Thursday, September 26, 2013

Some not-so-random notes & quotes on Language Difference & Love

"Deconstruction never proceeds without love" - Jacques Derrida

"What would interpretation governed by the law of love look like?" - Alan Jacobs

" The sin of Babel was its quest for unity -- one interpretation, one reading, one people -- which was an abandonment of creational diversity and plurality in favor of exclusion and violence; and the "ravages of hatred have an ominous sameness." Plurality in interpretation is not the original sin; it is, on the contrary, the original goodness of creation: a creation where many flowers bloom and many voices are heard, where God is praised by a multitude from "every tribe and language and people and nation.'" - James K.A. Smith

Let's move this stuff out of literary theory/philosophy and into sociolinguistics and everyday communication. Let's replace the complaint tradition ("you can't end a sentence with a preposition!") with an ethical framework for reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Not Standard English but Standing by Words.

I'm not saying it's a theory of (sociolinguistic) everything, but I'm saying that, as James Alison says, "something claiming to be truthful but not being charitable is not really true. Just as something claiming to be loving, but not being based on what is true is not really love." Why not sociolinguistics, why not language use, why not language attitudes/ideologies "governed by the law of love?" (As my friend Saeed says, "love is a Christian concept," so I'm sorry if this leaves other people behind, but I think there is probably a way to bridge the gap.)

"...this approach insists on viewing language differences and fluidities as resources to be preserved, developed, and utilized. Rather than respond to language differences only in terms of rights, it sees them as resources." - Horner et al

Or rights and resources, no?

Some Tips on Writing

Like the actual material practice of writing. Not like "psyching yourself up into thinking you're a writer" or "starting a Twitter." Here are my ideas about trying to build a daily habit of writing.

  • If you write on a computer, you might want to try something like Ommwriter (for Mac) or Q10 (for PC), which turns your computer into something more like a typewriter. I used Q10 when I was brainstorming for my comps and I found it very useful.
  • Another interesting possibility (on the web) is 750 Words a Day, which is more or less inspired by the “morning pages” concept from The Artist's Way. I used this for a little while last year and didn’t end up sticking with it, but it can be fun — it turns this practice into a game, and offers you “points” as an incentive to write every day.
  • The Pomodoro Technique is  a time management/productivity method that would suit this activity well — it involves setting a timer for 25 minutes to work on one task without interruption, followed by a five minute break.
  • All writing, even longhand, is a technology — think about investing in a high-quality notebook and/or pens. For whatever reason, I feel like I write better with (this is super geeky) a BIC Triumph 730R pen, on paper that is 100 lb. weight or more. It just feels right to me, but it’s different for everyone.

    Monday, September 23, 2013

    The Inconsistencies are Interesting (More on Labov and AJTs)

    After a detour into Patty Lather's article about paradigm proliferation, which was very difficult to read until the last 5-10 pages, I'm back and ready to talk a bit about Labov's stance on grammaticality judgments and where I want to go with them.

    As a reminder, here are Labov's principles:

    1. The CONSENSUS Principle: If there is no reason to think otherwise, assume that the judgements of any native speaker are characteristic of all speakers of the language 
    2. The EXPERIMENTER Principle: If there is any disagreement on introspective judgments, the judgments of those who are familiar with the theoretical issues may not be counted as evidence. 
    3. The CLEAR CASE Principle: Disputed judgments should be shown to include at least one consistent pattern in the speech community or be abandoned. (If differing judgments are said to represent different dialects, enough investigation of each dialect should be carried out to show that each judgment is a clear case in that dialect.) 
    4. The VALIDITY Principle: When the use of language is shown to be more consistent than introspective judgments, a valid description of the language will agree with that use rather than introspections.

    While I don't have the book in front of me, so I can't refer back to how he unpacks some of these (he's not uncritically accepting of all of them, nor does he expect all linguists to be, if I recall correctly), I do want to mention that Labov is working very much as a 'traditional' linguist here. There is nothing at all wrong about this. I have to stress both of those things, because the direction I suggest for AJTs is totally different than Labov's, but it doesn't mean that I think he is wrong or that my suggestion is the only way to make AJTs better. Labov is a descriptive sociolinguist looking for patterns of variation in speech communities, mostly by means of quantitative research methods. (E.g., surveys.)

    On the other hand, the work I am doing is mostly situated in a qualitative tradition. I am still, to a point, interested in empirical evidence of language usage (though perhaps would be more likely to rely on corpus data for this), but I also take judgment data as empirical evidence: not of how the language is actually used (which is another matter), but how it is viewed/understood/accepted/rejected by stakeholders.

    The world Englishes tradition takes "attitude" very seriously. Users' beliefs about the legitimacy of language, at both the conceptual (macro) and "real usage" (micro) levels, is of paramount importance in determining the status of a variety of English at home and abroad, as it were. We can use other terms besides attitude -- ideology -- but the fact is that people's judgements about language usage are very salient social facts that play an important role in the researcher's (and public's?) understanding of how language(s) exist and operate in society.

    (Though this is not strictly related, I am thinking of Eric Henry's article on Chinglish from a couple of years ago which manages to show convincingly that labelling language use as "Chinglish" has much less to do with the linguistic 'stuff' of an utterance than it does with the position of the speaker and social/power differences between the perpetrator of Chinglish and the labeller of Chinglish. He discusses the language in question, but also how the language is reported and the reporter's attitude toward it/the speaker and ultimately how the latter is the most relevant in the labelling of the utterance as Chinglish.)

    Language attitude research has a long history of quantitative studies, while language ideology research relies more on ethnographic methods. (The one coming from (socio)linguistics, the other from linguistic anthropology, as I touched on here.) I've chosen to use interviews and a kind of qualitative AJT to get at data about attitude/ideology toward Chinese Ss' English use, so I want to address how I modify Labov's last two principles.

    #3: Disputed judgments should be shown to include at least one consistent pattern in the speech community or be abandoned.

    Because I am not using judgment data as a guarantor of actual usage or of proof that a particular dialect has a particular grammar, I would modify this one to something like : "Disputed judgments may point to shifts in attitude and/or practice; the dispute is evidence of something interesting happening, and it should be pursued further."

    #4: When the use of language is shown to be more consistent than introspective judgments, a valid description of the language will agree with that use rather than introspections.

    Again, this is totally right for researchers whose concerns are similar to Labov's. However, I would say something like "When the use of language is shown to be more consistent than introspective judgments, the judgments should be further investigated to probe the source of the inconsistency."

    If my #3 and #4 sound similar -- well, they are. Because ultimately I think that studying the connection between judgment (which I take as a kind of "attitude") and usage in and of itself -- rather than taking judgment as a kind of backup for usage data, both in service of linguistic description -- is worthwhile, interesting, complicated, and ultimately quite important for understanding how language works in society.

    Which, in the end, probably makes me somewhat closer to the sociology of language than it does to sociolinguistics -- but as I said, 'sociolinguistics' covers a multitude of approaches nowadays.

    Thursday, September 19, 2013

    Labov on the problem with grammaticality judgments

    You know, when I was an undergraduate writing papers about the Glass family and how they show us that we have to love everyone, I never thought I would end up in a career where I get really het up about something called "grammaticality judgments." But here we are.

    In my last post, which was ostensibly an attempt to "Harvard" a book -- it didn't take, really; I got too interested in specific arguments the book was making -- I touched on Carson Schutze's attempts to reform grammaticality judgment methodology in linguistics. I ILL'ed a monograph by William Labov that he references, and have been flipping through it. Schutze is great for getting a sense of what GJs are and why they are important (and worth reforming) in "traditional" linguistics; Labov is solidly a sociolinguist (he basically invented sociolinguistics while he was a grad student), so his purposes with GJs are slightly different than those of syntacticians -- he, like other sociolinguists, is more interested in studying patterns of variation that make up various dialects.

    The word "sociolinguistics" is now used in a somewhat loosey-goosey way compared to what it meant in the 1960s. In my field of TESOL, it's sometimes invoked whenever anything involving sociocultural context of language is brought up. (You could argue that we're following the more Hymes/Gumperz currents of sociolinguistics, I guess, but we often aren't.)  But for Labov and his followers, it is essentially the study of variation in language through the use of empirical evidence.

    His emphasis on empirical evidence leads Labov to be rightly skeptical of the reliance that some linguists allegedly place on their own intuition when making statements about language. Labov favors observation as linguistic data, for many reasons which I won't go into here. He makes some suggestions about how to reform the use of introspective metalinguistic data in his 1975 monograph What is a Linguistic Fact?

    Here are the things he recommends for "continued exploration of grammatical judgments" :

    1. CONSENSUS Principle: If there is no reason to think otherwise, assume that the judgements of any native speaker are characteristic of all speakers of the language
    2. EXPERIMENTER Principle: If there is any disagreement on introspective judgments, the judgments of those who are familiar with the theoretical issues may not be counted as evidence.
    3. CLEAR CASE Principle: Disputed judgments should be shown to include at least one consistent pattern in the speech community or be abandoned. (If differing judgments are said to represent different dialects, enough investigation of each dialect should be carried out to show that each judgment is a clear case in that dialect.)
    4. VALIDITY Principle: When the use of language is shown to be more consistent than introspective judgments, a valid description of the language will agree with that use rather than introspections.
    Next time I'll look more closely at these -- especially #4 and its implications for the notion of 'acceptability' in sociolinguistics, world Englishes, and written texts. ultimately, my goal is to show that the concerns of Schutze and Labov are appropriate for their fields but not necessarily so for researchers who (like me) have more socioculturally-oriented, discourse-based goals. Or something like that. Stay tuned.

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    "Harvarding" a book

    Here, according to Kristin Luker, is how to "Harvard" a book:

    1. Look at the table of contents and index, focusing your attention on topics you care about

    2. Skim the introduction and conclusion

    3. Skim the chapters that seem relevant

    4. Decide whether the book is worth reading.

    5. (Optional) Read 4-7 reviews of the book.

    I would add that you can/should "Harvard" the book reviews, too.
    So here's my attempt to Harvard a book that I have already read part of: The Empirical Base of Linguistics: Grammaticality Judgments and Linguistic Methodology. I'm giving myself 20 minutes to do it. Go.

    Preface: purpose of the book is "to demonstrate the the absence of a methodology of GJs in linguistics constitutes a serious obstacle to meaningful research" (p xi). I would say this is similar in sociolx/app lx, WEs, though the solutions will be different from those proposed for Lx.

    "grammars of intuition" is a problem.

    GJTs are "pseudoexperimental" but have "no experimental controls" and often only the linguist him/herself is the "subject"

    NB: Schutze is critiquing GJs in "theoretical syntax" studies.

    GJs are "not pure sources of data" but "instances of metalx performance."

    4 reasons for using GJs:

    1. examining sentences types that rarely occur
    2. examining “negative information” about “strings that are not part of the language"
    3. distinguishing grammatical knowledge from accidents of speech
    4.  minimizing other factors in the study of the mental nature of grammar 

    lx intuition is 'shifty and variable' Householder 1965 (awesome name!)

    "I do not believe one can defend the sufficiency of judgments alone" p3

    Lx judgments do play a fairly central role in our day to day lives. p4

    GJs are just as much performance and confounded by just as many factors as other kinds of lx performance data p6

    --- Note: Ultimately Schutze wants to reform empirical data-gathering processes of elicited metalinguistic performance for Linguistics qua Linguistics -- this is traditional linguistics in the sense that it is looking at language from a more or less structuralist, Chomskyan, cognitivist perspective. Right? Not that there's anything wrong with that! But it's not what I'm doing -- I want to re theorize AJTs from a sociocultural perspective. -- 

    "A working hypothesis'

    "we should start from the position that te entire behaviour of making GJs is the results of interactions between primarily language faculties of the mind and general cognitive properties, and crucially does not involve special components dedicated to linguistic intuition." (fine!) p14

    language is like other behaviours p15

    Cites Chaudron and Birdsong as previous treatments of the topic, though notes they are both L2 focused. Says no one has done what he has done "within the basic framework of generative grammar." p17

    --- Note: skim Birdsong again! --

    p25 "acceptability" isn't the same as "accepted" 

    Defn of acceptability:

    1. any particular instance of a speaker accepting or rejecting a sentence is an act of performance
    2.ANy sort of generalization across many such instances is a generalization about performance
    3. A judgment of one's disposition towards accepting or rejection a sentence is itself a type of performance.

    --Sure -- again , performance is not a problem for what I am proposing.--

    The first 20 pages of Aspects of the Theory of Syntax sets up all future GJ/AJ studies, no? (p28)

    p212 "linguistics has nothing to lose by taking data collection, particularly judgement collection, more seriously, both with regard to the insights that will be gained and the theoretical issues that will be clarified, and with regard to the standing of the field as a scientific endeavor or in the larger academic setting. The realization seems to be growing that the psychology of GJs can no longer be ignored."

    Again, I want to do the same thing -- but not for theoretical lx, and not about psychology -- I want to understand this data collection from a qualitative / sociolingusitic / discursive / sociocultural / etc perspective.

    Wednesday, September 04, 2013

    2014 conferences (to be updated)

    AAAL: Portland, OR, March 22-25 (ACCEPTED)

    CELT: Multnomah U, March 26 (ACCEPTED)
    TESOL: March 26-29 Portland, OR, March (REJECTED 3X!!; presenting one thing as 2nd author; proposal in for poster to doctoral forum; CALL-IS deadline Nov. 30)

    BCTEAL: Kwantlen (Richmond) May 23-24 (not sure about CFP)

    TESL Canada: University of Regina (SK), May 8-10 (Oct. 30 deadline)

    CILS (UBC): May TBA

    IOP (UBC):  May TBA

    ACLA: Brock University (ON), May 26-28 (deadline Oct 31)

    SSLW: Arizona State, Nov 13-15 (I do like this campus!), (deadline 6/1/2014)

    AILA - Brisbane, Australia, August (Paper accepted; I withdrew it)

    IAWE 20: probably in India, sometime in 2014


    The "do I still have another career or not" conferences

    AWP, February 26 - March 1, Seattle (possible schmoozefest)

    EMP Pop Conference: April 24-27, Seattle (Nov 15 deadline)

    The Lexical Approach

    In his 1993 book The Lexical Approach, which I just checked out from the library to look for a kind of taxonomy of lexical items but will probably want to hang onto for other reasons, Michael Lewis lays out some categories for lexical items. This is important, because for Lewis "language consists of grammaticalized lexis, not lexicalized grammar."  I don't know how hard this actually pushes against linguistic theory; Lewis is pretty strictly focused on pedagogy, though he does claim to be doing applied linguistics (and I think he definitely is); he cites Halliday on occasion, but in terms of his understanding of language as primarily lexical, he cites one article by linguists and one by an ELT specialist.

    I am interested in how/whether grammar and lexis are categories that can be called separate in any meaningful way, and would probably like to do a short section on this in the introduction to my data analysis for my first research question, but at the moment I'm less concerned with a detailed taxonomy of 'types of lexical items' than I might have been before. I'm still thinking about this, though.

    Thus Beginneth the Schoolyeare

    2013-2014 is not an academic year I thought I'd still be a student, but here I am.

    What's happening this year? Well, that's a little too broad. How about "What's happening this term?" Glad you asked.

    1. As of about 3 weeks ago, something has come unstuck with my data analysis and I am actually swimming around in my data and working on it nearly every day. I can't tell you how good this feels after nearly a year of staring at a spreadsheet and feeling sick. I'm not necessarily that much closer to having something I feel totally confident about, but I'm getting somewhere. I met with my supervisor today and even though we agreed that I need to undertake what is now by my count my fourth round of (re)coding data for my first research question, it feels right and good to be concentrating on this.  To quote John Stackhouse: "One cannot hope to make progress on a problem, let alone enjoy a dramatic creative breakthrough, with half-hearted, on-the-fly attention. Focus, obsession, monomania: Pay the problem the attention it deserves."

    2. So my main goal is obviously to continue with this. I have a pretty ambitious schedule for myself which involves a lot of analysis and writing in September, October, and November. To that end, I am not doing any teaching at all.

    3. Having said that, I do have some limited teacher-y appointments at the moment: I am finishing up helping to mark assignments for some MATESOL courses at Trinity Western University -- probably the last work I'll be doing them for a while -- and I'm happy to say I'm also acting as basically a one-man writing center/academic coach for a small group of students in something called the Global Citizenship Program in my department's exchange program with Ritsumeikan University. I'm actually pretty excited about this role -- despite having now upwards of 5+ years of university teaching experience (including teaching graduate students), I have comparatively little formal writing tutor experience. That might sound sort of boring, but to me it's an important part of the kind of work I like to do and want to continue to do in the future.

    4. Publication-and-presentation-wise, a few things going on, though again not too much due to #2. I had a methodology paper rejected by a major journal recently, mostly for reasonable reasons, and I have 2 more manuscripts in "in review" limbo (aka "no one has had time to review them yet"). The big thing this fall is the Int'l Association for World Englishes conference at Arizona State, where I'll be presenting stuff on my findings for both my research questions. I've essentially set this up to be the debut of my PhD study, and I haven't proposed it to any other conference (though I proposed something vaguely related for another conference, which I'm not super confident about), so it's a big deal and I'll need to put in a lot of heavy lifting to make it work.

    There are also a couple of book proposals that need to get done this fall, too, both of which I'm excited about but which don't warrant much mention because they are very tentative and may not happen, and I won't have much time to think about them until December at the earliest. 

    5. Incredibly, I am taking a class, which feels bizarre. It's in the Educational Studies department, where I've taken a course before, but it is a very loose, fluid course that essentially asks you to figure out where you are methodologically weak and work on that. The assignments can be tailored to fit whatever you are working on at the moment, so I'm thinking I will use it to get down into my second research question, which involves interview data, and to figure out what kind of analysis I'm doing for that, and then actually, like, do it. It is a class full of people doing very different kinds of research, though -- in fact, the majority of them are 2nd year students about to start their comps, so it's hard to relate to where they're coming from. I think I'll be able to do some good work if I really put my head down, though.

    6. I'm quietly keeping tabs on jobs I might want to apply for for 2014-15. Nothing amazing is popping up yet, which is good, because I don't really want to start applying until I've already written a gazillion pages for my diss, which definitely hasn't happened yet.