Monday, January 28, 2013

2013 Conferences

Some things that are happening this year that may be of interest. Obvs not going to them all!

AAAL: Dallas, Texas March 17-20 [Presenting on dissertation research]

CELT: Dallas Baptist U, March 20 [Presenting Wendell Berry & ELT]
TESOL: Dallas Convention Center Dallas, Texas, USA March 20-23, 2013 [not going]

BCTEAL: Douglas College, April 26-27 [deadline Feb 22]

CILS (UBC): May 3 [deadline Feb 28] not going

IOP (UBC):  May 11 [deadline Feb 26] not going

LLED Grad Conference (UBC): May 25 [deadline Feb 8] not going

ACLA: UVic, June 3-5 [presented on pluralizing high-stakes academic writing]

SSLW: Shandong University, People's Republic of China, early October [no CFP yet] not going

IAWE 19: Arizona State University, Nov. 16-18 [April 15 deadline] presenting on PhD study

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Highly Comprehensible, Reasonably Unirritating, but Linguistically Unacceptable"

The title comes from Santos 1988. I just emailed Terry to let her know that after re-reading her article, I found it ironic that I was pretty much doing a study almost exactly like hers. I don't think her work had a big influence on my decision to go the direction I'm going, but I feel like I have a better sense of how to marry "acceptability judgments" + "world Englishes" + "L2 writing" after looking at her framework more carefully.

For me, the framework and ideas behind the AJT come from a sociolinguistic framework. It's an interest in variation and how people make decisions about what's 'in or out' according to their (socially mediated) intuitions, beliefs preferences, and other words for subjective feelings or whatever.

The world Englishes stuff is just a natural result of the globalization of English, the de/re-centerting of composition and applied linguistics, and the importance of China in global discourse about education and English.

The L2 writing stuff, I now realize, is a very direct connection to the streams of thought that like to look at two things: 1) "What makes ESL writers' texts different than non-ESL writers?" and 2) "How do readers react to those differences (aka errors)?" #1 is a unique area for L2 writing as a field, but #2 can be traced back to composition studies in the 70s and 80s (Shaugnessy, Lunsford & Connors, etc) -- and ultimately can be traced back to the beginning of time, when the first teacher said "Man, kids today really don't know how to write! They keep putting apostrophes in the wrong places [or whatever]."

Anyway, the title: "Highly Comprehensible, Reasonably Unirritating, but Linguistically Unacceptable." Those are her findings about how content professors reacted to errors in L2 student writing. Isn't it pretty wack how those things don't all add up? That's why I want to keep doing this kind of research.

Incidentally, her definition of acceptability is "the degree to which the interlocutor regards the speech or writing of the NNS as approximating the target language norms." Of course, I'm not really working in an SLA framework, so my definition is necessarily different. Though my working definition is basically "anything that makes somebody go 'waaaait a minute...'" Which is not that scientific, but in a pinch, it'll do.

NOTE: One of my participants used the words "understandable, but unacceptable." Which is very interesting to me since native speakers (and most teachers in fact) are quick to say that they are most likely to go after those things that interfere with 'meaning.'

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wendell Berry on Language

From Wendell Berry's Community by Anne Husted Burleigh

How is understanding of the Incarnate Word essential to our understanding of the relationship of language and truth?
I believe that we have to try to make our words faithful to reality. Language has to maintain its power of reference to actual things, and everything depends on that power of reference and that community of knowledge, or else the word doesn’t get out.
In our age, people don’t have common understanding of the same words.
That makes for considerable difficulties, especially if they don’t talk carefully with one another. It is always good to talk with people who understand things differently from your way, but that requires careful talk. Any common effort obviously requires careful talk.
If we believe that words do refer to reality and our words have to be true, we still have to communicate with those who have accepted individualism and subjectivism. They operate on the premise that words really don’t mean anything except what the individual wants them to mean. Can we bridge that gap?
No. All one can do is speak as truly and clearly as one can. I think one’s abilities to correct anything are limited. It is important to know what the limits of your abilities are. A person can make a difference within a fairly small boundary. Not very many people can change very much.
They can’t change the world, but they can change their little corner of the world.
Well, I know that you can improve a few acres. You can take good care of a few acres. Your ability to take care of other humans is more limited than your ability to take care of an acreage simply because humans, in the main, would rather take care of themselves.


(there's a lot more, but I don't have books in front of me. More on this soon.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hypercorrection and Prepositions

"This hyper-correction of speech is a sign of a class divided against itself, whose members are seeking, at the cost of constant anxiety, to produce linguistic expressions which bear the mark of a habitus other than their own."
 - Pierre Bourdieu 

 Of course ironically hypercorrection marks you as the very thing you probably do not wish to be. I don't really like applying this to Chinese English because it's so influenced by the idea of social class, and I don't want to promote the idea of a linguistic hierarchy -- although there probably totally is one, and in terms of the popular imagination of English-speaking people, China is pretty low on the English totem pole, despite statistics (take this clever but ultimately insulting fake Chinglish article in the Telegraph, for example).

 But there may be something to it. Chinese English teachers seem to follow 'the rules' (whatever they are, and the source of 'the rules' is interesting and not at all clear to me) of English usage more assiduously than native speaker teachers, especially when it comes to "the small words" -- prepositions especially. It's a kind of paradox -- preposition errors are one of the most obvious markers of non-native speaker status, yet concern with preposition errors is one of the most notable differences between native and non-native speaking teachers. (At least anecdotally as I'm going through my notes.)

 In fact it probably isn't the Chinese teachers who are overcorrecting so much as the NESTs are undercorrecting -- but that's the privilege of the NS. You're allowed to not care as much about 'the rules' if you have enough cultural/linguistic capital in the eyes of the (imagined?) custodians of the rules.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Awesome Spam

Sometimes you just get amazing weird fake emails. I just got this one.

SUBJECT: "I dunno why yet but I am sure it will be excellent" (which is so great already.)


The woman was beggarly, but of a analogous and active apportion, as spiral frosted dissipate been to scan the pit of the civic fate clarity was smashed to her garter.

Aloud endless this is! pulley must nod wretchedly striped of Willoughby, if, after all that has barely bowed between statement, seduction can tentacle the sandbank of the footlights on gave them are apparently.

(For more on this topic I recommend Kedrick James' article Poet, Pirate, Netbot, although it's a bit of a long/tricky read.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Greenbaum's "Acceptability in Language"

If you have read this blog and attempted to make sense of the entries, which are obscure notes to myself that happen to be posted in public, you may have noticed that I appear to be on a one-man crusade to renew interest in the concept of "acceptability"in applied linguistics. Why? Because it's versatile, it spans a variety of areas in language study, it's sociocultural, it's about grammar, and everybody has something to say about it. Really: just ask the nearest person to you how to use 'who' and 'whom,' or what kind of word it's OK or not OK to end a sentence with. (Ha.)

In my own reading about acceptability, I've been working my way backwards from a 2003 article by Christina Higgins, usually ending up back someplace in the 1960s or 70s, with Chomsky setting up the need to study 'competence' and linguists coming up with Grammaticality Judgment Tasks, and the realization that there is a distinction between grammaticality and acceptability. Most of what I've been working on is meant to get people involved in the study of English worldwide to take an interest in the relevance of acceptability judgments to our work.

But there's one major publication on acceptability I've never really looked into, and that is Sidney Greenbaum's Acceptability in Language, an edited collection published in 1977. Greenbaum wrote the Oxford Companion to the English Language entry on "Grammaticality," and he is one of the authors of the imposing Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. (He died in 1996.)

Anyway, I'm going to read part of the book this week, and take notes on it here, starting with the

Introduction by Sidney Greenbaum

Greenbaum summarizes and comments on the 13 studies presented in the collection. His second paragraph explains the importance of acceptability to social descriptions of language: "the macro-level concerns attitudes toward the acceptability of a language or a of a variety within a language, whereas the micro-level concerns the acceptability of specific linguistic features" (p. 1). (The methods I use in my own research are meant to bridge the gap between these two, by the way.) He mentions that some studies will "consider the contrast that many linguists make between grammaticality and acceptability " and mentions that the "underlying system in the language" and "the acceptability judgments of individual speakers" are different. (Indeed, I think the latter are worth focusing on for that reason.)

Greenbaum comments on the "crucial significance  of acceptability judgments for linguistic theory and practice, and the reliance of researchers on "the intuitions of native speaker" -- he doesn't particularly criticize this (and I think it doesn't need criticizing, just expansion to a variety of speakers, NS and NNS alike), but does criticize linguists for using "their own intuitions" rather than those of non-linguists. (I wasn't aware this was a big problem, though some of the studies I read from the 1980s do specifically use specialists. In fact, I think the use of specialists is totally fine, but I agree that you probably shouldn't be relying on your own intuitions. I haven't come across any of those studies, however.)

However, a number of the papers in the collection criticize the elicitation of judgments as a method for sociolingusitics (I think Im going to need to read this Labov 1972 paper), arguing that "speech samples" should be the primary data. (Maybe so, for 'pure' sociolx, but again, AJTs are valuable for other reasons ) Greenbaum says that "acceptability intuitions and language behavior do not necessarily coincide and....informant reactions do not always reflect actual usage (p. 5)." "The producible is not always identical with the acceptable."There's a tension within sociolinguistics regarding speech vs intuition -- the question is sociolx is (I think) "how do we account for variation" (both macro and micro) , and I think you probably need both actual usage and attitudes to account for that, at any level.

Grammaticality vs acceptability:
 Grammaticality: is this feature 'in or out?'
Acceptability "does not require a binary distinction between the acceptable and the unacceptable: we can recognize a continuum..." (p. 6)

To read:

From this book:
Acceptability in Context (ch 4) -  van Dijk
Sociolinguistic Reflections on Acceptability (ch 5) Eagleson
Acceptability in a Revived Language (ch 10) Rabin
On the Secondary Nature of Syntactic Intuition (ch 11) Snow and Meijer
Variation, Acceptability, and the Advanced Foreign Learner (ch 13) Tottie

and also
Labov 1972  - Sociolinguistic Patterns (uh oh, it's a book - just find the relevant stuff)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Grammar is Social

Grammar: not (only?) a model as embedded someplace deep in your mind, but a part of the model of the world that you build (and that the world builds for you) as you move through life.

Grammar is learned and maintained along with your image of the world, the world you build. Yes indeedy, grammatical correctness is socially constructed. But in a globalized world the many forces acting on how that is constructed makes it very confusing indeed.


I'm starting to get why people find it necessary to critique linguistic nativism, but I'm not too concerned with it. It seems fine to say that we both are innately primed for language and that it's something we learn.


I'm really not a linguist.

Just listened to this On Being podcast with Jean Berko Gleason. V. interesting.