Keep off the grass? No way!

Jan 2016 - ENG Cover imageBlog post written by Hu Xiao Qiong based on an article in the journal English Today 

China’s rapid economic development is constantly making English more widely used in China. One convincing piece of evidence is the bilingual use of Chinese and English public signs, which has become “an attractive linguistic landscape”.

This paper discusses the ‘appropriateness’ of two possible translations of a public sign “小草微微笑,劝君绕弯道”: one is the literal translation – “The grass is smiling. Please walk on the path”; the other presents an indirect translation that conveys the basic meaning of the sign – “Keep off the grass”. Many Chinese researchers approve of this indirect translation. The author of this paper, however, considers the literal translation to be more culturally appropriate as it represents the Chinese rhetorical style, communication mode, philosophical meaningand politeness. The paper argues that the use of indirect translation for public signs will never result in ‘an attractive linguistic landscape” unless it promotes and spreads the cultural values of the literal translation. In support of this argument, a survey, carried out by the author, involving 287 Chinese and non-Chinese, demonstrated that the great majority preferred the literal translation, i.e., “The grass is smiling. Please walk on the path”. So “ Keep off the grass”? No way!

Read the full article ‘Keep off the grass? No way!’ here

 

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

 

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

 

 

They parked two buses’: a corpus study of a football expression

ENG blog post - Oct 15Blog post written by Mark Wyatt based on an article in English Today 

The football expression ‘to park the bus’, meaning for one team to play in a negative, boring, defensive way, focused on making it so difficult for the other team to score that it was as if there was a bus parked in front of the goal, is popularly attributed to the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, who complained to the media about Spurs playing in this way in a game in 2004. Our research into the history of the expression using tools of corpus linguistics supports this popular understanding.

In our article, we explore how the expression has developed in English since that time, spreading around the world through English and helped by the popularity of the Premier League, sometimes being used as a cliché but also being adapted in fresh, imaginative ways. Jose Mourinho appears to have had a significant impact on the English language through his translation of the expression from the original Portuguese and continuing creative use of it in English. The term has even crossed over into another sport (American Football) and has been used to describe the defensive behaviour of the Bank of England. It has also contributed to the development of related expressions, e.g. ‘to pull a Jose Mourinho’ (though this has been used with various different meanings that reflect disparate controversial incidents in Mourinho’s career) and the ‘parked bus defence’ (which may have emerged around 2008).

We consider why the ‘park the bus’ metaphor is so enduring, and compare it to another of Mourinho’s coinages ‘19th century football’, which he has also used as a form of disparagement for negative tactics used against his Chelsea team. Finally, we consider how corpus-based methodology, such as that we have employed here, can be used to explore other interesting expressions in the language that seem to have emerged almost out of nowhere and spread quickly.

We invite you to read the full article ‘They parked two buses’: a corpus study of a football expression’ here 

Words, Words, Words,

ENG blog post - Sept 15Blog post written by Simon Elmes based on an article in English Today 

They fill the airwaves, and whirl around our breakfast, lunch and dinner tables… those legions of words that pour from the radio and the television hourly, daily – every second. And they get crunched, munched and bunched by their utterers, perhaps caught on the hop on a live microphone, or maybe who’ve made the mangling of the English language a life’s work. John Prescott, for one, was famed for his outspokenness and the interesting grammar with which he articulated it.

‘Speaking proper’, as the celebrated Colloquy by the monk, Aelfric – one of the earliest records of what medieval spoken English may have resembled – shows, has been a nagging preoccupation since the year 1000. “We would like you to teach us how to speak properly, for we are ignorant and badly spoken” says a pupil to his teacher. Oh dear.

But, today, when we’re so annoyed that we want to throw something, there’s nothing so tempting as a nice, available aunt-sally. And for the linguistic purist, the BBC is Aunt Sally Number 1. As a young Radio 4 producer, I found myself caught up on the frontline of these linguistic battles, as the armies of righteous Prescriptivists assailed the Corporation, like Henry V’s archers, with deluges of letters – and, more recently, emails – of complaint about a misplaced stress here or a wrongly pronounced word there: “Everybody knows it’s not pronounced like that!” Well, clearly not quite everybody

But then again, even a dyed-in-the-wool Descriptivist like me finds myself wincing as journalists on the telly, so eager to show themselves ahead of the trend, adopt non-standard Brit-speak pronunciations for lovely old concepts that we’ve rubbed up against like purring cats for generations. Take ‘leverage’ for one. Yes, I know, it’s a banking term, and as such it’s been imported with its US ‘levverage’ pronunciation. But just because we’ve talked a lot about finance over the last 5 years, that doesn’t mean to say we have to adopt a new way of talking about influence, or indeed about how to move something without too much direct force: for me, that’s still ‘leeverage’.

And I’m left tut-tutting with the best of the Prescriptivists. And don’t get me started on elevators. But then again, wasn’t it that beautiful Italian invention the ‘balcony’ that, when first imported to these shores, arrived with its Roman pronunciation intact: ‘bal-coney’? Nowadays, if you started talking about a hotel room with a lovely bal-coney, the Prescriptivists would be on it in a trice: “don’t you mean ‘bal-cunnee’?

So, a love of the Old? Or the thrill of the New? Well, it’s always been a matter of – er – controversy. Or was that controversy?

Read the full article ‘Words, Words, Words – An insider’s reflections on BBC broadcasting about English’

Exploring Language and Linguistics

Blog post written by Liz Morrish co-author of Exploring Language and Linguistics  

Exploring Language and Linguistics I Cambridge University PressWhen we contemplated producing a new introductory textbook in Linguistics, we wanted to offer students something different. Engagement and learning gain are hot topics in higher education circles at the moment, and we feel this book is ahead of the curve. Introductory textbooks can sometimes leave the curious student unsatisfied. They can open up a subject, and then leave the reader wondering where to go next. We decided that students should begin their experience of linguistics with high-quality chapters written by internationally-recognized experts in each of the different fields. The authors have been selected for their experience in writing for an introductory undergraduate audience, to present each sub-discipline of linguistics in an accessible manner. Universities should offer research-led teaching right from day one, and we wanted to capture that aspiration in this textbook.

We also wanted to make sure that students were as engaged by theoretical chapters as much as by chapters in applied linguistics. To ensure this, we have asked authors to structure their chapters around text-box summaries, and frequent exercises (yes, the answers are in the back of the book). There is also an interactive website to support the book, with even more exercises for students to confirm understanding and get feedback. In response to an excellent suggestion by a reviewer, we have also included a group exercise for each chapter.

We were aware that linguistics courses in the US tend to emphasize more structural approaches (phonology, syntax etc.), while those in the UK feature more applied and discourse analytical approaches. In the introductory module which we as editors have co-taught for many years, we have always treated these two approaches equally. We know that students need a thorough grounding in the levels of linguistic description and the tools of linguistic analysis before they are fully prepared to progress to more advanced courses and apply their learning to real-world settings.

To give some examples of how we offer students engaging and challenging exercises:

The phonetics chapter explains the articulation of consonants and vowels, and leads students to a group exercise in making sociophonetic observations. Students will be able to confirm their understanding in the sociolinguistics chapter where the group exercise asks them to make judgements drawing on concepts in phonology, grammar, lexis and discourse in investigating data from the archive of the British Library’s website Sounds Familiar? The language and ideology chapter introduces students to analytical techniques which uncover ideologies in texts, and their relationship to power structures. In the web exercise on language and the media, groups of students are invited to bring these concepts to an examination of a website of a news organisation and critically evaluate the meanings inherent in choices of language, attribution and even pictures as they affect the reading of stories.

It could be argued that the authors of the structural chapters have had a tougher challenge in engaging students, but this has been fully met with some excellent resources and exercises:

The syntax chapter invites students to solve problems by playing with word order in noun phrases; the pragmatics chapter presents data of children with pragmatic disorders so that students can use concepts such as presupposition to diagnose clinical problems; the semantics chapter requires students to question the basis of antonymy and contrast in the lexicon.

This book is fascinating and accessible. It will structure the learning of all students, and extend the conceptual abilities of the most able. We are definitely expecting to see great results in our own modules.

Find out more about this textbook written by Natalie Braber, Liz Morrish & Louise Cummings here

A literary history of the strange expression ‘what is it like?

ENG blog post - July 15Blog written by Anne Seaton based on an article in the journal English Today 

It was when I was working on Chambers Universal Learners’ Dictionary in the late ’70s that I suddenly focused on the weirdness of the expression ‘what is it like?’ Why ask for a comparison when you want a description? I managed to squeeze it into the dictionary at W (for what), since it had missed the boat at L (for like). Desk dictionaries seemed not to bother with it. But the 1933 OED pinpointed its function with notable precision: ‘The question what is he (or it) like? means ‘What sort of man is he?’, ‘What sort of thing is it?’, the expected answer being a description, and not at all the mention of a resembling person or thing.’ However, it gave only two citations, the earlier dated 1878, whereas citations from my databases, when I began searching on ‘what … like’, showed that it was in use in the early 19th century. Earlier than that there was evidence that the question was indeed used literally to ask for a comparison.

I’m very aware that ‘what is it like?’ should be studied in conjunction with ‘like that’ (as in ‘He’s like that’, ‘It’s like that’), which can be understood as its counterpart in statement form. Citations for ‘people/things like that’ can be found as early as the 17th century, but the use of ‘like that’ as a complement after a linking verb seems to arrive in the mid 19th century. Trollope, who quibbles over ‘What is he like?’ seems OK with ‘like that’. In The Small House at Allington he puts it into the mouth of Johnny Eames:

‘My belief is, that a girl thinks nothing of a man till she has refused him half-a-dozen times.’

‘I don’t think Lily is at all like that.’

Read the full article ‘A literary history of the strange expression ‘what is it like?’ A straightforward question that changed its function and took universal hold’ 

Evolving and adapting to global changes regarding English

ENG July 2015English language teaching in the Siberian city of Irkutsk

Blog post written by Valerie Sartor based on a recent article in the journal English Today

The Russian Federation, established after the breakup of the USSR in the early 1990s, is the largest country in the world, and until recently, a nation that did not encourage foreigners to enter in order to teach English to the native population. Moscow and St Petersburg remain the two main intellectual and cultural capitals. During the Soviet era (1917-1990), however, cities in the western provinces, such as Kiev and Riga, were also held in high regard for education, with specialized universities dedicated to making contributions to science and technology, as well as the arts and sciences. Very little, however, was known about Siberian educational institutions, and little has been written recently about English in universities in the more remote areas of Siberia.

I served as a Fulbright Global TEFL Exchange Scholar for the 2014-2015 academic year in southeastern Siberia. My post was inside the English language teaching within the Eurasian Linguistic Institute (ELI), a new affiliate branch of the Moscow State Linguistic University (MGLU), located in the city of Irkutsk, Irkutsk Province. Formerly known as the Irkutsk State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages, this facility was founded in 1948. Irkutsk has long hosted a diverse population. Historically it is known as one of the prosperous tea route cities, and also Irkutsk welcomed the Decembrist exiles, along with other political and religious exiles from European Russia and Eastern Europe. Because of this, despite being provincial, Irkutsk has many universities, art galleries, theaters, and beautiful architecture modeled after the buildings in St Petersburg. The ELI building itself is striking.

Presently, at the Eurasian Linguistic Institute, Russian students continue to specialize in learning English in order to become English teachers and translators. Traditionally, females have held these jobs and the trend continues. Globalization has, however, impacted teaching methods as well as the ways in which students acquire fluency. ELI teachers now employ textbooks from the UK and the USA. Many teachers and students travel internationally to English speaking countries for study and work exchanges. Finally, the Internet has opened up a vast window to English language resources.

With these positive opportunities have also come some negative outcomes. Faculty at ELI complain that their students no longer read as extensively as their students did during Soviet times; moreover, with the fluctuating economic situation since the early 1990s, enrolments have dropped. Currently, funding for state universities and institutes is also problematic. Recently, ELI merged with Moscow State Linguistic University as part of Mr. Putin’s plans for streamlining educational institutions to make them sustainable. Funding problems and globalization have also impacted teacher perceptions. Some ELI teachers feel that they have lost “educational capital” as mentors and models in regard to students, who focus more on adjusting to the post-Soviet economic situation than to establishing themselves in the academy.

Yet at the same time, faculty at ELI reported that they were under the same pressure as in Soviet times. They were expected to better themselves academically; to write articles, or to conduct extra-curricular activities – involving creation of textbooks or curriculum. English teachers carry out tedious administrative functions and teach many classes. Nevertheless, the teachers I worked with were dedicated educators, spending many hours at the institute. Many also moonlighted as private tutors in order to enhance their economic situation.

Read the full article ‘Evolving and adapting to global changes regarding English: English language teaching in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, Contemporary English language teaching in a remote Siberian university’ by Valerie Sartorand Svetlana Bogdanova.

 

A Fuss about the Octopus

ENG-Blog-April-2015Blog post written by Inge Otto based on an article in English Today 

If I ask you to think of one octopus, then of two, of three even – what word comes to your mind as the plural form of ‘octopus’? If you were to think about your choice longer, is there another word you could use for the same purpose? In theory, you could come up with three options. The plurals octopuses, octopi, and octopodes are all attested in English, and thus could all be used to refer to more than one octopus.

When you look at these plurals from a purely descriptive point of view, they are thus equally useful and acceptable. However, to prescriptivists some of the plurals are better than others. In advisory books about language usage, in so-called usage guides, the authors usually express their preference of one usage over the other. The Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Henry Watson Fowler, 1926) advises the reader to use ‘octopuses’ for example.

The HUGE database that Robin Straaijer and I have been working on in the context of the Bridging the Unbridgeable project includes excerpts from dozens of usage guides like Fowlers’ one. In my English Today feature, ‘A Fuss about the Octopus’,  I discuss the results of searching this database of usage guides and usage problems for pieces of advice about the plural of octopus. Whether or not there is evidence for a link between people’s actual usage of the plurals on the one hand and the prescriptive advice provided in usage guides on the other, is something that is touched upon in the article too.

Read the full article ‘A fuss about the octopus – Another invitation to contribute to questions studied by the Bridging the Unbridgeable project at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics’ here.

Key links:

Does the socio-cultural context influence the way Chinese people write business English?

ENG blog - Mar 15Blog post written by Marisa Carrió and Rut Muñiz based on an article in the latest issue of English Today

As China has emerged as an economic giant and has established business relationships worldwide, the use of English has become essential in every day communication. New digital written genres such as emails are used every day in a globalized business context. We think that this current setting encourages participants to experiment with communication, changing and adapting language to their own comfort, using a more direct style, and prioritizing instant communication over grammatical and style correctness.

We believe that it is necessary to take into account the cultural background of the speaker when interpreting meaning in a business context in order to understand the message in cross-cultural communication.

In this sense, since English is spoken by more non-native speakers than by native speakers nowadays, it could be said that it becomes like a “sponge”, absorbing the characteristics and features of different cultures and languages. Chinese speakers of English are not an exception, differences or variations can be observed in their language use.

In this paper, we contrast business e-mails written by agents who work in an exporting company in Hong Kong and China and communicate via email with their counterparts all around the world. Two research questions arise from this study:

a. What are the most common types of variation produced by Chinese writers of English?

b. Does lexical variation change when English is used as a second language or as a foreign language?

Our main aim is to determine the causes of variation and their influence on digital discourse.

The results of the analysis of the corpus compiled showed that there are variations indeed. We observed that Chinese writers used more non-Standard English than do Hong Kong writers, as for the latter English is an official language and is used as a second language. Furthermore, business English tends to be more informal when used by Chinese writers, transmitting the linguistic and cultural identity of the author as, for example, they use a commanding style or invent a given name.

Read the full article ‘Identification and causes of lexical variation in Chinese Business English’ here