academic phrases (e.g., according to) could be handled with sensitivity, to avoid discouraging learners from “trying their hand” at scholarly writing: Expert corpora such as EXJA are an affordance, a resource for teachers to show learners alternative ways of expressing what they want to say, providing authentic samples of structures that apprentices can learn from. Through structured exposure to genre-relevant samples of language use, apprentices can hone their intuitions of how certain phrases are used by expert writers, and learn the alternatives by example. This is different from a word list/phrase list approach, where learners are given a catalogue of putative academic formulae; such an approach tends to lead to misuse, abuse, or overuse, as learners presented with such lists frequently make the mistaken assumption that “more is better.” The more nuanced approach suggested in this paper is for instructors to give credit for good (“correct”) usages, and then offer alternatives so that apprentices can learn a greater variety of ways of saying the same thing, as well as learn when not to use a particular word or phrase, through increased exposure to expert texts and practices.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shi 2001 - NS / NNS teachers

Kobayashi (1992), however, observed that NNS instructors
would accept grammatically correct but awkward sentences compared
to NESs. These findings were all based on pre-determined categorical
evaluations which might have restricted or mandated
teachers/raters judgments. Some, for example, used decontextualized
or edited student writing to direct the raters’ attention (Santos, 1988;
Hinkel, 1994; Kobayashi and Rinnert, 1996). Research is therefore
needed, using authentic writing samples and no predetermined evaluation
criteria, to verify accurately whether NES and NNS teachers
score L2 essays for different reasons.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I think my entire study just changed

Well, at least in terms of methods and participants.

It's actually a lot more interesting and streamlined now.

Only teachers, no students.

I think I'd need to make sure I get good numbers from each context though, like at least 20 from each school.
Might need to offer rewards.

The methodology still feels to new to be valid,

and the theoretical framework a bit wonky.

Here is one of the things that is really hard to judge in this study -- the fact that all of these judgments could be made about the same text. How do you 'choose' which? That, I think is the question for Phase 3.

- This text shows features of ELF. [I'm not sold on ELF.]
- This text shows features common to L2 writers. [Seems likely.]
- This text shows features of Chinese English. [A hard sell, but can be compared to previous studies.]
- This text shows common errors Chinese learners make in English. [extremely likely to be cited, but, I think, problematic in terms of reifying, etc]

What Matters to Readers of Academic Writing

"Other studies, such as those of Santos (1984), Horowitz (1986), and  Johns (1981) also endeavored to investigate the characteristics of L2 discourse and text that were perceived to be essential in the evaluation  assessment of NNS writing among the faculty in various departments, including English. Their results indicate clearly that the expectations of faculty remain consistently focused on lexicogrammatical features of text, such as sentence structure, vocabulary, the syntactic word order, morphology/inflections, verb tenses and voice, and  pronoun use, as well as spelling and punctuation." - Hinkel (2002)

So, when Ss come to English-medium universities already having learned English in an ESL/EFL country, and their usage includes variations (which may or may not be systematized 'at home') -- then what? Is this a place where WEs and L2 writing can overlap?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is there a "China English" Corpus?

Tian (2010) makes a compelling point:  "...more corpus study needs to be done in showing the features and the practice of the pragmatic norm of Chinese English. There has been corpus studies on error analysis of the “learners’ English” of Chinese with prescriptive method. More corpus description could present features  objectively and make the demonstration more convincing."

He's got a good point -- there are many studies of "Chinese learner English" which are intended to find out what errors Chinese learners of English make. But where does one draw the line between a 'learner' and a 'user' of English? Is a 21-year-old university student who has studied English since age 7 still a "learner?"

The Chinese corpus linguistics website includes a post by a user which identifies the following corpora (in addition to SWECCL, which I've been looking at lately).

Corpus for English Learners in China (Gui Shichun, Yang Huizhong),
College Learner’s English Spoken Corpus (Yang Huizhong),
Chinese English Major Learner’s Spoken Corpus (Wen Qiufang),
CEC Chinese English Corpus (Li Wenzhong)
Middle School English Spoken Corpus (He Anping),

I don't know anything about Li's corpus (his definition of CE is frequently cited by Chinese scholars), but it is the only one that doesn't purport to be a 'learner' corpus. This list comes from a 2002 article by Feng Zhiwei on the history of corpus linguistics in China (read it here). He makes a point about EFL in China (though it could be applied to any 'expanding circle' country really) here:

The third feature of English corpus linguistics in China is its application-oriented tendency and intensive self-awareness. For years, most of Chinese research in foreign language learning had been devoted to the introduction and interpretation of western linguistic theories while there has been not enough independent research fuelled by the linguistic traditions of China. This situation had made it difficult for Chinese foreign language teachers and researchers to develop their own theoretical frameworks, and thus it had limited the contribution they could make to the international research community.

The applied research of corpus has now opened a new platform for English teachers and researchers from China on the international arena, to display their achievements, and to share and exchange their ideas by presenting the cornucopia of their achievements. Therefore, the intimate combination of corpus-driven applied research and the reality of English teaching and learning is a deliberate choice of scholars in the field of English language teaching in China that will propel corpus research in China and give Chinese linguistics an important voice in the international research community. 

This is all well and good. The irony, though, is that many people who are advocating a more "China English" based approach to English teaching in China (that is, the one you'd think would be more homegrown) are working in "western-style" English-medium universities (mostly in Hong Kong), and world Englishes is a "western theory" in the sense that it originally came from linguists working in American and British universities.

Anyway, my real point here is that the purposes of research on traditional corpus(es) of Chinese learner English are, in a sense, "features-based," and WEs studies can also be "features-based." The difference is that the former is starting with a codified, authoritative US/UK English as a norm against which to judge the errors of Chinese learners, while the latter looks for possible innovations which are frequent and seem to be acceptable (by some). This is also Tian's point, I think. What if we took all the error analysis research, all the stuff about "features of L2 writers' texts," etc, flipped it, and started looking for innovations against a WEs framework? Isn't this what has been done for the Outer Circle? Why are we so reluctant to do the same for the Expanding?

Pang (2005) proposes a China English corpus that should "include texts that are published in Chinese official publications (journals, magazines, newspapers, books,CD-ROMs or broadcast through radios or TV channels).English texts written by English learners at various levels at different schools, universities or training institutions do not fit the criterion."

This is interesting to me because, while it supports a CE corpus rather than a "learner" corpus, it doesn't entertain the possibility that Chinese university students can be competent users of English. Granted, I have worked with some of the most elite students in the country (I'm not trying to toot my horn, I just happened to be blindly thrust into teaching them one year), but I assure you that many of them are. What we seem to be coming away with here is the idea that there are two kinds of English in China: the "learner" English which is what every student does, and the "professional" English which is used by academics and the media. This has some merit to it, but it leaves out huge domains -- blogs, microblogs, message boards, business, creative writing, English corners (cf. Kubota on English as a hobby in Japan), etc. And of course the lines are probably not so well-drawn.

China English Ironies*

Reading through an article about China English norms. Many good points, but I think above all the way it is written suggests that CE is in the eye of the beholder. I can't tell you how many times I read an example comparing "Chinese English" to "Standard English" by a Chinese scholar in which I read the so-called Standard English sample as Chinglish.

Here's just one of many examples. This scholar gives the following example (cited from another paper) as an example of Chinese Englsh:

It was raining, the match was postponed.

This is given as an example of parataxis, which it is. But here is the author's "correct English" rewrite:

Because it was raining the match was postponed.

This is interesting to me for two reasons: first, because of the frequent mention of "forward-linking because" being a feature of Chinese (and CE), which suggests that any "Because...therefore..." construction is "Chinese," and second, the lack of a comma for this kind of construction, which looks weird to me. Wouldn't it be more "English" to say this?

The match was postponed because it was raining.

Here are some other examples that make very little sense to me. A is supposedly Chinglish, while B is supposedly "English."

A: You go first!
B: After you!

At most, there's a difference of register here.

A: He is very able!
B: He is an able man.

Both sound odd, but B sounds more Chinglishy to me.

A: I am going out for some minutes.
B: I will be back in some minutes.

A is slightly less than usual, but B expresses a different meaning.

A: He only said a few sentences. He made us very disappointed.
B: We were quite disappointed that he said only a few words.

Not sure why "quite" and "words" are more English than "very" and "sentences."

A: I think he shouldn’t go.
B: I don’t think he should go.

I assume a real grammarian could split hairs on this one, but I'd say that these sentences are barely different at all, and at most they are just ways of emphasizing different things.

A: Last night I worked for my dissertation and slept very late.
B: Last night I worked for my dissertation and went to bed very late.

I agree, the last part of the sentence matters here. But of course careful readers are noticing the preposition oddity in both sentences.

A: Do you want something to drink?
B: Would you like something to drink?

No meaningful difference whatsoever here, if you ask me.

A: Your English is very good. Thank you.
B: Your English is very good. No, no. It’s very poor.

I get where they're going with this. I think it's a mistake in that they have switched B & A. (B is the 'typical' Chinese response to a compliment, whereas A is the 'typical' "English person" response.) But isn't this more of an intercultural communication issue? Can we call this a linguistic or even a sociolinguistic issue? Maybe, but I wouldn't call it a 'feature' of CE unless otherwise persuaded.

This has been pedantic punditry about English with Joel. Thanks for tuning in.

* (The greatest irony, of course, as Xu Zhichang pointed out in a conversation I had with him, that the term "China English" itself smacks of Chinglish.)

POSTSCRIPT: Another interesting "irony" (maybe not ironic, really) is that theories produced in English-speaking countries which no longer hold much quarter there (at least among those who keep up with the trends) are often deployed by Chinese scholars as arguments in favor of CE. For example, Kaplan (1966) is used to show that CE must be as it is because of the "Chinese way of thinking." There is a lot of essentializing done by Chinese scholars on CE. One example: that a certain culturally biased British usage is "something that Chinese cannot bear."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hu Xiaoqiong on foreign teachers in China

" few of them are well trained and come, not for professional reasons, but to travel, to fill in time while looking for a job in their own country, or even simply to find a girlfriend...Many are not deeply interested in Chinese culture...some have personal problems and difficulties of adjustment, and, above all...the great majority are simply not teachers." (Hu 2005, p. 35).

I'd like to disagree, but I can't really.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

L2 writing and ideology

When I was doing my MA at Humboldt, we read my professor Terry Santos' article "Ideology in Composition: L1 and ESL." I didn't realize at the time that it was written in 1992, and that the "ideological turn" in TESOL was actually just about to occur; in fact, don't quote me on this, but you could partly date the turn to people who did their PhDs at OISE in the 90s, several of whom are my profs at UBC now.

While Santos' 1992 paper certainly no longer describes the field as it once was, I still have a great fondness for her 2001 followup, "the Place of Politics in Second Language Writing." What I like so much about the paper is that it is not afraid to say those things which are often caricatured by those on the 'critical' side as "tacit" or "hidden" mainstream ideologies. E.g.:

" one who supports the mainstream in applied linguistics and L2 writing, it has been interesting to me to reflect on why the positions of critical applied linguistics, critical pedagogy, and critical EAP and L2 writing remain wholly unrepresentative of my intellectual perspectives, professional experiences, observations of student needs and preferences, and general worldview. Also, as an adherent of centrism and pragmatism...critical approaches seem to me extreme -- extreme in terms of the mainstream -- as well as out of touch with the reality I see of people in schools and universities actually living their lives, at least in the United States and other countries I have lived, worked, and traveled in....I find myself not only in disagreement with both the theoretical positions and pedagogical recommendations they espouse, but in closer embrace of pragmatism, vulgar or otherwise, as a far more satisfying approach to TESOL, EAP, and L2 writing, and, for that matter, everyday life."

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

How Do You Choose What Language to Speak?

You are a functionally bilingual person living in a city which is dominated by one language (which is not your L1) but includes a large number of speakers of many others (including and especially your L1). You are in a restaurant conversing with a friend in your L1, which you share. The staff of the restaurant are communicating in your L1 (which is also their L1) to each other, but they are communicating with their customers in the dominant local language.

What language do you speak to the waitress and why?

Does CR care about WEs?


Y. Kachru (1995, 1999) critiqued traditional contrastive rhetoric as reducing English rhetoric to normative patterns based mainly on style manuals and textbooks. Furthermore, from the point of view of World Englishes, Y. Kachru critiqued contrastive rhetoric’s sole focus on the Inner Circle varieties of English as a point of reference and its failure to validate Outer Circle rhetorical varieties of English (i.e., English used in former British colonies). Furthermore, the tendency to define the expectations of ‘‘native speaker or reader’’ as the rhetorical ‘‘norm’’ reflects a prescriptive orientation that overlooks plurality within language groups and the blurred boundaries between them, which ironically contradicts Whorf’s anti-essentialist plea for  broadening perspectives of humankind through developing a deeper understanding of diverse cultures and languages.

The critique of traditional contrastive rhetoric from a perspective of World Englishes (Kachru, 1995, 1999) exemplifies the postmodern significance of diaspora and multiplicity. For example, Chinese diaspora poses a problem for assuming the existence of a single cultural rhetorical system or thought pattern in Chinese (Kowal, 1998).

As English continues to be seen as an ‘‘international’’ language par excellence (McKay, 2002) on the one hand, the localization of World Englishes (B.B. Kachru, 1986, 1997) has generated a variety of rhetorical practices on the other. Thus, it becomes increasingly vital for students to critique the positioning of English through problematizing: Whose language is English?, What English am I using?, When and why do I use it?, Is it a  language I perceive a need for within my present or future life?, etc

CONNOR 2005 (response)

Another criticism cited by Kubota and Lehner, related to the assumed norms of English, is misdirected. They  cite Yamuna Kachru, 1995 and Kachru, 1999 with regards to the point of view of World Englishes, who “critiqued contrastive rhetoric's sole focus on the Inner Circle rhetorical varieties of English as a point of reference and its failure to validate Outer Circle rhetorical varieties of English (i.e., English used in former British colonies)” (as cited in Kubota & Lehner, 2004, p. 10). Again, contrary to what Kubota and Lehner would like us to believe, contrastive rhetoric has been very aware of the point of view of World and International Englishes (see Connor, 1996, pp. 16–17). In fact, the last section of Connor's (1996) book, dealing with research directions, includes the study of international Englishes as one of the five major research directions guiding contrastive rhetoric work. Not only has the field dealt with the Outer Circle varieties of English but also with the expanding circle of EFL varieties, such as EuroEnglish, as providing emerging norms.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Looking for a Collaborator

I have worried in the past that somehow I lack "credibility" as a Chinese English researcher. While I'm not terribly concerned about that right now, I do have some ideas about English & China that I'd like to pursue, but I feel like the best way to do that would be to work with a Chinese researcher who is interested in the same stuff. At the very least, it would be nice to have someone else to talk to about this stuff, and it would help me feel like I'm not just speculating.

The only problem is, most of the Chinese colleagues I have a relationship with are pursuing more practical aspects of ELT or linguistic research. (I remember a discussion with one of my colleagues in Shaoxing; when I told her I was interested in culture and EIL, she said, very politely, "but really, in the end there's no point in studying that.")

So I'm looking for a collaborator who, like me, is a youngish teacher/researcher interested in sociolinguistics and sociocultural aspects of English in the PRC. I will be probably working on these issues for the next 2-3 years.

Let me know if you know anybody.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Non-inverted Wh-questions

Was just talking to Sarah about this -- it's commonly done by NNESs, but we agreed that we both do it sometimes. Logged into the internet ten minutes later at Blenz Coffee and this came up on their homepage:

Chiang - questionnaire on coherence and cohesion in L2 writing

Could work as part of my attempt to approach this from a "WEs" framework -- use Bamgbose's 'acceptability" and 'authority'  constructs to see how Ts in Canada and China view features of Chinese student writing. Eh?

Notes from IAWE 2010 Chinese English session

Last summer when I was at the IAWE conference I attended a great session on Chinese English. Here are my notes typed out - my attempt to decipher the scribbles I scribbled down that day, plus additional thoughts I'm adding now.

Xu Zhichang (I have since met and corresponded with him -- really nice guy) - Linguistic Features of CE

Def'n of CE: "English in a Chinese context used by Chinese." (Simple -- too simple? Interesting though)
All attempts to come up with a good terminology for CE have been against Chinglish. There is a strong desire to find a place for CE that is not simply learner error, etc.

CE is used for bother intra- and international communication. (Though not interethnic communication among citizens of China, obviously) Compares CE to a picture of a teddy bear dressed in Chinese garb: "It is not a Chinese thing, but it came from America, and it became Chinese."

China Daily has a handbook of some kind related to English words? Published (internally?) in 2002? Is it like a stylebook? How can I get my hands on it?

Xu agrees with Hu -- there is a continuum from Chinglish to China English.

At this point I seem to have a note about some things said by Kingsley Bolton. He asked the majority of the questions at the session, including: "Who is exposed to English in China? Who uses English in China?" He mentioned later, and also I think in a private conversation we had, that foreign researchers tend to be more interested in looking more deeply into the many uses of E in China than Chinese scholars do. Interesting.

Xing Fang - (from Shantou University) - China English

English hegemony -- "80% of world's information is in English" (ok, but how do you measure that -- what is "information"?). E is a "global currency" and there is a belief that "English is superior." There are arguments that Chinese literacy is declining and that E is promoted over Chinese in Chinese business contexts. Uighurs struggle to learn English in addition to Mandarin. McKay -- English related to a "global culture" based on "western mental structures." (This is probable, but again, how to measure it?)

Language ecology, lx equality and human rights, EU's multilingual policy. (Basically getting into newer perspectives on how language should be in the world, how English interacts with other lgs. Both ecology and human rights are interesting frameworks but both have their probs, mostly with insisting on static conceptions of peoples and languages.)

He lays out what seem to be some features of CE: standard BE/AE phonology but syllable-timed; loan translations & calques; lexcial hybridization (taikonaut); grammar: innovations or unsuccessful interlanguage? He says that lecixcal innovations usually work, grammatical ones do not. Lx transfer "should not bend the rules" of SAE/BE, but should be "grafted" onto it with "Chinese thinking patterns." (On grammar, I agree with most of this, but I usually don't make the journey to 'thinking patterns' or 'mental structures.' Not that they don't or can't exist, but I think they are very often invoked without any real clear definition of what we're talking about. The classic case that I rail against is one I heard many times in China: Chinese and English idioms about dogs show that the Chinese look down on dogs, while English-speaking people revere them. I just don't see where that gets us. Anyway, I'm off-topic here.)

Examples of grammatical innovations? "Because" forward-linking: "Because I am hungry, [so] I will eat."(Actually he didn't mention so...but it's the 因为/所以 structure from Mandarin.) Also mentioned the more frequent use of "maybe," though I'm not sure that's a grammatical innovation.

Rhetoric -- didn't catch a lot of this -- something about culture and intercultural communication.

Pragmatics -- again, cultural things. "Have you eaten?" and not using "please" with people you know well.

CE used for ICC within China, closely bound up with AE/BE.

In the end, he argues that actual innovations for CE come variations in vocabulary, rhetoric, and pragmatics. He rejects variations in pronunciation and grammar.

Some questions about intelligibility and standardization came up. CE is not standardized.

Bolton asks: "Who is speaking to whom?" More than Chinese and foreigners communicating, he argues. (I suspect he's right -- but where do we see this? English corners, English classrooms, business? Other?)

Fan Fang -- Attitudes to CE "not yet established." In his study he asked for opinions about CE. Didn't take many notes bc I already knew something of his work. Calls for future -- "non-Chinese opinions, clearer definitions  samples, and triangulation through interviews."

Here comes Bolton again: is the intra-national use of English confined to certain domains? (Again, suspecting that English has a further reach than is being explored.) What about the "language worlds" that young people in China live in? Chinese students "live in a world where there is English." Where in China is English right now? If it's only Ss "learning EFL" in classooms, then all that is happening in China is traditional EFL. BUt -- in some contexts there is a visible use of English in society -- where is this happening?

(Srdihar (was the moderator?): mentions "the enormity of the numbers -- six million teachers" (where?))

Bolton continues: Where is English? It's an empirical question. Contact. Coastal -- taxi drivers in Shanghai. Inland - students learning English. E is mainly used in education - more and more schools use it. Therefore, the most visible form of English in China is in fact Chinese using English with other Chinese. Traditionally, it's thought of as an EFL country, but there are enormous numbers of learners/users now, and English is playing a role in modernity and young people's lives. ("Dangerous to label?" I wrote. Don't know what is meant.)

He continues: Really, there is no such thing as British English, either. All varieties can be deconstructed. Standard language is an idealized form. Local English can be useful for creating a new _____ (I can't read my writing!!).

Bolton's punchline: "What China English is, in fact, is a discourse. It's a phenomenon."

This is key. What we are witnessing is a conscious push to appropriate English in a non-English speaking, EFL, expanding circle country, where English has not been colonially imposed. Oddly, there are some resonances with how American English was named and claimed. This has not really happened before. China + English + Globalization are inextricably connected. The last decade (2001-) has been pivotal if not in actual linguistic innovation, than in how people (scholars, teachers, students, regular people, politicians, journalists, whatever) understand what is going on with China and English.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Possible lexicogrammatical equations

Variation - Intelligibility = Error
Variation + Intelligibility = Creativity
Creativity + Authority = Innovation
Innovation + Codification = Acceptance

Eh? To be revised, maybe.

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a (N)NS

Given that the ever-expanding internet has emerged as a de facto repository or huge English language database, the popular practice of checking for grammatical correctness on the web is thus gradually altering if not revolutionizing our perceptions of what constitutes correct and normative English usage. One crucial point here is that often it is difficult to tell whether the authors of internet texts are English-L2 or English-L1 users.

- David CS Li, "When does an unconventional form become an innovation?"

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Resources on the SWECCL 2.0

Just realized that my emails to a prof in Beijing were basically me admitting that I had downloaded the corpus w/o paying for it. (Somebody emailed it to me!) Now that I know you can get it in book/DVD form I will get it as soon as I can (somehow!) but for now I'm looking for info in English on how it was put together and what exactly the written texts are. This will be a list of what I can find.

Abstract of "Constructing and researching the Spoken and Written English Corpus of Chinese Learners (2007)"

This paper describes the Project of Spoken and Written English Corpus of Chinese Learners (SWECCL) co-constructed by Nanjing University and the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. It also reviews some of the recent SWECCL-based studies on the Chinese EFL learners' interlanguage by the project team. It points out that learner corpus-based research is a new direction in the studies of second language acquisition.

The rest is in Chinese. 

Here's a quote from Lee & Chen's  (2009)Making a bigger deal of the smaller words: Function words and other key items in research writing by Chinese learners which seems to refer to version 1.0:

Spoken and Written English Corpus of Chinese Learners (SWECCL; Wen, Wang, & Liang, 2005), a major corpus project covering university English major students in China, contains only timed argumentative essays written for proficiency exams, ignoring dissertations and other academic genres.

So far this is all I can find.

Why It's OK to Use Learner English

Because I'm studying people's reactions to whether it's correct.

This is a great weight lifted, in some ways. I am not linguistically analyzing these texts. Not really. I am analyzing what other people think of them -- that is, "acceptability." Which, according to Bamgbose, trumps nearly all else.

Big gap that needs to be filled though -- like, today -- is what features to focus on. Shall I use Xu or other lx analyses as a guide? (Don't want to be overly deterministic though.) I can't leave it totally open, because then people will just say "well, this looks weird." (Then again that kind of data is useful too.) I can't be totally like "please identify the morposyntactic features which do not conform to your understanding of Standard Written English for Academic Purposes" because that is lame. So we need something.

Also: Just came across He & Zhang (2010). Right smack dab where I'm headed in terms of looking at norms, but with matched-guise (spoken) tests. Looking forward to reading!


update: There are some problems with this. As I look at the corpus, I become quite  clear that it is indeed a learner corpus. Let's say that I find, as I'm looking at it right now, that the term "human being" is frequently used without an article, yet in a situation that seems to call for a plural. All of my participants have indicated that this is unacceptable, yet it is a common feature of these texts. Let's say I then take that to the Chinese teachers/students, and they all agree that it is unacceptable. What have I proven? That nobody accepts this as an innovation, yet it is a common feature of Chinese L2 writing students' texts.

I guess we can say that's worth doing. I have a hunch that almost none of the features that NSs would reject would not also be rejected by the Chinese teachers. I suppose this would show that CE is indeed exonormative and that these variations are being rejected as potential innovations.

Also, another piece of shaky ground I'm wondering about is the choice to include English students. Presumably, English majors in China are supposed to graduate with "near-native" proficiency (citation?) in English. This is interesting in that it tacitly acknowledges the difficulty of the NS-based model. But it also gives us a chance to test this, if we do the quiz with 4th-year English majors. (I do sort of see some reasons to do this at the end of the schoolyear though, if that is what it's being based on.)

Still,  I wonder if what I'm proposing really differs from Hinkel's study of the features of L2 texts. Is it just that I'm thinking about it differently, as 'potential innovations,' that makes the difference? I guess so.

"Potential innovations" -- remember that. That seems like an important hook to hang some of this on.


UPDATE 2: Remember:

This is a study about acceptability.
It is not a study which actually purports to identify features of CE.
It assumes certain things about CE based on WEs theories.
It aims to test certain aspects of WE theorizing by using (potential) CE.
Norms, standards, and acceptability are all part of WEs theory.
Features is another big part.
Is there an empirical basis for saying a variety of English has certain feature? Yes, but I don't know what.
Will my study provide an empirical basis for what some possible features of CE are? Maybe.
But that isn't necessarily the point.

If NSs and NNSs reject something, it's widely considered an error.
If NSs reject something and NNSs don't, this seems like evidence for an 'innovation.'

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Erasing the Expanding Circle

Well, I don't want to erase it, per se, but my main criticism of the 3-circles paradigm is the assumption that because postcolonial societies have taken on English for different reasons than those countries who use English as a Foreign Language, English cannot become institutionalized in the expanding circle, and expanding circle Englishes are necessarily "performance" varieties. English may be a much more prominent part of Singaporean or Nigerian social life than it is in China, but I don't see why this should mean that the unique way in which English has become deeply embedded in education and social status for the middle class in China ought to be dismissed as a "mere" performance variety.

While I agree that the acceptance of an endonormative model would follow Kachru's steps (non-recognition, expansion of bilingualism, gradual acceptance of local norm, recognition), and  is much less likely to happen in an EFL/EC context, or at least to happen more slowly, I also think that the criteria laid out for an institutional variety stacks the deck -- it only allows for a 'real' variety to have characteristics similar to the Inner Circle. (Maybe. I'm making this up.) I'm thinking here of Butler's (1997) making "a standard and recognizable pattern of pronunciation handed down from one generation to another” her #1 criteria, and Kachru's (1992) list of criteria ending with "a body of nativized English literature." I'm not convinced those things are better criteria for a 'real' variety of English than some other things -- for example, the internet wasn't really around when those taxonomies were developed, and clearly that's become one of the most important domains for English.

Anyway, more soon, probably.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Problematizing "Mere Learner English"

Maybe what I want to do is use critical app lx to erase the clear divisions Kachru erected between ESL/EFL varieties and between outer circle and expanding circle contexts. Mollin (2005, 2007) and others, after Kachru I believe, have referred to some language  as "mere learner English." (Even though they've tried to break down the idea of 'interlanguage.')  Of course there is such a thing as learners making a bunch of random mistakes on their way to greater proficiency in a language (right? I sure hope so), but I still have a hunch that there is room for finding certain features in the language of a particular group of language users, and that this can (potentially) be considered a variety. Is it too silly to think of there being not perhaps a cohesive "Chinese English" but maybe an "English of Higher Education in China?"

Even among Chinese undergraduates, the population I've chosen to focus on, one senses ways of using English that remain common, if not, "acceptable." The somewhat uniform use of textbooks (what are they using nowadays -- New College English?), the widespread popularity of self-study books sold in every Xinhua bookstore, the chain of New Oriental schools with their patented (or whatever) methods....does this not create a kind of "English culture?"

And let's not forget the "Happy Everyday" phenomenon. This might sound simplistic (and it is a little), but say that phrase to any English-knowing undergrad in China and they will know exactly what you mean. Is that "mere learner English," or is that a legitimate semantic shift, a way of using English that does not exist in any other variety, but does in this one? My money is on the latter. Perhaps it is not an either/or question, though.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Critical Approaches, Rational Argument, and Commitments

"I turned to Alastair Pennycook’s Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction  in the hope of finding a systematic and coherent account of what I took to be one particular way of doing applied linguistics. I was looking for an (introductory) text which would make explicit not only the “real-world” problems critical work addresses, but also the principles it is based on together with an exploration of the (philosophical) origins of these principles and above all on their interrelation with each other. These expectations turned out to be inappropriate for a (critical) book on critical applied linguistics. But even more than that: I know that everything I have said above is based on my belief in the value of rational argument. And since I am not sure whether (or how) there is a place for rational argument in Pennycook’s world of critical applied linguistics, I am not sure whether what I have said here has any relevance. Maybe – if one truly adopts the CALx way of thinking and doing – a book review like this ceases to have any point or purpose."

 - Katharina Breyer (2002) in her review of Pennycook (2001).

I am sympathetic to Breyer's desire to, in essence, "critique the critical" (though I have promised myself this will not be a central feature of my own work -- too often my resistance feels to me like petty squabbling). Yet I am also (maybe due to my postmodern sympathies) suspicious of her deployment of "rational argument." Basically: Whence rationality? It is this critique of modernist discourse which both neo-Marxist/Gramscian/etc scholars and crazy religious people like me who actually believe in transcendence can agree on. (See, for example, Canagarajah's contributions to his and Wong's Christian and Critical English Language Educators in Dialogue.)

One wonders, then, is there room to wade in the waters of CAL for someone who will ultimately choose not to embrace its theoretical commitments? I'd like to hope so. Critical approaches tend to be shunned in part, I think, because of what reads like a you're-either-for-us-or-against-us attitude: if you are not questioning the basic assumptions of your discipline, you tacitly support existing injustice. This is a hard pill to swallow, yet it feels important. Like Canagarajah, Freire, and Osborn, I see important resonances between Christianity and critical practice. But I'm Just Not That Into Foucault, Marx, etc. I like to hang out with the Russian Orthodox version of Bakhtin; neither he, nor I, nor any theorist, is "the first speaker, the one who disturbs the eternal silence of the universe."

If one declares one's epistemological commitments, one is open to critique. Tell a staunchly materialist neuroscientist and philosopher of mind that you are committed to a particular religious story, and you may be ridiculed. Tell a critical theorist that you are committed to scientific materialism and Reason, and you may be written off as naive. Tell a critical applied linguist you are committed to an alternative vision of justice and ethics and you may be taken to task.

This, I suppose, is the price one pays for finding a way of thinking, being, and doing which allows one to sleep at night. The source of our commitments is complex, multifaceted, and mysterious, yet I suspect the further we drill down into them, the better chance we have of strengthening, rather than destroying, the foundations. What, after all, is the purpose of tearing down, if not to build?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Social Construction & Wikipedia

I'm still wading through Disinventing and Reconstituting Languages, trying to grapple with the authors' argument for using the term "invention" to describe the social construction of language. It's probably that I just don't have the theoretical background but I'm still not convinced it makes a big difference. On a related note, I also came across the Wikipedia page for "the Tinkerbell Effect" which purports to refer to "things that only exist because people believe in them." The (unreferenced) list includes items like private property, the monetary system, authority, and compulsory education. Aside from being one of many examples showing just how sloppy and nonspecific Wikipedia often is, the implication is clear: things that exist because they are discourses sustained by beliefs, social actions, and language, somehow are not real. Or to put it even more extremely: ideas don't exist.

Following this idea into broader cultural currents which seem to value a certain perception of the 'hard sciences' and material reality as ultimate would be a big detour for this blog, and has been too big a detour for my mind (er, I mean, "brain"), so we'll leave it at that.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

End of Crowley's "Standard English and the Politics of Language"

This is the final paragraph of Crowley (2003), after a lengthy chapter describing the debates about Standard English and teaching in the UK in the early 1980s. What I find interesting is how his proposed redefinition of standard spoken English is so similar to the idea of "Lingua Franca English" in which grammar and adherences to particular standards are downplayed in favor of emergent intelligibility (I might have made that term up). It's also notable that he elides the importance of defining standard written English; indeed, many scholars who argue for the non-stigmatization of traditionally marginalized English usage tend to hew more closely to the importance of traditional standard Written English than one might expect. I'm not accusing Crowley of this -- just noting that he doesn't posit a redefinition of a written standard in this passage.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Anne Pakir on Standardization

Pakir (1997) writes that "we well recognize that:

standardization is the recognition of the status of a particular variety;
standardization does not tolerate variability;
standardization is motivated by social, political, and commercial needs;
standardization is promoted;
standardization is an ideology; and
standard language is an idea in the mind rather than a reality"

Once again, this word reality -- I want to reclaim it. Standard language is a reality. It's a reality because it's an idea. Ideas are real and have real consequences. I'm happy to say "standard language as a system with special characteristics that make it sacrosanct" is not a reality.

Anyway, Pakir's main concern is actually codification. I need to read a little more about what that is.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I Do Believe in Language(s)

I've been perusing Makoni & Pennycook's Disinventing and Reconstituting Languages -- some fascinating ideas, but I don't think I'll jump in wholeheartedly. Even if existence of discrete languages can be shown to be 'false' -- or at least if the beliefs that laypeople hold about what languages are can be shown to be dangerous and/or harmful, which can certainly be true -- I'd prefer to retain the concept of 'a language' just as we tend to retain concepts like 'native/nonnative speaker' or even' race'/'ethnicity'. They are terms that may be deployed in problematic ways but my tendency is to stick with 'commonsense' definitions and work on ways of understanding language that are a) nuanced, b) likely to be useful/helpful in educational and other social contexts, and c) plausibly acceptable by non-specialists. I can't see 'language isn't a thing' meeting the criteria for c).

Trevor Pateman (who I hadn't heard of until, um, today) writes in his essay "What is English if not a language?" "whatever isomorphism between speakers' knowledge of language and their beliefs about their language exists, it should not be allowed to obscure the major differences between these two orders of reality." That's important to remember, certainly. But he also writes, with a pragmatism I appreciate:

"...despite everything I have said, it is clear enough that the idiolects of speakers who believe themselves to be speakers of the same language do indeed cluster enough for the belief to be highly plausible. For most practical purposes, it is true to say that over there they speak French while over here we speak English."

So far I'm most convinced by those who argue that form and function of language are tied to belief/ideology, but the work that people do on this (like Silverstein 1979) is so technical I usually have no idea what's going on.

The Silent Traveller

One unexpected outcome of my studies of Chinese English, or English education in China, or whatever, has been  another interest I've developed as a sidebar: English-language literature of Republican China. I realize this sounds really hoity-toity and specialized, and it kind of is. I do not in any way consider myself a "sinologist" -- I think of my interest in China as something similar to my newfound interest in Vancouver Canucks hockey: when you live in a place, it becomes part of you. Anyway.

I'm talking about the period roughly between 1912 and 1949, after the last Chinese emperor and before the communist revolution. I hardly know anything of the political or social history of this period, but what I like about it is the literature written in English -- probably the first, really -- that it produced.

My first encounter was with Gu Hongming's 1915 book The Spirit of the Chinese People, which a colleague in Shaoxing lent me. Here's what I wrote after reading it:

Gu Hongming was a Malaysian Chinese born in Penang who went to England for an education, became a polyglot (speaking English, Malay, French, German, and Chinese), and eventually moved to China where he became a kind of apologist for Chinese civilization and especially religion (which he believes Confucianism is). This book, written around the time of the first world war, is, as far as I know, his only surviving legacy. It's hard to buy his premises by today's standards, since he he completely essentializes people based on nationality (especially, of course, the Chinese -- he says they are a people with adult intellect and child-like hearts). There are some delightful passages -- most of the latter half of the book actually -- in which he excoriates western academics who he sees as total posers when it comes to knowing about China ... but unfortunately Gu rarely gives a convincing reason why we should believe him more than anybody else.
The greatest writer of this time is probably Lin Yutang, a prolific author in English whose books My Country and My People and The Importance of Living were bestsellers in the U.S. in the 1930s. (He wrote dozens of other books.)

My latest discovery is Chiang Yee, who wrote a series of travelogues of his time in England  (not unlike Charles Dickens' travel diaries) in the 1930s and 40s. (He also wrote about other countries into the 1970s.) I picked up his book The Silent Traveller in London on sale at the Regent College bookstore yesterday. I'm looking forward to reading it.

I'd welcome any other information about authors from this period.