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.



[ii] Swyftkey April 2015

[iii]  (accessed 8th July 2015 7.30pm BST).


SSLA Announces the 2016 Albert Valdman Award Winner

Cambridge University Press and Studies in Second Language Acquisition are pleased to announce that the recipients of the 2016 Albert Valdman Award for outstanding publication in 2015 are Gregory D. Keating and Jill Jegerski for their March 2015 article, “Experimental designs in sentence processing research: A methodological review and user’s guide”, Volume 37, Issue 1.  Please join us in congratulating these authors on their contribution to the journal and to the field.

Post written by Gregory D. Keating and Jill Jegerski

We wish to express our utmost thanks and gratitude to the editorial and review boards at SSLA for selecting our article, ‘Research designs in sentence processing research: A methodological review and user’s guide,’ (March, 2015) for the Albert Valdman Award for outstanding publication. The two of us first became research collaborators several years ago as a result of our mutual interests in sentence processing, research methods, research design, and statistics. With each project that we have undertaken, we’ve had many fruitful and engaging conversations about best practices in experimental design and data analysis for sentence processing research. This article is the product of many of our own questions, which led us to conduct extensive reviews of existing processing studies. Our recommendations are culled from and informed by the body of work we reviewed, as well as our own experiences conducting sentence processing research. Stimulus development and data analysis can pose great challenges. It is our hope that the information provided in our paper will be a useful resource to researchers and students who wish to incorporate psycholinguistic methods into their research agenda and that the study of second language processing will continue to flourish in the future.

Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World

Post written by Jennifer Austin, María Blume & Liliana Sánchez authors of Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World.

Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking WorldBilingualism, and how it affects language and cognitive development, is a topic of increasing relevance in an interconnected world. In Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World, we examine how the outcomes of bilingualism are shaped by factors at the individual level, such as age of acquisition and the amount and type of input, as well as societal support for the minority language in the form of dual-language education and similar initiatives. By analyzing previous research on the effects of these variables on bilingual speakers’ linguistic representations, as well as their minds and brains, we have attempted to provide a better understanding of some emerging conceptual views of the bilingual speaker. We also discuss how societal maintenance of bilingualism differs within the three multilingual communities which are the focus of this book: Peru, Spain and the United States. The status of Spanish varies between these regions; in Peru and the Spanish Basque Country, Spanish is a high-status, majority language, and in the United States, it is a minority language with varying degrees of prestige. While these three communities are linked by the common thread of bilingualism in Spanish, they provide diverse perspectives on the experience of being bilingual in distinct cultural, political, and socioeconomic contexts.

In the first chapter of the book, we examine how the concept of bilingualism has evolved from early definitions which included the expectation that bilinguals should behave like monolinguals, as in Bloomfield’s definition of bilingualism as the “native-like control of two languages” (Bloomfield 1933: 55-56). Increasingly, contemporary theories of bilingualism view differences between bilinguals and monolinguals as expected and normal, rather than deficiencies on the part of the bilingual. In addition, we discuss how heritage speakers challenge previous expectations regarding bilingualism, namely that the first language acquired is always the dominant one (the “mother tongue”), as well as the language that is acquired in a “native-like” fashion.

In the second chapter, we discuss recent research showing that the two languages of a bilingual are highly interconnected at the lexical, syntactic and phonological levels. We also review evidence that the continual interaction between the languages of a bilingual has important repercussions for cognitive development in bilingual children beginning early in infancy. These include enhanced executive function skills stemming from bilinguals’ need to monitor and inhibit one of their languages, as well as enhanced literacy abilities for bilingual children acquiring same-script languages. Bilingualism also produces neuroanatomical changes in multilingual speakers, including enhanced subcortical auditory processing and increased grey matter density in the inferior parietal cortex, an effect that is modulated by language proficiency and age of acquisition. Finally in the second chapter we presented evidence regarding the factors that affect L1 and L2 attrition in bilinguals, including age of second language immersion, availability and type of input, and proficiency levels in each language.

The third chapter examines several theories which have been proposed to account for lexical and syntactic development in bilingual children and adults. While early theoretical accounts assumed that lexical and syntactic development occurred separately, more recent approaches have proposed that their acquisition is interconnected, a theoretical linguistic advance which finds empirical support in the studies of the bilingual lexicon by cognitive psychologists. In this chapter we also present research findings that have allowed the field of bilingualism to move from initial debates on unitary versus binary systems of representation to a more nuanced view of the development of the bilingual lexicon and syntax that involves the interplay of different language subcomponents.

The overall picture that emerges from this book is thatthe cognitive and linguistic effectsof bilingualism illustrate just how complex the representation and processing of language are in the human mind in ways that go beyond accounts based solely on the study of monolinguals.

To find out more about this new book published by Cambridge University Press please click here

Bilingual Language Acquisition

How do children develop bilingual competence? Do bilingual children develop language in the same way as monolinguals? Set in the context of findings on language development, Bilingual Language Acquisition examines the acquisition of English and Spanish by two brothers in the first six years of their lives. (The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 1).


Bingual language acquisition

The terms bilingual and bilingualism have received diverse definitions. In this book, bilingual (the person), and bilingualism (the condition or state of affairs) refer to the use of two (or more) languages in everyday life. Two major patterns of language acquisition have been identified in studies of early bilingualism: simultaneous bilingualism and sequential bilingualism, but no agreement exists with respect to the age at which bilingual development would be considered to be sequential. In simultaneous bilingualism, the child acquires two languages at the same time from birth or, as some researchers propose, before 3 years of age. Here, I use the term Bilingual First Language Acquisition (BFLA, or 2L1) to refer to situations where the child’s exposure to two languages begins at birth (cf. De Houwer 2009: Ch. 1). This means that the question of the effect that different ages of first exposure to a language may have on the development of bilingual competence is not relevant in BFLA, but it is in sequential bilingualism. The latter could be differentiated, depending on when acquisition of a second language begins, into: (a) successive bilingualism, when the child’s exposure to a second language starts sometime between the first and third birthdays; and (b) early second language acquisition, a form of early bilingualism that happens when a child has one established language before starting to hear and learn a second language (De Houwer 2009: 4). This book focuses on BFLA – that is, on the acquisition of two languages from birth, Spanish and English in this case. The overall goal is to examine whether bilingualism affects the course of development in each language, and if so, how. course of development in each language, and if so, how.


Download the full excerpt here


The Study of Language by George Yule | 5th Edition

The Study of Language 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. In every edition, readers have praised the book for being easy to follow, simple to understand, and fun to read, with its quirky anecdotes and examples of languages from around the world. Now in its fifth edition, it is further strengthened by the addition of new student ‘tasks’ (guiding readers to connect theory to real-world scenarios), including examples from even more foreign languages, and updating the text to reflect the most current linguistic theory. We will also be offering an enriched learning experience with our new enhanced eBook (publishing in Autumn), which will include pop-up glossary terms, embedded audio and interactive questioning. All of these features make this the most student-friendly edition of the textbook yet.


The Study of Language

Paragraph above by Valerie Appleby, Development Editor, Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press announces launch of the Journal of Linguistic Geography

Posted on behalf of Editors William Labov and Dennis Preston


Cambridge University Press is pleased to announce the launch of the new online-only Journal of Linguistic Geography (JLG). The journal’s goal is to open the flow of linguistic analysis using electronic formats (such as scalable maps and figures, searchable data sets, and embedded audio files) in a field that has long been blocked by technical factors. For all new subscribers, a comprehensive User Experience Guide provides an overview of the journal’s interactive capacities. Submissions to the journal are welcome and may be sent to Queries are welcome, too.

The journal is an official publication of the International Conference on Methods in Dialectology. Editors Bill Labov (University of Pennsylvania) and Dennis R. Preston (Oklahoma State University) are supported by Technical Editor Bartłomiej Plichta (University of Minnesota). The full editorial board can be viewed here.

The Journal of Linguistic Geography: From Concept to Creation

The stacks of our libraries are filled with magnificent atlases of linguistic geography. File cabinets throughout the world are filled with papers that have never appeared, faced with the problem of reducing maps to small black-and-white versions that convey only a small part of the information in the original.

There will be no limit on the size of maps submitted to the Journal of Linguistic Geography; they will be viewed in their entirety with the panning and zooming options that are second nature to users of the internet. Color is as fundamental as size in cartography, and in electronic publication, color is no more difficult or expensive than black-and-white.

Even more crucial to analytical reading is the relation between map and text, which in print may require a back-and-forth paging operation that challenges memory and even lead to accepting (or rejecting) the author’s statement without making a point-by-point inspection. In the Journal of Linguistic Geography, maps and figures open in a new window, allowing the reader to make a direct comparison between what is said and what is shown.

A further advantage of the journal’s format is that of sound samples in the electronic page. They will not replace IPA notation, but rather serve to refine and encourage the use of phonetic notation.

Reading the Journal of Linguistic Geography will also show that technical innovations are not confined to modes of display. New developments in mathematical analysis of spatial patterns are represented and may include substantial appendices, since the space limitations of print journals do not apply.

So much for form. But what about content?

To put it simply, linguistic geography is concerned with the spatial differentiation of linguistic forms. Teachers of introductory linguistics find that students are fascinated with the fact there are regions nearby where speakers use ‘X’ to refer to what is (“rightly”) called ‘Y.’ This fascination with the facts of the matter impedes rather than encourages the development of our field as a branch of linguistic science. JLG hopes to mobilize those facts in pursuit of a better understanding of the nature of language structure and language change. Our interest is focused on those connections within language that reflect the impact of a given change on other members of the system. A submission that traces distribution of isolated forms or sounds will receive our full attention when it is woven into the fabric of relations that turn words into language.

We do not disprefer studies of the lexicon, but we encourage authors to display the use of a form against the background of competing and complimentary forms, showing what meanings are found for a given form as well as what forms are found for a given meaning.

Fields of structural relationships are most clearly delineated in phonology, and we would be surprised not to receive submissions dealing with the geography of chain shifts, splits and mergers, but we hope to deal with the geography of the full range of linguistic structures.

We invite studies of the perception of speech as well as production. We are interested in both how linguistic varieties across and within regions are heard and processed and how non-linguists perceive the spatial distribution of varieties, particularly when such studies shed light on the characteristics of language variation and change.

The fact that we are named the Journal of Linguistic Geography is not without significance, but the linguistics we appeal to is not just that of the internal relations of linguistic forms. It is also outwardly defined to include the social, historical and economic contexts in which language is formed and used. Thus we expect to find maps reflecting population growth and movement, out- and in-migration, political trends and voting records as well as highway and railroad networks.

Our Editorial Board comprises a group of distinguished linguists from throughout the world.  Learn more about these board members and how their own published work illustrates research of the scope and quality we hope to feature in the journal.

Taking the pulse of eye-movement research: Special issue of Studies in Second Language Acquisition.

Published on behalf of Aline Godfroid, Paula Winke and Susan Gass

Understanding how languages are learned involves investigating the cognitive processes that underlie acquisition. Many methodologies have been used over the years to comprehend these processes, but one of recent prominence is eye-movement recording, colloquially referred to as eye-tracking. Eye-tracking consists of the registration, in real time, of what an individual looks at and for how long. Thus, eye-trackers provide information about the duration and location of an individual’s eye movements on a computer screen as he or she reads text or listens to audio. Because eye-tracking is still a relatively novel technique in research on adult second language learning, we put together a thematic issue on this topic. The special issue brings together an international group of eye-tracking experts who use eye-movement data to study a variety of language-related questions. The issue also contains important methodological recommendations for colleagues who are interested in using eye-trackers for their own research.

Following an introductory chapter by Leah Roberts and Anna Siyanova-Chanturia, we have organized the empirical articles in this volume into two broad categories: (a) the processing of verbs and verb parts (morphology) and (b) the processing of grammatical gender. Eva Van Assche, Wouter Duyck, and Marc Brysbaert report findings from an empirical study about the organization of the bilingual lexicon. They investigated whether bilingual speakers process cognates (e.g., English win – Dutch winnen) faster, even if the cognate words are embedded in a unilingual sentence context, which presumably constrains which language is to be activated in the brain. Nuria Sagarra and Nick Ellis investigated the effect of participants’ native language and second language proficiency on their second language processing strategies. They compared what linguistic cue (an adverb or a verb ending) learners of Spanish preferred, depending on whether their native language was, like Spanish, a morphologically rich language (i.e., Romanian) or, unlike Spanish, a morphologically poor language (i.e., English). Aline Godfroid and Maren Uggen examined whether beginning learners of German notice irregular features in German verbs during sentence reading and, if they do, whether this helps them reproduce the verbs correctly afterwards. Paula Winke studied the effects of underlining and printing grammatical constructions in a text in red—a technique known as input enhancement—on second language learners’ attention to and learning of these grammar forms. Whereas all other research in this volume concerns written sentence processing, Paola Dussias, Jorge Valdés Kroff, Rosa Guzzardo Tamargo, and Chip Gerfen used eye-tracking to investigate language learners’ use of grammatical gender in auditory sentence processing. Finally, Patti Spinner, Susan Gass, and Jennifer Behney took a step back and considered the technical constraints that eye-tracking imposes on reading research and what this means for the relationship between eye-tracking studies and natural reading. They make the point that as more and more researchers turn to eye-tracking technology, there is a need for published guidelines about what font size and font type to use and how to define regions of interest on the screen.

All in all, this special issue affords an opportunity to pause and evaluate how some applied linguists are utilizing this novel data-collection method. We hope that this volume will be viewed as an invitation to continue and expand this exciting new line of research. (531 words)

Applied linguistics and children with speech, language and communication needs: issues of teacher knowledge

Written by Elspeth McCartney and Sue Ellis

The text Sue Ellis and Elspeth McCartney (eds), 2011, Applied Linguistics and Primary School Teaching, Cambridge: CUP arose from a British Association of Applied Linguistics/Cambridge University Press multi-disciplinary seminar series including teachers, teacher-educators, speech and language pathologists/therapists, policy-makers and psychologists, with an added international perspective. The book considers how primary/elementary teachers’ linguistic knowledge might be framed, and examines what linguistic knowledge is most useful, how it is best introduced, and how it needs to be understood in the context of the complex and diverse modern school classroom. Two important issues arise in this context – linguistic diversity (see for example Hammond (Chapter Two), Horan and Hersi (Chapter Three), Tierney (Chapter Five) and Creese (Chapter Fourteen)) and the presence of children with additional needs for learning support in the mainstream classroom, as a result of global education policies promoting social inclusion.

This article is concerned with this latter group, and the relationship between teachers’ knowledge of language and children’s educational support. The particular focus is on children with speech, language and communication (SLC) difficulties, whose learning needs may by definition be clarified using linguistic analysis. This blog is about this large group of children: every primary classroom in the UK will have on average two or three children with some form of SLC needs (p.252, citing Lee 2008). Letts(Chapter Twenty) notes that many children with SLC also use English as an additional language, although that is not a causal factor in their developmental difficulties, and the complexities which arise.

Support for children with SLC difficulties is frequently offered at school, capitalising on the natural and ecologically valid language environment of the primary school classroom, and its extensive opportunities for social use of language. Support in the western world usually requires speech and language pathologist/therapist (SLT) and teacher co-operation. Teachers adapt the classroom to become a communication-friendly environment, tailor literacy activities to children’s abilities, and often undertake specific language-learning activities agreed with an SLT, thus fulfilling a school’s legal responsibility to educate children with additional support needs.

SLTs bring a good knowledge of clinical linguistics to such situations from their pre-service education, but teachers also benefit from some linguistic understanding if they are to communicate with SLTs and undertake intervention effectively. There is a need to consider what linguistic knowledge teachers need, and in what form, and how it should be acquired.

As introduction, Vance (Chapter Four) reviews the range of linguistic information that would be helpful to teachers educating children with SLC difficulties. She lists in particular the domains of speech and phonology; vocabulary; morphology and sentence structure, and aspects of language use. This is a wide range of linguistic knowledge, but Vance also reviews international research suggesting that teachers at present may have little such knowledge to apply, and are conscious of their lack of preparation for educating children with SLC difficulties.

Vance’s analysis suggests that teachers’ would find enhanced language knowledge useful in their role as educators, and would help teachers and SLTs communicate and discuss intervention options. However, Applied Linguistics and Primary School Teaching reports a variety of views by teacher-educators as to how this might be accomplished. These range from questioning whether there is any predictable relationship between teachers’ explicit linguistic knowledge and effective teaching, and so querying the need for linguistic knowledge; through including linguistic coursework in pre-service teacher education courses; to post-experience self-directed learning and development frameworks; to an approach where linguistic knowledge is provided by an SLT, tailored to an individual child and teacher, and offered along with relevant activities and materials ‘just in time’ for intervention.

Specific examples come from Dombey and Briggs (Chapter Fifteen) who cite older work by Medwellet al. (1998) concerning teachers proven to be effective in teaching literacy that suggested such teachers were little different from less effective teachers in terms of their explicit linguistic knowledge. Dombey and Briggs argue this does not provide evidence that linguistic knowledge is an essential component of good teaching, but they nevertheless outline a pre-service Knowledge about Language strand within a university degree which includes study of text structure, morphology and syntax, and segmental phonology, and which they believe offers student teachers confidence to talk about key features in text and children’s writing, and the opportunity to become better teachers of literacy. Student teachers apply their knowledge throughout to their own experiences of literacy, and to children’s writing and children’s literature.

Horan and Hersi (ChapterThree) also discuss pre-service linguistic coursework, and also stress it requires to be applied during student teachers’ placement experiences in diverse contexts in order to be useful.

Brooks(Chapter Sixteen)suggests that introducing pre-service teachers to selected International Phonetic Alphabet symbols would help them teach phonic aspects of literacy, and avoid confusion in languages such as English where phoneme-grapheme correspondences are not transparent.

Each of the above authors advocates pre-service linguistic education but stresses the need to provide relevant knowledge that is immediately applicable to primary teachers’ on-going work, so that it is used within and beyond training and becomes ‘owned’ by teachers. Brooks notes that linguistic information has not always been presented to teachers in such an applied and contextualised way.

Two sets of authors discuss approaches that present teachers with linguistic knowledge post-qualification. Hartshorne (Chapter Eighteen) describes the development of a Speech, Language and Communication Framework (SLCF) which allows individuals including teachers to assess their own understanding of typical speech, language and communication development and use, and to consider their resulting needs for further information and continued professional development.

The SLCF was designed with the needs of all children in mind, but with opportunities also to consider the needs of children with SLC difficulties. Ellis and McCartney (Chapter Nineteen) concentrate on children with specific language impairments, reporting a research-based approach where linguistic information on developing oral language skills is presented to teachers, along with specific language-learning activities for individual or small groups of children and appropriate materials, to be undertaken in the classroom. These two chapters consider oral language, and the need to analyse spoken as well as written texts.

The variation reported in the ways in which teachers are introduced to linguistics has implications for the amount, centrality and domains of their linguistic knowledge, and means there can currently be no certainty about what teachers know. Whether or not teachers attain useable applications of linguistic knowledge during their pre-service courses seems to be a critical variable. The points made by authors against decontextualised information and lack of application would apply to much professional learning, where knowledge has to be framed as applicable and ‘owned’ to be used. Where teachers achieve such a relationship with linguistics during their pre-service courses, application becomes part of their professional knowledge to be used in a wide variety of teaching and learning contexts to support all children as they learn to talk and listen, read and write, so empowering teachers to do their job.

Examples of linguistic approaches that apply to all children are given by Myhill (Chapter Six) regarding grammar and children’s writing; Sealey (Chapter Seven) regarding corpus linguistics; Smith (Chapter Eight) regarding story-book reading; Jajdelska (Chapter Nine) regarding the concept of narrator; Moss (Chapter Ten) regarding children’s constructions of being a reader; Nunes and Bryant (Chapter Eleven) regarding morphology; Rickets, Cocksey and Nation (Chapter Twelve) regarding reading comprehension, and Lefstein and Snell (Chapter Thirteen) regarding classroom dialogue. Apel, Wilson-Fowler and Masterson (Chapter Seventeen) give a particularly helpful example relating to spelling, where techniques used with all children are augmented for those with SLC difficulties, and where continuity is evident. Applying linguistics can help teachers to analyse child progress towards literacy and to identify appropriate learning and teaching points. And applying this sound grasp of linguistics to the needs of children with SLC difficulties becomes an extension of general teaching approaches, rather than a separate and novel approach.

Applied Linguistics and Primary School TeachingSLTs are often surprised at teachers’ lack of linguistic knowledge, given their responsibilities for developing classroom talk and literacy. Teachers, on the other hand, often report that the form in which applied linguistics knowledge is presented is not particularly helpful, a point that Greg Brooks illustrates in an anecdote about his personal experience on teacher training courses. This means that at present, SLTs cannot rely on a child’s class teacher having a common language with which to communicate, which introduces uncertainties and disconnections. Teachers using the SLCF framework are taking admirable personal responsibility for their professional growth, but this process may have to be short-cut to meet the immediate needs of children in their class. SLTs can empathise with teachers asked to work with children with SLC difficulties without preparation or development time, and can use a ‘just in time’ model to support learning. But this does place a large training responsibility on SLTs. It also tends to place teachers in an ‘assistant’ role, where they receive just enough knowledge to undertake communication development activities, but which fails to capitalise on teachers’ professional insights. Co-professional working would be considerably enhanced by linguistically fluent teachers.

In editing a book on applied linguistics and primary school teaching, it is unsurprising to assert the view that linguistics should be a proper part of a teacher’s professional knowledge.  However, this view might also be supported by consideration of the rights of children with SLC (and indeed the rights of all children) to be educated by linguistically informed teachers who can develop their language skills. Applied linguistics as a knowledge base and analysis tool has an opportunity to spread its influence widely into mainstream school education, to support teachers in the modern complex classroom and to support inclusive education. But there is a need for much further conversation about how this may be progressed.

Continue reading Applied linguistics and children with speech, language and communication needs: issues of teacher knowledge

2010 Language Teaching Christopher Brumfit Award winner Dr Susy Macqueen discusses her award winning dissertation

When we become highly proficient in a language, we tend to use it in chunks or patterns. For a native language especially, we learn and become adept at manipulating masses of word patterns such as absolutely not, as it were, in light of the fact that, curry favour, I think that, scattered showers, it’s worth –ing, just a sec, etc. Language patterns like these make communication efficient – we don’t need to spend time piecing together the smallest bits of language. Rather, we work with larger bits that are easily accessed in the memories of both the user and the receiver. However, the pervasiveness of patterning makes it quite a challenge to sound ‘natural’ in second languages. Grammatical rules themselves are patterns, but they are more broadly applicable. Beyond these general patterns, there are masses of idiosyncratic lexicogrammatical patterns that form the stuff of communication.  I set out to find out how second language users deal with the massive task of learning such patterns. In order to do this, I traced the development of chunks in the writing of four ESL users as they prepared for university study and later once they were in their university courses.

Second language users embark on a program of chunk-making and chunk-breaking. That is, they build up a stock of formulae and at the same time, they start learning how these can be applied and manipulated. One way the students in my study did this was through experimentation with patterns they had seen or heard. For some language learners, receiving teacher feedback can be an opportunity to experiment with chunks of language. If it doesn’t ‘work’, the teacher will provide feedback. The feedback process is therefore a safe place where students can take risks with language. This is significant for language teachers who may think that their students always aim to produce language they believe to be nativelike. In fact, students may be trying something they suspect is not nativelike, even if they know a nativelike alternative.

The language users in my study also actively sought to imitate the language of expert users. Imitation has a troubled history in the field of second language learning; it has behaviourist overtones and, in university contexts, it is haunted by the spectre of plagiarism. Imitation is, however, central to language learning. Chunks have to come from somewhere. It isn’t necessarily a mindless copying activity, however. The process revealed in the writing of these language users was one of adaptive imitation – ‘the purposeful detection and imitation of lexicogrammatical patterns which are adapted in order to participate in a discourse community’. Over time, it was possible to see how the learners gained increasing control over the discipline-specific language patterns that they gleaned from expert sources. Since lessons, language textbooks and teacher feedback can only provide a small sample of the number of patterns required to operate in a university context, it is arguable that most pattern learning occurs through this transformative process of imitation-for-learning.

Dr Susy Macqueen

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