Wednesday, 30 November 2016

ROLLS 30/11: 'Talking to the police about rhubarb' with Dr Frances Rock

‘Talking to the police about rhubarb’: Interpersonal, metalinguistic and multimodal meaning making in legal advice to asylum seekers
In the 12-month period ending August 2016, 36,465 people applied for asylum in the UK (Refugee Council 2016). For those seeking asylum from a location within the UK the application process is accompanied by a period of waiting which can often extend for many years when such activities as paid work are prohibited. If those seeking asylum, and in this liminal state, can demonstrate that they are destitute, they can receive a small amount of financial support from the UK Government. This paper examines exchanges in and around a legal advice drop-in where those seeking this financial support are offered advice and information on their claims for financial support. 
Drawing on linguistic ethnographic and discourse analytic approaches to data collection and analysis, the paper examines ways that meaning is made in the face of differences in background, social role and even language between advisers and clients.
The paper illustrates how meaning making is accomplished through interpersonal work on the theme of life in the city (Wise and Noble 2016; Blackledge, Creese and Hu 2015), metalinguistic talk about language and language practices (Levine 2009; Merrills 2009) and multimodal meaning making such as the use of drawing (Ormerond and Ivanič 2002) and mobile phone technologies (Jacquemet forthcoming). This examination provides insights into how legal advice is accomplished in the contemporary, superdiverse city and how language practices scaffold social relationships in times of extreme personal hardship.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Student (and teaching fellow!) Perspectives on ROLLS

Last week, in our ROLLS session, we were very lucky to receive a stimulating and thought-provoking talk about Light Verb Constructions, and how corpus methods can be used to shed light on their usage and semantics. The talk mentioned the semantic concepts of ambiguity and vagueness, and it struck me and Justyna that the information in the talk might be of benefit to a range of our current students who are working on meaning. Plenty of students came along, and engaged with the talk, and this made me really happy to see. 

Extracurricular talks which present research might be perceived as inaccessible by some students who may get a lot out of going if only they went. Research lectures and seminars might feel like a closed-off space for undergraduates who might not think they belong there because they're not 'senior' enough to have earned a pew. This is not what the situation is like at Sussex. Coming to Sussex as a new staff member, I have to say that my colleagues here in English Language and Linguistics do lots to include students in research seminars, and always communicate that students are welcome. We always explain how and why particular talks can be beneficial. Our door is open. We are fostering collegiality, and giving a spark to those who want to explore English language and linguistics. This, again, makes me really happy to see.

Not all of our students come to ROLLS, but a lot do. I wanted to find out what benefit they see in attending the talks. Just because you are present somewhere, it doesn't mean that you are benefiting, or enjoying it! I spoke to three students about ROLLS to get their perspectives. 

Paul is one of our MA students. He sees ROLLS as a 'hefty jolt' of learning and information, and enjoys taking insight from short but intense introductions to the work of others. Paul suggested to me that the talks can be food for thought when thinking of his own work. He'd never thought about LVCs before, but he has now. Sometimes, the spark for a really exciting study comes from a throwaway comment made by another researcher. ROLLS gives our postgraduate students that exposure to new ideas. 

The theme of exposure to ideas in linguistics continues when we turn to the undergraduates. A first year student of mine, Jodie, told me that the talks are a great way to hear about what's going on in linguistics that is new and exciting. Like Paul, Jodie can get to learn about things she might not otherwise hear about, and she appreciates that the information and perspectives come from an expert in the field. Becca, another first year, told me that she appreciates the chance to ask questions, and participate in and listen to academic debate, honing her broader study/work skills. Becca also feels listening to other academics is helping her to structure her work in a better way. 

As a student, I loved going to talks like ROLLS - it was a chance for staff and students to learn and debate together to expand their knowledge on exciting topics. I never would be where I am without this type of stimulation. I'm glad to see this type of learning happening here, and if you haven't attended yet and want to see the benefit for yourself as a student, please come to the next one on the 30th of November. It's about meaning making in legal advice to asylum seekers (1pm, Jubilee, G36).

Rebecca - Teaching Fellow in English Language and Linguistics

Friday, 18 November 2016

Student blog post: The history of ‘cotch’: from Victorians to Grime artists

Elizabeth Doherty is a first year student in English Language and Linguistics with an interest in language use in music and the media. Beth carried out her research using the Oxford English Dictionary (online) and the Early English Books Online Corpus.

The history of ‘cotch’: from Victorians to Grime artists

As a young person, it’s my experience that Grime music and associated youth culture has had significant impact on my language use and that of my social group. In my life, the rise of Grime appears to be linked with an increase in use of certain ‘slang’ terms. Linguistically, the Grime genre is full of language with interesting histories, and just one of these words is ‘cotch’. People my age have the metalinguistic belief that this is a new word with a recent etymology, but this isn’t true.

‘Cotch’ apparently derives from Jamaican English. It said that it is derived from the verb ‘scotch’ with deletion of the ‘s’, leaving ‘cotch’. In the Oxford English Dictionary (OED, online), it says that ‘scotch’ is from Barbadian English, and means ‘to find or be given temporary make-do accommodation’. This can be seen to link to the noun sense of ‘cotch’. In the OED, ‘cotch’ is said to mean (in Jamaican English) ‘a place to sleep, rest or sit temporarily’.

According to the OED, the first instance of ‘cotch’ means something like ‘to rest oneself; to lean on something for support’, with usage in the late 1800s, e.g., ‘they are not supposed to cotch even for ten minutes…’. This shows that ‘cotch’ as lexeme was present in the Victorian era.

As part of my research into ‘cotch’, I looked into the Early English Books Online corpus where I found an instance of ‘cotch’ dating back to the 1600s:

(1) ‘Let the Cotch stay at Showlane end.’

It was not clear from the information in the corpus what this noun phrase meant – it could have been a misspelling of something else (a coach?). Still, it is possible that the word was in use quite early on. In any case, most of the usages I found related to some sense of relaxation, as in the Victorian instance above.

Today, ‘cotch’ has a very colloquial meaning. It is often described by young people as the act of ‘chilling out’. This definition of ‘cotch’, meaning to chill out or relax, is not surprising given the definition of ‘cotch’ during the Victorian era. The word appears to be popular with Grime artists, an underground genre of music often associated with youth culture.

Dizzee Rascal is a famous Grime artist. His debut album is called ‘Boy in Da Corner’. The first track of this record  features ‘cotch’ as a verb:

(2) ‘I’m just sitting here, I ain’t saying much, I just watch I really don’t feel like moving, so I cotch’.

We have seen above that ‘cotch’ can be both a verb and a noun, and so belongs to different parts of speech. On today’s Grime scene, I have noticed that the noun sense is often marked by a possessive. These instances appear to me to be linked with the competitive nature of Grime music, which is often a convention of the genre, e.g:

(3) ‘I’m back in the white man’s cotch’ (Graftin’, Dizzee Rascal).

Here, a ‘white man’s cotch’ can be interpreted as referring to a home or a place which one perhaps owns, almost as a metaphor for territory. It’s my perception that more artists and fans/young people are adopting ‘cotch’ in either part of speech to identify strongly with a particular subculture.

As you can see, ‘cotch’ has a very interesting history from Victorian society to its inclusion in Grime and youth culture. It seems to be that it’s meaning is reasonably fixed – I perceive ‘cotch’ to be common as a verb, but corpus work would be needed to confirm this. The core meaning is definitely to do with resting or chilling out. In any case, after such a long history, the lexeme really should take five minutes to cotch.

Beth Doherty – English Language and Linguistics Student, University of Sussex  

Monday, 14 November 2016

ROLLS! Seth Mehl talks to us about Light Verb Constructions (LVCs)

Join us for ROLLS this Wednesday at 1pm in Jubilee G36 - we'll be joined by Seth Mehl from Sheffield University. He'll be speaking on Light Verb Constructions; Seth draws on innovative corpus approaches, and talks about some of the meaning relations that we and our students have been studying this semester. For more information, read on...


English light verb constructions (LVCs), such as make decisions and take action, have been an object of linguistic study for nearly a century (cf. Poutsma 1926, Jespersen 1954, Huddleston and Pullum 2002). In this talk, I present new research on English LVCs with maketake, and give, as evinced by three components of the International Corpus of English, representing Singagpore English, Hong Kong English, and British English (ICE; cf. Greenbaum 1996). In particular, I demonstrate the value of two corpus semantic methods: corpus onomasiology, and identity evidence. Corpus onomasiology examines, in naturally occurring language, language users' preferences for selecting different forms that express a given meaning (cf. Geeraerts et al. 1994). Corpus onomasiology is particularly useful for LVC study insofar as LVCs have been defined as expressing equivalent meaning to a related verb: for example, make decisions is equivalent to decidetake action is equivalent to act (v.).  Identity evidence (Mehl 2013), a relatively new approach in corpus semantics, involves naturally occurring language data that resembles classic identity tests for polysemy (cf. Kempson 1977: 130; Palmer 1981: 106; Cruse 1986: 62; Cruse 2004: 104). Identity evidence in this case demonstrates polysemous usage of light verbs. I employ onomasiological evidence and identity evidence together to show that there is remarkable consistency in light verb semantics across these three varieties of World Englishes, even in extremely nuanced features of semantics in use. I also present the groundbreaking argument that not all light verbs are light in the same way, but instead exhibit degrees of lightness.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Mock politeness and culture: Perceptions and practice in UK and Italian data - Charlotte Taylor's latest article

Charlotte Taylor has recently had an article published in the prestigious Intercultural Pragmatics journal. 

Charlotte is very interested in mock politeness/impoliteness, and the development and deployment of corpus methods in pursuit of findings. These research strands come together in her latest publication, in which she considers the extent to which perceptions of cultural variation correspond to actual practice, examined through the lenses of Britain and Italy. 

An interesting finding from the first stage of Charlotte's study is that, using British and Italian corpora, it appears that potential mock-polite behaviours such as being ironic are associated with British identity.

Charlotte's paper can be accessed here.

Vowels like Jagger - "Under my tongue: a longitudinal study of the vowels of Sir Mick Jagger"

Lynne Cahill recently presented longitudinal research on the vowels of Sir Mick Jagger at English Melodies/PAC International Conference, run by the Laboratoire Parole et Langage in Aix-En-Provence. The study was jointly conducted with a final year undergraduate student, Kate Jellyman, and was a development of her exciting undergraduate final year project.

Lynne and Kate tracked three of Sir Mick's vowels between 1964 and 2013. For comparison, the vowels of speakers of Received Pronunciation and 'cockney' were also examined for a similar time-frame. Lynne and Kate used Praat software to analyse the relevant vowel sounds, and found that, overall, Jagger's vowels are somewhat closer to 'cockney' (but this is not always consistent), and that, in general, his vowels have stayed the same over time.

Who said that linguists aren't rock-and-roll?

Lynne Murphy Discusses Trump and the American Elections in the Media

Judging by our social media analyticals, regular readers and followers of our posts enjoy a good 'language and politics' story. Lynne Murphy, Reader in Linguistics here at Sussex, in addition to her other research, has been busy the last few months engaging with the media on topics relating to the (very, very) soon-to-be-upon-us American general election.

Lynne will appear on BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Verb’ this Friday to talk about words of 2016.  In October, she appeared on KCBS talk radio in San Francisco and on RTR RM (Australia)'s Talk the Talk to discuss the way that Donald Trump ‘others’ people through his linguistic choices This links with a recent article in she wrote for Quartz which examines how Trump’s use of one, tiny, commonplace expression - ‘the’ – causes him to sound racist. This article can be viewed here (if you've not seen it already - it went a bit viral.)

Keep your eyes peeled, no doubt, for further linguistic analysis after the election. If you cannot wait for your latest installment, Lynne also runs a regular blog on differences between British and American English, Separated By A Common Language.

A Spoken Corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English

A Spoken Corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE)

Melanie Green, working with Miriam Ayafor (University of Yaounde I) and Gabriel Ozon (University of Sheffield) have recently created and released the Spoken Corpus of Cameroon Pidgin English. The work was funded by the British Academy, and a Leverhulme Grant.

Cameroon Pidgin English (CPE) is a pidgin/creole language variety that has been heavily stigmatised and, to date, has not been extensively codified. Melanie and her colleagues carried out fieldwork to collect samples of private and public conversations and monologues for tagging and inclusion in their corpus. The way that the corpus is constructed allows CPE to be compared with other post-colonial varieties of English for research purposes.

The corpus contains 240,000 spoken words. The corpus is important in that it is linked with ongoing developments of a spelling system for CPE, and it will be useful for new research into CPE through the lenses of creolistics, typology, language contact, and other fields of theoretical and applied linguistics.

If anybody would like to explore the corpus and look at the variety in more detail, it can be accessed here

When Cinema Borrows from Stage: Theatrical Artifice through Indexical Explicitness in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Dogville

Roberta Piazza has recently had an article published in a special issue of Social Semiotics. The paper is entitled When Cinema Borrows from Stage: Theatrical Artifice through Indexical Explicitness in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Dogville.
Roberta’s research focuses on discourse analysis, pragmatics, stylistics and sociolinguistics, with a particular emphasis on how this relates to (different) media and to discourse and to identity. Roberta's current paper examines how theatrical texts can ‘travel’ to the cinema medium.

"The Cook" (from Piazza, 2016)

In the abstract, Roberta writes:

"Framed within the debate on the different nature of theatrical and filmic communication, the study considers two avant-garde films by Greenaway, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, and von Trier, Dogville, as examples of texts that travel from one medium to another and show closeness to the theatre. This is revealed not solely through the artificiality and the enclosure of the setting and the mise-en-scène, but also at the level of the discourse understood as the ensemble of images, music, gestures, and dialogue. The two films exhibit an unnaturalness unusual in cinema, a medium in which the editing realises a seemingly realistic representation of characters and events. The discussion focuses on how such a sensation of artificial non-realism is achieved in the films. It is argued that it derives from the marked explicit relation between the various levels of communication in the two films, the verbal and the visual, as well as between the dialogue contributions by the different participants in the narrative, characters, and narrator. The construct adopted for the analysis is indexicality, which is interpreted in a broad sense and that, as is discussed, contributes to the “monstrative” dimension of the films in terms of the explicitness of the communication."

The paper can be viewed here.