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The challenges of academic writing for students at level 1

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 4 Feb 2016, 12:33

I have been having interesting discussions with some students through email and OU Live about academic writing.  These relate to issues of avoiding being too informal and personal while also being evaluative and developing a point of view.

Part of the issue is that academic writing tends to value concision and personal markers tend to use words that would be better used for other things. 

However, it is important for students to show stance.  They can do this by using a variety of evaluative words such as "major/partial").  Epistemic modality ie modal verbs for likelihood (eg "might/will") or deontic modality ie modal verbs used to express desirability ("should/must") are ways that students can show their stance without being too personal in style.

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Collini on universities and teaching

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 15 Jan 2016, 10:31

Collini has written several articles and a book about universities and teaching and here is a new article from him in the LRB:


As with previous articles, I find the arguments here persuasive.  There is an interesting comment that now academics are seen as "spongers", which seems to reflect current discourse.  However,  it only requires a little thought to realise that nearly all academics are dedicated and do the job because they are motivated and interested - almost by definition, they are educated and intelligent and could earn more money for less work elsewhere but do the job because they are genuinely interested in their subjects and thinking in general.

Collini also raises issues about how teaching could be evaluated and casts doubts on methods like retention, student satisfaction surveys and employment figures as means of analysis.  Low retention figures might reflect non-educational issues such as health problems and changes in people's circumstances.  This is particularly relevant for the OU as it has many students who have health issues and although many succeed despite great health challenges, others have their studies so disrupted that they have to leave.

Good teaching consists of interaction and helping students to see the world in new ways rather than in them simply being happy.  Evaluating teaching should make use of some qualitative methods of observation but I wonder whether this will happen.  There are opportunities for the OU to show how the materials reflect good pedagogy (eg by scaffolding interaction with content).

Employment statistics may also not be relevant for a university like the OU that has a number of older students.  I currently have a student who is 89 years old and was speaking to a younger, but still retired, student at a tutorial recently and he was telling me how much he loves studying and that he just does it because curiosity is what a rich life should involve.

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Happy New Year

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The following link gives a translation for Happy New Year in a variety of languages:


I wish all the best for 2016 to anyone who reads this blog.

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Research on Tutor Group Forums

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Two colleagues, James Roy and Lynda Griffin have researched the use of Tutor Group Forums and the following slide show presents some of the main findings:


The research is very interesting as there is great potential for learning in tutor groups and I have a stake in making my Forums as effective as possible.  I would like to write more reactions to it in the future.

At the moment, a key point that strikes me is that it is vital for tutors to maintain social presence.  An issue I am currently considering is whether it matters that some groups are much more active and likely to post and whether I, as the tutor can do anything about it.

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Briton in space, multlingualism and intercultural competence

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 16 Dec 2015, 17:44

I suppose I am showing my age if I state how interested I have always been by space exploration.  So, I have been very interested in newspaper coverage and television coverage of Tim Peake's flight.

One of the aspects that drew my attention was his need to study Russian during his training,  This was not surprising as he is traveling in a Russian craft and the Star Gazing programme last night mentioned how Russian is naturally the working language for the Soyuz flights although English will be used on the ISS.  The international nature of the ISS also presumably means there would need to be a high degree of intercultural competence on the part of the cosmo/astronauts.

Probably most viewers would have been aware of his physical, psychological and scientific skills but linguistic and intercultural competence must also be vital for these cosmo/astronauts.

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New blog post

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A multilingual seasonal greetings sign seen in the underground (via the @OUDALEL twitter account).

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Student expectations

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I have recently had a couple of emails from students on a Level 1 course, stating how disappointed they were with their marks for their first two TMAs.  This surprised me as their marks were in the 60s and 70s, which strike me as encouraging starts.  I have tried to persuade them that if they work hard, they should be capable of getting higher marks later.  It strikes me as slightly strange that students should be so disappointed with solid marks at such an early stage on their degree that they wrote to me.

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Sound difficulties on OU Live

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 11 Nov 2015, 14:49

I am still rather concerned about the fragility of OU Live.  One student said my sound kept cutting in and out in an OU Live session last night but students this morning seem to have found the sound quality good.  There seems to be too much unreliability for OU Live to be an integral part of courses.

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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.


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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Online language teaching

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I have just come across a rather negative critique of online language teaching at http://www.teflideas.com/055_The_Drawbacks_of_Online_Language_Learning.html

While there may be some challenges in teaching languages online, it seems to me that the post is unduly negative.  I first address the comments and then state some advantages of online language learning.

1 "only one person can have the mic at any time".  This is not true in OU Live.  The teacher may choose to restrict access to the microphone but it is easy to allow multiple speakers although this might affect sound quality.

2 "Groups tasks - are incredibly hard to initiate and execute".  Again this is not true.  In OU Live, there are Breakout Rooms where students can work together in groups.

3 "Circulating, listening in, praising good language, speaking specifically, demonstrating a point, eliciting errors and answers quietly to a group while others are working is virtually impossible in a virtual classroom".  Again this is not true.  A tutor can be in one of the breakout rooms and address feedback to the learners in that room only.

4 "Instruction gets filtered and convoluted when you put a medium between yourself and the learners. Non verbal gestures are unknown and unnoticed — you can’t point, shrug, nod, or grimace".  Perhaps there is more justice in this comment.  However, there is the option of the text box, which might be more public and allow for another mode for expression.  There is also the possibility of using emoticons.

5 "Teacher led teaching".  This does not need to be the case.  Learners can be asked to work in groups.  Learners also can/should bring their own needs to a class.  Learners can be asked to prepare to lead the session.

6 "whiteboard presentation, which forces all written communication to be typed".  This is not completely true but I am not really sure what the problem is with this.

7 "If a student asks something to the teacher, it’s inevitably typed rather than spoken".  This is not necessarily the case. 

Some other points that seem relevant are the following:

- the OU's online language learning tends to be integrated with the rest of the course (eg online asynchronous discussion forums) so online tutorials should not be seen in isolation.

- online classes allow for learners to be remote from each other and this provides opportunities in that the learners can see and know different things.  The sessions may bring people together who might not otherwise meet.

- sessions can be recorded and in theory, learners might be able to reflect on their performance in a way face to face teachers cannot.

Would anyone care to comment on the original posting or my reply?

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New courses about to start

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 29 Sep 2015, 17:46

I am about to start tutoring on courses about to enter new presentations (E852. L161, LB160, L185).  It is slightly confusing that for some courses, I can post introductory messages on the Tutor Group Forum but students cannot reply - I am not really sure why this distinction is made.

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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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Group tuition policy

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There is an increasing encouragement of tutors working together on tutorials.  This strikes me as a good idea and I find it quite exciting pedagogically.  It should provide students with a wider range of support and also the ability to decide their priorities - for example, some sessions might be assignment focused whereas others might allow students to follow interests that might not be assessed.

However, the arrangements have been quite time consuming administratively as tutors have needed to coordinate tutorial timetables around the needs of another tutor.  This is in addition to the constraints that tutors have anyway - perhaps including the needs of other jobs and family commitments.

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OU Live problems

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I had an OU Live session tonight for LB160 and there were big problems with students being thrown out of the room and then being unable to get back in.  I think this must be very frustrating for the students concerned and I wonder what effect this has on motivation and retention.

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EMA results

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EMA results for several courses I teach (L161, L185 and E303) have recently been released.  There is very strong correlation between high scores and attendance at tutorials (either face to face or OU Live).  Of course, this does not prove causation as the students getting high marks might be those who are most motivated or at least those most able to devote time to the course.  However, it is an interesting link.

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Language choice and identity in a recent novel.

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I am currently reading The Mersault Investigation (Daoud 2014, trans 2015).  This is a telling of the story of Camus' L'Etranger from the point of view of the brother of the murdered Arab.  There is the following a very interesting passage, where the narrator discusses the way that he uses a different language (I assume French) from his mother (I assume she speaks Arabic):

"And for a long time, she would make me feel impossibly ashamed of her - and later it pushed me to learn a language that could serve as a barrier between her frenzies and me.  Yes, the language.  The one I read, the one I speak today, the one that's not hers.  Hers is rich, full of imagery, vitality, sudden jolts and improvisations, but not too big in precision.  Mama's grief lasted so long that she needed a new idiom to express it in.  In her language, she spoke like a prophetess, recruited extemporaneous mourners, and cried out against the double outrage that consumed her life: a husband swallowed up by air, a son by water.  I had to learn a language other than that one.  To survive.  And it is the one I'm speaking at the moment.  Starting witrh my presumed fifthteenth birthday, when we withdrew to Hadjout, I became a stern and serious scholar.  Books and your hero's language gradually enables me to name things differently and to organise the world with my own words"  (page 37)

The extract shows how people can choose languages or varieties of language to mark difference or, in more extreme cases, create barriers.  Here, he seems to want to make a barrier and mark the diffeernce between himself and his mother.  He seems to be wary of her emotion and links this to the language and this gives him the motive to use French, which is seen as more precise.  The precision also seems to be used in contrast with the "richness" of his mother's langugae,  It is also interesting that he refers to being able to "organise the world with his own words".  Again this might be a contrast with the world that her mother lives in (and perhaps the word "improvisations" is significant, suggesting unpredictability.

This passage seems to have relevance to many of the OU's languages courses such as L161 and E301.


Daoud K (2014, trans 2015) The Mersault Investigation London: Oneworld

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Short video in Polari

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 25 Jun 2015, 16:44

E301 includes some content on "polari" (a gay language) and I found it interesting to see the following video where the dialogue is mainly in the language.  It is clear that some of the words such as "naff" have been taken up in English more generally but other words are mysterious to me.


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The puzzle of struggling students shunning help

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As a tutor, I am conscious of the need to support all students.  Some students are very strong and it is an important part of the role to try to challenge them to do even better work and such students generally welcome the challenge.  Most students who are quite strong also welcome  support and challenge to help them develop even more.  There are strangely mixed attitudes amongst some students who are struggling with courses.

The Open University encourages tutors to offer special sessions to support students with additional needs and those who are struggling.  Most students in these situations are very keen to accept and make use of such support.  There are often very positive outcomes - perhaps due to the support or due to increased motivation or improved morale from knowing their studies are viewed as important. 

However, I sometimes experience the cases of students who shun the opportunity for such support.  I wonder why this is and can think of several possible reasons.  Perhaps they have a feeling that everything can be different and they want to maintain control over improvement.  Another possibiity is that they hope some magical transformation will take place (perhaps like someone with a worrying medical symptom might hope it just disappears of its own accord).

I would be interested in any other views.

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Recording some teaching materials

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 12 May 2015, 15:41

Yesterday, I was interviewed on reading strategies (along with a colleague, Anna Calvi) as part of the development of listening materials for a rewrite for LB160 "Communication Skills for Business Studies" (the new module will be LB170).

It was an interesting experience.  I was surprised at how quickly we finished the recording and most of it was done on the first take.  One of the few parts that went to a second take were the result of my drinking some water being picked up by the microphone.  Other reasons for second takes included very obvious stumbles over words and a missed cue (I though Anna was responsible for one answer I should have spoken on).

I think there will be some editing of the product but authenticity is more highly prized than linguistic polish.  So, some hesitators, false starts etc will be included.


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Day School in Taunton for E303

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 12:28

This year's day school arrived at a slightly strange point in the course as students have just submitted their proposals for the Project but I have not had time to look at them yet.  So, I decided to spend the session looking at how successful EMAs were written last year by using extracts from two of them.

The use of student texts like this seem appropriate.  It gives the participants the opportunity to see what is expected and perhaps what is achievable by people like them.  The handout is copied below:



-          To examine critically how previous students have made their aims clear

-          To analyse the way they have provided a rationale

-          To discuss how people write about their methods

-          To discover the options for discussing the findings and compare possible ways of presenting them.

Aims of the EMA

Students had the following titles: 

“A small scale study to determine the position of Arctic Monkeys song lyrics on the Spoken – Written Continuum”

“A lexicogrammatical investigation of the style of Stewart Lee’s stand-up comedy to evaluate its position on the speech – written continuum and to explore some of its linguistic features.”



Do the titles make the aims clear?


What kinds of sources from the materials would the writer be likely to use?  Which are the key concepts?



















Here are the “aims” sections of the two EMAs.  As you read, answer the following questions.

1 Which one also needs to consider the nature of written language?

2 Which one has an explicit hypothesis?  Does the other one have an implicit hypothesis?  If so, could you make it more explicit?

3 Which one is looking at a specific metafunction?

4 Which one refers to the course materials here?   What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of doing this?

5 Which aspects of spoken language does the writer of the Arctic Monkeys text argue is not relevant for her study?  Why?



The Arctic Monkeys Text

Songs, like fiction, are written for the purpose of entertainment. They are created offline and as such the writer has the scope to edit and rewrite before their final production. They are not usually interactive; there is no turn taking and no use of hesitators, all of these features of speech.  However when listening to the songs of UK band, Arctic Monkeys it became apparent to me that the Alex Turner’s lyrics are conversational in style, in that I felt as though the singer was addressing me. Biber et al. (2006) compare language variations across four main registers Conversation, Fiction, News and Academic, defining conversation thus, “Conversation is co-constructed by two or more people, adapting their expressions to the ongoing exchange.” Clearly this interactivity is not the case with a song that has been written for a mass audience. Nevertheless Artic Monkeys lyrics, I have noticed, share features of both the Conversation and Fiction registers. I aim to investigate, by way of this small scale study, if they are positioned more closely with either register. I expect to find that they are positioned towards the Spoken end of the Spoken – Written continuum (Carter, 2004).



The Lee text

Undoubtedly, many of the elements that contribute to delivering an engaging live performance are prosodic in nature. The aim of this project is to explore, through the analysis of selected lexicogrammatical features, principally the register variable of mode, what linguistic techniques Lee employs, firstly, to achieve his aim of performing a stand-up comedy routine that does not sound written (Lee, speaking in ‘On Not Writing’. St Edmund Hall, Oxford May 2013), and that also successfully engages and entertains an audience for 70 minutes.

 The working hypothesis for this project is that in order to accomplish these objectives the narrative must include elements that are typical of both spoken and written registers and I intend to explore this theory primarily by focusing on the textual metafunction and analysing some aspects of markers of interactivity, spontaneity and communicative distance.

  Through this analysis I hope to show that not only does Lee use grammar and lexis that has elements of typicality in common with all registers, but also to uncover some insight into what purpose this variety serves within the comedic genre and specifically, the comedic idiom of Stewart Lee.



What can be learned from the two texts

The aims can:

-          Include a hypothesis (but do not need to)

-          Include references to key concepts of the course.

They should:

-          Make the focus clear

-          Should be specific enough.


The rationale

The rationale should provide an explanation of why you found the topic interesting/important and how this course enables you to explore it in depth.

Identify both elements in the following extract and fill in the following table:

Reasons she thinks the topic is interesting

Course concepts used













Songs eulogising the mundanity of everyday life growing up in northern Britain, heavy use of Yorkshire dialect and a preference for the vernacular in their performances make Arctic Monkeys an interesting linguistic research focus. Lyrics such as, “Ask if we can have six in, if not we'll have to have two” (Turner, 2006) a reference to travelling home in a taxi after a night out, reflect a social realism in Artic Monkeys lyrics which seems more akin to storytelling through the medium of cinematography than popular music. Similarities can be drawn with British films such as Meadows’ This is England (2006) or Boyle’s Trainspotting (1997).


Arctic Monkeys’ frontmanAlex Turner’s lyrics are much acclaimed in the British music press for this storytelling ability, earning him the tag ‘The Bard of West Riding’ (Sunday Times, 2014). Arctic Monkeys have been described as ‘Sheffield’s Storytellers’ but is this fair reference?


Conversely, more conversational elements such as the use of imperative clauses such i.e. “Do the bad thing” and dialectical elements such as, “..it’s right hard to remember that on a day like today when you’re argumentative and you’ve got the face on.” (Turner, 2006) suggest a more conversational form and occur frequently throughout the band’s lyrics.


Drawing on Halliday’s (1985) notion of Systemic Functional Linguistics to carry out this case study I hope to identify typical patterns in a range of the lyrics of Artic Monkeys songs from their debut album release Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006). These I hope will reveal their position on the Spoken – Written Continuum (Carter, 2004). The album broke chart records when it became the fastest selling debut album in British chart history. Also, as many of the songs were initially released via YouTube, the album changed the way that popular music is marketed and highlighted the value of social media in this regard.


In order to investigate my hypothesis, using the framework scheme for register analysis (outlined in Unit 8), I will carry out a detailed register analysis with particular focus on the Tenor (interpersonal metafunction) and Mode (textual metafunction). I will also look at other grammatical features and patterns within the lyrics such as process types, participants, heads and tails, lexical density and inserts. I will use MonoConc Pro Concordancing software to compare my findings regarding the lyricist’s language usage with evidence of actual language usage compiled in the British National Corpus, a corpus of 4,178,696 words and the LSWE Corpus which contains 40,025,700 words.


The research carried by both Carter (2004,) into the Grammar and Spoken English, and Hewings and Coffin (2004) Examining Grammar in the Construction of Online Discussion Messages, provide a useful framework to follow throughout the course of my analysis.



What are the elements you will be highlighting in your rationale? 





Writing about methods

What kind of an impression do you need to give when writing about methods?






How good an impression will this student have made in this extract?  Why?

I originally intended to analyse five songs, one from each of five Arctic Monkeys UK studio album releases to date. However feedback from my tutor for TMA06 (Andrews, 2014) made me rethink this strategy. Instead I have analysed six songs from the Arctic Monkeys debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I Am Not (2006) that I have identified as having a particularly conversational style. I have made this change in order to see if there was consistency within the band’s lyrics at the time of recording. Also I felt that as these lyrics were written prior to the band’s success they will not have been influenced or altered by media acclaim and as such reflect a rawness which may have been lost in subsequent releases as the band tried to emulate the success of their debut.

I had planned to collect lyrics from the Arctic Monkeys website so that I could be completely confident of their accuracy. However in practice this has not been possible as many of the song lyrics are not available on the website. The lyrics are not published on the album cover either. It has therefore been necessary for me to transcribe the lyrics from the original audio recordings as I have found that although there is a plethora of lyric collections available online, many of these have proved to be inaccurate. The transcribing of lyrics has not been a straightforward process however. Even using high quality sound cancelling headphones and a ‘repeated listens’ approach there have been some trouble spots in the lyrics which have been difficult to decipher. In order to avoid mondegreens (Wright, 1954) I have transcribed the lyrics as best I can and checked their accuracy on a number of lyric websites such as www.lyricsondemand.com and www.metrolyrics.com. I then recorded this data in a ‘computer readable’ (Carter, 2004) format as Microsoft Word documents. Then in order to compile my own specialist corpus of Arctic Monkeys lyrics I converted these files to plain text files so that I could load them into MonoConc Pro concordancing software. My corpus contains the lyrics of six songs and contains 1607 words. For ease of reference for the marker, I have included line-numbered transcriptions of the lyrics as Appendix 3: Text Data.

The songs that I have analysed are:




She has made changes on the basis of the feedback?  Why do you think she has done this?  Do you think this was a good idea? 



What have been some of the challenges she has faced?   What has she done to address them?




Presenting the findings

The writer of the Lee text wanted to find out where the text stood on the written spoken continuum.  She presents the findings here.  As you read, write notes on aspects of spoken and written language in the table below.





















The findings:

  The analysis of the text reveals a lexical density of 50% (Appendix a) and a distribution of lexical words that have more in common with written registers than with spoken (Appendix b).  As illustrated in Biber et al (2002, p.23), this count of verbs at 14% and nouns at 26% is very similar to the levels of these lexical items in the fiction register and the high level of adjectives at 11% has more in common with the academic register.

  Closer analysis of a selection of these lexical items from the extract (Appendix j) using the concordance to research frequency rates in the conversation, fiction and academic corpora, revealed some atypical, for the register of spoken English, lexical choices such as ‘incomprehensible’ (Line 95) and ‘demographic’ (Line 105) both of which returned zero hits in the speech corpus. Biber et al (2002, p.267) observes that ‘speakers typically use noun phrases with no modification’ so one could say that the extract has grammatical complexity at clause level more typically associated with written texts such as noun phrases with adjectival pre-modification as in ‘silver-haired Scouse groundhog’ (Line 120), participle pre-modification, as in ‘relaxing night’ (Line 65) and noun pre-modification as in ‘height requirement’ (Line 79).

  In contrast, analysis of commonly occurring coordinators  (Appendix c) showed a high frequency of usage, as compared to the occurrences of subordination (Appendix d), most notably of the coordinator ‘and’, which would indicate a strong inclination towards a style of linking clauses that has more in common with a conversational structure as observed by Carter (2004, p.33), where ‘clauses are chained together in a sequence with one clause unit added to another in a linear and incremental way’ e.g. ‘And (sic) I came in at number 41, and I was very pleased to be placed’ (Line 23/24).

  In addition, during the analysis of lexical items of the text for the lexical density calculation, it was observed that there was a high frequency of the copula verb ‘be’ (Appendix f). Although analysis of process types (Appendix e) falls under the remit of the experiential metafunction and the main focus of this project is on the register variable of mode, it is reported on because it seemed relevant to the idiom of the artist in general and is an indicator that Lee tends towards the use of language as reflection which in isolation would place the text towards the reconstruction and written end of the mode continuum referred to by Coffin (2005).

    According to Biber et al, within Academic prose ‘more of the main verbs are forms of the copula be.’ and that ‘these are used to state the existence of conditions and to give evaluations’ (2002, p.106). Examination of the text appeared to show that Lee often utilizes this stating/reflecting function of the copula ‘be’ in the narrative for comedic effect, for example:

‘And (sic) a squashed Albert Finney is arguably worse than a crumpled Morrisey” (Line 37/38)

 ‘it’s not even a dream of Tom O’Connor’s. In fact, in many ways it’s his worst nightmare.’ (Line 117/118)

  The above observations indicate a style that, due to its grammatical complexity, speaks to the ‘writtenness’ of the text but that introduces elements of ‘spokenness’ by linking these complex clauses together in a conversational way, perhaps an example of what Lee referred to in his aforementioned lecture of ‘sneaking smart stuff past people by stealth’ (Lee, 2013).

   Further analysis focusing on features more typically associated with spoken text was also revealing, such as the use of heads and tails in the text (Appendix g). Heads, as in ‘Bernard Manning, who was in the top forty, he died’ (Line 45/46) which help listeners orient to a topic, listeners in this case being the audience rather than interlocuters in a conversation, and tails, as in ‘He is an amazing figure, Stuart Maconie’ (Line 12) as reinforcement of what has just been said. (Carter, 2004)

   The analysis also showed a variety of inserts used for different purposes (Appendix h). Such as ‘yeah?’ as a response getter where there is no real opportunity for a response, although notably in the following example he seems to give the expected response himself: ‘And (sic) that’s a giant, innit, a giant. Yeah? It’s a giant.’ (Line 89/90). Lee also uses the discourse marker ‘you know’ frequently both as a response getter but also, it seems, to encourage solidarity and closeness by implying an assumed shared knowledge and opinion, as in ‘you know those terrible channel 4 programmes’ (Line 7). From these aspects of the analysis a pattern appears to emerge of Lee using discourse markers to support the illusion that his performance is a spontaneous two-way dialogue, in which the audience are participating more than they actually are.

  The analysis of hesitators ‘um’ and ‘er’ (Appendix i) shows that the number of occurrences in the special purpose corpus is similar to the level of occurrences in the speech corpus. There are also other multiple examples of dysfluencies in the text that are more typical of on-line unplanned dialogue. Some of the dysfluency may be where Lee needs time to remember the script but on most occasions it appears to serve a different purpose.

  Hesitators and repetitions in the text, rather than acting to ‘relieve real-time planning pressure’ (Coffin, p.181) often seem to act as devices to relieve the audience of real time listening pressure by slowing down the pace of the delivery, as in ‘always been er a dream of hers, yeah, to go, to go on a cruise,’ (Line 114/115) and at other points to alert the audience to the upcoming delivery of a witty line as in “But it wasn’t, it wasn’t the case, even with, er, a letter writing campaign er to the family;” (Lines 47-49).

  There are also examples of repetition allowing emphasis and elaboration, as in ‘I was pleased, I was pleased and surprised’ (Lines 51/52) which appear to play a cohesive role rather than being a dysfluency marker.

  In regards to the study of mode, it is said that it is obvious whether a text is interactive or non-interactive because the former involves turn-taking, questions and answers, interruptions, overlaps and hesitators and indicators of sympathetic support where the latter does not (White, 2005).

  However, this stand-up comedy routine is not interactive, apart from the occasional heckle from an audience member. Yet the analysis of the transcripts has shown that it includes many features that would, to the untrained eye, or ear, leave the impression that it was and the following excerpt demonstrates further Lee’s use of dysfluent features that are common in conversation:

   ‘That’s a sea based illness isn’t it? My wife wrote it, it’s not one of mine and...No, she did, my wife wrote it, it’s not the kind of joke I would write, it’s too…It’s got a good kind of rhythm, hasn’t it, conventional sort of rhythm to it,’

  In the above quote, the performer interrupts himself, reformulates, uses question tags and contractions (isn’t it?, hasn’t it), hedging/vague language (kind of, sort of) and makes a personal reference (my wife) which together have the effect of making the text feel interactive and conversational and implies little communicative distance between Lee and the audience.

  In contrast the following quote from the same text has quite a different quality and brings forward the features of ‘writtenness’ discussed at the beginning of this section:

 ‘he’s rather like an omniscient alien super-being, a giant baby that lives in space, bald, wearing only a toga, able to view the entire span of all human culture and existence, and yet tragically, by the creed of his alien race Stuart Maconie is forbidden from ever intervening in human affairs.’

  This section of the routine is grammatically complex showing use of simile and unusual lexis (like an omniscient), fronted long passive construction (by the creed of his alien race(…) is forbidden), relatively high lexical density (56%), a dependent adverbial –ing clause (wearing only a toga), condensing through elipses (<who is>able to view), and a concessionary linking adverbial phrase (and yet tragically).

  The comparison of the above two quotes alongside each other serves to exemplify Lee’s idiom and demonstrate that while many markers of ‘spokenness’ are present, conversely the performer also often delivers grammatically and lexically sophisticated, dysfluency free prose with esoteric references (in this case to ‘The Watchers’, characters from Marvel Comics) which could come across as quite pompous and alienating even though tempered marginally by the modal expression ‘rather’. 

  This juxtaposition of registers provides Lee’s performance with an intrinsic prosody of sorts, resulting in a distinctive style where grammar and lexis are artfully employed to vary the pace of the performance which facilitates the continued engagement of the audience as the artist reflects on his thoughts and views, and comments on a variety of topics, often in a provocative manner and often to satirical effect. 

  Lee’s singular choice of adjectives to modify noun phrases, are expertly utilized to expand similes, draw comparisons, express hyperbole and share his opinions while demonstrating an informed linguistic choice that relies on coordination over subordination and exploits conversational features to present sophisticated and often grammatically complex prose in a ‘listener-sensitive way’ (Carter, p.33), within a genre which ‘aims to entertain rather than merely inform’ (Coffin, 2005. p166),

  In summary, the research seems to have confirmed the hypothesis that the text contains features typically associated with both spoken and written registers and has highlighted that these features appear to be artfully woven together so that the audience, despite the lexical density that equates to fiction in some respects and academic prose in others, are able to enjoy a diverting evening without feeling that they are attending a lecture or listening to someone reading them a book.



To what extent has her hypothesis been supported?




A comparison with an extract from the findings of the Arctic Monkeys EMA

What kinds of differences do you see between this presentation and the previous one?


Do you prefer one of the ways?  Why?

My findings


  • Personalisation The lyricist uses personal pronouns frequently throughout all six songs and frequently in the head position. A search of my specialist Arctic Monkeys lyrics corpus for collocates of the personal pronoun I, reveals that it is almost always followed by either a mental or verbal process. This suggests that the lyricist is retelling his thoughts and feelings but it could also relate to the feelings and thoughts of fictional character within the songs. This uncertainty makes it difficult to position the lyrics as spoken or written in this regard.
  • Social distance of the lyrics I found to be much more indicative of the conversation register. I base this assumption on the degree of familiarity evident.  References are made which assume some shared knowledge, the extensive use of casual and slang forms, the dialectical elements and the use of language that may be considered by some to be offensive.


  • Lexical density (Appendix 1c) The lexical density of the lyrics is fairly low, with all songs falling within the ranges of 38 – 42%. This indicates that the lyrics are more concerned with action rather than description and that they focus on processes rather than descriptive noun phrases. There are fewer expanded noun phrases than one would expect to see in a work of fiction.

A corpus search of verb tense and aspect (Appendix 1b) revealed that the progressive aspect (52 occurrences) was more common that the perfect aspect (6 occurrences) in the lyrics. Conrad and Biber state that the progressive aspect ‘describes activities or events in progress at a particular time’ and that it is more common in conversation than the other registers. Perfect aspect ‘points back’ to an earlier time and is most common in fiction and news.


  • Coordination and subordination There is evidence of clause-level coordination (Biber et al, 2002 p.228) in the lyrics where clauses are linked by co-ordinating conjunctions (78/79) I’ve seen your frown and it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun.
  • ………






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MOOC on Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching

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I am just starting as a student on a MOOC on Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching.  I have only scanned the course but as with the previous Lancaster MOOC on Corpus Linguistics, I am impressed by the number of moderators they seem to have allocated.

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"Minority" languages

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 23 Mar 2015, 15:14

I have recently heard that several languages are being cut at A Level.  Amongst the languages affected are Polish, Bengali, Modern Hebrew and Panjabi http://www.aqa.org.uk/supporting-education/policy/gcse-and-a-level-changes/structure-of-new-a-levels

This seems strange for all of the languages but the withdrawal of Polish seems particularly surprising:

- as Polish is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the UK after English.According to the ONS (2013), it is the most common "other" language in the UK.

- is a language spoken in an important EU partner

- is similar to many other languages in Eastern Europe

- is a contrasting language to English and students studying Polish can get a greater awareness of language features such as cases.

A petition can be signed at:



ONS (2013) Language in England and Wales 2011 Available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census-analysis/language-in-england-and-wales-2011/rpt---language-in-england-and-wales--2011.html [Accessed 23/03/2015]

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Tutorial times

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The default time that seems to be suggested for evening OU Live tutorials seems to be 7pm but I have the impression many students would prefer later times.  For example, last week, I had a student saying she could listen and type but not speak as she was eating.  Another student was interrupted by her young child.

It is impossible to please all students and cater for each person's circumstances.  However, when I have autonomy to suggest times to students, I tend to find that 9 pm is the most popular time.

Does anyone have thoughts?

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Tutor discussion on OU Live

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 10 Mar 2015, 16:17

For the L185 course, there are occasional OU Live chats amongst the tutors and course chairs (called "watercooler meetings") to discuss issues of concern and interest.  We had one last night and one of the issues was feedback and whether students read them effectively. 

I have the impression that students who are successful tend to read the feedback quite carefully but those whose marks are lower may not read them so carefully (if at all).  It is difficult to disentangle cause and effects here as perhaps students produce stronger assignments if they read feedback or perhaps those getting good marks are keener to revel in the praise. 

I am thinking of how to persuade students to read more of the feedback and act on it.  Something I have tried was refer back to feedback on previous assignments to show how they have/have not improved in the aspects I mentioned.  One issue is to avoid seeming tectchy if there has been little progress between assignments.

Does anyone have any thoughts?


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OU Live

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 26 Jan 2015, 15:26

I did an E303 session last night.  It seems to be working much better now after a lot of problems in December.  It seemed to run smoothly last night except for some delay in Sharing Screen, which seemed slow but worked eventually.

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