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Descriptivist and prescriptivist views of language

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 1 Oct 2021, 11:51

The course L101 covers the issue of descriptivist and prescriptivist views of language and this is reflected in the Guardian article about a school discouraging the "use of slang" (the scare quotes reflect my view that some of the examples are creative uses of language rather than slang) https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/sep/30/oh-my-days-linguists-lament-slang-ban-in-london-school

In particular, the expression "he cut his eyes at me" seems very expressive and eloquent and this seems to contradict the school's advice that following conventions will lead to eloquence.  These kinds of expressions seem to be the kinds that are valued in literature where linguistic deviance is an important way of "making the world strange" (остранение)  - for a brief summary of this see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamiliarization and follow links to Russian formalists for more detail.

This is not to say I would always encourage these kinds of creative expressions (and perhaps it mainly seems creative to me because I had not come across it before).  If clarity is required and the audience is older and would not know the expression, it should probably be avoided but this is different from saying it is not eloquent,

Ermm is a normal part of spoken language (see for example, Hultgren 2015: 126).  In fact, people are often more intelligible if their speech contains some redundancy (and fillers like this are examples of redundancy).  It would not normally be used in written texts but an awareness of the differences between spoken and written language is very useful in educational contexts.


Hultgren AK (2015) Exploring English Grammar Book 1: Grammar, context and meaning Milton Keynes: Open University

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Nabokov on spoken language

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 6 Oct 2021, 22:41

Many courses that I teach and have taught discuss the differences between spoken and written language and I was interested to read the following description by the narrator in a novel by Nabokov that I was rereading recently:

“I am a bad speaker, and the oration which I seem to render word by word did not flow with the lissom glide it has on paper.  Indeed it is not really possible to set down my incoherent speech, that tumble and jumble of words, the forlornness of subordinate clauses that have lost their masters and strayed away, and all the superfluous gibberish …..”

This short extract seems to refer to the difficulty of transcribing speech, the frequency of false starts and redundancy, which is commonly mentioned in the literature on spoken discourse.

Nabokov, V (1965) Despair Harmondsworth:Penguin

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Three Identical Strangers

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The film "Three Identical Strangers" was shown on the television a few days ago.  It has been in my thoughts ever since, mainly because it was a moving film in its own right but also partly as an example of dubious ethical behaviour in terms of research.

The film is a documentary about triplets who had been separated as babies and adopted by three families.  The families did not know that they were triplets.  One of the triplets found out about one of the others by going to College and encountering many people who thought they knew him because one of his brothers had been to the same College the year before.  They got in touch and this made the news and the third brother recognised that they looked like him and contacted his brothers so they found each other.

At first, all seemed to be "happily ever after".  The brothers seemed to get on well, appeared on television programmes and opened a restaurant.  However, there then became tensions between them as it was apparent that they might look very similar but were actually different in key wells.  They also met their birth mother and there were some hints of something worrying as one of them reported that like many young men they could handle a lot of alcohol but their mother could keep up with them in etrms of "holding her drink".

Then, the flm turned even darker as it became clear that they had been separated for the purposes of research.  They had each been placed with a well off, middle class and relatively poor family and were monitored to see the effects of this background.  The families who adopted them were not told that this was happening and so did not give consent.

The story gets even murkier ethically.  There were other twins who were being separated and monitored and it seems that they all had birth mothers with mental illness so this seemed to be another focus of the resarch.  The word "seemed" is used because the aims of the research were not clarified and even some of the staff working on the research project did not know what the research was aiming to find out.  One of the triplets committed suicide and it is not clear if there is a link between his life circumstances and him taking his own life.

The remaining brothers tried to find out about their records  but these were confidential.  After a long struggle they have got access to redacted records but it is still difficult for them to find all the details about what the data means.

There are a variety of ways in which this research was unethical.  These include:

- flouting the principle of doing no harm.  Children were exploited and there was perhaps an expectation that there might be a genetic link to poor mental health

- they were separated into social categories rather than being placed with families that were best for their interests.  At least one of the parents stated that they would have adopted all three of the brothers given the opportunity

- they did not give informed consent

- they did not have access to their records.

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Linguistic analysis tool in The Guardian.

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The tool below allows enables people to compare today's Queen's Speech with previous ones.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2019/oct/14/how-unusual-language-boris-johnson-first-queens-speech?CMP=share_btn_tw

This is a simple form of DIY concordancing but on first glance it can be very interesting.  For example, I clicked on "departure" and find that it only seems to have been used once before in the speeches since 1911.  I suppose it is not usual to discuss departures in a government's programmes.

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Using sources - observing processes in face to face teaching

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Saturday, 21 Sep 2019, 12:12

I have recently finished teaching on a pre-sessional course and I was intrigued by some of the ways some students were using sources.

One aspect I noticed was that many students tended to put a full stop before references that should have been at the end of sentences.  I notice that this is also common with students on online courses.  This seems to suggest a mindset that regards the reference as being separate from the rest of the sentence (and perhaps the text).

This is perhaps reinforced by the way that some students inserted references after they had drafted quite extensively.  This is something that I do not really see in my teaching of online students as I tend to only read the final products (the TMAs) although LB170 allows for some reading of drafts.  Again, this seems to suggest a lack of integration with the text. 

I wonder if the problem is that there is too much emphasis on the mechanics of referencing rather than the purposes and opportunities.  Referring to sources allows a writer to be able to show that they are aware of how what they write relates to what others have written and that academic texts are often dialogues with the ideas of previous writers.

I mentioned some of the points in a twitter thread that begins at https://twitter.com/patrickelt/status/1174635019555487744

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Creativity in communication between a baby and his father

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 14 Oct 2019, 19:57

This tweet received wide attention recently and it seemed to relate to issues on some of the courses I teach:

https://twitter.com/_11Remember_/status/1136087637914247170

Some key points that seem to emerge are:

- the interactional function is key here.  It is not clear what the baby is expressing and if he understands what his father is saying (it is doubtful that he understands much of the informational content) but there seems to be a strong communication of fellow feeling, companionship here

- the communication is multimodal as the two of them use gestures to accomapany what they say

- they often mirror the gestures

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Video on the benefits of tutorials

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A video has been produced to discuss the benefits of attending tutorials.  The speaker was one of my students last year and showed great levels of initiative and drive by travelling for several hours to attend my tutorials.  The video can be found at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ttdUMDBEN4&feature=youtu.be

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Feedback from students

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Final results for many of the courses I teach have just been released.  Some students have given feedback on the courses, which I think is useful for me and the designers of the courses as it indicates what students think has been particularly pertinent for their needs.

The comments are probably quite altruistic but I think they can improve the effectiveness of my future support for students on future courses.

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Podcast to support students doing an EMA

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 17 May 2018, 17:29

I recently went to London to make a podcast with two other tutors on E304.  The aim was to give advice for students on doing their EMA.  The edited version of the first part of the discussion can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrD9XnZGDVw&feature=youtu.be - I think the second part will be available soon.

I think/hope that hearing tutors discuss what they are hoping for in an EMA can be useful for students when they are writing their own work.  I think it might help to demystify the project and make it seem manageable.  It might also help the students that tutors are consistent and clear about what kinds of aspects they are looking for.

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Screencasts

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I am experimenting with the use of screencasts to support students with study skills and content on analysing English grammar.  So far, I have made the following:

On aspects of theme https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFehbwDXbm

Lexical cohesion https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFnrb4o9kt

Passives https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFVlbloloz

Using sources in assignments https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFVX6oo6C5


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Adobe connect session

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 6 Apr 2018, 17:19

Last night's session for E304 (Exploring English Grammar) was interesting.  The students coped well with what are quite complex concepts, related to mode.

It was noticeable that many of the students did not have working microphones and this poses some challenges for the teacher.  It makes getting feedback particularly slow.  Students can write in text boxes and I can see that a student is in the process or writing, it is hard to predict when they are going to finish writing and what they are likely to say.

I quite enjoy online tutorials but they are often very intense for the tutor as they need to think about what they are going to say as well as monitoring chat boxes, remembering who can be called on to speak (as they do have working microphones) and manipulating slides and working the whiteboard at the same time.

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Noun groups

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Following on from the last posting on a video on processes, I found there is also one on noun groups at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yf2waNDHnEo


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Simple and clear explanation of process types

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 10 Oct 2016, 23:35

The following clip provides a good explanation of process types although, of course, there is not really enough context for the types and explanation of ambiguous types.  However, students on courses like E304 and E852 might find it useful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sOJy4nOwKo&feature=youtu.be

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Student comment that I think is very positive

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 10 Nov 2016, 11:00

On of my students who has been very strong (his marks have been extremely high) wrote about one course I teach (E304) that it "has been a challenge to most of us". 

I think that this can be interpreted as a compliment to the course as it has pushed a student who is very strong rather than letting him coast through content that is not demanding enough.  Of course, if the course is chellenging to him, it is likely to be even more so for others.

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Podcasts

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I recently made a podcast for students on E304 "Exploring English Grammar" (it can be found at http://patrickandrewsuk.podomatic.com/entry/2016-04-05T08_49_43-07_00 but is probably only of interest to my own students).

I have been surprised and pleased by how positive the feedback has been.  Amongst the reasons for liking it have been:

- it is concise

- it is suitable for listening to on the move

- it enables students who could not make tutorials to have access to some of the issues that were covered

I think it is quite low fi but relatively easy to produce and is another way of communicating with students - it seemed to prompt several emails and interaction with students that might not have occured otherwise.


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Grammar 2.0

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 5 Nov 2015, 15:21

I came across the following article today.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2015/nov/05/roots-language-what-makes-us-different-animals

I found it generally interesting but feel it misses opportunities to explore issues and ended up feeling slightly disappointed.  The sub heading Grammar 1.0 was presumably making a parallel with web 1.0.  I assumed there was going to be a discussion of Grammar 2.0.  This then made me think about what Grammar 2.0 might be and whether this was an appropriate term for SFL.  There seem to be parallels in terms of the focus on the social and language being seen as something that is produced by people for their needs rather than being an idealised resource that users simply receive passively.

Does anyone have any thoughts on whether it is useful to think of Grammar 2.0?

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E304

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I was at Milton Keynes yesterday for the induction meeting for the new course, E304.  It seems quite different from the previous course, E303.  In particular, the corpus tool seems very different from the previous concordancer in that there is more of an emphasis on grammar rather than the previous concordancer which had more of a lexical focus.

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