Virtual Exchange and its Role in Internationalising University Education

Written by Robert O’Dowd, University of León, Spain ([email protected])

In universities around the world, more and more teachers are engaging their students in intercultural collaborative projects with partners from other countries using digital technologies. This is commonly known as Virtual Exchange (VE) or Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL). VE has great potential to foster a range of 21st century employability skills which include media and digital literacy, communication skills, global awareness, empathy, critical and analytical thinking, foreign language skills and intercultural competences.

Nobody is suggesting that VE should ever replace physical mobility programmes. But many institutions are now considering how to use VE to prepare students for physical mobility or how it can function as an alternative to physical mobility for those students who are not able to travel abroad for medical, financial or personal reasons. This will help your university become more inclusive and ensure that students who cannot take part in physical mobility can still develop those skills usually associated with international experiences.

The article A Transnational Model of Virtual Exchange for Global Citizenship Education, reports on the findings of an Eramsus+ European Policy Experiment – Evaluating and Upscaling Telecollaborative Teacher Education (EVALUATE). This project brought together researchers, educators, university senior management, and public authorities from five different European countries and autonomous regions in an initiative to provide large-scale evidence of its impact as an international learning practice and to inform educational policy based on this evidence. In particular, we focused on a case study of an autonomous region in Spain that enabled us to illustrate how researchers, university management and public authorities collaborated to upscale this internationalization activity and integrate VE in educational policy at both institutional and regional levels. Based on the findings of the case study, we identified a series of institutional and cultural ‘blockers’ that hindered the upscaling of VE and we also proposed a set of criteria for successful implementation of VE in university education.

Read the full EVALUATE report.

For more information on Virtual Exchange, visit the UNICollaboration organisation website or Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange.

A short video introducing Virtual Exchange.

Robert O’Dowd is Associate Professor at the University of León, Spain and has been engaged in researching and training projects related to Virtual Exchange for over 20 years. He was the project coordinator for the EVALUATE project.

The Cambridge Studies of Language Practices and Social Development

World network with outline of peopleThe Cambridge Studies of Language Practices and Social Development series provides a needed platform for scholarly discussions around the relationship between diverse language practices and social development and environmental conservation around the world. This series publishes research of the highest quality in socially oriented and problem driven applied linguistics integrating qualitative and quantitative methodologies from humanities, social sciences, public health, education and computer science.

Cambridge Extra spoke to the series editor Meng Ji (The University of Sydney, Australia) about the series.

What has motivated the development of the series?

Our series promotes innovative focused research to address practical social problems such as global environmental, health and legal issues which represent new research challenges, as well as opportunities for socially oriented language practice research.

This series fills in an important gap in current applied linguistics, i.e. socially oriented language practices for disadvantaged social groups such as aboriginal peoples, migrants, refuges, asylum seekers, women, children and people living with physical and mental illnesses.

Titles in this series will demonstrate that socially oriented linguistic research can produce significant, multi-disciplinary outcomes to help the global community and international and national policy makers tackle pressing social problems in the contemporary world.

The inclusion of world indigenous languages represents a major contribution of this series to the study of changing (bilingual/multilingual/translingual) language practices and services around the world.

Can you tell us about some of the topics that this new series will cover?

The series of Cambridge Language Practices and Social Development promotes research innovation and global research collaboration in (bilingual, multilingual, translingual) language practices. Our series covers a wide range of research topics that have emerged from our changing contemporary social environments:

  • multicultural healthcare and public health promotion
  • environmental conservation
  • protection of aboriginal cultural heritage
  • bilingual and multicultural legislation and policy communication
  • community health and medical interpreting
  • social service translation
  • aboriginal and immigrant translation and language policy
  • social language practices for disadvantaged communities and indigenous people

Who is the series aimed at?

This new series will be of important practical use for students and academics interested in developing advanced knowledge of (bilingual/multilingual and translingual) language practices.

It will include research monographs and edited volumes integrating and balancing input from leading academics and industry-based research leaders with extensive professional experiences of bilingual/multilingual/translingual education and research.

Titles in this new series will provide illustration of the application of advanced linguistic research methodologies in the study of real-life materials and data: for example, construction of digital multilingual infrastructure; and the development of empirical linguistic analytical instruments for the study of environmental, political, healthcare and legal issues and social phenomena.

 

Any interested authors can contact Meng Ji on [email protected] for an informal discussion.

 

Black Lives Matter

Written by Karen Stollznow, author of ‘On the Offensive

What do people mean when they say, “Black Lives Matter?”

“Black Lives Matter” is a slogan and a social movement in response to the historical and current social and systemic racism and violence perpetuated against Black people.

Where did the phrase come from?

In 2012, 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin was walking home in Sanford, Florida, having just purchased a packet of Skittles from a convenience store. He was spotted by local resident George Zimmerman who reported Martin to local police as “suspicious.” Martin was innocent of any crime, although Zimmerman confronted the young man and fatally shot him, claiming the act was in self-defense. He was acquitted of his crime. Following this incident the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began appearing on social media, in support of Martin and in protest of social and systemic racism. This incident inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, which was co-founded by three Black community organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.

Concerns about systemic and social racism against Black people have been reinvigorated in response to recent high-profile, racially charged incidents in the United States. These include the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot while jogging in a south Georgia neighborhood, and also the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while the man was handcuffed. These tragic events inspired worldwide protests that have raised awareness of social and systemic racism and led to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and its motto.

When the Black Lives Matter motto initially arose, the phrase “All Lives Matter” soon sprang up in response, ostensibly to argue that all lives matter because we are all human beings. Black Lives Matter was misconstrued as confrontational, divisive, and exclusionary.

However, Black Lives Matter does not mean that other lives do not matter. Black Lives Matter does not mean that only Black lives matter. In a world where Black people are undeniably discriminated against, in the past and present, Black Lives Matter recognizes that Black lives matter too.

Countering with “All Lives Matter” derails the specific conversation about social and systemic racism against Black people. The saying dismisses, ignores, or denies the problem of racism against Black people, and it effectively shuts down this important discussion.

Black Lives Matter is a phrase that promotes the peaceful protest of racism against Black people. It also calls for immediate action against systemic and social racism. When said by Black people, Black Lives Matter is a declaration that Black lives do indeed matter. It is a cry for protection and recognition. When said by allies, that is, supportive people outside of the group, Black Lives Matter is a motto that acknowledges that Black lives matter, and says we stand in solidarity with members of the Black community.

Introducing Cambridge Elements in Pragmatics

Cambridge Elements in PragmaticsCambridge Elements combine the best features of journals and books.

With a word count between 20,000-30,000 words they lend themselves to the digital and ever changing research environment.

A series coming soon to linguistics is Elements in Pragmatics edited by Jonathan Culpeper, Lancaster University and Michael Haugh, University of Queensland.

Cambridge Extra asked them more about the series.

What motivated you to collate this Elements series?

The format itself is really appealing.

It is longer than typical journal articles but shorter than a monograph, so is ideal for both graduate students and established researchers in the field. It also allows authors to publish their work at its natural length, if an article is too constraining yet a full book is over the horizon.

Its digital format means the series can respond quickly to new research trends, and updates, enabling authors’ work to stay relevant longer, leading to a greater impact. We can also reach readers on different platforms, and support clear display of complex information, data excerpts and figures not necessarily possible in print.

What are the particular characteristics of the series?

This series showcases a cutting-edge and high-quality set of original, concise and accessible scholarly works written for a broader pragmatics readership. We want to move away from niche groups by fostering dialogue across different perspectives on language use.

By aiming for a “broader readership”, our topics themselves will be broad in focus moving away from highly focussed or esoteric topics.

Our aim is for this series to take full advantage of the benefits of online publishing, becoming the place to learn about new and emerging areas in pragmatics, as well as accessing the latest thinking on more long established topics.

The Cambridge Elements series’ differentiate themselves from what you may get in a handbook. We are inviting theoretical consolidations, where we’ve identified a need for a synthesis of the literature on a particular topic. For these syntheses, we are looking forward to working with authors who will produce something original in the course of the synthesis. However, this is only one area of this Elements series. We are also inviting authors to focus on particular approaches to data and methods, as well as identify new topics of interest in pragmatics.

Do you have any sample topics you’d like to include in the series?

We have three initial topic groups for the Pragmatics Elements series – Theoretical Consolidations, Data and Methods and Innovations. These won’t be discrete groups or equal in size – we do think innovations will be popular. Check out the full list here.

What are the typical characteristics of Elements in this series?

Given the scope of the topics there is not one strict list of features for all. Nevertheless, we want elements to be accessible for a broad readership, to make ample use of data, and of course cover key theories, concepts and issues relating to the topic in an original way

Each element within the series will be written by a scholar in their field with specific expertise in the topic in question, and we plan to commission new elements on a rolling basis, meaning we can adapt to new directions in scholarship.

We are looking forward to hearing from authors regardless of their position in their career.

cambridge.org/pragmatics

Cambridge Reflections: Covid-19

Reflections of a tree in a puddle

Written by Alex Wright, Senior Executive Publisher and Head of Humanities at Cambridge University Press

The coronavirus and its challenges of immediacy have thrown into sharp relief the apparent disjuncture between intellectual endeavour and what a society goes through in the grip of a pestilence. When the difference between life and death is measured in terms of having enough ventilators in hospitals, or adequate PPE, should we even be talking about characterisation in Shakespeare? It is right to ask such a question, and proper too to give priority to what people need to do to survive the present emergency. But a moment of crisis helps us to see that we live out our lives perpetually threatened by loss; and gives us space too to reflect on the fact that the life of the mind has always attempted not just to make sense of the world but also to make it a better place.

Throughout its long history Cambridge University Press has tried to ask larger questions about meaning and value. Because our publishing has always at its heart been about outreach, and education in the broadest sense, we wish now to make some of our authors’ keenest insights available in the form of short blogs. The aim will be to provide a resource in times of need: crystalline, bite-sized chunks – digestible nuggets of reflection – which can be drawn upon anywhere where someone has access to the internet. Our hope is that this new digital library of concise contemplations will prove diverting and engaging: even consoling. That it will provide, at a critical moment, a reliable repository – gratis, and easily and immediately available – of ‘the best of CUP’.

The collection includes writing from all aspects of humanities and social sciences including linguistics. Explore the collection at www.cambridgeblog.org/category/cambridge-reflections-covid-19/

ELT and me: A story with no history?

Written by Michael McCarthy

I was recently invited to contribute an article to the CUP journal Language Teaching, looking back over my career as an English language teacher, applied linguist and academic. In a strange sort of way, I discovered my own history by writing about it, a truly pleasurable experience. But in doing so, I realised how much I had lacked a proper historical perspective during most of my fifty-odd years in the profession. Great changes have happened during that half-century, and they happened all around me as I soldiered on, blissfully ignorant of the ideas that were pushing the profession forward.

My career started in the mid-1960s, when structuralism was popular in language teaching, alongside traditional Latin-modelled grammar-translation approaches, and most English language teaching was a mix of the two. At the time, and for a couple of decades after that, I knew almost nothing of the giants whose shoulders I was standing on. It is only in the last decade, for example, that I have taken the time to familiarise myself properly with the works of Harold E. Palmer, that great pioneer and father-figure of modern applied linguistics. In the course of corpus work on spoken grammar with the late Ronald Carter in the mid-1990s, which subsequently bore fruit in the Cambridge Grammar of English and the Touchstone and Viewpoint courses published by CUP, I became aware that Palmer had published a grammar of spoken English in 1924[1], almost seventy years before we embarked on our project. It was only about five years ago that I read it, and what a truly monumental work it is. Palmer’s approach was founded on the tradition of ‘scientific’ grammars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with an emphasis on phonetics as the starting point of understanding and learning a language. His grammar was strong on dialogue: in his examples, we see not only what speakers say but how listeners react, something that we have been able to observe more closely nowadays with the luxury of spoken corpus data. Palmer would have probably given his eye teeth to have access to a spoken corpus.

It was not only Palmer’s contribution that I was ignorant of. My first job, in a Berlitz language school in Spain, demanded no more of me than delivering a pre-ordained structural syllabus through the official textbook. I didn’t understand the principles of structuralism and slot-and-filler paradigms; I suppose I just assumed it was the right way of looking at language. Meanwhile back in my homeland of Britain, J. R. Firth and his followers, most notably Michael Halliday and John Sinclair, were forging a new grammatical and lexical approach, based on the relationship between language and its contexts of use, quite different from structuralism, an approach later to crystallise into systemic-functional linguistics and corpus linguistics.

I caught up with the missing history of my profession when I became a university academic in the 1980s and I have tried in recent years to pay homage to our applied linguistic forebears. However, because of the explosion of research in books and journals and now online, and the dizzyingly increasing pace of publication, we are in danger of losing our sense of historical continuity. As a frequent reviewer of scholarly works submitted for publication, I never cease to be amazed by how few lists of references ever cite anything published before 1990. What I learnt in my quest to discover my own history is that so many ideas we think of as novel and ground-breaking are in fact reinventing wheels and turning over already well-tilled ground.

We ought not to neglect ‘old’ research. It’s often a treasure-house of gems and pure gold; you just have to be patient, track it down on library shelves instead of instantly downloading a pdf, dust it off, and take plenty of time to read it.

[1] Palmer, H. E. (1924). A Grammar of Spoken English on a Strictly Phonetic Basis. Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons Ltd.

 

Adventures in English Syntax – an author’s perspective

Book cover of Adventures in English SyntaxBlog written by Robert Freidin, and was originally posted on The Cambridge Core blog

The seed for this book was planted almost 60 years ago when my 10th grade English teacher, taught us the elements of English sentence structure: prepositional phrases and relative clauses; finite vs. infinitival and gerundive clauses; compound vs. complex sentences (and thus the difference between coordination and subordination). For me, this was a revelation – leading to a 50-year career in linguistics as a syntactician. My high school understanding of English sentence structure allowed me to engage with my own writing at a fundamental level where I could view my sentences as syntactic structures that connected to other syntactic structures, and thus to different sentences for expressing the same thoughts – providing a basis for comparison/evaluation. From the 10th grade on, I had an intellectual tool for crafting inevitably imperfect first drafts into prose that presented my thoughts clearly. The process of writing became a way to clarify my thinking on the topic I was writing about – what Francis Bacon had in mind when he wrote in “Of Studies” (1625) that “writing [makes] an exact man”. Externalizing thoughts in black and white is perhaps the best way to discover what is unclear, illogical, or based on questionable assumptions – if you are paying attention. And as a result, writing is never surprise-free. It ceases to be a chore, and becomes instead fun and interesting – if you enjoy exploring your thoughts and how best to express them.

Today, regrettably, the elements of English sentence structure (syntax) are no longer taught in either the high school English curriculum or college writing programs, and haven’t been for decades. One goal of this book is to make a start at changing the situation by providing anyone who wants to improve both their writing and their experience of writing (especially high school and college students) with an essential tool. This book demonstrates how an understanding of sentence structure can also be used to evaluate various prescriptions about “good style” (e.g. avoid the passive voice and never end a sentence with a preposition) as well as to achieve a deeper appreciation of the linguistic artistry in great literature.

Another goal of this book is to construct a broad and detailed portrait of English in terms of its basic syntax from the perspective of modern linguistics—specifically generative grammar of the past six plus decades. Each chapter focuses on a specific example, building a progression from the simple to the complex. Together these chapters build a foundation for further exploration of English syntax.

In these ways, this book serves as a demonstration of the utility of the generative enterprise in linguistics for all users of English. In writing it, my hope has been that the understanding of English syntax it provides will equip you for your own adventures with the sentences you write and read.

Developing intercultural competence through Avatar, Black Panther and the Jungle Book?

Book cover for The Cambridge Handbook of Intercultural CommunicationWritten by Guido Rings – co-author of The Cambridge Handbook of Intercultural Communication

In a connected world, the ability to communicate effectively with people from other cultural backgrounds is a necessity. It is also an opportunity to widen our horizon and learn from good practice elsewhere to improve our lives.

But how can we improve that competence?

There are numerous ways, but we could for instance choose more wisely what we watch and read, and could do this more consciously. We may have already actually watched or read something that enhances our intercultural competence, but we are not aware of it.

For example, who has not watched Avatar, Black Panther or The Jungle Book, some of the highest-grossing movies of all time? Or more recently The Green Book, Blackkklansmen or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? Or perhaps you read some of the Black Panther comics and/or the Jungle Book stories.

Watching or reading these stories for entertainment, can also connect you with other worlds and worldviews. Many people feel inspired learning from these other perspectives.

Avatar, connects you with the Omaticaya, a Na’vi forest tribe from Pandora that cherishes nature and fights under Jake Sully and Neytiri’s leadership against a global company, aiming to exploit Pandora’s resources. It is Science Fiction – the Omaticaya are a fictional tribe, living on a fictional planet – but there are parallels to the destruction of our rain forests today.

When Neytiri explains the importance of the Home Tree for her people, she highlights an essential link between tribal people and their natural surroundings that is echoed ‘in real life’ by people from the Penan tribe in Borneo. One Penan man highlights: ‘The Penan people cannot live without the rainforest. The forest looks after us, and we look after it. We understand the plants and the animals because we have lived here for many years, since the time of our ancestors’ ( Survival, 2010).

This is of course only one example of a different world view.

Black Panther, The Green Book and Blackkklansmen are examples of films fighting racism, in future and past worlds as well as ours (watch out for the documentary link to Trump and white supremacist perspectives at the end of Blackkklansmen).

On the other hand, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sheds light on fast pace change in the Hollywood film industry, which you might recognise from your company or institution. The film makes the point that fast pace change consumes us and could be handled better if we were able to learn from others – in this case people from another class, rather than a different ethnicity.

In this sense, intercultural competence is really an ‘action competence’ and the ability ‘to handle uncertain situations in a constructive way’ (Bolten, 2020: 57), be it in encounters with people from another nation or ethnicity, or simply with people with another worldview.

It is worth stressing that we don’t really think a lot about our own worldviews, and often do not even see them as a worldview, rather as the only ‘natural way’ to understand and handle things, implying that other ways might be wrong.

In this ‘single story’ context, the numerous and often competing stories developed in films, TV episodes, novels and short stories are useful, because they can describe other worldviews developing cognitive competence by presenting knowledge about other cultures, and enhancing affective competence by awakening our emphatic and even compassionate interest in other cultures. And they can help to develop pragmatic competence by projecting and examining the communication standards in another culture. In all these ways, a narrative can ‘become an agent in advancing intercultural understanding’ (see Neumann 2020: 138).

Does this mean we can understand your ‘Greenpeace obsessed’ neighbour, who keeps donating money for the preservation of the Borneo rainforest, better by watching Avatar?

Yes, we can. The Omaticaya stories and the Penan stories address a very similar existential problem, and your neighbour might actually want to help the Penan, or shares the same basic concern about the destruction of the rainforest without knowing about the Penan at all. In both cases, you experience a different worldview, connecting tribal concerns with your neighbour’s concerns, and that helps to address a key issue in contemporary public consciousness: global warming.

You might simply not connect to their genres or particular stories that much, everybody is different.

If you have examples of how your intercultural competence has increased thanks to film or literature, leave your comments. Which films/TV series/novels/short stories gave you a different worldview and why? How and when did you watch/read them, e.g. with your partner after a stressful day, and did that make a difference to your experience?

This might help you to reflect, and it could also help others to find the best text for the development of their intercultural competence.

 

References

Bolten, J. (2020). Rethinking Intercultural Competence. In: Guido Rings, Sebastian Rasinger (eds.): The Cambridge Handbook of Intercultural Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Neumann, B. (2020). The Power of Literature in Intercultural Communication. In: Guido Rings, Sebastian Rasinger (eds.): The Cambridge Handbook of Intercultural Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Survival (2010): ‘Avatar is real’, say tribal people, in: Survival International, 25 January 2010 (https://www.survivalinternational.org/news/5466) (last accessed 8 February 2020).

An interview with Susan Gal and Judith T. Irvine

Cover for Signs of Difference bookSusan Gal (University of Chicago) and Judith T. Irvine (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) discuss their new book Signs of Difference: Language and Ideology in Social Life.

Firstly, tell us what motivated you to write Signs of Difference?

Our interest in collaboration began some years ago when we discovered a curious parallel in our findings from the two very different places where we had done research: small towns in Senegal and Hungary. Our collaboration started with those unexpected parallels between our separate ethnographic projects. Reading each other’s papers and listening to each other at AAA meetings, we saw amazingly similar processes in two fieldsites that were utterly worlds apart.

The happy result has been a semiotic approach to difference, an approach that is much wider than our own ethnographies but is well illustrated by them. Our book is mainly devoted to developing and explaining that approach, but it begins by showing how it applies to the two ethnographic cases.

In the German-Hungarian town in Hungary as in the Wolof-speaking town in Senegal, people were making distinctions among themselves not only through the way they spoke but also through different forms of emotional expression, clothing, houses and numerous other signs and activities. Language, social organization, geography, history, were all quite different. But in both towns, as it happened, one social category of people spoke and acted in relatively reserved, restrained ways; the other category, by contrast, seemed to be more elaborate in everything, more vivid, dramatic. These were stereotypes of difference. People oriented to these social types, often enacting them in their everyday lives. But how to understand the weird parallels between the two towns? “Restrained” vs. “elaborate” were the ways the people in our two towns characterized their own differences. But when we read fieldwork by others, we saw that although there were always overarching cultural distinctions that organized relations between contrasting sets of people and signs, those distinctions could be quite different from ours. For instance, there was: tough vs. soft in one place but in another pragmatic vs. political. To understand our own examples and others, our explanations would have to be quite abstract. And semiotic.

The book explicates step-by-step a semiotic process of differentiation, with several aspects, that encompasses all the cases. Contrast – as axis of differentiation – is the fundamental idea. Contrasts in expressive signs pointed to contrasting categories of identity; and the qualities attributed to the signs were also attributed to the people-types indexed by the signs. For those familiar with a particular cultural context, the signs of each identity seemed to cohere and to display the same qualities as the people types they point to. We also turned our hand to American and historical examples: How did Yankees come to be thought different types of people than Southerners in 19th century US?  How do faculty differentiate among themselves at an American university? How did the National Rifle Association divide in the course of a crucial political battle? And how do the axes of differentiation themselves change? It was very exciting to work out how the semiotic process we propose illuminates relations between whatever culturally-specific qualities are involved.

You are both regarded as recognized authorities on language and culture. How has your past experience of work on language and culture helped to shape this book?

Although we studied at different doctoral institutions, we were both part of a movement in anthropology and linguistics toward sociolinguistics and the ethnography of speaking, in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. As it happens, too, our mentors had collaborated on some of the leading works in the field at that time. So our training was parallel, as was our experience of trends in language study and the social sciences in the decades that followed. One of those trends was the semiotic turn that has made the work of C.S. Peirce prominent in cultural and linguistic anthropology. Another trend was anthropology’s increasing interest in political economy, power, and social inequality – a trend which, when linked to the Peircean approach, resulted in a focus on ideology of language. A third trend has involved history and scales of analysis. We have participated in the development of these themes, and in various conferences and working groups that have pressed them forward and in some of which we have worked together. These groups have produced some influential publications, including edited collections to which we have contributed, either separately or together.

The book argues that ideological work of all kinds is fundamentally communicative – can you tell us more about this?

A key point here is that ideological work is both interpretive and productive. It selects an object of attention, something that is picked out and distinguished from a background, and it places that something in a semiotic field of relevant comparisons, differentiations, and inclusions. This is not something that can be done just by an individual brain acting totally in splendid isolation. Instead, it is informed by social experience, by available narratives, metaphors, and theories, and by awareness of one’s interlocutors, past, present, and potential. So there is always, as Bakhtin taught us, some implicit dialogue in semiotic processes, even in those cases where there is not literally a conversation. “Communication” includes all these dialogic relations, even internal dialogue and the ways we unconsciously build upon our social experience.

Actual interactions matter to ideological work, however: interpretation requires uptake, if it’s to amount to anything much. That is, placing an idea, or some focal object, in a web of semiotic relations would ultimately be a social act, involving joint attention. Private contemplation can go a long way, but at some point a concept of ideology – because bound up with moral and political values – means that the interpretive act must be relevant to other people too.

Your book has been described as an “influential approach to understanding ideologies of linguistic and social difference.” What contribution do you feel the book makes?

Well, we feel it makes many contributions! To begin with, in our work ideologies of linguistic and social difference are the same thing, not two different avenues of investigation. But perhaps the first thing to emphasize is, as we’ve indicated in our response to the previous question, that we focus the study of ideology on ideological work: that is, on the activity of interpretation and the social processes that follow from interpretations and enlist them in projects. There are several other important contributions we feel our book makes, as well. We explore ideological work in everyday life, even in the most mundane activities and trivial moments, rather than focusing on the grand doctrines and “isms” (fascism, socialism, and so on) that are the starting point for many scholars in studying ideology; we prefer to consider how the ongoing practices and actions in social life involve ideological constructions. To investigate how those constructions are built up, we take a semiotic approach to the analysis of ideology; and we highlight comparison and difference, as key concerns and fundamental aspects of semiotic processing. Taken together, what these several points allow us to do is to link ideology to perspective and point of view, recognizing that there’s always more than one perspective on the social world. They allow us to focus on contrast and comparison as fundamental in cognitive processing as well as in how people organize their views of society and language. They provide us with methods for analyzing discourse, social interaction (in both its linguistic enactments and its material dimensions), social groupings and ways of speaking. We see ideologies as regimes of value, socially based and semiotically constructed; pertaining to practices and actions in everyday life as well as to grand projects; and incorporating a point of view.

The approach to comparison in our book is important to us, and it’s an approach that connects the ethnographer’s interpretive activity with that of the people an ethnographer studies. Your education and research training and, perhaps, your outsider status (if you come from somewhere else) affect your position and your view of the ethnographic scene, but the people you study are analyzing it too, and that’s something you want to find out about. Besides, those people form views of you, and those views affect the research as well. Everyone is interpreting what’s going on, from their own points of view, all the time, and that includes the activity of doing field research, whatever that research consists of. We have been concerned here with ways of being comparative without assuming we have the ultimate grid on which to place everybody in the world. Drawing on a semiotic analysis lets us see how to do that kind of comparison, and it lets us show that the same kind of analysis works among so many different examples and cases around the globe, including our own social worlds.

Literature, Spoken Language and Speaking Skills in Second Language Learning

Blog written by Christian Jones and originally posted on the fifteen eighty four blog

What’s the big question you are trying to tackle and to what extent will Literature, Spoken Language and Speaking Skills lead to new avenues of enquiry?

I am interested in how we can best understand spoken language and in connection to this, how second language learners can best understand /use spoken language and how they can develop their speaking skills. There are many reasons why people learn English as a second language but most learners want to interact with others in some way. They can do this, primarily, via the conversations they have with others.

This book seeks to explore how literature can be used as a model of spoken language and a vehicle to develop speaking skills. It presents research studies which look at this in different contexts and using different designs. Advocating the use of literature is not a new idea in second language learning but there is relatively little research which shows how it can help to develop spoken language or enhance speaking skills. This is one attempt to fill the gap. We hope this will lead to more studies which investigate the effects on spoken language awareness and enhanced speaking skills in the many and varied contexts in which second languages are learnt.

What really excites you about this field of research and keeps you enthused? How do you see it developing in the short to long term?

I think really, it’s trying to understand spoken language and the idea that in some small way this type of research may help somebody.
The development of spoken corpora have helped us understand what people say much more clearly than ever before. But there is much we do not fully understand. We know, for example, that discourse markers such as ‘like’ are very common in conversations, particularly among younger speakers but why has its use become so frequent?  How can second language learners learn to use/understand such items? Do they need to? How are such items shown in the conversations we find in literature and could these help with this process of understanding? Are such conversations more motivating from a pedagogical viewpoint than looking at corpus transcripts?

Perhaps a teacher or researcher may read one of the studies in this book and find the evidence convincing. This may push them to try using literature to develop speaking skills in their classroom, for example. Hopefully, this helps them, in a small way, to develop evidence-informed practice. A researcher may read a study and seek to build on it. This may help, again in a small way, to push research forward.

Read an extract here