Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thinking Through Data Analysis

Gotta loosen up, sit with the data for a long long while. That's how ideas come. Need to be both mentally and physically limber -- yet even one or the other at a time is hard to muster!

Here's what I'm thinking though --

I've got 2 sets of data. Comments on essays, and interviews about same.

Analysis of the comment data can only go so far -- looking at what was commented on, looking at what they said, and categorizing both. (Eg, 20 people commented on this use of a preposition, X number commented on prepositions in general, X number commented on the use of the phrase "harmonious society" across several essays; most common word used in comments was "wrong" or "native" or whatever.)

There are a lot of ways analysis of interviews can go, though -- I'm thinking of going with sort of 'how language attitudes are constructed' in a sense, or how acceptability is negotiated between interviewer and interviewees.

[SIDE NOTE -- I sometimes hate the postmodern thing of being like "see, I'm really totally being critical and analyzing everything because I included myself in the analysis like I'm just one of the participants" -- it's actually very good in the sense that it takes the researcher's role seriously -- I'm a social actor in this project, just like everyone else --  but it also sort of tries to offer reflexivity as proof of critical rigor, an innoculation against invalidity. (Is that a word?) Couldn't I, in the end, be totally wrong in my analysis of how what I'm doing influences others, or how what they're doing influences me? Analysis is only as strong as the theory you use to do it, and I'm suspicious of theories.]

Anyway, I like this, because in a lot of ways the interviews go differently depending on my relationship with the interviewee and how I relate to their position. At least I think they do - see "side note." I said in a term paper for a doctoral seminar that

Recognizing my professional identity/ies as multiple and shifting, I believe I can identify with, in some ways, the North American academy, the Chinese ELT community, foreign teachers in China, and international graduate students studying English in China, among others. If I can recognize each of these communities as having some impact on my own construction of English writing in China, perhaps the co-constitutive character of my own research and writing will be bolstered.

Despite that sounding a little naive and/or jargony, I do think it's related here. I think I'm trying to be "all things to all people" in a way. With Chinese teachers: "we all teach in CHinese universities, we all know what it's like." With foreign Ts in China, "we all know what it's like to be a whitey in China." With non-Chinese teachers in Canada, "Yeah, we do things differently here than they do over there."

Anyway....I don't need to go too much further with this train of thought, but it's something to think about. 

Oh yeah: the other thing I was going to say was that interviews don't have to directly correlate to specific stuff in the comments. Obvs they mostly do, but they can be more about understanding the process of negotiating the concept of 'acceptability' (or what is or isn't standard E / Chinese E) than about how specific decisions about comments were made and how that relates to the comment data. I think.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jotting Down Some Stuff

Not a lot is happening. I have so many thoughts that I feel like might lead to interesting projects or papers every day -- they're just not dissertation-related! Dag.


- The Confucius Institute's slogan "Teach You Pure Chinese." Some say it sounds like Chinglish, but the point is that reactions to it show how we confer legitimacy on nonstandard usages. It only sounds Chinglishy because we know it's Chinese.

- The ever-warping amorphous theological/ethical/moral/Christian framework for understanding language, which is now threatening to engulf the venerable Walter Ong along with previous conscripts Wendell Berry, George Steiner, and M.M. Bakhtin. The more I think about this the more excited and scared I get about it, which could be a good thing.


A submission to a new small-time but very cool journal is under review -- English Teaching in China. Would love to see more of these publications, and see professionals around the world looking at them.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Failing miserably at #acwrimo

After days of no work, finally spent some time doing interview transcription today. Need more of this.

Monday, November 19, 2012

George Steiner on Language

Central to everything I am and believe and have written is my astonishment, naive as it seems to people, that you can use human speech both to bless, to love, to build, to forgive and also to torture, to hate, to destroy and to annihilate. In the gospel we read: ''In the beginning was the word.'' And I am asking: Could there be a word at the end? If there is a divine word, a word of creation and forgiveness, is there by the same token a word of final destruction, a word which un-mans man? 

-- "Talk with George Steiner," 1982

Friday, November 16, 2012

Language: material, structural, social, spiritual

What do we do with theories or explanations of language which take material/biological descriptions of things related to language as ultimate -- that is, as explaining all that needs to be explained about language?

The nice thing about these explanations is that we don't need to do away with them. What we can do, though, is show why they don't adequately address important questions about language. I can imagine four related approaches to big questions about what language is, what it does, what it means, etc: material, structural, social, and spiritual. (Although maybe the spiritual is close enough to the social.) Material would be stuff like how we physically are able to make words, how our brains know how to make language, etc. Structural would be a detailed descriptions of what languages or language actually is -- all its components like words and sounds and stuff. Social (obviously primary for me) would be communication, discourse, and all the things people do with language. Spiritual would be a kind of bottom-line basis for language from a theistic view of the world -- language/meaning/logos as something uniquely given to humans by our Creator for certain reasons, and implications for that.

I don't mean to keep running into these ultimate questions about language, but I keep seeing these books and articles about neo-Darwinian materialism (not related to language specifically, though occasionally), and I feel like I want language people to have a thicker and deeper understanding of why that kind of thing probably won't work for "explaining" everything about language.

PS: Related, sort of: brainstorming a paper/presentation on Wendell Berry and language. 

Coming soon: re-focusing on dissertation! Come on!

Monday, November 12, 2012

AcWriMo update #1

Today is November 12, the beginning of what I'm calling "week 2" of Academic Writing Month. Time to check in on how I've been doing.

My stated goal has been 750 words a day, 5 days a week. I've definitely failed that, but I've also kind of failed to prioritize what I'm working on.

TWE = Teaching World Englishes article
C-E = Chinese-English interface article draft
RK = Pluralizing English, lexical/grammatical variation & high-stakes academic writing article

Week 0 (Thurs/Fri)
1 - 768 (C-E)
2 - 850 (TWE)

Week 1
5 - 700 (RK) (estimated - I wasn't keeping track)
6 - 0
7 - 860 (TWE)
8 - 0
9 - 250 (TWE)

Week 2
12 - 775 (dissertation stuff) + 230 (RK)

TWE = 1960 (current article count: 5205
RK = 930 (current article count: 3398, plus about 1000 w of cut-and-pasted 'data')
C-E = 768
diss = 775

Obviously, I completely missed two days and had a day where I didn't meet a goal last week. I blame travelling, but I need a system in place to get things done even on travelling days. Waking up early (Probably 6ish at least!), while I often deem it impossible, seems like the best candidate.

In terms of progress, I'm really happy that the TWE and RK are starting to look like real articles. The lack of work on CE suggests to me that it's not as big a priority, but I think it's too far away from my everyday work (TWE is directly related to my teaching, RK to my dissertation) for me to want to work on it. And since I'm the one setting my goals, I think it's reasonable to put CE on the back burner at least for this week.

Two other papers that I had on the list of strong contenders for this month haven't been started, but I think they could be started (though not finished) at the end of the month.

The real issue so far is the lack of dissertation stuff. I've been wondering if I can include data analysis goals as well as writing goals for the diss, but I feel like actually setting word-count goals at this point makes me more anxious and worried than productive. What I need to be doing a lot the next two months is being submerged in the data: listening to it, reading it, transcribing it, writing notes about it, and coding it. This is what will become the chapters I intended to be "working on" this month. That might mean the chapters don't get done this month. If so, so be it. Anything that's working toward the goal of finishing is worthwhile.

To sum up: there are two viable papers going, but dissertation needs to take more priority.


So with that said, let's try to plan some more specific goals for this week not based on word counts.

Overall for the week:
-TWE: get it shape for writing group to read.  (do some rewriting/editing)
- RK: not a big priority, but revisit Lillis & Curry section, rewrite, and send to RK. I think giving her a chance to give some input now will help.
- Diss: interview transcriptions, memos, and coding work.


I have some ideas for breaking each day down individually but won't post it here because I'm not sure how it will shake out. More next week!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

TOEFL Scores for Asian Countries

From Bolton 2008 -" English in Asia, Asian Englishes, and the issue of proficiency."

Why is Japan last?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

AcWriMo Brainstorm

November's going to be a heck of a month.

Here's a blarf of all the unfinished / desired writing projects to tackle in November. I'll refine this list before Nov. 1.

(Incredibly, I just submitted two papers I've been sitting on for a year, which is awesome. But I won't be hearing back about those until the new year at least.)

Edited Oct 29, and will be edited more--


This is actually the biggie. There are 7 chapters. Data analysis will sort of happen simultaneously with writing chapters 4,5, and 6, but it's chapters 4 and 5 that present the most immediate need. Ch 1 and 7 I'll probably leave till the very end; 2 and 3 are already drafted in the form of comps from last year; 6 needs more data collection after 4 and 5 are written. So let's make chapters 4 and 5 a goal. They're the main chunk of work. And let's say 5,000-7,000 words or so apiece.

This doesn't really include other important stuff like the coding, which takes forever, and the transcription which takes another forever.

1. Introduction
2. Lit review -- theoretical framework [comp #1 revised] and “empirical review” [comp #3 revised]
3. Methodology [comp #2 + explanation of procedures for study]
4. Findings from Chinese Group (AJT + interview1) [RQ 1 + 2]
5. Findings from Non-Chinese Group(s) (AJT + interview1) [RQ 1 + 2]
6. Comparison of findings and data from interview2
7. Conclusion


1. New approaches to variation in L2 writing with Dr Kubota - finish draft to send to her. Probs 4,000 - 6,000 words.

2. Review of Dan Everett's Language for Books and Culture - finish the book(!) and write the review. I have brainstormed notes. Probs 1000 words-ish.

3. Chinese-English interface with G. Leung -- this idea is pretty well set and an outline is written, but I probs need to put in 2000 - 3000 words of work on it.

4. "Teaching WEs: Ss as researchers" Would be good for Changing English. Could actually use stuff from Early paper back in 2009! That might be better. Show a method of 'teaching WEs.' 4000 words?

5. Christian-Muslim dialogue in TESOL with Saeed. Have been reading some Miroslav Volf in preparation for this -- might want to take the same tack as some of the stuff in the Canagarajah/Wong book. (This is for a future Wong/Mahboob book.) I can write my own sections about Christian ELT & Muslims from a Christian perspective. Maybe 1500 words to start.


- Teaching world Englishes to Japanese students in Canada? -- reflection on teaching WEs at Rits. Not totally sure which way to go with this, but it would have to be conceptual rather than empirical -- something like a "brief report" or "teaching reflection" that appear in more practitioner oriented journals. Possible collaboration with student? Other teachers? What I'd really like to do is collaborate with Dollinger but I haven't even met him. This would be good to submit to something like JALT if I could figure out a shape and a purpose to it. I think somewhere in there is something good -- like, "why do it at all?"

- English at joint venture universities in China with Roma. This one is tricky because we never really quite nailed down how we were approaching the research for this one. I did a conference presentation on it as a 'work in progress' but I'm not sure if this is ready to be written. Should probably discuss with her.

- Pretty sure I have something that might become a book someday about "doing Christian language theory" apart from theology, and it would have a lot of Bahktin, George Steiner, and Wendell Berry in it. It would eventually have to engage with theology, which I don't really read. I don't think I have enough to work with at all yet, but it could be developed in a review of Every Tribe and Tongue, which I'm currently reading. Not sure where to publish that. Maybe that new Christianity and TESOL journal. (1000 wds?)


Maybe you've heard of NaNoWriMo -- "national novel writing month," which is a challenge to write a whole novel (of 50,000 words or more) in the month of November.

Some academics/grad students have tried to figure out a way to make this work (I was interested in it a couple years ago) and the consensus seems to have settled on "AcWriMo" or "Academic Writing Month."

This comes at a crucial time for me so I am going to try it out, but I don't have a strategy yet.

Here are some relevant pieces thinking about how to do this:

My condensed explanation of the 'rules,' a longer version of which is at  PhD to Published:

Here are the rules for #AcWriMo 2012:
1. Set yourself some crazy goals.
2. Publicly declare your participation and goals.
3. Draft a strategy.
4. Discuss what you’re doing. [OK so being on Twitter and Facebook with us all day isn’t acceptable – you’ve got work to do – but checking-in at certain times is imperative!]
5. Don’t slack off.  ‘Write like there’s no December!’
6. Publicly declare your results – and please be honest! 
The Thesis Whisperer explains why AcWriMo sounds kind of bad, but might be good:

Firstly #acwrimo encourages you to make a schedule; to put aside time to work on your writing and declare it a distraction free zone from social media and email. 
Consistent writing, such as #acwrimo encourages, is the only cure I know for perfectionism. The more you write the more ideas you generate and the less time you have to pointlessly polish the words you already have. 
Finally, by joining a global community and keeping in touch with other writers via #acwrimo on Twitter, or by following the PhD2published blog, you will increase your own personal learning network and connections.  
So I am choosing to see #acwrimo as a way to resist and give myself the gift of time to write because I genuinely enjoy it, not because I have a specific word count or goal in mind.

Monday, October 15, 2012

"...Fear for the English Language"

Day 2 of the TESL Canada conference: after spending the morning finishing up my PowerPoint slides and practicing my talk, I showed up to the conference in time for lunch and then the keynote by Steven Pinker. It turned out to be a talk he's given before (seems like there are some videos online) based on his most recent book about language, and it was pretty fun -- most memorably about swearing and its functions. (And only a few mentions of "why we swear" in that vague pop-neuroscience way -- e.g., "this part of the brain lights up when people do this, therefore we know why they do it!")

I did my presentation on acceptability judgments and other stuff related to my dissertation research, and it was fine, but there was some interesting discussion from the audience afterwards, including from one woman who said something like "I'm just starting to learn about world Englishes, and what I feel after learning about this stuff is fear for the English language."

I handled her concern/comment as best I could, I think, but it made me realize that there is a divide between teachers who buy into the idea that variation is OK/inevitable in practice, and those who are keen to promote a standard and more ideologically opposed to accepting variations.

To me, all these new-ish perspectives, like EIL, ELF, world Englishes, etc., aren't threatening to English -- they're just ways of describing what actually goes on with the language. And I don't think they necessarily have all that many implications for teaching, other than "know your context" --  which is a pretty big one, and probably shakes out differently if you accept WEs/ELF stuff as an accurate depiction of reality.

So let me try to lay out some ideas that would explain a more variation-friendly perspective to someone like the audience member who was worried about English, presumably because she thinks WEs & related perspectives are all about eliminating standards:

1. English is an old language that came about as the result of contact between numerous European languages in what is now England.
2. It started to come into something more like its current form sometime in the last 300 years or so, also in England.
3. English has moved from the place it began to a lot of other places
4. Like all languages, conventions in English vocabulary, grammar, words' meanings,, etc, change from time to time, due to idiosyncrasies of its users.
5. Because of #3, this happens differently in different places.
6. Because of #4, there is a need and desire for language standardization  in societies, and it is useful to have a standard English for things like education, media, literature, etc.
7. Because of globalization, there is probably a greater need than ever for literacy in standard American and British English
8. However, that need is probably only felt by a small group of people who desire lives in which English is necessary -- those who travel internationally, those who work in internationalized fields like education, government, big business, etc.
9. Those people should be and are taught standard Am/Br English
10. Almost everyone else in the world who learns English is also taught standard Am/Br English*.


11. Most people in the world who know and use English are not American or British.
12. Most people in the world who teach English are not American or British.
13. Most communication in the world in English takes place between two people for whom no variety of English is their mother tongue.
14. Since these encounters often take place in transnational, transcultural, etc. contexts, #6 above is less important in these situations.
15. Therefore, the earmarks of standard American English and standard British English are often not particularly relevant in these situations, as long as intelligibility is achieved.
16. Whether people in these situations are satisfied with the degree of intelligibility achieved in their uses of English should probably be up to them.
17. Some of them are probably OK with speaking English in a way that sounds different or wrong to people from the US or the UK.
18. On the other hand, some of them are probably not OK with it, and would like to further learn standard Am or Br English in order to have a better grasp of it.
19. Those people can take some more English classes, if they want, where they will probably be taught standard Am/Br English.
20. Despite this teaching, people -- non-native and native speakers -- will continue to use language idiosyncratically at all time and in all places, and this will eventually lead to small changes in standard English.

* I assume one of the fears is that accepting non-native varieties of English or being tolerant about variations will somehow lead to teaching Ss that there's no right or wrong. This probably isn't true, but more needs to be said to assuage those fears, since some of the trendier positions on this do make it sound like we should just abandon teaching any kind of standard.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Penny Ur at TESL Canada

Quick report from Kamloops, BC, where I'm at Thompson Rivers University for the TESL Canada conference. Yesterday I was at the Graduate Student Symposium where Penny Ur was the keynote speaker.

Her topic was "English as an International Language: What Difference Does it Make?" Ur is an interesting person to address this topic because she's kind of a teacher's teacher -- she doesn't have a PhD and hasn't made a name as a fancy scholar or theorist, but she's incredibly well known to almost every ESL teachers because of her books about practical classroom activities.

I like seeing somebody like her wade into the English in the World debate because she can help to cut through the theoretical morass most of us are stuck in.

Her main point, which is indeed a very practical one, was that NNES-NNES communication is the norm. Rather than wanting to do descriptive research like Jenkins, Seidlhofer, and the other ELF people, Ur asks instead "how then shall we teach?"

She went through Kachru's circles and touched a little on ELF, finally suggesting three possible ways of teaching EIL.

1. One of the native varieties (i.e., US/UK)
2. Diverse flexible models (i.e., all the trendy theoretical stuff -- grammarless, context-based, no right/wrong, focus on intelligibility rather than rules, etc)
3. A standard variety (i.e., the mythical -- my adjective, not hers -- World Standard English)

She argued that #3 was the most sensible for teaching. I understand her point, but her WSE ended up looking more like splitting the cost between American and British English, leaving out regionalisms and deferring to "simplicity" (program > programme, zee > zed) and other common sense-ish rules to settle disputes.

This makes a lot of sense, but it really just sounds like what every conscientious EFL teacher tries to do -- we're aware that there are different varieties, but we're pretty much bound to teach our own variety plus those major differences that we are aware of. How many times have I talked about crisps, chips, potato chips, and french fries in China? How many times have I made the "pants vs underwear" speech? I kind of feel like focusing on these bigger obvious differences distracts us a bit.

The big question -- "who decides?" -- is in part being answered by corpora, and I'd like to see how ELF research can support Ur's argument for a world standard -- though when I asked her whether she'd accept ELF features like non-marked third person verbs she said "the jury is still out" on these expressions which are "jarring on the ears."

In the end I didn't really think Ur's argument for #3 was much different from #1. #2 is untenable for a number of reasons -- and actually very few people support it outside of tenured professors in developed countries -- but the lacunae between actual usage, preferred usage, and what is taught are so wide as to make an argument for any of these pretty difficult. As usual, it comes down to teaching as best you can with what you know, and continuing to educate yourself about what English is and how it works.

The next keynote is Steven Pinker, who is not a TESOL professional, but a famous cognitive linguist and proponent of evolutionary psychology, which is probably my least favorite model for understanding human behaviour. But I've heard he's an interesting speaker.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Thought: Shifting from WEs to 'variation' in general

"Acceptability" is a facet of variation. If we accept the idea that error is in the eye of the beholder, we can investigate how/why people identify problematic variations.

But to limit that to one perspective might be too narrowing -- there are plenty of people who have come up with different ways of looking at variation. (Ferris/Truscott? Williams?) So what if I compare readers' reactions/rejections of certain chunks of language to a number of things:

- attested/proven/proposed features of a particular local variety of E? (We have to assume there's some kind of assumed standard English in mind that the local usage is being compared to -- and of course that's tricky, too, but we can at least gather, from WEs theory, that 'unenlightened' respondents are judging their local English against 'standard English')
- proposed features of ELF (this is a lot more important than i thought it would be, actually. The more I think about ELF the more sense it makes, and it would be interesting to compare what I find to ELF ideas.)

- traditional "common errors made by ESL writers" (Cf Hinkel, Silva)

- slightly less codified but also commonly cited "common errors made by Chinese L1 speakers" (cf. the thing from Chang that I wrote about a while back)

- this '"cross-language relations" thing which I'm kind of afraid of

In the end this study would be less about the bottom-up understanding of CE and more about how we deal with variation in academic writing. Can I actually look at all of these though?


Friday, September 21, 2012

The Interface Between Chinese & English

"English and Chinese constitute two of the most powerful language complexes on earth and it seems highly likely that their influence on one another in future will transcend anything that has so far transpired between them."

Tom McArthur's Oxford Guide to World English (2002)

"At a time when the PRC is moving towards full membership of the World Trade Organisation and the further opening of trade and other contacts with the world (including the 2008 Beijing Olympics), much more might be said about the possible futures of Chinese Englishes. That however would be the subject of another study, one which would deal with the contemporary and unfolding story of the continuing 'interface' between the world's largest two language cultures, both in China and throughout diasporic Chinese communities worldwide."

"I am grateful to Professor Tom McArthur for suggesting the use of the term 'Chinese-English interface' to refer to the complex cultural and linguistic interactions between the Chinese languages and World Englishes at a seminar on this topic at the University of Hong Kong in March 2000."

Kingsley Bolton's 2003 book Chinese Englishes: A Sociolinguistic History

“ [McArthur’s] idea was that English and Chinese are  both world languages, and are  both pluricentric languages, and that these languages are in contact in various places worldwide – in Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Taiwan, but also, in the Chinese immigrant communities of Europe and North America. And that this contact is significant for the development of world languages, and for the development of both languages, not least modern Chinese which has been influenced by European languages in many ways over the last 200 years or so.”
– Bolton, personal communication

...stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Categorizing acceptability judgments

Goss, Zhang, & Lantolf (1994) were actually the first to use a discourse analysis approach to AJTs. Here's what they say about characterizing the participants' judgments (their tasks were done in groups):

"...we need some criterion to differentiate between talk that reveals evidence of judgments based on genuine linguistic intuitions and talk that points to some other source, such as memorized rules or L1 translations, underlying the judgments."

[Personally I don't care especially about that difference at this point, but I do want some kind of taxonomy along these lines.]

"At the moment we believe that talk that cites rules, pedagogical or otherwise and accurate or not, the source of which may be an instructor or textbok, or that involves translations into the native language, is indicative of judgments based on something other than real linguistic intuitions."

[Again, leaving aside the question of determining 'real linguistic intuitions,' this starts to suggest a way to categorize.]

"On the other hand, talk characterized by the absence of rules, by remarks like It sounds right, or a difficulty on the part of respondents in putting what they know into words, we construe as evidence that abstract linguistic competence of some type underlies the judgments."

[This is good stuff for the interviews, definitely, when participants are asked to explain their judgments.]

Higgins (2003) and Rubdy et al (2007 & 2008) look for evidence of ownership:
"...not just indigenization in which speaker appropriate English for their own needs but the degree to which speakers 'project themselves as legitimate speakers with authority over the language.' (Higgins)

Higgins uses some ideas from Erving Goffman, of all people, to get at that. Between the three studies there are 5 things they look for in the data:

1. references of legitimization (appeal to external authority)
2. Use of pronouns ('you' or 'I' (or we?) rather than 'it's wrong)
3. modality indicators (what you can, can't, should use)
4. References to the speaker's own English usage 
5. References to intuition / not being able to explain

I might add

6. Teacher-y comments about incorrectness/error and/or direct suggestions for changes

So, all together now, based on this and what I recollect from the data I've seen in my own study so far

1. appeal to external authority
a. textbook/dictionary
b. teacher/how I was taught
c. native speaker or other expert speaker usage (eg 'Americans don't say this' or 'I've never seen this' - although maybe this could be under #4 also)
d. reference to grammar? Does a reference to grammar automatically mean 'external authority?"

2. Use of pronouns
a. "You say" (indexes authority - I tell you what to say)
b. "We say" (indexes membership in community of expert English-knowers)
c. "I say" (asserts individual authority as an expert English-knower)
d. "They say" (if referring to a preferred usage, a reference to expert/NS use; if referring to a dispreferred usage, a reference to learners or people who don't know English well)

3. modality (can, should, may, etc -- could analyse based on 'strength?') + how it is modified (definitely, etc) - not quite sure how to classify these.

4. References to the speakers' own English usage/knowledge (broaden, include S usage as in 2d?)
a. "I would say" (similar to 2c or 3, I suppose)
b. References to what is taught (I/we teach them to do X)
c. probably some other stuff...?

5. References to intuition - more for the interview, but could be things like:
a. feels, seems, etc (suggests strong intuitive sense of language?)
b. Vague/ambiguous adjectives ('this seems weird')

6. Teacher stuff
a. Simple "this is wrong" stuff. (also 'this is Chinglish') - could specifically mention an error
b. correction without mentioning anything else (could include modals) be developed...

Monday, September 10, 2012

What Linguistic Features of CE have been 'claimed' in the Literature?

It's easy to complain that most people are operating with an unclear definition of Chinese English, but what have people actually claimed in the literature as empirical features of CE? Leaving aside discourse, which is a big one in itself, here's what I'm seeing.



1. Loanwords via transliteration of Chinese words
2. Loanwords via direct translation of Chinese terms
3. Semantic shift - word's meaning changes due to cultural context (many types mentioned by Xu)
4. Direct translation of Chinese idioms/chengyu (may be grammatical ...or 'weird?')

From the literature:
- Political terms (running dog, capitalist roader
- Standardized English translations of official slogans
- semantic shifts -- propaganda ('bad' in AmE, 'good' in CE)
- some Chinese idioms 
[Cheng 1992]
- loan translations (special economic zone)
- semantic shift (peasant = good, intellectual = bad)
[Gao 2001]
- loan words (baozi, mantou)
- loan translations (red envelope)
[Yang 2005]
- borrowings (same as loan words above) from various Chinese dialects
[Yang 2009]
- "Chinglish" idioms widely recognized (good good study, day day up)
[Fang 2008]
- Chinese loanwords (ginseng, feng shui) 
 - loan translations (paper tiger, Cultural Revolution)
-- standing LWs (tai chi) vs ad hoc loanwords (standing LWs probably begin as ad hoc LWs)
- 'nativized English words whose original meanings in ENglish have relation to the sociolx contexts of China' (p 35) - aka semantic shift
INCLUDES: semantic broadening (play), semantic narrowing (acheivement = grade in school), pejoration (copy = piracy), amelioration ('upgrading' a word -- fixed = reliable), semantic change (open = turn on), "haphazard use of hyponyms" (hard to tell if this is on purpose or not)
[Xu 2010]


Not a lot out there done from a WEs perspective, but we could probably get something from CR if we wanted. Xu offers:

(from spoken discourse)

1. Adjacent default tense (yesterday I write a letter)
2. Null subject/object utterances (sometimes just play basketball)
3. Co-occurrence of connective pairs (because I X, so I Y)
4. subject pronoun copying (my mother she..., the building it...)
5. yes-no response (you don't like sports? yeah (i don't))
6. topic-comment (Cigars, the president never smokes them; Beijing...there are many old buildings)
7. unmarked OSV(other jobs I want to try; both languages I can't speak well)
8. inversion in subordinate finite wh-clauses (I don't know what should I learn)

(from newspapers)

9. Nominalization (there are a lot of specific things here that I need to take more time to read)
10. Multiple-coordinate construction (done with 'Chinese pragmatic motivations') (p. 92 - not unique to CE, but still a feature of CE for cultural/pragmatic reasons -- like 'the three represents)
11. Modifying-modified sequence (preference for forward-linking, subordinate clauses first)
12. Use of imperatives (in Ha Jin -- doesn't seem that unique to me, but he makes a good argument on p 102)
13. Tag variation (varying tag Qs, like Chinese)

Think-Aloud Data Analysis: "Open" vs "On"

"...your alarm clock is open..."

6 commenters point out that "open" is not the 'right' word to use here. Other suggestions are "on," "set," "turned on," etc.

So: what kind of situation is this?

You can call it a 'direct translation' error, assuming the student is "thinking in Chinese" where 关 means both open (like a door) and turn on (like a light or appliance). So he incorrectly translated guan - he picked the wrong meaning. (But maybe he didn't know that it can be translated as 'turn on' at all.)

Similarly, you could call it 'interlanguage' or 'interference' from Chinese, both of which would also refer to the situation above.

If you didn't want to think about it from an SLA perspective, you could call it a 'word choice' or even 'collocation' error -- any time you write, you can pick whatever word comes next, and in standard English we wouldn't expect an alarm clock to be 'open' but we would expect it to be 'on.' It's not necessarily directly because of Chinese. (It probably is, though, but you can't always prove that. Plus, other NNESs might use it.)

We could go so far as to call it a 'variation,' (that is, a legitimate dialectal difference from standard English) because it seems to be attested that open/close for things like lights is pretty widely used by NNESs. (I know some people who use it.) (see this Google search.)

I guess the most likely (I want to be careful about ascribing intent to the writer) is the 'direct translation' scenario. The commenters are more generally calling it a 'wrong word choice,' and I'm personally sympathetic to calling it a variation. Who's right?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Don't Be Polite

This is an example of the kind of comparison between Chinese English and "English English" that makes me crazy. (NB, this is not written from a world Es perspective -- clearly the author is doing a kind of contrastive analysis and pointing out difficulties or mistakes learners have -- elsewhere in the passage there's pronunciation, vocab, etc.)

I don't mean to be mean to the original author -- I get what they're trying to do. It's meant to be helpful. But from my perspective, it just isn't.

Seeing an asterisk in front of a phrase that is simply not idiomatic in "English English" (note another phrase here I've always been a little weirded out by -- "English people") doesn't seem right. The * is used in linguistics to designate an ungrammatical sentence, or in language learning texts to designate an error. "Please eat more" is not an "error." In fact, it is not just not an error, it's something you could very well hear in a conversation between "English people."

It's not that I don't understand that some of these are uniquely Chinese phrases -- but for the asterisked ones especially, I just don't see any benefit in telling a student not to use them, other than helping them to become some imaginary version of an English Person.

In conclusion*, some corpus linguistics work might really come in handy in reshaping the way we think about this kind of stuff.

UPDATE: Shamefully I note no instances of "don't be polite" or "please eat more" in the British National Corpus. But the limits of what we have already observed does not preclude the existence of the reasonably plausible utterance, right? (Right?)

* PS: I usually use "in conclusion" ironically, to introduce something that is basically a non sequitur. FYI.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Course Evaluations

New rule: don't look at your evaluations until you've taught another (different) course.

Every time I look at my evals I get depressed for several days. I know that they're supposed to be constructive criticism, that they're actually not that bad (really only a few negative comments), that people who have something negative to say are more likely to do the evaluations (only half my class did them), and that people who get lower grades give lower evaluations, but I still end up feeling like I am not only a bad teacher but a bad person. It just makes me feel awful -- and I just glanced at the comments.

I do know I have a lot to work on as a teacher -- I'm pretty disorganized (getting better) and when I give an assignment for the first time I tend to make the instructions vague (getting better at this too).

But I've got to quit reading the comments right when they're emailed to me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What is Left Unmarked... almost more important that what is left marked.

Usually in AJTs you can only get data about what is unacceptable, not what is acceptable. In other words, you get "this is not OK, because ...." but even if you ask them to give a thumbs up to sentences that are OK, you're not getting much (or any) feedback. On a traditional AJT, you just get nothing and can assume the sentence is part of the language's grammar.

Even on one of these in-context AJTs, though, you don't get anything on the unmarked parts unless you talk about it in the interview. (Which I don't think I did much of, really, though I will go through and find out.)

But...and here is where I am thinking/hoping that using a corpus might come in handy...I think that if I can create a kind of grammatical "map" of the essays and focus in on the stuff that was NOT commented on, I might get an interesting idea of nonstandardisms that are OK in the eyes of readers. (Or at least marginally OKer than what they commented on.)

For example, off the top of my head, I know that none of the commenters marked the chunk "Gulou campus" as unacceptable. In a sense that is the most Chinese phrase in the whole study, because it is an untranslated word used in an English essay. The fact that no one marked it suggests to me that things like this -- names of places I guess, or maybe this could even be considered a direct borrowing from Chinese into English -- are seen as OK by readers. And that therefore doing this, which seems like a feature of CE discourse, is not marked as wrong, and is acceptable...

Hmm. I'm just kind of riffing here, but can we say anything about CE as a result of this "finding?" Can we say something like this?

No reader objected to this  direct transliteration of a Chinese place names. Therefore, transliterations of Chinese place names are likely to be an accepted feature of Chinese English discourse.

I think maybe we can.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Grammar/Vocab Pet Peeves of Today's ESL Teachers

I asked my TESL certificate students to name their grammar (or vocab) pet peeves last week. Here's the list:

- there/they're/their
- contractions in formal writing
- nucular
- anyways
- the word "moist"
- misuse of 's
- your / you're
- the word "bro"
- overuse of articles by ESL students
- the term "VVTI" as relating to cars (this was a bit of an outlier)
- "can not" vs "cannot" (not sure which is right!)
- the word "can" (overused?)
- "my bad"
- "mindful"
- "there is" / "there are" confusion
- you & I vs you & me
- confusion with plurals (for ESL Ss)
- the word "chillax"
- misuse/underuse of apostrophes
- overgeneralization of grammar rules (ESL Ss)
- "wuz up" (spelling)
- "have a fun" (apparently said by Korean moms)
- How to answer "do you mind if..."
- Effect vs affect
- "I could care less"
- "A lot" vs "Alot"
- overuse of exclamation marks
- "_____ one's ass off" (what is its origin, why do people say it?)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Notes on ethnographic notes

Pseudo-procrastinatory/preparatory/general knowledge-up-keep-y notes about how to take ethnographic field notes, ostensibly to jog my memory before commenting on students' attempts to write such notes.

From Atkinson & Hammersley's Ethnography: Principles in Practice. (Ch 7) (Note to self: this is from 1995 edition. 3rd edition pub'd in 2007 is out.)

Fieldnotes: relatively concrete descriptions of social processes and their contexts.

Adopt a wide focus

No attempt to code systematically

"Write down what you see and hear." (BUT: What should you write down; how and when should you write it?)

Use of actual words important.

Balance: concrete and descriptive, yet large scope.

Record speech and action: who, where, what time, what circumstances.

Spradley suggests trying to keep track of the following as a kind of checklist:

Space, Actor, Activity, Object, Act, Event, Time, Goal, Feeling


Thin vs thick description: link.
Thin description: the bare details. The essentials and nothing more.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Take that post-structuralism

"If language is without an object, action becomes impossible - and therefore all human affairs disintegrate and their management becomes pointless and impossible." - Confucius

Monday, May 21, 2012

Halliday v. Chomsky

Halliday is always courteous and circumspect when referring to Chomsky: he only hints at their differences. Nevertheless, it becomes clear from the hints that their theories of language differ radically. Chomsky believes that language is innate: Halliday believes that it is learned. Chomsky believes that all human beings possess a grammatical programme hardwired into the brain: Halliday does not – he believes that grammar mirrors function and is mastered through experience. Chomsky believes in ‘Universal Grammar’: Halliday does not. Chomsky believes that language exists separately from experience: Halliday believes that language only develops through experience of other people and the world around us. Chomsky’s theory is Cartesian – in other words: mind exists separately from matter: Halliday’s ideas are Darwinian – in other words: language and the mind obey the same laws as all other aspects of reality. Chomsky’s theories are metaphysical: Halliday’s are scientific.
From "Michael Halliday at 80: A tribute"

Building on what I mentioned earlier about Dan Everett -- Everett is lately touted as the first linguist to seriously challenge the foundations of Chomskian linguistics, and Halliday's work is extremely unsexy so it's rarely mentioned, but this paragraph shows that most of Everett's criticisms are implicit in Halliday's work. I've said before that I think SFL basically has a marketing problem: all the theory seems incredibly relevant, but then somebody tells you you're not allowed to call things nouns and verbs anymore and it's thanks but no thanks.

Side note: this paragraph also offers a fine example of the discourse I mentioned earlier, as well. Halliday = realistic linguistics = hard science = Darwin. Chomsky = 'theoretical' linguistics = metaphysics (which to a metaphysical naturalist = imaginary magic) = idle speculation = Descartes (who by the way gets an unnecessarily bad rap).

Not that I don't agree with the criticisms of Chomsky's way of explaining UG, but this description sets up a pretty unsustainable binary, if you ask me. And want an answer in fashionable jargon.

I'm blogging a lot so I must be thinking.

Rescuing acceptability

See, the thing is, we have to stop treating competent bilingual English-users are "mere learners." We can't treat their language use or their metalingusitic talk about their language as deficient. Even if that is how they want to see themselves. (There, I said it! I'm an academic asserting that I actually know better than the people whose behavior I am studying! I have crossed over to the dark side!) Modesty about your ability in an L2 is one thing. I am exceedingly modest about my L2 abilities (not without cause, in my opinion). But English is a special case. It is a lingua franca. It is a working language for millions of non-native speakers. It is a language that L2 English teachers function in at a high level.

I believe my Chinese colleagues who teach English at the tertiary level to be highly competent users of English. (I believe many upper-level L2 college students and certainly grad students are highly competent users of English as well.)  Certainly I believe my professors at UBC who speak English as a second language are highly competent users of English. Is there a difference between their English usage/knowledge and mine? Sure, in some abstract way. I am 'closer' to English on a personal level than they are in some ways, though I would argue that many of them are closer to it in a professional way.

Moving acceptability judgments from the domain of theoretical linguistics frees it from accusations that it is not actually measuring what it claims to be measuring -- linguistic/grammatical knowledge at a deep/unconscious mental level.

Moving acceptability judgments from the domain of second language acquisition frees it from the undue burden of having to provide an accurate map of a learner's 'interlinguistic competence' (to use Birdsong's term).

Putting them squarely in the domain of sociolinguistics, language attitudes, and world Englishes, etc. allows AJTs to be considered as another kind of behavioral data, elicited from people who use English in a specific way and a specific context, that can be analysed in a social practice framework.

This AJT data can then be considered in light of the sociocultural realities of English around the world -- insead of in terms of an abstract generative linguistics based on native-speaker intuitions (which is not that relevant to applied linguistics, much of the time), or a gauge of how well someone is learning the 'target language' which should conform to native speaker standards.

Birdsong (1989) on the abuse of acceptability judgments

Theory must account for data; if elicited data are shaky, other data are supplied by introspective fiat. These data conspicuously fit the existing model. If these data are questions by proponents of another model, then the search is on for speakers, be they naive or trained, whose idiolects provide data that fit the first.

He's saying that's a bad thing, FYI. "Introspection" is basically a linguist thinking about it and pronouncing his view as the correct one.

It is in a theory-internal sense that the distinction between 'grammatical' (derived from a grammar or accounted for by a grammar) and 'acceptable' (derived from elicited or introspective evidence) is to be understood.

Birdsong quoting from Levelt et al:

The empirical domain of Chomskian linguistics is linguistic intuitions. The relation between these intuitions and man's capacity for language, however, is highly obscure.

(This does seem pretty nuts.)

Linguistics is a potentially fraudulent enterprise when elicitation data can be manipulated to substantiate pet theoretical analyses.