Thursday, 4 December 2014

Wed 10 Dec: ROLLS talk John Lonergan

Next week's ROLLS talk, Wed 10 Dec 13.00-14.30, Jubilee G36 ALL WELCOME

John Lonergan (University of Sussex)
Ongoing sound change in Dublin English

This presentation will provide a detailed account of recent research on variation and change in Dublin English phonology. It investigates the structure of Dublin English, drawing on Dubliners' folk linguistic perceptions, a socioeconomic and historical study of the city and acoustic analysis of the speech of a cross section of the community. This analysis reveals a chain shift in progress among most subjects, but not residents of the inner city. This result is contrasted with popular perceptions of Dublin English and the social significance of this variation is discussed. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Upcoming languagey talks in the COGS seminar

In Jubilee 144 on Tuesdays at 4:00-5:30.  All welcome!

2 DecemberThe Cultural Origins of StructureSimon Kirby  University of Edinburgh

Language is striking in its systematic structure at all levels of description. By exhibiting combinatoriality and compositionality, each utterance in a language does not stand alone, but rather exhibits a network of dependencies on the other utterances in that language. Where does this structure come from? Why is language systematic, and where else might we expect to find this kind of systematicity in nature?
In this talk, I will propose a simple hypothesis that systematic structure is the inevitable result of a suite of behaviours being transmitted by iterated learning. Iterated learning is a mechanism of cultural evolution in which behaviours persist by being learned through observation of that behaviour in another individual who acquired it in the same way. I will survey a wide range of lab studies of iterated learning, in which the cultural evolution of sets of behaviours is experimentally recreated. These studies include everything from artificial language learning tasks and sign language experiments, to more abstract behaviours like slide whistle imitation and sequence learning, and have recently even been extended to other species. I will conclude by suggesting that these cultural evolution experiments provide clear predictions about where we should expect to see structure in behaviour, and what form that structure might take.

9 December
Social media and soft power: Influence of citizens and perceptions of cultural icons
Jon Oberlander  University of Edinburgh

Social networking services like Twitter and Facebook see surges in activity around major events, whether they are considered political (like upheavals in the Ukraine), cultural (like the Oscars ceremony), sporting (like the Commonwealth Games), or all of the above (like the London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony). People like to identify “trending topics”, and Twitter’s hashtag mechanism makes this relatively easy. But to gain a deeper understanding of what is going on when the social media world goes wild, we need to analyse publicly available information about the messages being exchanged, and their content. Working with the British Council, we have recently been looking at certain types of insight we can derive from Twitter by text mining, combining geo-parsing, named entity recognition and sentiment analysis. We examine both cultural-sporting events, and political upheavals, and discuss both the influence of UK-based social networkers, and the perception of UK-related cultural entities.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Wed 19 Nov: ROLLS talk Francesco Goglia

This week's ROLLS talk, Wed 19 November 13.00-14.30, Jubilee G36 ALL WELCOME

Francesco Goglia (University of Essex)
Complex linguistic repertoiresin the immigration context: the case of Igbo-Nigerian immigrants in Padua (Italy)
The Igbo-Nigerian community in Padua, in the north-east of Italy, is one of the eldest immigrant communities in Padua and part of a wider Igbo immigration, especially to North America, Europe, and Australia; the so-called Igbo Diaspora, which started in the late sixties as a result of a brutal civil war for independence and which has continued until the present day mainly because of an economic crisis.
Igbo-Nigerians are multilingual with a complex linguistic repertoire. In Nigeria, all Igbo-Nigerians who have received formal education after primary school are bilingual in Nigerian English and Igbo, or even multilingual if they speak Nigerian Pidgin English and/or other Nigerian languages. In Padua, this already complex linguistic repertoire is enriched by Italian and Veneto, the regional minority language.
This paper presents a discussion on how Igbo-Nigerians use these languages in the immigrant context and some initial indications on their maintenance. In particular, the Igbo language, as a regional minority language in the immigration context, is prone to be abandoned in favour of Italian and English.  However, the fact that Igbo is also a very important marker of Igbo identity means that the community is still using it, even if mixed with the other languages of the repertoires, and is partly passing it to the second generation. Nigerian Pidgin English is widely used even by educated speakers as a marker of ‘Nigerian-ness’ and as a lingua franca to communicate with other Anglophone African immigrants. Veneto is used, but perceived as a ‘local language’ not useful for wider communication.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Language Acquisition talk 16/10 in Psychology

If you are interested in children's word learning, you might be interested in:

16/10/14 Week 4
      Dr Jessica Horst (University of Sussex)
“Young Children’s Word Learning”
Children’s rapid acquisition of word meaning is often attributed to fast mapping. However, recent research suggests that fast mapping and word learning represent two distinct components of language acquisition. In this talk, these recent data will be presented and the associative learning account, which provides a developmental explanation for children’s fast mapping and word learning behaviour, will be introduced. Both empirical research with 2- and 3-year-old children and simulations from a dynamic connectionist neural network will be discussed. The research will cover (1) what the child learns during a typical fast mapping task, (2) how this relates to word learning (3) how specifics of the task influence children’s ability to map novel names to novel objects and known names to known objects as well as a theoretical perspective that can account for these novel findings and other findings that current perspectives may be unable to explain. Finally, links to applied interventions will be discussed.
Pevensey 1 Room 1B3.
Seminar starts at 4.00 pm

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Language & Culture talk: Sign Language & Spatiality, 7 Oct

Language and Culture Series 2014/2015

Tuesday 7 October at 17.30
Language Learning Centre, Arts A

John D. Walker, Teaching Fellow in British Sign Language and doctoral student in Social Geography (University of Sussex):

Sign Language and Spatiality

Language and culture is not devoid of place. A land, nation, community enclave or diaspora are examples of spaces where languages are situated and its boundaries imagined.

John will discuss how the relationship between spatiality and sign language are manifested, which explores how the physical landscape is represented in sign language spaces and how deaf cultural norms are embodied in physical spaces. He will also draw on examples from different ideas about language and spatiality, including the linguistics of syntactic/topographical sign spaces, the creation of spaces in the Visual Vernacular art form, the poetry of Dorothy Miles, architectural design in Gallaudet University and the historical and contemporary ‘deaf villages’.

John Walker is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Sussex and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Brighton. He has developed several projects since he started his career at Sussex, including Hidden Histories/Intercultural Dialogue (using oral history methods to capture unwritten narratives), EuroSign Interpreter (interpreting between two signed languages) and Our Space (developing contemporary spaces with the deaf community). John currently convenes an elective pathway in British Sign Language and Deaf Culture.

Wine will be served from 17.00. All welcome.

Monday, 22 September 2014

ROLLS: 24 September Laura Wright

ROLLS (Research on Languages and Linguistics at Sussex) and CEMMS (Centre for Early Modern and Medieval Studies) research groups are co-hosting a talk this week by Laura Wright (University of Cambridge) who works on mixed-language texts written in Anglo-Norman, Medieval Latin and Middle English. 

For this paper she is talking about Medieval London Mixed-Language Business Writing. The talk will be Wednesday 24 September at 1pm in Jubilee G36 and, as always, is open to everyone.

Friday, 19 September 2014

What's new this (academic) year

Welcome (back) Sussex Linguists!

The campus is warm and gorgeous, the first-years seem to have been absolutely exhausted by Freshers' Week, and the English Language and Linguistics staff are putting the finishing touches on their first-week lectures.

So far, so familiar.  But there are a few new things in our midst that are worth mentioning.

A new face
The first new thing in our midst is actually a person.  Dr John Lonergan has joined us from University College, Dublin, and will be covering for Justyna Robinson during her leave.  John is a sociolinguist specialising in phonetic variation and perceptions of variation, with much of his work concerning Dublin English. He'll be teaching the history and variation modules in year 2, Language and Gender in year 3, and Researching Language in Use at the MA level. In addition, he'll be contributing to two of our new modules and supervising undergraduate dissertations.

So, by the way, we have some new modules on offer.

First year
Structure of English is a spring-term first-year module for joint honours students only. It covers the kind of material that single-honours students cover in Approaches to Grammar and Approaches to Pronunciation, while also making room in joint students' timetables to take the full 30-credit version of Approaches to Meaning and benefit from its academic skills training.  It will be taught this year by John Lonergan and Lynne Cahill.

Second year
We have a new core module for single-honours called Great Ideas about Language. It runs in Autumn and gives an overview of major approaches to language from the 17th century onward, looking at the historical contexts of these ideas and the varying philosophies of linguistics. This module is convened by Lynne Murphy and taught by all staff members.

Third year
Two new options are running, which are available to single- or joint-honours students:

Forensic Linguistics has been designed by Charlotte Taylor to offer a look at language and the law, showing how linguistic study can be put to concrete use in investigative and judicial situations.  Charlotte teaches it in Autumn term.

Contemporary Stylistics is Roberta Piazza's new module. It looks at linguistic approaches to the narrative language of fiction. This seminar-based module runs in Spring term.

We're also for the first time (in the current curriculum) offering elective modules that can be taken by single-honours students in any subject (including English Language and Linguistics)--and we're happy to say that they have recruited well:
  • Language and Technology: Papyrus to Pixels: taught by Lynne Cahill (Autumn)
  • Language, Mind and Brain (an elective version of our popular 3rd year option): again, Lynne Cahill (Spring)
We'll have different English language elective options running next year, with these and the others in rotation. They can be taken by first- or second-year students.

And finally...
New degree title
We love our BA in English Language so much that we're giving it a longer name. Starting with the 2015-16 student entry, the degree will be called BA in English Language and Linguistics.  We feel this name more clearly communicates the ways in which we at Sussex approach our study of the language.

Any questions? We're happy to answer them in the comments here. Or see your academic adviser in office hours to chat about your studies and our programmes.  Happy new academic year!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

What we did on our summer vacation

Summer vacation is the time when students (mostly) vacate the university.  While it's when most of the staff take most of their holiday time, it's also a busy time for us. Here's a bit of what we've been doing since teaching ended in May.

What we did together

Our first conference for A-level English Language teachers took place in June and was a great success, with teachers from many parts of the southeast, our staff, and some of our students taking part. Because of it, we've made more connections with more schools who would like to offer students the opportunity to be mentors for A-level students. There will be more news about that later in the year.

In July, we attended graduation, which always makes us want to throw things:

What the staff has been doing

Lynne Cahill organized, hosted and spoke at the 9th International Workshop on Writing Systems and Literacy, which focused on Orthographic Databases and Lexicons, which took place on 4-5 September at The Keep. Lynne presented work that she'd done with one of our BA graduates, Edward Crook, on the differences in typed and handwritten apology letters and on her own work on orthographic databases: CELEX and PolyOrth: database to lexicons.

Melanie Green was in Helsinki in August for the SKY 2014 symposium on Language Contact: The State of the Art and then in Poland for the Societas Linguistica Europea in September to present work she's done with Miriam Ayafor (Cameroon) and Gabriel Ozón (Sheffield, formerly Sussex) on Valency-changing processes in a contact variety: the evidence from Cameroon Pidgin English.  Melanie and her colleagues have also had success in receiving a British Academy/Leverhulme grant to create a corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English. 

Lynne Murphy gave the guest lecture at the UCL Summer Course in English Phonetics on the topic of British and American Englishes. Here's a tiny bit of it:

In May, she took part in the Brighton Fringe Festival, speaking about The Wonder of Language in the Brighton Spiegeltent, and in June she could be heard talking about dictionaries on BBC Radio 3's The Verb

Roberta Piazza's article on The conceptualisation of place among a group of Irish women travellers has appeared in Discourse & Society. She also travelled to The International Linguistic Association conference in Paris to present Documentaries: between stigma and infotainment in May, and to Budapest to present a paper on Irish Travellers’ identity between stigmatisation and self-image at the CADAAD conference.

Justyna Robinson has started her maternity leave. We're all very happy to welcome the newest little Robinson into the world.

Charlotte Taylor gave her paper A metalanguage analysis of sarcastic and ironic at the 8th International Conference on Politeness in Huddersfield.  The slides from the talk can be seen here. Her article Investigating the representation of migrants in the UK and Italian press has appeared in the International Journal of Corpus Linguistics.

What our students have been doing

Of course, not all students take a break. The MA students were finishing up their dissertations (which we're now reading), and the PhD students continued to get on with it. We're very happy to congratulate Carol O'Neal, whose work on early consonant acquisition in children has allowed her to now be called Dr. Carol O'Neal.

We had the privilege of supporting two Junior Research Associates: undergraduates who did summer research projects, funded by the Doctoral School. Annaliese Bagley has been working on variation in use of x 'kisses' in electronic communication, with the supervision of Lynne C. Rhys Sandow has been looking at the history of prescriptivism in British and American dictionaries, with supervision by Lynne M. We'll share more about their projects and results when they are formally presented in October.

On to 2014-15!

We're looking forward to welcoming new and old students to the campus in the coming weeks. Don't forget to follow us @SussexLinguist on Twitter and to like our Facebook page for more news, information and fun. Our next post will be about our new people, things and activities for the 2014-15 academic year. 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

2014 Postgraduate Conference: 23 May

Research on Language and Linguistics at Sussex
Postgraduate Conference
Friday 23 May 2014
Friston Building, Room 112

Next week will be the last of this year’s ROLLS events and we are finishing with two guest speakers/discussants: Nicholas Groom from Birmingham and Clyde Ancarno from King’s College London plus six of our own PhD students (details below & in attachment). The second plenary is about a research project which actually developed out of work on the Sussex Mass Observation data.

All are welcome for the whole day or to drop in for a talk or two. 

[welcome & coffee!]
Plenary 1: Quantitative and qualitative perspectives on linguistic data (and why we need both)
Nicholas Groom, University of Birmingham
Semantic stability of English idioms
Margarita Yagudaeva
A corpus investigation of antonyms in Arabic
Rukayah AlHedayani        

[short break]
Grammatical aspects of code switching in Farsi English bilingual speech
Barzan Jaafar  
Morphosyntactic patterns in Tamahaq
Yousef Mohamed Othman Alazumi 

[lunch - refreshments provided]
Plenary 2: ‘People’, ‘Products’, ‘Pests’ and ‘Pets’: A corpus-assisted discourse analytic methodology
Clyde Ancarno, King’s College London
Gendered identities in the British liberal press: Beta males and why sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.
Yolanda Cerda        
Using linguistics to make sense of comics
Paul Davies       
All welcome! No booking required

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

On-line registration for 11 June teachers' conference

Online registration is now possible for our free teachers' conference on 11 June.  Follow this link!

Follow the link (or read the post below this one) for the full programme.

We're really looking forward to this event!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Conference for English Language A/AS-level teachers: 11 June

English Language: current research and new perspectives
a free one-day conference for A/AS-Level teachers
Wednesday 11 June 2014
University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton

Join us for a day of talks and discussions in which participants can
·      learn about recent research findings and research methods that complement A-level English Language curricula;
·      find answers to questions about language structure;
·      explore the relations between A-level and university-level study of English Language;
·      network with A-level and university teachers with similar interests.

Registration (free) is required. Please contact us at to request a registration form or more information!

Registration, coffee/tea, opening words
Charlotte Taylor:
Using Critical Discourse Analysis in investigating the representation of migrants
Roberta Piazza:
When film/television language is far from what we ‘expect’
Lynne Murphy:
British & American Englishes: fact versus convenient fiction
Melanie Green: Troubleshooting grammar
[Are there bits of grammar that you find difficult to teach? Sentences that have stumped you? Let us know via the registration form.]
coffee/tea break
Lynne Cahill:
Is electronic language more like speech or like writing?
Participants and Sussex staff and students:
On the relation between A-level and university study: responses and reflections
Closing words and feedback

Feel free to comment here with questions, but we don't recommend putting your email address in comments in order to request a registration form. Please email registration requests instead (   

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

ROLLS 9 April: Anne Furlong

Next Research on Language and Linguistics at Sussex seminar is Wed 9 April at 13.00 in A71.
All welcome! 

Grasping at straws? Non-spontaneous interpretation of live performance
Anne Furlong University of Prince Edward Island

For some time I’ve been exploring the notion of “literary” interpretation from a relevance-theoretic perspective, developing the notion of non-spontaneous interpretation aimed at producing a particular kind of interpretation of a text. Typically, people interested in literary interpretation are interested in literary works – novels, poems, short stories and the like. Starting a few years ago, I became interested in plays. What, I wondered, is the difference between the interpretation of a written text and that of a performed one? Is a non-spontaneous interpretation of a play text (necessarily) superior to that of the text in performance? Does authorial intention count – that is, does it matter that, in presenting her work as a play, the writer manifestly intended the work to be performed? And if authorial intent has weight, how much, and to what effect? Is there something uniquely gained (or lost) in performance? Which is, ultimately, closer to what the playwright (is likely to have) envisioned: the interpretation based solely on reading the text, or the interpretation based solely on attending a performance?

These are not new questions in theatre studies. But they are new to relevance theory. And relevance theory can, I will argue, clarify some of the knottiest difficulties over which literary and drama and theatre critics, writers and theorists stumble and clash. By the same token, approaching issues arising in performance theory from a relevance-theoretic perspective offers the opportunity to clarify, extend, and test the notion of “the audience” in this framework.

In this paper, I’ll discuss whether we can construct a non-spontaneous, literary interpretation –one that is exhaustive, unified, and plausible – of a play in performance, and if so, whether and how it differs from the process of interpreting “stable” texts. Non-spontaneous interpretation usually demands repeated reading (or viewing or listening); performance by its nature is unilinear, temporally constrained, and non-repeatable. This means that the evidence the audience has to work with is severely curtailed, certainly in comparison with that provided by novels and poems, which can be reread at leisure. At the same time, the cognitive effort required in constructing a literary interpretation is significantly higher than doing so for a written text, because the evidence is ephemeral. And, since non-spontaneous interpretation must necessarily continue for some time after the performance has ended, at least some of the evidence is supplied from memory. The notorious unreliability of human memory might seem to fatally compromise literary interpretation of performance, but I would argue it is accommodated in relevance theory; the Second Principle of Relevance and the extent conditions of relevance allow for, even predict failures in communication, including those resulting from faulty memory. The best the writer (and director, performers, crew and others) can do in performance – as in any communicative situation – is to provide an optimally relevance stimulus: ie, “the most relevant one compatible with communicator’s abilities and preferences” (Wilson and Sperber 2002).

I will argue that the conditions of performance reveal some of the limits of literary interpretation, but do not render non-spontaneous interpretation of performance either impossible or even improbable under these circumstances. I’ll be drawing on a range of sources, from theatre reviews published in daily or weekly media, to academic articles written long after the original performance, to blogs from viewers and others. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

ROLLS 2 April: Anna Pauwels, Gender and language learning

This week for the Research on Languages and Linguistics seminar series  Prof. Anne Pauwels from SOAS is visiting to talk about ‘Gender and language learning: gendered learning?’. As usual, the talk will be in A071, from 13.00-14.30 and is open to all. 

Anglophone societies appear to have a complex relationship with the learning of languages. Although their populations display a significant degree of bi- or multilingualism, the formal learning of other/foreign languages is rather scarce in comparison to that found in many other societies. This is regularly affirmed through cross-national and regional surveys of second/foreign languages (e.g. Eurobarometer surveys on language learning). Furthermore, there is significant evidence that the participation in language learning is particularly gendered in anglophone societies – the learning of foreign/other languages seems to be a predominantly female (academic) pursuit or choice. Beyond the compulsory stages, boys’ engagement with such learning is low. In this presentation I explore  reasons for this differentiation by drawing upon an extensive study of boys (not) learning languages (Carr & Pauwels 2008) in Australia. This will be complemented by a more recent study investigating gendered behavior in language learning involving the internet. Both studies point towards similar reasons for gendered behavior in relation to language learning.

Monday, 24 March 2014

ROLLS 26 March: Lucy Jones: Racist discourse and homonormativity in an LGBT youth group.

As part of the Research on Linguistics and Language at Sussex seminar series, this Wednesday we will be hosting Lucy Jones, from the University of Hull, the talk will be 13.00-14.30 in Arts 071 - all welcome!

“If a Muslim says ‘homo’, nothing gets done”. Racist discourse and homonormativity in an LGBT youth group.

In this paper, I will present ethnographic data which emerges from my recent research with an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth group, and will detail a range of stances and practices used by the group members in order to construct a shared identity. Though the group includes cis gay males, cis lesbians, a trans bisexual female and a trans heterosexual male, ranging from 15-22 years old, I will show that the group members symbolically erase the differences between them via a range of interactional tactics. They produce a somewhat mutual identity, one which is enabled via their ‘othering’ of local young people of South Asian descent; by projecting a homophobic identity upon their Asian neighbours, they position themselves as comparatively ‘British’ and ‘normal’, legitimising their use of racist language. The group members also take stances against notions of gay pride and queerness, which they perceive to be outdated and old-fashioned; this, again, allows them to construct a comparatively ‘normal’ identity. Drawing on Bucholtz and Hall’s (2005) sociocultural linguistics framework, I will offer discourse analysis of specific interactional moments whereby the young people position themselves and others in line with both broad ideological identity categories and ethnographically-salient subject positions and personae. Drawing on theories prevalent in contemporary queer studies, I will ask why this identity work is taking place. In particular, I will consider Duggan’s (2002) notion of ‘homonormativity’ – an ideological, depoliticised gay identity which does not challenge heteronormative assumptions or ideals, and which arguably privileges white queer subjects and marginalises people of colour – in relation to the young people’s use of racist language to emphasise their own normalcy.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

talk on Intercultural Communicative Competence 25 March

Tuesday  25TH March at 3.00 pm (until 4.30)
Language Learning Centre, Arts A
       Dr Veronica Colwell O’Callaghan           
                              Associate Professor, Universidad de León

 “Project work in the development of intercultural communicative competence”

Veronica Colwell is Associate Professor of English at Universidad de León in Spain.  She regularly publishes in academic journals about different aspects of  teaching and learning of English as a Foreign Language from curriculum development and the CERF to assessment and feedback.
A lead contributor to LIPS (Linguistic and Intercultural Preparation of Students for the workplace), she will be talking about her vast experience in multi-disciplinary and multinational projects with an intercultural focus.