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.