Rare passives develop a special use

NJL CoverBlog post written by Elisabet Engdahl based on an article in Nordic Journal of Linguistics

English and the mainland Scandinavian languages share a typologically rare feature: complements of prepositions can be promoted to subjects in so called prepositional passives, as in the often cited English example this bed has been slept in by George Washington. Several researchers have proposed that prepositional passives are restricted by a notion of affectedness; the passive verb phrase typically expresses a significant property, or a change in a significant property, of the subject-referent.

A detailed study of 3600 potential prepositional passives in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish reveals that affectedness is relevant also in these languages – but it is a different notion of affectedness. The prepositional passive subject is typically animate, a person or an animal, who is psychologically affected by the action, or the lack of action, expressed by the participle. The construction is commonly used with Scandinavian counterparts of predicates like laughed at, listened to and talked to and very rarely, if ever, with predicates like slept in or lived in.

Additional corpus investigations show that prepositional passives are quite infrequent; on average they are used 3 times per million words (mw) in Swedish, 5/mw in Danish and 16/mw in Norwegian texts and probably a bit more frequently in spoken language. We have not been able to find comparable frequency figures for English. Would a large scale study of the use of prepositional passives in English confirm the notion of affectedness described in the literature, i.e. as involving physical objects that acquire notoriety? Or are there more similarities in the use between English and Scandinavian than would be expected given the descriptions of these rare passives?

Access the full article ‘Prepositional passives in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish: A corpus study’ here

How do adolescents with ASD respond to shared knowledge with a conversational partner?

JCL blog post - Feb 2016Blog post written by Ashley de Marchena based on an article in Journal of Child Language 

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often struggle with imagining or understanding another person’s perspective or state of mind, so-called “theory of mind abilities.” Such individuals also have difficulties with social and conversational language (termed “pragmatic” skills). Research on ASD has been guided by the assumption that pragmatic difficulties are a simple reflection of problems with theory of mind. Thus, we might imagine that someone with ASD may not tailor his language based on what another person already knows (such as when conversational partners share background knowledge).

Our recent study published in the Journal of Child Language unveils a more complicated and perhaps surprising picture of conversational interactions and pragmatic language in ASD. We studied storytelling in order to answer the central question, “how do adolescents with ASD respond to shared knowledge with a conversational partner?”

Our results demonstrated that adolescents with typical development subtly altered their language in response to shared knowledge; specifically, their stories were shorter in the context of shared knowledge. In contrast, adolescents with ASD did not make these subtle adjustments – their stories were no shorter – demonstrating that, in this sense, they did not communicate differently based on the shared social context. On the other hand, additional study measures revealed that teens with ASD were sensitive to the social context and attempted to modify their stories accordingly. Specifically, we asked college students to rate participant stories for overall communicative quality. We found that college students were sensitive to differences in story quality based on the participants’ social context (that is: shared knowledge or no shared knowledge). These ratings revealed that adolescents with ASD did change how they communicated based on what their conversational partner knew; however, their strategy for incorporating shared knowledge was unsuccessful, resulting in less effective communication.

Next we probed why teens with ASD were essentially telling worse stories when they shared background knowledge with their conversation partner. We discovered that, in the context of shared knowledge, those with ASD were less likely to clarify or correct themselves when they stumbled during speech. One way to interpret this is that, since they were aware that their partner already knew what they were talking about, they exerted less effort in explaining some parts of their stories, resulting in stories that were harder for others to follow.

This method of combining the big picture (for example, ratings of communicative quality) with a detailed analysis of discourse revealed that adolescents with ASD were indeed aware of the social context and its relevance, highlighting a critical, yet under-recognized strength. Unfortunately, their strategy for incorporating the shared experience was unsuccessful, perhaps because storytelling itself is highly effortful. Pinpointing exactly where and how communication breakdowns occur will help inform targets for pragmatic language interventions.

Read the full article ‘The art of common ground: emergence of a complex pragmatic language skill in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders’ here.


English language teaching research in South Korea: A review of recent studies (2009–2014)

LTA 47 2Blog post written by Ian Moodie based on an article in the latest issue of Language Teaching

This article (written by Hyun-Jeong Nam and myself) reviewed recent research published on English language teaching (ELT) in South Korea (Korea, hereafter). Language Teaching provided a platform for sharing the vast corpus of local ELT research with international readers, while also suggesting future research directions to local scholars. Beginning with a pool of 1,200 articles from 60 journals that published research on English education, we bound the review to discuss 95 studies focused on public sector ELT in Korea. Using broad themes from the national curriculum to organize the review, the discussion covered the following topics:

(1) Second language teacher education,

(2) Communicative language teaching,

(3) Language use and interaction in classrooms,

(4) Co-teaching with native-speaking English teachers,

(5) Curriculum and materials analysis,

(6) Treatments of teaching methods, and

(7) Assessment, testing and washback.

One of the main issues discussed is what we termed “the hard problem” for ELT in Korea; that is, finding solutions to the tremendous negative washback caused by language testing in Korea. Despite being one of the more monolingual countries in the world, Koreans face tremendous pressure to learn English. In addition to socioeconomic washback in need of addressing, a central objective in the national English curriculum – communicative competence – is undermined by tests focused on receptive skills.

Another prominent issue arising had to do with the research itself and the incentives, or lack thereof, for publishing high quality research in the Korean Citation Index (KCI). As we concluded:

Lastly, we would like to stimulate discussion regarding research standards in local publishing. The research reviewed above brought a deeper understanding of issues regarding ELT and learning in Korea … but we would like to finish by raising the question of whether or not there is enough research of reasonable quality to sustain the 60 or so journals publishing studies related to English education in Korea. The KCI answered a need to organize and assess domestic research, but an implication from this review is that it would be timely to consider its scope. Since its inception in 2007, the KCI has grown to include over 1,700 accredited journals, with about 400 more being considered … As elsewhere, the publish-or-perish reality for scholars creates impetus for research, but in Korea there is an issue for local scholars in that domestic journals are ranked much lower for workplace evaluations than research published in journals recognized by the Social Science Citation Index. This creates the necessity for local researchers, and especially those writing in Korean, to publish frequently in domestic journals, surely one of the reasons why there have been over 1,200 articles published on English education since 2009. The bulk of these have been relatively small-scale studies and there is a need for further research reviews and synthesis as discussed above, but there is also a need to create incentives for larger-scale research projects to be undertaken and published locally. … We would like to emphasize that this is not an issue limited to our field, or to Korea, but it is one worth consideration by university administrators and by the National Research Foundation, which oversees the KCI, in that it is important to continue to look for ways of improving the quality of research available in local publications so that the hard work of local scholars might have a larger impact at home and abroad.

 Read the full article ‘English language teaching research in South Korea: A review of recent studies (2009–2014)’

Deaf children’s bimodal bilingualism and education

LTA clog post - Jan 16Blog post written by Ruth Swanwick based on an article published in the  latest issue of Language Teaching

This paper provides an overview of the research into deaf children’s bilingualism and bilingual education through a synthesis of published studies over the last 15 years. The practice of educating deaf children bilingually through the use of sign language alongside written and spoken language initially developed during the 1980s in Scandanavia, the USA and the UK. This approach developed as a response to concerns about deaf children’s attainments within traditional spoken language approaches and research demonstrating sign languages to be naturally evolving rule-governed languages.

There is no one globally agreed-upon definition for the bilingual education of deaf children. However, there is a common philosophy and an underlying set of principles which do traverse countries and cultures. Philosophically, bilingual education strives towards the humanitarian and democratic goals of social inclusion and diversity. It is an approach to education that recognises the unique and distinctive features of deaf language and culture, validates the linguistic and cultural choices of deaf people and celebrates this diversity. The central tenet of this approach is that access from birth to a language for learning and development is the right of every child and that delay in language development is never acceptable.

This review brings together research in bimodal bilingual language development and educational practice to synthesise key issues for future research. The timeliness of this review relates to the changing climate of deaf education and the need to re-consider the goals and implementation of a bilingual approach. The reasons for this are firstly, that deaf children’s contexts for learning are changing as access to inclusive educational provision is afforded by new and developing hearing technologies. Further, new audiological technologies have had a significant impact on deaf children’s language experience and use. Specifically, digital hearing aid technology and cochlear implants have improved deaf children’s potential for spoken language development, and Universal Newborn Hearing Screening secures access to these technologies and early intervention programmes from birth. The success of these audiological advances and enhanced access to spoken language has changed the language and communication potential, and profiles of deaf children.

This review provides some directions for the development of a new theoretical model of bimodal bilingualism and deafness that recognises the multilingual and multimodal communicative resources of individuals as flexible and changing language repertoires. This represents a shift in perspective and the emergence of new constructs in deaf bimodal bilingualism, and discourses in the research and in the classroom.

Read the full article ‘Deaf children’s bimodal bilingualism and education’ here 

Scandinavian prosody – same, but different!

NJL CoverBlog post written by Sara Juul Clausen and Line Burholt Kristensen based on an article published in Nordic Journal of Linguistics 

Can you hear the difference between the two Danish words mor and mord?

 (Click on the blue links to listen to the sound files)

mor (‘mother’) [moɐ̯]

mord (‘murder’) [moɐ̯ˀ]

Mord contains a stød /ˀ/, whereas mor doesn’t. Stød is a unique prosodic feature of Standard Danish: a creaky voice that is lexically distinctive. Though uniquely Danish in some sense, the stød/non-stød distinction can also be seen as a parallel to Swedish and Norwegian word tones (Accent 1 vs. Accent 2).

In terms of distribution, stød resembles Accent 1: If a particular Danish word is pronounced with stød, the Swedish and Norwegian equivalents of this word form will usually be pronounced with Accent 1. This also goes for suffixes. For instance, the singular definite suffix -en is associated with stød and with Accent 1, while the plural suffix -e/-ar is associated with non-stød and Accent 2.


’game’ + singular definite suffix is realized as… ’game’ + plural suffix is realized as…
Standard Danish legen [stød] lege [non-stød]
Central Swedish leken [Accent 1, i.e. low tone] lekar [Accent 2, i.e. high tone]


Despite these distributional (and diachronic) correspondences, Danish stød and Swedish/Norwegian Accent 1 are not entirely equivalent. In a recent psycholinguistic response time study, we show that the way speakers of Danish react to words with stød is similar to the way speakers of Swedish react to words with Accent 2. We therefore conclude that while stød is distributionally similar to Accent 1, the status of stød corresponds to that of Accent 2 when it comes to cognitive markedness.

 You can read the article ‘The cognitive status of stød’ from Nordic Journal of Linguistics here


A note from the Editor of Journal of Child Language Johanne Paradis

Johanne ParadisA note from the Editor of Journal of Child Language Johanne Paradis

I consider it an honour to have been asked to serve as editor of JCL, one of the long-standing and core journals in our field. JCL has a solid and growing Impact Factor and an impressive volume size with 6 issues each year.

With early online publication – FirstView, green open access policy for all articles, an option for authors to choose full open access at a competitive fee, and the continued production of print copies, JCL offers a healthy mix of both traditional and innovative publishing practices.

The breadth of papers published in JCL is one its greatest strengths. Among the top  cited JCL articles for the Impact Factor, there are papers on bilingual and monolingual children, typically-developing children and children with developmental disorders, children learning European and non-European languages. I intend for JCL to continue to be a venue where there is diversity in the populations of children studied because a comprehensive understanding of language development in all children depends on such diversity.

Special issue in 2016

I am delighted to announce that in the 2016 volume of JCL, we will include a special issue on Age of Acquisition Effects in Child Language, with Elma Blom and myself as co-editors. While age of acquisition effects have been researched extensively in adult second language acquisition, there is less research focussed on examining age of acquisition effects in child language acquisition. This issue will consist of papers examining rate, patterns and mechanisms of development in a language children were not exposed to at birth, for example children who are early second language learners and children with cochlear implants. We are confident this set of papers will generate a lively debate about the relative contribution of age of acquisition versus input factors in child language development.

Changes in the editorial and review process

Even in an established and well-run journal, there is always room for improvement in the process. In response to feedback from authors about turnaround times, in the fall of 2015, we have put in place a series of minor changes at every step of the process from submission to final decision. These changes are designed to streamline the review process to reduce the time to final decision. Also in the fall of 2015, we started reviewing and revising the JCL style sheet in order to bring it up to date and closer to APA style, which should facilitate manuscript preparation.

Changes in the editorial team

I am taking over the editorship from Heike Behrens (University of Basel), who has steered the ship since 2011 and whose sage advice has smoothed my transition to editor and provided me with an excellent model of cooperative leadership. Three associate editors will be finishing their terms by the end of 2015: Misha Becker (University of North Carolina), Aylin Küntay (Koç University) and Carol Stoel-Gammon (University of Washington). New associate editors in 2016 will be Elma Blom (Utrecht University), Cecile DeCat (University of Leeds) and Melissa Soderstrom (University of Manitoba) and Laura Wagner (Ohio State University), joining Caroline Rowland (University of Liverpool), Holly Storkel (University of Kansas) and Elizabeth Wonnacott (University of Warwick).

On behalf of Heike Behrens and myself, I would like to express our immense appreciation to the outgoing members for their dedication and hard work and give a warm welcome to the new members of the team.

Please join us in welcoming Johanne as Editor of Journal of Child Language

Microsoft Grammar and Style Checker (‘Consider Revising’)

ENG 31 4Blog post written by  Viktorija Kostadinova based on an article int he journal English Today 

One might assume that usage books and style manuals are the reference sources for those seeking advice on correct grammar or proper language usage. However, computers have changed the ways in which we communicate, and grammar and usage have not been spared. Language advice now comes in various forms on the Internet, and grammar rules and style recommendations are incorporated in grammar and style checkers in word-processing software. This raises all sorts of interesting questions regarding the effects of grammar and style checkers on language use and attitudes to language usage.

Users of Microsoft Word, the most widespread word-processing software, are likely to be familiar with the green squiggly line. Whenever you make a grammatical or stylistic error, the program alerts you to it by underlining the problematic sequence, and often offers ‘correct’ options. Although this may seem fairly straightforward, an issue that arises is that grammar and style are not as fixed as spelling. It is also somewhat unclear what grammar rules and style recommendations form the basis of the program’s error-flagging process.

What impact does this functionality have on Microsoft Word users? Is this kind of grammar and style monitoring useful, does the Microsoft Word grammar and style checker act as an ‘invisible grammarian’ that perpetuates conservative ideas about language usage and style?

Examining the experiences of Microsoft Word users may reveal quite a lot about the actual influence of the grammar and style checker on people’s perceptions about language use. Do people accept the program’s suggestions uncritically, or do they engage with it and adapt the settings based on their own stylistic preferences? Do they alter their sentences just to make the squiggly line disappear or do they turn the grammar checker off completely? To find out, I launched a short survey on the topic; readers are invited to contribute by filling out the survey available at http://bridgingtheunbridgeable.com/english-today/. All feedback will be greatly appreciated and the findings will be presented on the Bridging the Unbridgeable blog.

You can also read the full article ‘Microsoft Grammar and Style Checker (‘Consider Revising’)’ here


Mobile technology in second language classrooms: Insights into its uses, pedagogical implications, and teacher beliefs

stock-photo-touch-screen-tablet-computer-group-of-students-in-library-62987941Blog post written by Benjamin Van Praag based on an article in the journal ReCALL

The use of mobile technology is becoming more and more prevalent, almost ubiquitous, in our everyday lives with devices such as mobile phones pervading every aspect of our daily routines and becoming as much part of the language classroom as pens, paper and course books. Adopting a multiple-case, multiple-method design, including background interviews, classroom observation and video-based stimulated recall interviews, the authors of this article explored mobile technology usage in second language classrooms.

The study investigated the practices of three experienced second language teachers in a UK-based language institute in classes of multilingual and multicultural adult learners. The findings, based on analysis of the participants’ rationales, stated beliefs and classroom actions, show that the teachers had a tendency to prohibit or reluctantly tolerate the use of mobile devices in their classrooms. At the same time, the teachers recognised some of the potential benefits of mobile devices that were able to support their teaching and assist students in their learning endevours. They also highlighted the incentives and barriers that respectively facilitated or hindered the integration of mobile technology into second language classrooms. These incentives and barriers included those that were internal (e.g. beliefs) and external (e.g. contextual constraints) to the teachers. Implications for the inclusion of mobile devices in classroom practice and teacher education and training are drawn from the study.

Read the full article ‘Mobile technology in second language classrooms: Insights into its uses, pedagogical implications, and teacher beliefs’ here 

Introducing a new special issue of Language & Cognition on “Cognitive Linguistics and interactional discourse”

LCO 2015 coverBlog post written Elisabeth Zima based on a new issue of the journal Language and Cognition

Usage-based theories hold that the sole resource for language users’ linguistic systems is language use. It is a well-established fact that the primary setting for language use is interaction, with spontaneous face-to-face interaction playing a primordial role. Although researchers working in the usage-based paradigm, which is often equated with cognitive-functional linguistics, seem to widely agree on this, the overwhelming majority of the literature in Cognitive Linguistics does not deal with the analysis of dialogic data or with issues of interactional conceptualization. One may find that this is at odds with the interactional foundation of the usage-based postulate.

The papers in this special issue of Language & Cognition argue that models of language which subscribe to the usage-based view should not only be fully compatible with evidence from communication research but they should be intrinsically grounded in authentic, multi-party language use in all its diversity and complexities. Therefore, they all involve the analysis of interactional discourse phenomena by drawing on tools and methods from the broad field of Cognitive Linguistics. They show that perspectives on interactional language use that are inspired by Cognitive Linguistics may provide insights that other, non-cognitive approaches to discourse and interaction are bound to overlook. Furthermore, the papers illustrate why an ‘interactional turn’ in Cognitive Linguistics is essential to its credibility and further development as a theory of language and cognition. Contributions come from Alan Cienki, Andreas Langlotz, Kerstin Fischer, Bert Oben, Geert Brône and Elisabeth Zima.

Until the end of the year you can explore the entire special issue without charge


English Spelling Variation and Change in Newspapers of Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

ENG 31 4Blog post written by Yonghou Liu and Ye Zhao based on an article in English Today

English spelling variation and change in the Greater China have been left inadequately explored. This study investigates the spelling preferences for Standard British English (BrE) or Standard American English (AmE) of China Daily (Mainland China), The Standard (Hong Kong) and Taipei Times (Taiwan) over a 10-year period, 2001 through 2010. Occurrences of six representative spelling pairs (-our/-or, -ise/-ize, -ll/-l -re/-er, en-/in- and -mme/-m) are calculated in a corpus of 1080 passages from the three newspapers. The findings are: (1) Inter-newspaper synchronic spelling variation once existed. BrE spellings were preferred in both China Daily and The Standard. Both of them witnessed a preference shift from BrE spelling to AmE spelling around the years 2005-2007, broadly speaking. In contrast, Taipei Times adhered to the American spelling system throughout the period. Its spelling scenario has been much simpler and more consistent than that of the other two papers; (2) Diachronically, the three newspapers all experienced kind of Americanization in their spelling preferences, esp. for China Daily and The Standard. (3) The history of spelling preferences of China Daily and The Standard resembled each other, but the former’s spelling change was characterized with a state of flux while the latter’s change was more smooth and gradual.

As for the overall variation in the usage of British and American conventions, the American ones were used at a higher rate of frequency over the decade for all the six pairs. The study also supports the claim that a region’s English spelling variation is correlated with its historical context, and the consequent English orthography change is perpetuated by social changes, not only local changes, but also global ones – the elevated status of AmE as the global ‘prestige’ variety of English in this study. This kind of change has potential benefits. If regional variations are eliminated by the most prestigious variety, this might serve to help ‘tidy up some of the anomalies [and] give greater consistency to the whole system’ (Carney, 1997: 67). This in turn may avoid possible confusion for learners of English as an additional language. In the meantime, it seems reasonable to conclude that the rising prestige of AmE will inevitably continue to erode the global status of BrE, and cause a concern of the shift of language loyalty in a growing number of regions.

We invite you to read the full article here