Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series

Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series Cambridge University Press

Blog post written by Carol A. Chapelle & Susan Hunston, Series Editors

The Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series highlights key topics in the field. Topics reflect the broad range of current interests in Applied Linguistics and include aspects of Language Acquisition, Language Teaching, Learning and Testing, Sociolinguistics, Cognitive Linguistics, Discourse Studies, and Research Methodologies. Although the series in the past has prioritised titles relevant to English Language Teaching, our current location within Cambridge Academic means that we are able to welcome titles with a broader remit.

All our books present original research, and many introduce important new concepts or offer significant novel contributions to existing debates. These titles are of particular interest to researchers. The series also includes books which address the concerns of students taking graduate courses in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. These survey key themes in Applied Linguistics, offering an authoritative contemporary account.

The series editors welcome proposals for new titles on a range of topics. We publish a mixture of single- or co-authored books and edited collections. If you have an idea for a book that you would like us to consider for the Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series, please contact one of us.

Series Editors:

Carol A. Chapelle – carolc@iastate.edu

Susan Hunston– s.e.hunston@bham.ac.uk

Commissioning Editor, Cambridge University Press:

Rebecca Taylor – rtaylor@cambridge.org

Trump’s Monolingual Disadvantage

Blog Post by Douglas Kibbee, author of Language and the Law: Linguistic Inequality in America

Early in the fall of 2016 several news agencies speculated that Donald Trump might be suffering from early onset dementia.  Could this be related to his adamant monolingualism?  During his campaign Donald Trump rebuked Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish, telling him to talk English, he’s in America (2015).  In the campaign against Hilary Clinton, Trump dismissed bilingual communities, refusing to advertise in languages other than English. America will not be made great by making it monolingual.  Monolingualism is not just a threat to national security and economic competitiveness.  It’s a threat to public health.

One of the greatest weaknesses of our educational system is the decline in foreign-language education, confirmed in a recent report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (The State of Languages in the U.S. A Statistical Portrait, https://www.amacad.org/multimedia/pdfs/publications/researchpapersmonographs/State-of-Languages-in-US.pdf).  The Academy’s report describes a decline in offerings of foreign language education and the widening gap between American education and the rest of the developed world.  In the U.S. only a fifth of K-12 students are enrolled in languages other than English, compared to more than half of European students.   Middle schools offering other languages have dropped from 75% to 58%, effectively foreclosing the possibility of advanced competency.  At the same time, the benefits of dual-language immersion are substantial : by the eighth grade students in dual-language immersion programs are a full year ahead of their counterparts in English language skills.  A study by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University placed Mr. Trump’s English skills at a 5th-6th grade level, by far the lowest of any of the serious candidates from either party.

As a policy issue, the decline in foreign-language education may reflect a fundamental misconception of education’s role. The fragmentation of education represented by home schooling and the charter school movement is a means to make education confirm what students (and their parents) already believe, rather than to challenge them to understand a diverse world. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Education, spins this as a rejection of “one size fits all” education, but in fact it’s a rejection of very foundation of education.  Self-segregation by race or religion is on the rise, while students avoid exposure to other ways of thinking, including language.  Eva Moskowitz, CEO of one of the largest charter school groups (Success Academy in New York) bragged to the American Enterprise Institute about dropping foreign language education at her schools, serving, or disserving, 10,000 students in New York.

Apart from the social, economic and political consequences, monolingualism turns out to be bad for public health.  Scientific evidence for a bilingual cognitive advantage has been building.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that knowing two languages significantly improves transferable brain skills, an advantage psychologists call the “executive function system” of the brain.  The development of this sytem, located in the prefrontal cortex, is described by Canadian psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Fergus Craik as “the most crucial cognitive achievement in early childhood”.  The executive function system allows children to focus their attention, to distinguish relevant from distracting information, and to remember more accurately sequences of colors or shapes.

The scientific evidence is sometimes contested and certainly merits more, and more sophisticated, research, but it is clear that over one’s lifetime there are advantages to bilingualism.  Most clearly, Bialystok and her team found that for bilinguals the onset of dementia was delayed by over four years, compared to the onset age for monolinguals.  The advantages of lifelong bilingualism were confirmed in recent PhD research by Henrietta Boudros of Central Michigan University.

Computer brain games to maintain cognitive function have become a multibillion dollar industry, but the claims of the commercial applications are largely unsubstantiated.  A recent review of the research concluded “the evidence larely does not support claims of broad cognitive benefits from practicing the sorts of cognitive tasks used in most brain-training software” (Simons et al 2016, 172).  In short, the computer brain games make you better at playing computer brain games, but have little or no proven effect on cognition.

Instead Simons and his team found that “the development of such capacities appears to require sustained investment in relatively complex environments that afford opportunities for consistent practice and engagement with domain-related challenges” (2016, 112)  – exactly the challenges that learning and maintaining a second language provide.

Instead of mocking foreign language knowledge we, as a nation, should encourage it, both in educating our children and in supporting our bilingual communities.  We have done this in the past, as my book demonstrates; now more than ever it is essential that we embrace bilingualism.  Denial of language education and the suppression of bilingualism is not just a threat to national security, to international economic competitiveness, but also to public health.  It’s never too late to start learning another language, Mr. Trump.  Maybe Russian?

The Study of Language 6th edition by George Yule

Blog Post written by James Mckellar, Cambridge University Press

The Study of Language George Yule

The Study of Language by George Yule has proven itself to be the student and instructor choice for first courses in language and linguistics because of its accessible approach to, what is often, a complicated subject. The book has been recognised internationally for being easy to follow, simple to understand, and fun to read, with its quirky anecdotes and examples of languages from around the world.

Cambridge University Press are proud to announce the publication of the 6th edition and would like to share with you some of the new material and key features. The Study of Language clearly explains the major concepts in linguistics through all the key elements of language. The sixth edition has been revised and updated throughout, with substantial changes made to chapters on phonetics, grammar and syntax, and the addition of 30 new figures and tables and 80 new study questions. To increase student engagement and to foster problem-solving and critical thinking skills, the book also includes 20 new tasks. An expanded and revised online study guide provides students with further resources, including answers and tutorials for all tasks, while encouraging lively and proactive learning. This is the most fundamental and easy-to-use introduction to the study of language.

A significant teaching challenge faced by instructors is that of providing a survey of language as an area for study within a short period of time (typically a single semester) for students with no or very little prior knowledge of the subject. Yule’s approach condenses technical terminology into concise bite sized chapters, allowing flexibility in teaching.

Table of Contents 

Preface, 1. The origins of language, 2. Animals and human language, 3. The sounds of language, 4. The sound patterns of language, 5. Word-formation, 6. Morphology, 7. Grammar, 8. Syntax, 9. Semantics, 10. Pragmatics, 11. Discourse analysis, 12. Language and the brain, 13. First language acquisition, 14. Second language acquisition/learning, 15. Gestures and sign languages, 16. Written language, 17. Language history and change, 18. Regional variation in language, 19. Social variation in language, 20. Language and culture, Glossary, References, Index.

To find out more about the 6th edition click here ,To read a free extract click here

This month in Linguistics from Cambridge

linguistics out this month 1

Imagery in Albert Camus’s L’Étranger (1942)

Blog post written by Dr Ronald Batchelor, the author of A Reference Grammar of French (2011) & A Student Grammar of Spanish (2006).

The flat, lifeless, may we venture monotonous? style of Camus’s L’Étranger, a seminal work in mid-twentieth century French literature, would seem to offer the sharpest of contrasts with any reference to its imagery. The protagonist narrator, Meursault, writes in a moral vacuum, a Godless, valueless universe which promotes an apparently pointless presentation of events leading to the shooting dead of an Arab on a sun-drenched beach near Algiers: a murder leading to the trial, conviction and guillotining of the hero. The first person point of view, the unconventional, even uniquely focussed narrative in the perfect tense as opposed to the traditional preterite or past historic, the marked lack of explanatory or modifying conjunctions such as “et”, “mais” and “tandis que” (and/but/while), the striking brevity of the sentences, they all converge on the meaningless process of the existence of an alienated hero, having attracted numerous critical comments, including those of the present author. The reader is left with a linear, rigorously non-analytic presentation of the experience of life’s absurdity, and the main character’s failure to connect with society.

Clearly, the entire novella follows a repetitive, neurotic pattern, uninterrupted save for one crucial point in the centre of the novel, and it is upon this pivotal feature that the whole narrative hangs. L’Étranger divides neatly into two parts, “Première Partie” and “Deuxième Partie”, and it is precisely at the very end of part one that a surprisingly abrupt change in stylistic technique occurs. In other words, the reader’s attention is suddenly, unexpectedly jolted from a seemingly lacklustre arrangement of words to an unrestrained flourish of sustained images, largely similes and metaphors. This febrile recourse to imagery, and we insist on “febrile”, perfectly illustrates Meursault’s temporary transformation from a dispassionate, unresponsive character to a man of  uncontrolled fear. He shoots the unknown Arab for self-protection, only guessing that he might be in danger from a knife he is carrying.

The murder is explained less by psychological analysis than by a skilfull, cumulative use of images that slowly rise in a crescendo to a paroxysm of loss of self-control. The unrelenting use of metaphor and simile cuts the novel in two, punctuating it at the very point where Meursault’s life is violently disturbed from an experience of happy indifference. Only a very close reading of the text enables the reader to perceive the change in the character’s awareness and experience. It is all a question of tacit suggestion rather than clarity of explanation.

A study of the tropes, or figurative language, henceforth indicated by words placed in bold, offers us access to what is going on in Meursault’s mind during the murder scene, the beginning of which occurs on page 1166 of the Pléiade Edition of Camus’s writings (Théâtre, Récits, Nouvelles, Paris, 1962): “Je l’a accompagné jusqu’au cabanon…” (I accompanied him ((Raymond, another character)) as far as the small house). The unbearable exposure to the heat of the Algerian summer sun overwhelms Meursault who undergoes a sense of disorientation. We read in rapid succession: “la tête retentissante de soleil” (my head reverberating with the sun); “Toute cette chaleur qui s’appuyait sur moi et s’opposait à mon avance” (All this heat that was bearing down on me and was preventing me from moving forward). For brevity’s sake, we omit several further tropes until we read of the throbbing sensation of the sun’s heat: “Je ne sentais plus que les cymbales du soleil” (I could only feel the cymbals of the sun); “pleuvoir du feu” (to rain fire).

Intertwined with intense heat is the dazzling onslaught of a brilliant sun: “la pluie aveuglante qui tombait du ciel” (the blinding rain falling from the sky); “La lumière a giclé sur l’acier”  (The light squirted on the steel); “et c’était comme une longue lame étincelante qui m’atteignait au front” (and it was like a long sparkling blade striking me on the forehead). Allusions in these last two examples are to the Arab’s knife, the danger of which is stressed by the alliterative “l”=longue lame éincelante”. The culminating, metaphoric point is reached in the sentence: “Cette épée brûlante rongeait mes cils et fouillait mes yeux douloureux” (The burning sword gnawed at my eyelashes, searching into my painful eyes). Meursault no longer sees what is happening to him. He blindly pulls the trigger on the Arab. The killing of the Arab is to be construed as an act of self-defence, justification denied by the subsequent court hearing. The art of the imagery is too intimate and personal for this truth to be seized upon by society’s laws.

An integral part of Camus’s figurative art is the frequent use of pathetic fallacy which invests nature with human attributes. Its function emphasizes, once again, intensity of sensation, and the universe’s collaboration in Meursault’s downfall. Thus we read: “La mer haletait de toute la respiration rapide et étouffée de ses petites vagues” (The sea panted with all the quick, stifled breathing of its small waves); “…soleil et de cette ivresse qu’il me déversait” (…sun, and of this opaque drunkenness that it waa pouring over me);  “Le bruit des vagues était encore plus paresseux” (The sound of the waves was even lazier); “Mais toute une plage vibrante de soleil se pressait derrière moi” (But a whole vibrant beach was crowding behind me).

The sharpness of sensation increases with several references, sometimes oblique, to the Arab’s knife, his “couteau”: “à chaque épée de lumière” (at each sword of light, i.e. shaft); “acier” (steel); “lame” (blade); “glaive éclatant” (shining sword). These references stress the cutting edge of the knife, the vulnerability of human flesh, constituting a forerunner of bullets sinking into the Arab’s body.

The entire passage ends on one short, premonitory, fateful and harrowing sentence built upon a simile and a metaphor, following the one bullet, then four more, that Meursault shoots into the Arab’s flesh: “Et c’était comme quatre coups brefs que je portais sur la porte du malheur” (And it was like four sharp blows that I gave on the door of misfortune). Part two sees Meursault immediately in prison. He has gone through this door of misfortune, irrevocably.

All the preceding instances of imagery leading to the death of an anonymous Arab are already contained in, and tacitly announced by, the protagonist’s very name, unusual although not unique in the French-speaking world : Meursault: (je) meurs=(I) die, “sault” suggesting “soleil”. i.e. sun. Emblematic conclusion: death in the sun.

The sustained use of imagery exclusively applied to the murder scene is designed to offer the reader a privileged insight into the reasons for Meursault’s behaviour while, at the same time, denying this insight to the court and the condemning magistrate. Camus’s well-known and oft-commented-upon preoccupation with the inhuman legal machinery of the death sentence requires no further remark.

One final point: why does Meursault, an ordinary office worker with no obvious claim to literary acumen, indifferent to and alienated from, his society he regards as fruitless and irrelevant, indulge in such a wealth of richly powerful, highly charged and apposite language? How can he reconcile a randomly pursued life and a carefully crafted work of art? An insoluble contradiction inherent in the application of his particular first person viewpoint.

Read more blog posts from Dr Ronald Batchelor here

Language, cats and extra-terrestrials

Blog post written by Ian Roberts, University of Cambridge

Ian Roberts CatI’d like to begin by talking about my cat, Clover. He really is very intelligent: he knows exactly how to wake me up in the morning, exactly which shelf in which cupboard his food is kept on, where his bowl is, how to get let out, and lots of other things. You won’t catch the average ant, starfish or parsnip doing any of that. By the standards of nearly everything in the known universe, he really is smart.

But of course we’re much smarter. There are plenty of things in the world, especially in our mental world, that poor Clover has absolutely no inkling of: notably such things as nouns, quantifiers and syllables, i.e. language. These things are every bit as much beyond Clover as waking me up to get me to feed it would be for a parsnip or a starfish. Obviously the fact that we have language has a lot to do with this cognitive gulf between us and our pets, but that may not be the whole story.

But a natural question to ask is: is there a similar cognitive gulf between us and other forms of intelligence? We seem to be smartest creatures on our planet, but this is where the extra-terrestrials come in. Here I’m not interested in various forms of slime that might be around on Mars or elsewhere, but intelligent extra-terrestrials, the sort that might build spaceships. Could there be extra-terrestrials so much smarter than us that they would keep us as pets? Or (cue the creepy sci-fi music), are we already pets but we just don’t know it? After all, Clover doesn’t know he’s my pet. Are there, in other words, concepts as impossible for us as the concepts three, verb or phoneme are for Clover?

If the answer is yes, then we’d better keep out of the way of the smarter extra-terrestrials. Nothing good for us can come of contact with such creatures; the best we can hope is to be treated as pets. You don’t want to think about the worst.

But the answer doesn’t have to be yes. It is also quite possible that we have crossed a cognitive threshold. Our capacity to express anything, through the recursive syntax and compositional semantics of natural language might have taken us into a cognitive realm where anything, everything, is possible. Effectively, having language has made us the equal of any extra-terrestrial (who would have to have something like language in order to build their spaceships).

In the movie 2001: A Space Odessey, Stanley Kubrick made one of the most brilliant associative cuts in movie history. The film starts in prehistory, and shows a bunch of ape-men fighting over a water-hole. Then one day one of them comes across a monolith which makes a weird noise. This is an alien artefact which somehow transmits intelligence. Next time he squares up to the enemy ape-men at the water-hole, this one picks up a bone and smashes the enemy’s head in. In jubilation at this discovery of a weapon, he throws it up into the air and as it spins around Kubrick cuts to an image of a spaceship orbiting the earth.

Kubrick’s message is clear: once you’ve figured out how to use tools, it’s a short step to spaceships. That movie was made in the 1960s at a time when many people thought that Man the Tool-Maker was the key to the differences between us and other species, and hence that inventing tools was a crucial step in human evolution. We now know that’s not true, as quite a few other species use tools of various kinds. But Kubrick’s basic idea that there might have been a crucial mutation in human evolution which led, in almost no time from an evolutionary perspective, to space travel might have been right. And it’s a plausible speculation that the mutation in question was whatever it is that makes our brains capable of computing recursive syntax. It’s a short step, not a great leap, from syntax to spaceships.

The Wonders of Language Anyway, something (God, natural selection, a random mutation, an alien monolith) has given us our extraordinary minds with our extraordinary capacity for generating, storing and transmitting knowledge. Language really must be central to these abilities. My new book The Wonders of Language, or How to Make Noises and Influence People, is an introduction to what linguists have discovered about this truly remarkable phenomenon.  Understanding language means understanding a very big part of what it is to be human, what it is to be you.

An Interview with Ian Roberts, the author of The Wonders of Language :

Ian Roberts The Wonders of Language

British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL) 2016-Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press is proud to Sponsor the 49th Annual Meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics hosted by Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge on 1–3 September 2016.

Visit the Cambridge stand at the conference to receive 20% off applied linguistics titles on display and take away complimentary copies of our popular linguistics journals.

We would also like to invite you to join us for the Cambridge University Press Colloquium featuring a distinguished panel of speakers: Professor Li Wei, Dr Napoleon Katsos, Dr Jenny Gibson, Dr Martin Dewey and Dr Ardeshir Geranpayeh. They will be addressing the theme of ‘what does it mean to know a second language?’ from a range of perspectives:  a sociolinguistic perspective, a clinical-applied research project, a pedagogical perspective and a view based on automated language assessment, and will include an interactive Q&A session.

Cambridge University Press and Cambridge English Language Assessment are co-sponsoring the wine reception to be held on Friday the 2nd of September in the Academy at Anglian Ruskin. We look forward to seeing you there for complimentary drinks and nibbles at 5.30pm.

Cambridge University Press

Phonology: A Coursebook

Blog post written by Robbert Kennedy, University of California, Santa Barbra

Phonology A Coursebook by Robert Kennedy I am excited to share Phonology: A Coursebook with instructors everywhere. This textbook represents the culmination of many years of thinking about how to make the content of phonology courses more accessible and engaging to students, and I can share a few examples of what is new about it here.

I have always believed phonological analysis to be an important skill for linguists of any stripe, so I think it’s crucial that students establish a solid understanding of its central concepts. But Linguistics is growing as an academic field, with its traditions of structural analysis and documentation joined by those interested in the study of language through the lens of identity, technology, and many other angles. The growth in size and range of our undergraduate population (at my home institution, and surely many others) reflects this. My personal motivation for writing a phonology textbook thus comes from my classroom observation of the varying interests and learning styles among students, not just in phonology courses but in other linguistics courses as well – so that even if the student is not planning on specializing in phonology, they can still experience the course as a practicum in the procedures of the scientific method.

With this in mind, I have structured this book around a mindset of the primacy of data: its chapters are organized around types of phonological processes and patterns, with assimilation, deletion, insertion, harmony, syllabification, stress, and tonal phenomenal all highlighted as objects of phonological analysis. While I have included familiar classic problem sets, including data from languages such as Yokuts, Turkish, Hungarian, Japanese, Kongo, and Polish, I have enriched them with many others that are either less canonical or newly developed, with notable exercises on syllabification, tone, and prosodic morpho-phonology. Moreover, I have used the data to guide the use of formalisms like features, or rules, or tiered representations.

Meanwhile, I have observed in the past that some students have difficulty seeing phonology and the input-output relationship when following the standard teaching practice of introducing them with distributional facts and phonemic analysis. To address this, I introduce the concepts of underlying representations and processes that operate on them with more concretely observable examples of morphophonemic alternation before exploring phonemic analysis and complementary distribution.

 This gives students something more tangible to grasp early on – the idea that a single underlying phoneme could have multiple surface allophones is more plainly obvious when the forms of specific morphemes alternate by their phonological context. In practice, teaching about phonemes by using complementary distribution and mutual exclusivity, which are more circumstantial in their evidentiality, risks a level of abstractness that is perhaps best left until later in the term. There is a parallel to be drawn with calculus, where the instructor may teach either integrals or derivatives first. Teaching derivatives first is more intuitive to many learners, but in phonology it is as if we have been teaching integrals first.

I believe this approach dovetails well with the spirit of Cambridge’s Coursebook series, in which the reader is presented with datasets and exercises, but the analytical steps are narrated procedurally to illustrate the links between detecting patterns and accounting for their nuances and complexity.

The second novel component is a deeper integration of typological generalizations as an element of phonological argumentation. In class when leading students on how to decide among competing analyses, I often find myself turning to typological evidence, yet note that this information is not readily at the hands of undergrads. The organization of the book by processes clarifies that there are certain types of phenomena that are typologically prevalent, and I use this to argue for the student that the formal tools should reflect these trends.

Another deliberate aspect of this textbook is how it treats the role of features and representations. Feature charts and derivational conventions are so rich with detail and precision that students can get lost trying to remember them all, especially if they think of the best analysis as one that uses the correct features.  I often see students struggling to memorize feature charts for IPA symbols rather than thinking of natural classes in more concrete terms. Thus I emphasize in the text that the features are valuable analytical tools, but what a student employs in a given analysis must primarily distinguish groups of sounds that behave differently.

This textbook is aimed at introductory phonology classes, particularly for students who have completed an introductory course in linguistics and/or phonetics and have working knowledge of IPA transcription and some basics of morphological analysis. Nevertheless the datasets are numerous and rich enough to be useful for more advanced students of phonology as well.

I look forward to using this textbook in the classroom and sincerely hope other phonology instructors will find it both useful and engaging as a resource for their students.

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Teaching a course on this topic?

EMEA lecturers may request a copy of this title for inspection here

US instructors may request a copy of this title for examination here

Visit the book’s page for more information here

The brave new world of emoji: Why and how has emoji taken the world by storm?

Blog post written by Cambridge author Vyvyan Evans.

An emoji is a glyph encoded in fonts, like other characters, for use in electronic communication. It’s especially prevalent in digital messaging and social media.  An emoji, or ‘picture character’, is a visual representation of a feeling, idea, entity, status or event.  From a historical perspective, the first emojis were developed in the late 1990s in Japan for use in the world’s first mobile phone internet system. There were originally 176, very crude by today’s standards.

Early Emoji Faces

Early emoji faces

In 2009, the California-based Unicode Consortium, which specifies the international standard for the representation of text across modern digital computing and communication platforms, sanctioned 722 emojis.  The Unicode approved emojis became available to software developers by 2010, and a global phenomenon was born.  Today, there are a little over 1,200 emojis available.

The new universal ‘language’?

While emoji is not, strictly speaking, a language, in the way that say, English, French or Japanese are languages, it is certainly a powerful system of communication.  English is often said to be the world’s global language, so a comparison is instructive.
English has 335 million native speakers, with a further 505 million speakers who use it as a second language.  It’s the primary or official language in 101 countries, from Canada to Cameroon, and from Malta to Malawi – far outstripping any other language.  It has been transplanted far from its point of origin – a small country, on a small island –  spreading far beyond English shores.  But more than the range, English has steadily gained ground in almost all areas of international communication: from commerce, to diplomacy, from aviation to academic publishing, serving as a global Lingua Franca.


But in comparison, emoji dwarfs even the reach of English. The driver for the staggering adoption of emoji has been the advent of mobile computing, especially the smartphone.  Emoji was introduced as an international keyboard in Apple’s operating system (iOS) in October 2011.  And by July 2013 it had been introduced across most Android operating platforms.
There are different measures for assessing the stratospheric rise of emoji.  One factor has been the rapid adoption of smartphones.  Today one quarter of the world’s global population owns a smartphone; and based on a survey of mobile computing habits in 41 countries it is estimated that today there are over 2 billion smartphone users with 31% of the global population accessing the internet by smartphone.  In terms of specific countries, China exceeded 500 million smartphones during the course of 2014, and it is estimated that India will have over 200 million smartphone users this year, and in the USA the same figure will be achieved by 2017, when 65% of the population of the United States will own a smartphone.[i]   In terms of smartphones alone, some 41.5 billion text messages are sent globally every day, using around 6 billion emojis—figures that are mindboggling.[ii]

Emoji all around us

Today emoji is seemingly everywhere, having spread far beyond the messaging systems it was developed for.  The New York Subway has now introduced a system, using emoji, to advise passengers of the status of particular subway lines: whether trains are running normally or not.  As the NY City website explains: “We’re trying to estimate agony on the NYC subway by monitoring time between trains and adding unhappy points for stations typically crowded at rush hour.” [iii]  Here’s an example:

New York Subway Emoji

Reprinted from the WNYC website

Even an institution as august as the BBC is not immune.  Each Friday, the Newsbeat page on the BBC website—associated with BBC Radio 1 and aimed at younger listeners—publishes the news in emoji. Radio listeners are invited to guess what the headline means. See whether you can figure out which headline this emoji ‘sentence’ relates to:

Emoji Question

  1. Four climbers find what they think is a Dodo chick egg. But it’s not. The bird has been extinct for 450 years.
  2. One in four people don’t know the Dodo is extinct, a poll finds.
  3. Four children win a science competition to genetically recreate the Dodo.

(The correct answer is 2).

Moreover, the literary canon is not excluded: a visual designer with a passion for emoji has translated Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a book of 27,500 or so words, into a pictorial narrative, consisting of around 25,000 emoji.[iv]  Some example emoji ‘sentences’ are below:

Alice in Wonderland Emoji

Frivolous or the future?

A common question that people ask is whether anyone—you or I—can simply create their own emojis?  The short answer is yes.  For instance, Finland, on behalf of the Finnish people, has created its own set of national emojis that express Finnish identity.  These include emojis of people in saunas, of a Nokia phone and of a headbanger.

These is a computer generated emojis made available by Finland's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015. Finland is launching a series of ‘national emojis’ that include people sweating in saunas, classic Nokia phones and heavy metal head-bangers. Petra Theman from the Finnish Foreign Ministry says the emojis will be released as a way to promote the country’s image abroad and are based on themes associated with Finland. (Finnish Foreign Ministry via AP)

These are a computer generated emojis made available by Finland’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015. Finland is launching a series of ‘national emojis’ that include people sweating in saunas, classic Nokia phones and heavy metal head-bangers. Petra Theman from the Finnish Foreign Ministry says the emojis will be released as a way to promote the country’s image abroad and are based on themes associated with Finland. (Finnish Foreign Ministry via AP)

Finnish national emojis

But while Finland was the first country in the world to embrace its national identity through emojis, you or I won’t be able to text one another the headbanger emoji anytime soon.   And that’s because the Finnish emojis have not been officially sanctioned by the Unicode Consortium—and Finland has no plans to submit them for consideration.

A new emoji has to meet various criteria to become a candidate emoji.  And only after a lengthy vetting process, taking around 18 months, does a successful candidate emoji pass muster.  Even then, it can take still longer for a newly sanctioned emoji to make it onto our digital keyboards – once approved, emojis can take several operating system – updates, and sometimes several years, to make it onto a smartphone or tablet computer near you.  So, for now, at least, Finland’s bespoke emojis are classed as ‘stickers’: bespoke images that have to be downloaded as part of an app, in order to be inserted them into text messages.

On January 25th 2016, a Chinese – American businesswoman, YiYing Lu, from San Francisco, succeeded where Finland had declined to tread.  Supported by a publically-funded kickstarter campaign, Lu succeeded in having a dumpling achieve official emoji candidate status.  And if successful, the proposed dumpling is set to become a bona fide emoji by the end of 2017.  In so doing, it would join a growing catalogue of food emojis, including pizza, hamburger, doughnuts and even a taco glyph.

Dumpling Emoji

The proposed dumpling emoji. From The Dumpling Project.

             The entire emoji vetting process is controlled by a handful of American multinational corporations, based in California.  And there are strict qualifying criteria for new emojis: they may not depict persons living or dead, nor deities, for instance.  This is why there is no Buddha, or Elvis emojis. Moreover, a candidate emoji must be deemed to have widespread appeal.   On this score, the proposal for a dumpling emoji looks to be a strong candidate. A dumpling – a dough filled food parcel – is popular around the world, with exemplars ranging from Italian ravioli to Russian pelmeni, to Japanese gyoza. In Argentina there is empanadas, Jewish cuisine has kreplach, in Korea there is madoo and China has popstickers.  But when Lu, an aficionado of Chinese dumplings, attempted to text a friend about the dish, she noticed there wasn’t an emoji she could use.

In early 2016, the fact that the dumpling had officially achieved candidate emoji status in California hit the headlines around the world, from New York, to London, to Beijing; even the broadcast media got in on the act. I was invited onto BBC Radio to discuss the success of the Dumpling Kickstarter project, headlining with Lu herself.   The Kickstarter campaign  –  to raise the necessary funds to prepare the proposal  –  had been a self-evident success, achieving over $12,000 and reaching its target within a few hours of going live.  But the headlines beg the very question: why all the fuss about dumplings? Isn’t this simply frivolity gone mad, an expensive bit of silliness?

On the contrary: emoji matters. The Dumpling Project stands for far more than a simplistic bid to have the favourite food of a Bay area business woman become sanctioned as an emoji. It is an instance of internet democracy at work: indeed, the slogan of the project was ‘emoji for the people, by the people’.

One reason why emoji matters is the following; love it or loathe it, emoji is today the world’s global form of communication.  A quarter of the world’s population owns a smartphone, and over 80% of adult smartphone users regularly use emoji, with figures likely to be far higher for under 18s. In short, most of the world’s mobile computing users use emoji much of the time.  And yet, the catalogue of emojis that show up on our smartphones and tablet computers  –  the vocabulary that connects 2 billion people  –  is controlled by a handful of American multinationals – eight of the eleven full members of the Unicode Consortium are American: Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.  Moreover, the committee reps of these tech companies are overwhelmingly white, male, and computer engineers – hardly representative of the diversity exhibited by the global users of emojis.  Indeed, as of 2015, the majority of food emojis were associated with North American culture, with some throwbacks to the Japanese origins of emoji (such as a sushi emoji).
Hence, one motivation for the Dumpling Project was to ensure better representation. Of course, on its own, a campaign and proposal for a new food emoji cannot do much.  But as an appeal to global cultural and culinary diversity, and as call for better representation of this diversity, the dumpling is a powerful emblem.  Emoji began as a bizarre little known North Asian phenomenon; since, control has come to rest in the hands of American corporate giants. Dumplings, on the other hand, in their various shapes and guises are truly international and get at the global nature of emoji.
Perhaps more than anything, the Dumpling Project is fun; and in terms of emoji, a sense of fun is the watchword.  While these colourful glyphs add a dollop of personality to our digital messaging, the Dumpling Project makes a powerful point without resorting to burning either bras or effigies.  It avoids gender, religion or politics in conveying a simple message about inclusiveness in the world’s most widely used form of communication. And in the process, it provides us with an object lesson in the unifying and non – threatening nature of emoji. Perhaps the world can, indeed, be united for the better by this new, quasi-universal form of communication.

Communication and emotional intelligence

Setting aside dumplings, one of the serious questions surrounding the rise and rise of emoji is this: Why has the uptake of emoji grown exponentially: why is a truly global system of communication?  Some see emoji as little more than an adolescent grunt, taking us back to the dark ages of illiteracy.   But this prejudice fundamentally misunderstands the nature of communication. And in so doing it radically underestimates the potentially powerful and beneficial role of emoji in the digital age as a communication and educational tool.
All too often we think of language as the mover and the shaker in our everyday world of meaning.  But, in actual fact, most of the meaning we convey and glean in our everyday social encounters, comes from nonverbal cues.  In the spoken medium, gesture, facial expression, body language and speech intonation provide a means of qualifying and adjusting the message conveyed by the words.  A facial wink or smile nuances the language, providing a crucial contextualisation cue, aiding our understanding of the spoken word.  And intonation not only ‘punctuates’ our spoken language—there are no white spaces and full – stops in speech that help us identify where words begin and sentences end—intonation even provides ‘missing’ information not otherwise conveyed by the words.
Much of our communication is nonverbal.  Take gesture: our gestures are minutely choreographed to co-occur with our spoken words. And we seem unable to suppress them. Watch someone on the telephone; they’ll be gesticulating away, despite their gestures being unseen by the person on the other end of the line. Indeed, if gestures are suppressed, in lab settings say, then our speech actually becomes less fluent. We need to gesture to be able to speak properly.  And, by some accounts, gesture may have even been the route that language took in its evolutionary emergence.

Eye contact is another powerful signal we use in our everyday encounters.  We use it to manage our spoken interactions with others.  Speakers avert their gaze from an addressee when talking, but establish eye contact to signal the end of their utterance. We gaze at our addressee to solicit feedback, but avert our gaze when we disapprove of what they are saying. We also glance at our addressee to emphasise a point we’re making.
Eye gaze, gesture, facial expression, and speech prosody are powerful nonverbal cues that convey meaning; they enable us to express our emotional selves, as well as providing an effective and dynamic means of managing our interactions on a moment by moment time – scale.   Face – to – face interaction is multimodal, with meaning conveyed in multiple, overlapping and complementary ways.  This provides a rich communicative environment, with multiple cues for coordinating and managing our spoken interactions.

Digital communication increasingly provides us with an important channel of communication in our increasingly connected 21st century social and professional lives. But the rich, communicative context available in face-to-face encounters is largely absent.  Digital text alone is impoverished and emotionally arid.  Digital communication, seemingly, possesses the power to strip all forms of nuanced expression even from the best of us.   But here emoji can help: it fulfils a similar function in digital communication to gesture, body language and intonation, in spoken communication.  Emoji, in text messaging and other forms of digital communication, enables us to better express tone and provide emotional cues to better manage the ongoing flow of information, and to interpret what the words are meant to convey.

It is no fluke, therefore, that I have found, in my research on emoji usage in the UK, commissioned by TalkTalk Mobile, that 72% of British 18-25 year olds believe that emoji make them better at expressing their feelings.  Far from leading to a drop in standards, emoji are making people – especially the young – better communicators in their digital lives.

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[i] http://www.emarketer.com/Article/2-Billion-Consumers-Worldwide-Smartphones-by-2016/1011694#sthash.p0P9KU38.dpuf

[ii] Swyftkey April 2015

[iii] http://www.wnyc.org/story/your-subway-agony/  (accessed 8th July 2015 7.30pm BST).

[iv] http://joehale.bigcartel.com/product/wonderland-emoji-poster

Dialect Matters – Respecting Vernacular Language

Blog post written by Peter Trudgill author of Dialect Matters – Respecting Vernacular Language

Dialect Matters

Academic linguists are often asked questions like: Is it really bad form to sometimes split your infinitives? What exactly is wrong with saying “I done it”? Why is the pronunciation of younger people these days so irritating? Why is it OK to drop the k in know but not the h in house? Why do railway companies prefer to have customers alighting from trains rather than passengers getting off them? And what is so important about sentences not starting with a conjunction?

This book argues in favour of the language of ordinary people. It champions everyday vocabulary, such as passenger, as opposed to business-school jargon like customer. Its supports nonstandard dialects, including forms such as I done it, in the face of the tyranny of the view that the standard dialect is the only “correct” and “grammatical” version of the language. It cherishes the English used by native speakers in their everyday lives, not least where they appear to defy the views of pedants who attempt to impose “rules” on us – for example about split infinitives – which have been invented for no good reason. It makes the case for vernacular usage as opposed to politically correct language. It demands respect for local ways of pronouncing local place-names. It asserts the primacy of spoken language and explains the importance of discourse markeres like “like”. And it defends minority languages like Welsh and Navajo, where these are threatened by majority languages like English.

The book is a collection of my weekly columns on accent and dialect from the Eastern Daily Press newspaper, revised and annotated for a wider audience. Many of these essays deal with the history of the English language. Others explain the origins of place-names. Some discuss the ways in which languages change while dismissing the loaded notions of deterioration and progress. Several of the columns look at political problems brought about by language issues; and stress the tragedy of language death. The coverage ranges from England to New England and Moldova; from the languages of indigenous Australians and Americans to the Old Norse tongue of the Vikings; and from vocabulary to phonetics and grammar. One of the pieces even boasts what is quite possibly the first ever usage in a regional British newspaper of the word phonotactics.

One of the main purposes of these columns is to broadcast a message of anti-prescriptivism, anti-linguicism, and respect for demotic linguistic practices. Prescriptivism is a form of prejudice which is so widely accepted in the English-speaking world that it is taken by many people to be axiomatic. Prescriptivists believe that there is only one way in which English “ought” to be spoken and written, and that any deviation from this is “ignorant” or “wrong”. If you ask them their justification for claiming that the sentence I done it is wrong, they may well answer that “everybody knows” it is. In this book, I try to show that this is not so. And I oppose negative attitudes like this – which are sadly held even by many highly educated and otherwise thoughtful people – by proposing that we should cultivate a positive stance towards all the different ways in which English is spoken around the world.

By the term “linguicism” I refer to a phenomenon which is, in its way, every bit as pernicious as racism and sexism, and which these days is more publicly and shamelessly displayed than those other evil phenomena. Linguicism involves being negative towards and discriminating against people because of their accent, dialect or native language. The totally false idea that some dialects of English are – in some mysterious and never specified way –“better” than others has many unfortunate consequences, not least the denigration of whole groups of our fellow human beings.

But I also attempt to convey the message that language is a mysterious, fascinating and enjoyable phenomenon which not enough people know enough about. I have attempted to use my columns as an opportunity to show that language is an extraordinarily interesting phenomenon, especially when we do our best to think about it analytically and positively, without preconceptions and prejudice. Nothing is more important to human beings than language; and I hope that in this book I have succeeded in illustrating the degree to which all languages and dialects are not only worthy of respect and preservation but, as complex creations of human societies and of the human mind, are also highly rewarding and pleasing to discover more about.

All the 150 or so columns in the book are about language in some shape or form, and contain linguistic information with insights which will be of interest to university students and teachers of linguistics, as well as to high-school English Language teachers and their classes: indeed they have already been used to stimulate discussion in classrooms from New Zealand and the USA to the British Isles. For the benefit of this type of reader, most of the pieces in this book are accompanied by brief Linguistic Notes of a technical nature which general readers need not bother with unless they want to achieve a more academic understanding of the issues involved. Local background notes are also provided where necessary for readers not familiar with East-of-England background of a number of the columns.