The Rise of Writing: Redefining Mass Literacy

The Rise of Writing, Deborah BrandtPost written by author Deborah Brandt discussing her recently published book The Rise of Writing 

The belief that writing ability is a subsidiary of reading ability runs deep in society and schooling. You can only write as well as you can read. The best way to learn how to write is to read, read, and read some more. Commonplaces like these are easy to find in the advice of teachers and often well-known authors as well. Reading is considered the fundamental skill, the prior skill, the formative skill, the gateway to writing. At minimum, reading is thought to teach the techniques of textuality, the vocabulary, diction, spelling, punctuation, and syntax that any aspiring writer must master. Even more profound, reading is thought to shape character and intellect and provide the wisdom and worldliness that make one worthy to write. In every way reading is treated as the well from which writing springs. We need only try to reverse the commonplace advice to appreciate the superior position that reading holds. How many would readily agree that you can only read as well as you can write? Or that the best way to learn how to read is to write, write, and write some more? Writing has never attained the same formative and morally wholesome status as reading. Indeed, writing unmoored from the instructiveness of reading is often considered solipsistic and socially dangerous.

But in the wider society and over the last fifty years or more, writing has ascended as the main basis of many people’s daily literacy experiences and the main platform for their literacy development. Millions of working adults now spend four hours or more each day (sometimes, a lot more) with their hands on keyboards and their minds on audiences, writing so much, in fact, that they have little time or appetite for reading. In the so-called information economy writing has become a dominant form of labor and production. As a result, writing is eclipsing reading as the literate experience of consequence.   Spurred on especially by digital technologies, writing is crowding out reading and subordinating reading to its needs. The rise of writing over reading represents a new chapter—and a new challenge– in the history of mass literacy, a challenge especially for the school, which from its founding has been much more organized around a reading literacy, around a presumption that readers would be many and writers would be few.

But now writers are becoming many. What are some of the changes that we need to pay attention to? Increasingly, people read from inside acts of writing, as they respond to others; research, edit or review other people’s writing; or search for styles or approaches to use in their own writing.  “Reading to write” in school has usually meant using reading to stimulate ideas or generate content, but in the wider world reading to write actually stands for a broader, more diverse, more diffused, more sustained and more comprehensive set of practices. Increasingly, how and why we write conditions how and why we read. Relatedly, we write among other people who also write. Learning to write along with other people who write (rather than from authors who address us abstractly) is a new aspect of mass literacy development. Audiences are made up not merely (or mostly) of receptive readers but also responsive writers; increasingly people write to catalyze or anticipate other people’s writing and people read with the aim of writing back.

Further, in an information society, writing is consequential. The kind of writing done by everyday people turns the wheels of finance, law, health care, government, commerce. As the power and consequence of writing courses through the consciousness of everyday people, their acts of writing are often sites of intellectual, moral, and civic reflection- but not necessarily in the same ways as acts of reading. Reading is an internalizing process. That is why the effects of literacy have been sought mostly on the inside: in the formation of character or the quality of inner life or intellectual growth.  But writing is a relentlessly externalizing process. Because writing unleashes language into the world, it engages people’s sense of power and responsibility.  It can be expected to bring more wear and tear, potentially more trouble. Writing risks social exposure, blame, even, in some cases, retaliation. It requires a level of courage and ethical conviction rarely cultivated in school-based literacy and rarely measured in standard assessments of writing ability.

We are at a critical crossroad in the history of mass literacy in which relationships between writing and reading are undergoing profound change. Writing is overtaking reading as the skill of critical consequence. Until only recently writing was a minor strain in the history of mass literacy, playing second fiddle to reading. But it is surging into prominence, bringing with it a cultural history, a set of cognitive dispositions, and a developmental arc that stand in contrast to reading. As an educational community, we have been slow to incorporate these shifting relationships into the questions we ask and the perspectives that we take. That writing remains so under-studied and under-articulated in comparison to reading is perhaps our greatest challenge.

To find out more about Deborah Brandt’s new book published by Cambridge University Press please click here

Co-editor Françoise Blin reflects on the changes at ReCALL

REC 2015Co-editor Françoise Blin reflects on the changes at ReCALL during 2014. As the last issue of 2014 goes to Press, long-serving Editor June Thompson prepares to retire. June has tirelessly managed submissions and reviews, edited and copy-edited issues of the journal. In particular, ReCALL authors have greatly benefited from her careful editing. We wish her well with all her future plans.

With receipt of an average of 100 submissions per year, ReCALL now benefits from the services of two Editors (Blin and Alex Boulton), journal administrator Sylvie Thouësny, and an online submission system. The pool of reviewers is also steadily increasing. Blind peer-reviewing is a time consuming activity that usually remains invisible, yet is a fundamental principle governing scientific publication today. Reviewers play an essential role in ensuring that ReCALL remains one of the top CALL journals, as evidenced by our latest Impact Factor and ranking in Scopus. Warmest thanks to all of you!

This latest issue comprises five regular papers and one selected paper from the EUROCALL 2013 conference held in Évora, Portugal. Jack Burston provides a critical analysis of published MALL studies. David Neville then reports on a mixed-methods study that evaluates the use of such an environment designed to teach German two-way prepositions and specialised vocabulary in the area of recycling and waste management systems.

Continuing with digital game-based learning, Hayo Reinders and Sorada Wattana investigate students’ experience in the context of a game-based learning programme at a Thai university and focus more particularly on the impact of gameplay on their willingness to communicate in English.

The next two articles report on the development and evaluation of systems developed by the authors with a view to enhancing EFL learners’ pronunciation and listening comprehension skills respectively. Hiroshi Kibishi, Kuniaki Hirabayashi, and Seiichi Nakagawa propose a statistical method for estimating the pronunciation and intelligibility scores of Japanese speakers of English, using an online real-time score estimation system developed by the authors.

Ching-Kun Hsu reports on the development and evaluation of an adaptive video caption filtering system for mobile devices designed to support the development of listening skills in EFL among Taiwanese learners, with a particular focus on learning motivation, satisfaction, and enjoyment.

Finally, Fiona Farr and Elaine Riordan expand on their presentation at the EUROCALL 2013 conference. The authors examine communication technologies in terms of their suitability and affordances as reflective media in a language teacher education context.

Access the entire issue here

W(h)ither the /r/ in Britain?

Weighing up a new style of pronunciation

ENG-Dec-14-pronunciationPost written by Michael Bulley, based on an article in the latest issue of English Today 

In this article, I express my disapproval of a recent development in pronunciation found in an increasing proportion of native speakers of British English. I thereby run the risk not only of offending those who have the feature I criticize but also of being frowned upon by linguistics professionals who think aesthetic judgements have no place in the discipline.

The sound in question is a pronunciation of the letter ‘r’, in words like ring, bread and around, that is closer to a /w/ than to a ‘traditional’ /r/. The BBC television news contains many presenters and reporters who exhibit this feature. Academic studies, sound archives and my memory confirm that this style of /r/ was rare until the 1970s. In fact, until quite late into the last century, it might well have been diagnosed for adults as a speech defect needing treatment.

My criticism is on two fronts: first, that it narrows the distinction between /r/ and /w/ with no apparent compensatory benefit to the language and, secondly, that it can sound childish, inappropriately so in a serious context. The origins and cause of this ‘w-for-r’ are not clear. I speculate that children’s television may have had an influence, with adult presenters imitating the pronunciation of their audience.

The controversial aspect of the article is my suggestion that this topic should become a public issue, so that people may choose how to pronounce this phoneme. As examples of the influence of social factors on pronunciation change, I point to the demise of the old RP [æ] and the rise and fall of upspeak in Britain. To counter a possible accusation of ‘prescriptivism’, that is, of promoting certain usages as inherently superior to others, I propose that language should be considered as ‘man-made’, in the same way as many other features of our environment, and thus open to aesthetic judgement. I argue that the wish to speak and write well remains valid, even if there may be no objective criteria to judge one usage against another. I invoke the concept of ‘responsibility towards the language’.

This leads on to a more general consideration of the nature of language study. I argue that the view of language as qualitatively neutral is mistaken and has wrongly persuaded many university professionals to assert that linguistics should be regarded as a science. It seems to me more appropriate to treat most language study, especially where meaning is involved, as a humanity. Objectivity must still be paramount, but where the topic lends itself to it, judgements, including aesthetic ones, can properly be made.

Read the full article ‘W(h)ither the /r/ in Britain?’ here



English in rural Bangladesh

Blog piece by Elizabeth J. Erling based on an article written by Elizabeth J. Erling, Philip Seargeant and Mike Solly in the latest issue of English Today

Having worked in an educational project that sought to enhance English language teaching across Bangladesh brought me to visit schools in rural areas. Once there, I sometimes wondered: what is the value of English learning for these communities? The schools often didn’t have electricity, the villages were difficult to access, or even impossible during certain parts of the year. Literacy rates in the country still hover around 55 per cent, and 30 per cent of the population live below the international poverty line. Surely there were more pressing development needs than English language learning?

With this in mind, this research project set how to examine how English is perceived in rural Bangladesh and whether people in these communities viewed English language learning as a positive and, in some sense, necessary resource for development. The article investigates what it is that these communities feel that English can offer both in practical and in socio-cultural terms for the developmental challenges they face. In order to examine these questions the article draws on results from an ethnographical survey of two rural areas in Bangladesh which investigated the attitudes and aspirations of local community members to the potential impact of English-language education on their social prospects and cultural identities.

The research found that, overall, there is a strong belief in the power of English and a desire to be one of the many who speak the language for reasons of practicality and prestige. Knowledge of English was associated with education in general, and often a good education, with higher level professions, and with providing a service to the community. English was also found to provide access to privileged information and resources that were beneficial to individuals and the community. In some cases, however, knowledge of English was unrealistically perceived as a general panacea. Because of this, some people appear to be willing to invest significantly in English language education, making sacrifices for their children’s education and putting it before other resources, which may also be (more) needed in such contexts.

These findings therefore suggest a need for development programmes in contexts such as this to be aware of these strong beliefs in the power of English, so that they can both manage expectations and focus on providing English language learning for specific, local purposes that enhance opportunities for economic and social development, while providing the circumstances for people to sustain and promote local concerns and values.

Read the full article English in rural Bangladesh: How is language education perceived as a resource for development in rural communities? here

The dangling participle – a language myth?

ENG-Leiden-imageArticle written by Carmen Ebner based on an article in the latest issue of English Today

In our research project Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public at Leiden University we would like to encourage a critical discussion of so-called usage problems between the three involved groups. What constitutes a usage problem, however, is not always an question with an easy and straightforward answer.

In my English Today feature I am discussing the dangling participle, which is often said to cause ambiguity and misunderstandings due to the lack of a suitable subject in the participle clause. I have conducted an online questionnaire which includes an example of the dangling participle. The results of this survey show that the acceptability of using the dangling participle has increased in comparison to an earlier study conducted by W.H. Mittins and his colleagues at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the late 1960s. By discussing a few of responses my informants in detail, I am trying to highlight the role context plays in deciding on the acceptability of the dangling participle.

What do you think? Do you think context can make up for the lack of a suitable subject? Or do you condemn the dangler openly and strongly? Find out more about the dangling participle in my feature. To join the discussion, visit our blog and fill in the online questionnaire.

Read the full article ‘The dangling participle – a language myth?’ here

Read more about the collaboration between English Today and Bridging the Unbridgeable here

‘[The Irish] find much difficulty in these auxiliaries […], putting will for shall with the first person’

ELL 18 2Blog post written by Kevin McCafferty based on an article in the latest issue of  English Language and Linguistics

The decline of first-person shall in Ireland, 1760–1890

The Irish just don’t use first-person shall, and they never have. They’ve always said Will I close the window? and We will be there soon. That’s the consensus of grammarians and other commentators from the eighteenth century onwards. And linguists who have studied Irish English in recent decades agree that shall is virtually non-existent in the English of the Irish. So ingrained is this view that the decline of shall in North America – which is now affecting British English, too – is even attributed to the influence of Irish immigrants.

This study uses the Corpus of Irish English Correspondence to look at shall/will usage in Irish English over a period of 130 years. Contrary to the grammarians’ accounts, shall was the predominant form with first-person subjects in eighteenth-century Ireland. The present-day situation, with only will being used in Irish English, did not emerge until late in the nineteenth century. This was not unique to Irish English: comparison with Canadian English shows this shift happening at roughly the same time in both varieties, raising questions about the role of the Irish in the decline of shall in North America.

We suggest that the change from shall to will in Irish English might have be due to simplification during the process of language shift. Also, since first-person will was retained in nonstandard varieties even in England long after shall was established in the standard language, increased use of will might have arisen as a result of growing literacy and the colloquialisation of English: as more texts like letters were produced by members of the lower social strata, their more nonstandard or vernacular usage made it into writing. The shift to first-person will that is apparent in Irish English would then be the outcome of language shift and greater lower-class literacy.

Read the full article ‘‘[The Irish] find much difficulty in these auxiliaries . . .putting for with the first person’: the decline of first-person in Ireland, 1760–1890′ here

Article written by Kevin McCafferty and Carolina P. Amador-Moreno

Bilingual Cognitive Advantage: Where Do We Stand?

Bilingual-post-Nov-14---V2Linguistic experience and its effect on cognition.

The following post by Dr. Aneta Pavlenko appeared on the Psychology Today blog, “Life as a bilingual”

Like all other walks of life, academia is not immune to fashions. In the study of bilingualism, one such trend has been the study of “the bilingual cognitive advantage”, the theory that experience of using two languages – and selecting one, while inhibiting the other – affects brain structure and strengthens ‘executive control’ akin to other experiences, such as musical training, navigation, and even juggling. This strengthening has been linked to a variety of findings: the superiority of bilingual children and adults in performance on tasks requiring cognitive control, resistance of bilingual brains to cognitive decline, and the delayed onset of dementia (see here).

Touted in the popular media, these findings captured our hearts and minds and for good reason: for those of us who are bi- and multilingual, this is good news and the focus itself is a pleasant change from concerns about bilingual disadvantage that permeated many early debates on bilingualism. But has the pendulum swung too much in the other direction? Has bilingualism become a commodity we are trying to sell, instead of an experience we are trying to understand? And is there, in fact, a consensus that the knowledge of more than one language offers us something more than the joys of reading and conversing in two languages and a leg up in learning the third, among other things?

For the remainder of the post, please click here

Baum, S. & Titone D. (2014). Moving towards a neuroplasticity view of bilingualism, executive control, and aging. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35, 857-894.
Valian, V. (2014, in press) Bilingualism and cognition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.



Repetitions which are not repetitions: The non-redundant nature of tautological compounds

ELL-NOV-14Blog post written by Réka Benczes, based on an article in the latest issue of English Language and Linguistics 

One of the most intriguing – and least studied – areas of English word-formation are so-called “tautological compounds” that are formed out of synonyms (such as subject matter), or where one of the constituents is already included in the meaning of the other constituent (such as oak tree).Their oddity can be attributed to two main reasons. First, as their name, “tautological compound” implies, at face value such combinations can be considered as prime examples for the redundancy of language. Second, they do not follow normal compound-forming rules in the sense that both constituents can function as the semantic head – as opposed to “normal” English compounds, where the head element of the compound is always the right-hand member (hence apple tree is a type of tree, and not a type of apple).

Perhaps due to their quirkiness not much has been said about tautological compounds in traditional accounts of compounding, which typically relegate them to a marginal area of English. However, there is more to tautological compounds than meets the eye. First of all, the study demonstrates that the term “tautological compound” is a misnomer, as such combinations are far from being tautological or redundant in their meaning. Accordingly, the paper differentiates between hyponym-superordinate compounds (such as tuna fish and oak tree) and synonymous compounds (such as subject matter or courtyard) and claims that both types play important roles in language.

Hyponym-superordinate compounds are remnants of our early acquisition of taxonomical relations by making the link between the hierarchical levels explicit. At the same time, hyponym-superordinate compounds are also used to dignify and upgrade concepts via the conceptual metaphor more of form is more of content, whereby a linguistic unit that has a larger form is perceived to carry more information (that is, more content) than a single-word unit.

Synonymous compounds have been shown to possess an emphatic feature, which has been exploited mainly in poetic language (as in the works of Coleridge). However, synonymous compounds are still very much present in everyday language, though in a slightly different form – as synonym-based blends (e.g., chillax “to calm down or relax” from chill+relax, or chivers “chills or shivers” from chill+shivers).

While tautological compounds have been around for a rather long time in the English language, they have received only very little attention (if at all) from linguists. Yet they provide fascinating insights into the motivational processes behind compounding, thereby making it necessary to assign this much-neglected category to its proper, well-deserved place within English word formation.

We invite you to read the full article ‘Repetitions which are not repetitions: the non-redundant nature of tautological compounds’ here

Left edge topics in Russian and the processing of anaphoric dependencies

LIN Nov 14Post written by based on an article in Eric Potsdam the latest issue of Journal of Linguistics 

In this paper we investigate the the relative cost of processing syntactic versus extra-syntactic dependencies. The results support the hypothesis that syntactic dependencies require less processing effort than discourse-derived dependencies do, as proposed in work by Eric Reuland and Arnout Koornneef. We do this by investigating a novel paradigm in Russian in which a preposed nominal stranding a numeral can show number connectivity (PAUCAL) with a gap following the numeral or can appear in a non-agreeing (PLURAL) form:

(1) a. Sobora-a v gorodke bylo tri sobor-a
cathedral-PAUCAL in town was three.PAUCAL (Connectivity)

b. Sobor-ov v gorodke bylo tri pro
cathedral-PLURAL in town was three.PAUCAL (Non-agreeing form)

Numerous syntactic diagnostics confirm that when there is number connectivity, (1a), the nominal has been fronted via A′-movement, creating a syntactic A′-chain dependency. In the absence of connectivity, (1b), the construction involves a hanging topic related via discourse mechanisms to a base-generated null pronoun, pro. The constructions constitute a syntactic minimal pair in that the structures are nearly the same but the anaphoric dependency ends in different types of elements, a trace/copy versus pro. Reuland’s proposals correctly predict that the A′-movement construction in (1a) will require less processing effort compared to the hanging topic construction in (1b). We conducted a self-paced reading study for contrasting pairs as in (1) and show a statistically significant slow-down after the pro with the hanging topic in (1b) as compared to the moved nominal in (1a). We take this to support the claim that a syntactic A′-chain of movement is more easily processed than an anaphoric dependency involving a null pronoun, which must be resolved by discourse-based mechanisms.

The work can be taken to show that null pronouns and traces are distinct elements in the syntax and hearers process them differently.

We invite you to explore the full article here.

Bilingual children cope well in noisy classrooms

Bilingual-children-Oct-14Youngsters who speak two languages maintain their focus better than monolinguals

 A new study, published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, has found that bilingual primary school children learn more effectively than monolinguals within noisy environments such as classrooms.

Anglia Ruskin University’s Dr Roberto Filippi carried out research in Cambridge primary schools, focusing on children aged between seven and 10.

The study discovered that bilingual children were more able to maintain focus on a main task, which in this case was the identification of the subject within a short sentence in the presence of noise.

Pupils who only speak one language did not reach the same level of efficiency, showing that noise negatively affects their ability to sustain attention, especially when comprehending more difficult sentences.

Dr Filippi, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin, said: “Previous research has shown that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive abilities, but there were no studies investigated whether these advantages extended to learning in noisy environments.

“Primary schools are the key stages for the development of formal learning in the first years of life.  However, they are also remarkably noisy.  Therefore the ability to filter out auditory interference is particularly important within the context of an educational environment.”

Dr Filippi was joined by international researchers from Birkbeck in London and the Northwestern University in Chicago.  The study provides further evidence of the importance of learning a second language early in the UK educational system.

Following the findings of the study, the researchers have applied to the Leverhulme Trust for funding to conduct large-scale research in this area which will survey people of all ages in an attempt to track how bilingualism affects the brain throughout a person’s development.

Co-Editor of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition Dr Jubin Abutalebi comments “The elegant research carried out by Dr. Filippi and coworkers addresses an important field of enquiry within developmental psychology. In their contribution, the authors report that bilingual children have superior performance in controlling verbal interference as compared to their monolingual peers. However, as the authors underline this effect is dependent on how good bilingual children master their two languages. Dr. Abutalebi, one of the editors of ‘Bilingualism: Language and Cognition’, notes that this study may further add crucial evidence to the controversy surrounding research questions such as if and eventually how bilingualism enhances cognitive functions.”

Read the entire article ‘Bilingual children show an advantage in controlling verbal interference during spoken language comprehension’ here