‘World Englishes or English as a Lingua Franca: Where does English in China stand?

Blog post based on an article in English Today 

The spread and development of the English language has triggered debates about issues related to language ideology, identity, and ELT. China is an important context where the popularity of English use and English learning has generated various debates. In this paper, I discuss the use of the English language in China from the perspective of Global Englishes (GE) and I explore the debate about whether it should be positioned from the paradigm of World Englishes (WE) or English as a lingua franca (ELF).

Essentially, the WE paradigm investigates different varieties of English in order to understand the various features of the language (including phonology, morphology, and syntax) as it is used in many post-colonial settings. The ELF paradigm focuses more on the use of English in a broader setting that, from a multilingual perspective, transcends boundaries. With regard to some shared features of the language as it is used by Chinese speakers of English, some previous studies have argued that the English used in China should be positioned from a WE perspective, and that China English (CE) should be regarded as a distinct variety of the English language. However, because of the lack of English use in non-educational settings there, and China’s geographical and dialectical diversity, it is difficult to portray specific common features of the English used by such a large variety of Chinese people. Thus, other scholars believe that the use of English in China should be positioned from the ELF perspective, with its fluid and dynamic features aiming for mutual intelligibility in terms of communication.

In my article, I first briefly review the development and status of English in China. I then move on to the ideological negotiation and attitudinal debate about the use and function of English there. From the WE perspective, I discuss the history of CE and the complexity of distinguishing CE and ‘Chinglish’ in some situations (for example, the differences between how the following phrases are expressed: ‘to accelerate the pace of economic reform’, and ‘imports of foreign automobiles have declined sharply this year’). I also summarise several previous studies that have favoured positioning CE as a variety of English from the WE paradigm. I then move on to discuss the opposing view that CE is not a variety of English. I present two key arguments for this position: first, very few teaching materials today have introduced the concept of the Chinese variety of English; second, not many Chinese people use English spontaneously for intra-ethnic communication.

We need to recognise that the use of English in the Chinese context is rather complicated. I prefer not to draw a particular conclusion about whether the use of English should be positioned from the WE or ELF paradigm. I believe that further research is needed to determine whether or not CE is a variety of English (although this will be a lengthy and complicated process), and that the debates about ideology and identity will persist. I think it is important to research people’s attitudes towards the use of English in China. As I present in this paper that the English language that Chinese people use is still rather fluid and dynamic, local features of the English used in China should be recognised and included in language classrooms. Both WE and ELF paradigms break the strict adherence to Standard English from native-speaker norms and challenge the ownership of English. I conclude my paper with, ‘we should realise that language is not a static entity in a vacuum, but rather develops and evolves through language contact.’

Read the full article here without charge until the end of April 2018


Hipsters in the hood: Authentication in young men’s hip hop talk

UntitledBlog post based on an article in Language in Society, written by Pia Pichler and Nathanael Williams

How do we ‘authenticate’ our own identities? Can hip-hop help us in this process? If so, what might we ‘invoke’ and what are the implications for social class and various other aspects of identity?

In this article we look at the spontaneously occurring conversation of four ethnically mixed, working class young men from South London. The data recorded by these young men soon led us to appreciate the significance of hip hop talk to the authentication and identification processes within this group. We found that the data contains many phonological, grammatical, and lexical markers that are indexical of what we call Hip Hop Speech Style (HHSS). However, our data also shows how difficult it is to differentiate between HHSS and the kind of multiethnolect spoken by many young Londoners.

Our own study aims to demonstrate the value of moving the study of authenticity in relation to hip hop from a consideration of (the indexicality of) linguistic style towards a focus on discourse and ideological meanings. A limited number of studies have approached the topic of hip-hop authenticity with an analytic focus on discourses/ideologies rather than linguistic style and even fewer studies have investigated what we might call ‘third sphere’ of hip hop, that is, interaction among Hip Hop fans and activists.

In our analysis we focus on terms and expressions that not only index, or, in other words ‘invoke’ or ‘point to’ various aspects of hip-hop culture, but that also need to be understood in relation to wider macro-sociological concepts. These cultural concepts in turn ‘index’ or ‘invoke’ unconscious sociocultural knowledge and allow speakers to position themselves in relation to these concepts and to one another. This often indirect relationship between linguistic forms and social meaning, and between different levels of indexicality, is at the core of indexicality studies.

Thus, when the young men talk about ‘white girls from The Hills’, or ‘hipsters moving into the hood’, or, in reference to the local gang, ‘dhem man will spray the matic out da Porsche’, they not only evaluate the authenticity of their own and others’ identity performances in relation to hip-hop culture, but hip-hop culture in itself is presented as indexical of various aspects of larger-scale practices and structures.

The speakers position ‘white posh girls from The Hills’, ‘hipsters moving into the hood’, ‘white boys from Cambridge’, as well as the pop star Miley Cyrus in opposition to hip-hop culture. What is interesting is that many of these individuals take part in cultural practices that in themselves index allegiance with hip-hop or street culture, for example, by producing World Star Hip Hop videos, by moving to or living in the hood or in rough London estates, by having extensive knowledge about hip hop, or by ‘twerking like a mutha *****’. These attempts to index hip-hop or street authenticity, however, are not accepted by the group.

Read the full article ‘Hipsters in the hood: Authenticating indexicalities in young men’s hip-hop talk‘ for free through 30th November 2016.

Why all John’s friends are Dutch, not German

all john's friendsBlog post based on an article in Journal of Germanic Linguistics, written by Robert Cirillo

A genitive construction involving the universal quantifier all, such as All John’s friends, is very natural and commonplace in English. The same can be said of the equivalent construction in Dutch, which would be Al Jans vrienden.

Until now, it has totally escaped the attention of linguists that the same construction is not possible in German, despite the close genetic and geographical relationship that German has with Dutch and English. The German phrase All(e) Johanns Freunde is simply not possible. The correct word order is Alle Freunde Johanns.

The purpose of this article is to offer an explanation for this discrepancy between German and its sister languages. It is argued that there are three principal factors that combine to cause German to behave differently from Dutch and German.

The first of these has to do with the nature of the Saxon genitive in the three languages. In German, it is a true case. It is different from the standard (non-Saxon) genitive, but it is nonetheless a true genitive case that is assigned in Spec, NP just like the standard genitive.

In Dutch and English the Saxon genitive is not a case but a determiner-like element that originates as the head of a Possessive Phrase in the same way as a possessive adjective such as my or his or our.  Furthermore, unlike German, Dutch and English do not allow the assignment of genitive case in Spec, NP (without preposition insertion), which under some circumstances may necessitate the movement of a possessor to a higher position for case assignment.

The second factor that plays a role in causing the difference between German and the other West Germanic languages is the fact that in all the Germanic languages if a DP is definite either D or Spec, DP must be overtly occupied.  If one of these positions is overtly occupied, and if genitive case has already been assigned in Spec, NP, the movement of a genitive phrase to D or Spec, DP is unmotivated and causes ungrammaticality.

The third factor is that the -e ending on the universal quantifier alle behaves like a D-element in German and Dutch. It is very possibly the phonetic realization of the definiteness feature on D.

This article shows how these three factors come together to create the discrepancy between German and Dutch/English in how a universal quantifier can combine with a genitive.

View and download Why all John’s Friends are Dutch, Not German: On the Determiner-Like Characteristics of the Inflection on the Universal Quantifier in West Germanic, by Robert Cirillo, for free during the month of August.

When is bacon not bacon?

An American asking for bacon in Britain would be in for a surprise.

An American asking for bacon in Britain would be in for a (delicious) surprise, and vice versa.

Blog post based on an article in English Today, written by M. Lynne Murphy

In the most recent issue of English Today, I discuss some words of general English whose apparent similarities hide some subtle differences in meaning. Words like sandwich, soup and bacon might have similar dictionary definitions in the UK and US, but Britons and Americans have different expectations when they order these things in a restaurant.

The ‘prototype approach’ to meaning helps us to describe and explain these differences. According to that approach, meanings are organized around some idealized view of a ‘typical’ example of the category (a prototype).

So, for example, whether something is called a cup depends on the degree to which it matches the ideal of ‘cup-ness’ and whether it echoes ‘ideal cup-ness’ better than it echoes ‘glass-ness’ or the ‘bowl-ness’ ideals.

This is in contrast to a ‘classical’ view of meaning where something would be called a cup if it had all the properties that all cups have, and if those properties together are sufficient to distinguish cups from glasses, mugs or bowls. (That approach doesn’t work because there may be no properties (a) that all cups have and (b) that are collectively sufficient to distinguish cups from other vessels.)

This means that the things we call cups can be very different from one another (china teacups, disposable foam coffee cups, plastic beer cups, medicine cups), and that some things are more likely to be called cup than others.

When we look at cross-dialectal differences, as in the meaning of soup, the word initially looks like it has the same meaning across dialects because there are a lot of things that all English speakers would call soup. But at the boundaries of the category, there are things that Americans would call soup that Britons would call stew – because the prototype for soup in British English is ‘smoother’ than the prototype for soup in American English.

In the article, I mention the word boot, which Willett Kempton investigated in Texas and Britain. He showed that the two groups varied in their ideas of what constituted a typical boot, with the Texan prototype extending further above the ankle than the British one. The Texan prototype fits better with cowboy boots, the British one with walking boots or army boots.

This means that, say, if asked to draw a boot, the Texans would draw taller ones than the Britons would. But still, Texans and Britons still use the word boot to refer to ankle boots, riding boots, combat boots—mostly the same things, because they’re all ‘close enough’ to the boot ideal—which includes other properties like being closed (as opposed to gladiator sandals), sturdy (as opposed to slippers), weather-proof, etc.

Since writing the article, though, I’ve been struck by a particularly British use of boot: to refer to a certain style of Converse-brand footwear. The ‘Chuck Taylor’ or ‘All-Star’ shoe comes in an above-the-ankle style or the ‘low-cut’ or ‘Oxford’ style. In American English, when you need to distinguish between the two, the taller ones are high-tops. But in Britain, I’ve often heard them called Converse boots. Indeed, as I write this (28 July 2016), the News on the Web corpus (2010-yesterday) has 12 instances of Converse boots: 10 from Britain, 2 from Ireland. To an American ear, using the word boots for canvas high-top sneakers seems just weird. Converse high-tops comes into the corpus 7 times: 4 from the US, 3 from Canada.

The difference between my aversion to calling the ankle-high version boots and my English spouse’s everyday “Have you seen my grey Converse boots?” can be explained by our differing prototypes for boot. In neither dialect are Converses at the centre of the ‘boot’ category. If I asked the spouse to grab some boots for me to pack for a trip, he’d go for leather knee-high things before he’d go for the Converses, because the leather ones satisfy more ‘typical’ properties of boots: they’re sturdy, weatherproof, reach above the ankle, etc.

But when we get to a kind of footwear for which British English lacks the vocabulary, the Converses come close enough to the ideal category to be allowed into the category of “things that can be called boots”. It works for British because even though canvas shoes aren’t sturdy or waterproof or anything else that ‘typical’ boots are, they do reach the place on the leg the British ‘typical boots’ reach. For Americans, they’re just not booty enough to be called boots because, in addition to their non-sturdiness, they’re not particularly high.

And so Americans had to come up with a new word for shoe styles that are not-quite boots: high-tops. (This happened at least 20 years before the Converse started making shoes, because other shoemakers had ‘high-top’ and ‘Oxford’ styles.) Converse does make a version of the All-Star that comes all the way up to the knees. In my American idiom, I’d have no problem calling those boots because they better match the American idea of bootiness.

The more I think about names for human-made things, the more I find British/American prototype differences. They rarely cause interruptions to communication, but they do make one wonder: how often do we not-quite-communicate without noticing?

For more information, and to delve into detail on the differences between British and American bacon, read The differences behind the similarities, or: why Americans and Britons don’t know what the other is talking about from the latest issue of English Today. View and download the article for free through 31st August.

The influence of German on the English language

'Pils' is one German word that has become a part of the English lexicon

‘Pils’ is one German word that has become a part of the English lexicon

Blog post based on an article in English Today, written by Julia Schultz

While there is a multitude of studies on the influence English has exerted on German, the converse language contact scenario has been comparatively neglected. German borrowings which have recently been assumed into English have as yet received little attention in current research. The present paper intends to shed light on the impact of German on the English vocabulary in the 20th century, filling an essential gap in the literature of borrowings and constituting an important update to previous investigations of the German-English language contact situation.

Dictionaries available in electronic form have become valuable sources for linguistic research. For example, the digitalized form of the Oxford English Dictionary Online makes it possible to carry out a precise count of all the lexical items which show a German origin in their etymologies. The findings presented in this paper are based on the analysis of a comprehensive lexicographical corpus of 1958 German borrowings retrieved from the OED Online.

The German borrowings taken over into English in the last few decades have been grouped into manifold domains with their different subcategories in order to give a rounded picture of the different subject areas and spheres of life enriched by German in the recent past. These include, for instance, the fine arts, cooking, wine, beer, politics, war and the military, language and linguistics, entertainment and leisure activities, sports, people and everyday life, electronics, telecommunication and computing, mathematics and the humanities, the natural sciences, and others.

Vocabulary adopted from German into English in recent times is characterized by its great variety. It encompasses a considerable number of specialized terms, such as Waldrapp (specifying a variety of bird) and inselberg (a technical term in geomorphology for a type of mountain or hill), which are borrowings only known to the specialist, as well as words which have made it into common usage and relate to everyday matters. Some illustrative examples of 20th century German borrowings which appear to be on everyone’s lips are rollmop, bratwurst, Pils, angst, dirndl, autobahn, blitzkrieg, Third Reich, to abseil, Bauhaus and pH.

For more information, view and download the article from English Today with complimentary access (not even a single Deutsche Mark) through 31st August.

New words show how our world is changing

LanguageHow do new words reveal the intricacies of our world?

Blends are combinations of two – or, more rarely, three – source words into one through concatenation of clipped morphological material and/or phonological overlap as in smog (< smoke + fog). Even though lexical blending is not a recent word-formation mechanism whatsoever, in the article entitled ‘‘Blended’ Cyber-Neologisms’ Amanda Roig-Marín argues that the coinage of blends in the semantic field of technologies uniquely responds to the speaker’s need to convey the blended realities that have begun to characterise present-day technological devices and related phenomena (e.g. Dronestagram (< drone + Instagram) ‘posts of aerial pictures’ or twimmolation (< Twitter + immolation) ‘the ruin of a person’s reputation because of insensitive Twitter posts’).

This study examines data collected over the period of fifteen years (2000-2015). Since dictionaries cannot keep up with the constantly increasing number of lexical items coined, the author made use of two online neologisms databases, namely Word Spy and The Rice University Neologisms Database, to retrieve truly novel blends. She firstly contextualises this type of cyber-blended words and explains why lexical blending is preferred over simple clipping or compounding. Subsequently, she offers a taxonomy of cyber blends according to the morpho-semantic patterns of these new words.

Likewise, she forecasts the formation of a paradigm akin to what Frath (2005) calls “hamburger type”, that is to say, that some word components such as those based on blog and twitter/tweet (as in vlog (< video + blog) ‘a blog in which the posting takes the form of videos’ or twitchfork (< Twitter + pitchfork) ‘an organised campaign on Twitter to express discontent or attack targets’) can achieve autonomy and thus start to be used productively, as it also happened with the sequel series (e.g. interquel and prequel) or the literati series (digerati, glitterati, etc.).

Access the full article for free through 31st August.

Parents Mixing Languages has No Impact on Children’s Vocabulary Development

Mother and ToddlerPost from the University of Maryland College of Behavioural and Social Sciences Blog The Solution

Many adults speak more than one language, and often “mix” those languages when speaking to their children, a practice called “code-switching.” An eye-opening study by researchers in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences has found that this “code-switching” has no impact on children’s vocabulary development. The study, “Look at the gato! Code-switching in speech to toddlers” appears in the Journal of Child Language.

Professor Rochelle S. Newman, chair of the department, and then-graduate students Amelie Bail and Giovanna Morini studied 24 parents and 24 children aged 18 to 24 months during a 15-minute play session.

Key Findings:

•Every parent in the study switched languages at least once during a play session with their child; more than 80 percent of parents did so in the middle of a sentence.
•An average of 4 percent of parents’ individual sentences included more than one language.
•The children of parents who switched languages more often than average, or had more mixed-language sentences did not have poorer vocabulary skills.
•The researchers found no indication that the mixing of languages by the parents resulted in poorer vocabulary learning by the children.

“Parents tend to use very short sentences when talking to children this young—yet despite this, they often switched languages in the middle of sentences, saying things like, ‘el otro fishy’ or ‘can I have the beso?’ We were surprised that so many parents would use two languages in the same sentence when speaking to such young children,” Newman said.

The study was conducted in part to address parental concerns.

“A lot of parents worry that using more than one language in the same sentence might cause confusion for a young child. So it is reassuring to know that children whose parents mixed their languages more often didn’t show any poorer vocabulary skills,” Newman said.

Read the full article ‘Look at the gato! Code-switching in speech to toddlers’ here

Predicting risk for oral and written language learning difficulties in students educated in a second language

Post written by Dr. Caroline Erdos based on an article from Applied Psycholinguistics

Students who struggle with oral language and literacy are at increased risk for dropping out of school. The gap between struggling students and their typically-developing peers is smallest early on and therefore, the chances of bridging that gap are greatest in the early grades. However, more and more students have had little or no exposure to the language of schooling until their first day of school and this makes it difficult for school personnel to disentangle true risk for learning disability from incomplete second language acquisition. The result is that identification and intervention is often delayed in the case of second language learners, even those in immersion classes (ex: native speakers of English attending French immersion school), thus placing them at a significant disadvantage as compared to native speakers of the language of schooling (ex: native speakers of English attending English school) who often begin to receive help with oral language or (pre)literacy as early as kindergarten.

A promising avenue is to use student’s skills in oral language and literacy in their first language to predict how they will eventually perform in these areas in their second language. It is crucial to fully understand the possibilities and limitations of this method, however.

A second related issue is the importance of providing help that is most likely to have the greatest impact on student’s academic success. Numerous studies and clinical experience have shown that the more targeted the help, the more likely students will make gains. Therefore, once a child has been identified as presenting with oral language or literacy difficulties, it is imperative to identify the specific area of difficulty within each domain — in the area of oral language: vocabulary, grammar, phonology, discourse, or pragmatics; and in the area of literacy: phonological processing, letter-sound knowledge, decoding accuracy, decoding speed, lexical knowledge, or reading comprehension. Targeted intervention is key to making gains. For example, a child who struggles to understand what he reads is not likely to benefit from intervention targeting letter-sound knowledge, unless poor letter-sound knowledge was the primary cause of his inability to understand what he reads. Exactly how to provide targeted intervention is better understood for some areas, for example decoding accuracy or decoding speed,  than for others, for example oral language or reading comprehension. However, even in these less understood domains there is a general consensus that intervention that focuses on vocabulary (breadth and depth) and complex language skills would be useful.

Read the full article until July 31, 2014:

“Predicting risk for oral and written language learning difficulties in students educated in a second language” by Caroline Erdos, Fred Genesee, Robert Savage and Corinne Haigh

Reduced auxiliaries in early child language: Converging observational and experimental evidence from French

Post written by Dr. Cristina D. Dye based on an article in Journal of Linguistics 

Since the early studies in language acquisition, scholars have noted that certain grammatical elements, among which auxiliaries and verb inflections, often appear to be missing in early child speech, with the result that child utterances sometimes exhibit verb forms with non-finite morphology in seemingly matrix clauses. This observation has led to a deprivationalist conception of child syntax.

In contrast with previous studies, this article explores the possibility that the child’s PHONOLOGY may considerably impact her overt realization of auxiliaries. Specifically, it examines the hypothesis that non-finite verbs in early speech are in fact attempted periphrastics (i.e., auxiliary/modal + non-finite verb) in which the auxiliaries are just reduced phonetically, often to the point where they remain unpronounced.

This study involved 28 normally-developing French-speaking children aged between 23 and 37 months. New observational data revealed a continuum in a given child’s phonetic realizations of auxiliaries. Children showed various levels of auxiliary reduction, suggesting that their non-finite verbs are best analyzed as being part of periphrastics involving an auxiliary form that represents the endpoint on this continuum, i.e. is (completely) deleted. Further examination of these verb forms showed that their semantics corresponds to the semantics of adult periphrastics. Additionally, the results of an experiment where children imitated sentences with either periphrastic or synthetic verbs showed that responses with non-finite verb forms were predominantly produced when the target sentence involved a periphrastic, rather than a synthetic verb.

These findings open the door to investigation of other factors that might affect auxiliary reduction (e.g., memory, sentential complexity, fine-grained syntax problems), other populations (bilingual children, SLI), and other grammatical elements (e.g., determiners, complementizers). They also invite new research into the specific aspect(s) of phonology that might account for child reduced/deleted auxiliaries (e.g., phonological realization processes, phonological representations, prosodic representations, production/articulation difficulties).

Read the entire article from issue 47/2 of Journal of Linguistics here.

Email contact:  [email protected]

Links to some of the press received by this article:

Science Daily
Huffington Post
Futura Science 

A Language for all the World

Written by John Edwards

Based on an article in the July 2013 issue of  Language Teaching.

In the popular mind, constructing a language has always been seen as an odd activity, one that seems to fly in the face of ‘natural’ language dynamics.  After all, languages evolve; they do not emerge from some sacred forehead, much less from a mortal brain.  And yet interest in a divine – and therefore immediately fully-formed – language was once important (and, even today, remains significant in some rather curious religious quarters).  Attention to this, and to later and more mundane projects aimed at improving upon natural languages in some way, is a neglected but important aspect of linguistic history – and, indeed, of modern scientific development.

The first stage here involved attempts (highly speculative, of course) to recapture the original lingua humana, as spoken in the Garden of Eden.  Adam, we are told, named all the birds and beasts of the earth in this original language, a variety that – unlike all languages since – encapsulated a perfect correspondence between spoken words and the things they represented.  As Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, Adam named the animals ‘as they pass’d, and understood their nature.’  Could this first language have been Hebrew – or perhaps Aramaic, or Arabic?   If so, then speakers of those languages (or even of their post-Adamic descendants) might surely claim some higher moral ground than others.

By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, these early speculations were set aside as essentially pointless.  But the notion of a language more perfect than existing natural varieties still appealed, and, in a second part of our story, we find scholars trying to create entire languages ab ovo, motivated by the desire for a more logical and regular variety that would better reflect and channel scientific classification. It eventually became clear, however, that attempts to make a language that owed nothing to existing varieties were as fruitless as efforts to discover the language of Eden.  So, in a third and still-existing stage, ‘artificial’ languages have been assembled from pre-existing rules and components; the most well-known example is Esperanto. This work has been underpinned by hopes for a more practical medium, but there have also been expectations that a language that was both regular and widely shared would contribute to international harmony and understanding.

 You can read the entire article here without charge until 30th September 2013.