25 years of English Language and Linguistics

English Language and Linguistics has reached volume 25. We four current editors are proud to be associated with the journal, and – in celebration of this quarter-century – we are happy to be able to write this blog-post to reflect a little on how ELL has developed over its years of publication.

ELL was founded in the mid-1990s (with first publication in 1997) by Bas Aarts, David Denison and Richard Hogg. They wrote in their editors’ note in the first issue that they began the journal because of a perceived need to offer a forum which “covers the range that ELL is intended to cover, a ‘natural class’ of research interests which deserves to be treated in one place”. They described this range as “the synchronic and the diachronic aspects of English language studies”, covering “the structure and development of the English language” and “informed by a knowledge and appreciation of linguistic theory”. We are very glad that they founded ELL all those years ago. The need that they perceived was real, as the success of the journal over the past 25 years has shown.

When ELL began, it had two issues per volume, publishing an average of 11 articles each year over the first five years of publication. There has been a steady increase in size over the years, showing both the need for the journal, and its success among its audience. ELL increased to three issues a year in 2007 (with an average of 18 articles per year in the following five years), and to four issues in 2019 (with 31 articles appearing in both 2019 and 2020). Alongside research articles, ELL has always had a substantial book review section. There were 13 book reviews in the first volume of ELL, and there were also, with remarkable (if coincidental) consistency, 13 book reviews in the latest full volume. We see the review section as an important part of the journal, spreading news of current research and research trends in a way that can be as important as the articles that is publishes.

While reflecting on the first 25 years of ELL, we found ourselves wondering whether the types and topics of articles have changed over the years, and whether there has been a change in who it is that writes the articles. We have investigated these things in some detail and we will be publishing a detailed analysis of trends in these areas as an editorial in the final issue of this jubilee volume. A spoiler about our findings that we can give here is that the range of topics covered in ELL and the types of people who have written on them have remained notably stable over the years, except in one respect: the use of quantitative methods and statistical analysis has increased considerably.

ELL has grown over its 25 volumes, but it has served its audience in a fundamentally consistent manner, showing that it is flexible where appropriate, but also that it has always served a very real and constant need. We look forward to ELL’s next 25 years with excitement.

Laurel J. Brinton (University of British Columbia)
Patrick Honeybone (University of Edinburgh)
Bernd Kortmann (University of Freiburg)
Elena Seoane (University of Vigo)

Both the first and the second issues of the 25th volume of English Language & Linguistics are available without charge for a limited time.

Verbal hugs don’t lie

Written by Martina Wiltschko (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)

When we talk to each other, we interact in ways that go beyond telling each other about ourselves and the world around us. We let our interlocutors know what we think and how we feel; we can share our attitudes towards each other and the things we talk about. We do this by using language dedicated to interaction and which does not contribute to the content of what we say. The mood of a conversation changes dramatically when the language of content (you made it) is enriched with interactional language (oh wow), bold-face in (1-2).

(1) Ann: Oh wow, you made it, eh?

Beth: I know, right?

(2) Charlie: Damn. I’m sick.

Dorian: Oh no! Get better, okay?

Without interactional language the conversation sounds almost curt or even rude. It’s like you don’t really care. In spoken language, this may be alleviated by other means such as intonation, gestures, and facial expressions and in texting via emojis. But in the absence of such clues, when Beth responds to Ann’s observation that she made it with a simple I know it takes away the congratulatory attitude of the preceding utterance. Beth may almost come across as complaining that Ann said something she already knows, so why bother? And there is no indication as to whether Beth is in fact excited about the fact that she made it. Similarly, in the second example, if Dorian responds with a simple get better, there is a sense in which he might as well say: So what? All you have to do is get better. No empathy. No connection.

By adding interactional language, the interlocutors learn something about how the other feels: oh wow conveys Ann’s surprise and excitement, oh no conveys Dorian’s concern for Charlie. By adding the sentence-final particles eh, right, and okay, the interlocutors build a connection: they indicate that they care what the other thinks and feels rather than simply telling them what to think and do or how to feel. They indicate that the speaker wants a response. Thus, interactional language has two interrelated function: it helps us to synchronize our minds in that it allows interlocutors to get a glimpse of what is going on in their interlocutor’s mind. And it helps us to facilitate the flow of the interaction. Being encouraged to respond makes it easier to keep the conversation going and thus to further connect with the interlocutor. The connection we are able to establish via interactional language may even be an emotional substitute for a physical hug. (In the situations in (1-2), hugs would be appropriate.)  Especially when physical hugging is not a possibility.

Some self-help websites have lately advocated for giving “verbal hugs”. You find statements like “a verbal hug is a sincere acknowledgment, said to make the person feel warm, loved, and honored. For example, instead of greeting someone with the trite “How are you?” try “It’s so good to see you,” or, if it’s true, “You’re looking great.”

Now the thing about the language of content is that it can be used to lie (hence the above cited post emphasizes to say it only if it is true). But interactional language is not about truth or falsehood: one cannot lie by saying oh wow. One could, of course fake it, but that would be like faking a smile or… a hug. While humans do not seem to be inherently equipped with lie-detection abilities, they are very good at detecting fake smiles and fake hugs. And, I would add, that we are also good at detecting fake verbal hugs that are delivered via interactional language. It’s much harder to fake interactional language than it is to lie with the language of content because the rules that regulate its use are much more difficult to make conscious. (Just ask someone what “eh?” means). And hence interactional language, arguably, allows for an unobstructed window into your interlocutor’s mind and their emotions.

Cover image: Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

The Grammar of Interactional Language by Martina Wiltschko is out now.




Inaugural JIPA Most Illustrative Illustration Prize

The Journal of the International Phonetic Association is delighted to announce the winner of the inaugural JIPA Most Illustrative Illustration Prize, as voted by the editors and editorial board of the Journal.

Congratulations to all the authors of Kalasha (Bumburet variety)!

Congratulations also to the authors of the other shortlisted Illustrations:


Kejom (Babanki)

Zhushan Mandarin

These Illustrations represent languages spoken in Pakistan, Indonesia (West Papua), Cameroon and China!

Fifty Years of JIPA

This year JIPA celebrates 50 years under its present title, and 20 years of publication with CUP. But that’s only part of a 134-year story. Under earlier titles (The Phonetic Teacher and Le Maître Phonétique) the journal dates back to 1886, and was printed entirely in IPA phonetic symbols for over 80 years. It switched to ordinary orthography in 1971 and at the same time adopted the title Journal of the International Phonetic Association, with the catchy acronym JIPA.

After a hundred years of conventional typesetting and printing, the journal went through an innovative era of desktop publishing in the 1980s and 90s. The partnership with CUP began with Volume 31 in 2001, and the journal acquired its striking black and orange cover. JIPA has gone from strength to strength, and is now published in three issues per year.

JIPA is not only the longest-established phonetics journal, but special too in that alongside general research papers on phonetics, it also publishes the “Illustrations of the IPA”, which are concise but detailed first-hand accounts of the phonetics of numerous languages and varieties (many of them under-described or endangered) based on fieldwork and original recordings. The growing corpus of Illustrations is now widely recognised as an important resource in phonetic documentation and typology. Three years after publication, Illustrations and the accompanying recordings become open to all – an important service to the language communities who provided them, as well as to students and teachers of phonetics everywhere.

The current Editor of JIPA is Marija Tabain, with co-editor Jody Kreiman. They and their editorial team are very proud and honoured to build on the legacy created by the long line of distinguished previous editors of the journal. We look forward to the next 50 years!

Read the latest issue of JIPA without charge until 15 December 2020.

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.

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.


‘Word jails’, ‘slang bans’ and the punitive policing of language in schools

Blog post written by Ian Cushing based on a new article published in Language in Society

The late, great linguist and educationalist Ronald Carter wrote that teachers can be forced into acting as a kind of ‘kind of linguistic dentist, polishing here and there, straightening out, removing decay, filling gaps and occasionally undertaking a necessary extraction’. In a new article published in Language in Society, I use Carter’s metaphor as a springboard to critically examine a spate of many current language education policies and pedagogies in schools which are driven by deficit discourses about linguistic variation and change. The focus of the paper is on primary and secondary schools in England who have implemented strict, prescriptive and punitive language policies which attempt to ‘ban’ young people from using particular words, phrases and non-standard grammatical constructions from classrooms and corridors. In doing so, I adopt a stance from critical linguistics in that my approach is to unpick how authoritative bodies weaponise language policies and ideologies as a mechanism to control and suppres how people use language, and as a way of maintaining institutional power. Ultimately, my argument is that a prescriptive language policy carries a threat of language discrimination and serve to bolster the stigmatisation that many speakers of non-standard language already face.

One important commitment that I make in the article is to use discursive methods to analysing language policy. In this, policy is conceived of as an ‘onion’: a series of interconnected ‘layers’ or ‘levels’, which typically carry different degrees of power and agency, from ‘macro-level’ (e.g. government; curriculum documents; national tests) through to ‘micro-level’ (e.g. teachers; students). I argue that current macro-level policy in England is particularly problematic in the ways in which it uncritically emphasises a requirement for students to use Standard English in schools, for teachers to ‘model’ Standard English, and the ways in which language is reductively framed as ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ in national grammar tests and political discourse. In interviews, one reason that teachers at the micro-level gave for implementing prescriptive language policies then, is in response to these kinds of top-down policies which coerce and intimidate them in compliance. Schools are particularly crucial spaces for language policy, being controlled by the state, being key sites of socialisation and legitimisation, and the curriculum being a key vehicle through which the state can shape the attitudes and behaviours of the next generation.

Strict language policies mirror a shift (and return) towards conservatism in English education more broadly, along with a growing trend for schools to implement hostile ‘no excuses’ and ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies, which are driven by retribution and punishment. Media reporting on these policies is equally problematic, often inviting readers to submit their own words they would like to see ‘banned’ and whipping up the kind of moral panic about language change, ‘falling standards’ and young people’s behaviour which has long permeated UK society. Critical discourse analysis of media stories and interviews revealed that crime metaphors often appear within prescriptive policies: language policing, word jails, crackdowns and rule breakers serve to re-enforce teachers and management as powerful language policy agents who are concerned with linguistic control, regulation and ‘standards’.

Importantly, the article draws attention to the lack of opportunities for students to study sociolinguistics in schools, as well as the low-number of linguistics graduates training to become teachers and a general lack of linguistics on many teacher education courses. These remain pressing issues for applied linguists and educationalists in working to educate teachers and policy makers about the dangers of prescriptivism and the potential for language discrimination it can bring about.

Read the full article ‘The policy and policing of language in schools‘ published in Language in Society

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)


Words on the loose: The power of “premium”

Blog post written by Crispin Thurlow based on a new article published in Language in Society


In a new paper for Language in Society, I open with the following anecdote about the disingenuous power of everyday language games. On a work trip to Stockholm several years ago, I needed to take my two sons along with me. My local colleagues had kindly accommodated us in one of Sweden’s “Elite” hotels. On arrival day, my sons and I checked in and made our way up to the room. As we stepped across the threshold my oldest son declared, with genuine disappointment, “But this isn’t elite!” After I pressed him, he explained that the room was just not big enough. Evidently, he had already learned about the well-established link between space, privilege and the performance of status. And, in that moment, he was also learning two truths about language: words do not carry meaning, but words really do matter.

Against this domestic backdrop, I undertake an extensive critique of another floating signifier at work in the world today: “premium”. Attached to any number of goods or services, this ubiquitous label is an apparent effort to persuade people into an easy sense of distinction. My own collected examples include chocolates, beer, clothing, haircuts, towelling, potato chips, olives, crab cakes and tomatoes. The power of “premium” is at its most vivid, however, in the elaborately orchestrated rhetorics of so-called Premium Economy. Here we have not the sorting of tomatoes but rather the sorting of people. Arguably the most profitable of passenger classes, this is also where language comes to the fore. In an industry where profit margins are slim, one of the cheapest resources available to airlines – the one with the lowest fossil-fuel burn – is words. Words are precisely how airlines fabricate a “class” of passengers tangibly but not too visibly distinct from Economy, while steering clear of the more prestigious (and expensive) Business.

In teasing apart the copious and florid marketing copy of over forty international airlines, I have pin-pointed three common strategies which underpin this in-between passenger service. The first is extraction (of money and of other people’s comfort) and the second is excess (of words and other largely immaterial performances of plenty). Perhaps most important of all, however, Premium Economy rests on a core grammatical feature and a related social-psychological phenomenon: comparison. Airlines can only profitably afford to offer “extra” and “more” – as in the words of one airline, “More comfort, more choice, more privileges”. All of which hinges on the human predeliction for downward comparison – or, in the case of airplane seating configurations, backwards comparison. And it works, as behavioural economists attest. Simply knowing that others are worse off makes people feel better about themselves and more willing to part with their money.

In the final reckoning, I have come to understand “premium” to be a prime example of Bourdieu’s symbolic power. For all its seemingly frivolous, innocuous appearance, this little word is deployed – and quite successfully it seems – as a means for controlling people through seduction and enchantment. In fact, and following the impressive interventions of critical economist Frédéric Lordon, I propose that the “humble joy” of having a little extra or a little more – of being just a little bit better than the rest – is partly how members of the aspirational middle classes make themselves compliant to the capitalist order. As such, “premium” promises just enough to keep me striving willingly for my own subjugation.

Read the article Dissecting the Language of Elitism: The ‘Joyful’ Violence of Premium published in Language in Society.

Educating the global citizen or the global consumer?

Blog post written by Claire Kramsch based on an article published in Language Teaching

My views on the impact that globalization has had on the learning and teaching of foreign languages have been very much influenced by my French upbringing. In the fifties in France I learned and then studied German not in order to find a job in Germany, nor to go and visit the country, nor even to make friends with Germans, but to enjoy German literature and to immerse myself in German poems and fairytales. The language for me was indissociable from texts on the page and the imaginary worlds they opened up for me.  Not that I had consciously intended it to be that way. The teaching of German in those days was pure grammar/translation, my teachers spoke German with an atrocious French accent, many of them has fought the  Germans and had just returned from POW camps, and Germany lay in ruins. And yet…not unlike many learners of English today, I embraced German as my ticket to freedom from what I perceived to be a stifling French educational system.

Later, once I got to know real Germans and discovered the thrills of real live conversation with native speakers of German (rather than textbook dialogues) I began to understand the potential of foreign language education to bring people together across national boundaries. But the language of international communication was increasingly English, not German. People were not learning English to study Shakespeare, but to adopt a more instrumental, commercially efficient mode of communication that became even more widespread with the invention of the Internet. I became fascinated by the extensive research conducted to improve the teaching of English as a global language. I benefitted tremendously from the insights of my colleagues in second language acquisition and applied linguistics, but I always missed the imaginary worlds of my youth, when I was a French citizen in love with German poetry.

So when the invitation came to reflect on “the global citizen” of the future, I couldn’t help thinking: What is a global citizen?  Isn’t globalization making us rather into global consumers? Isn’t globalization just another form of imperialism or colonialism?  As a French high school student, I had loved German precisely because it was not French nor English, because it was different and controversial. As a graduate student, I was seduced by the possibility of thinking and dreaming in different syntaxes, lexicons and metaphors. Now as a German professor in the United States I am happy to remain a French Germanist with a U.S. passport, resonating to different multilingual ecologies of being to which English, Latin, Greek and Russian were added later on.

Read the article ‘Educating the global citizen or the global consumer?’ published in Language Teaching

The English major crisis in China

Blog post written by Ningyang Chen, author of the article ‘The English major crisis in China: Why did the once-popular major fall out of favor among Chinese students? recently published in English Today.

There was a time in China when becoming a foreign language major was the dream of many aspiring young minds. The English major, in particular, enjoyed the greatest popularity and was associated with many advantages: a better social reputation, better-paid jobs, and above all, the chance to go out and see the world. Over the years, however, the English major has been losing its appeal to Chinese students. Some critics have questioned its validity or even proposed closing the major. This concern was brought to the fore by a recent Chinese newspaper article in which the opinionist described the major as suffering from “a guilty conscience”.

How to explain this drastic change? There are some obvious reasons such as the expansion of choices. But other factors may have also played a part. According to an analysis of WeChat (China’s most popular social media channel) comments on the “guilty conscience” article, three types of attitudes portray the social media response to the English major crisis. In the first place is practical attitudes, followed by the pessimistic and the optimistic. The majority of the student and teacher commenters find elements of truths in the motto of “Being practical is everything”. The English major in the modern era falls behind other majors in securing a financial future. Success models like Jack Ma serve only as reminders to choose a major that is more “worth” the “investment”. This prevailing attitude of being practical echoes a critical paper on ‘the practical turn’ in English studies, in that the successful turn seems to have exerted a lasting influence. The pessimistic views of the English major in China find fault with the teachers and the courses. Courses taught by less qualified teachers can be a waste of time, and irresponsible teachers increase students’ dismay even further. The small number of optimists are mainly proud English majors who share an interest in literature and the language. Yet their voices seem hushed by the overwhelming negativity and criticism.

The bulging purse of the Chinese is an economic reality we find difficult to ignore. With this comes wider options and opportunities. What used to be an accessible and promising way to pursue a “modern” education is now among the least efficient ways to achieve that goal. Let’s face it: Why sitting through a boring class taught in Chinese-accented English when one can get a more “authentic” English experience by watching a Hollywood blockbuster? What’s the point of spending four years in a program to learn skills that can be readily acquired by studying in an English-speaking country at a reasonable price? Even those with a less superficial understanding of the major may doubt, quite rightfully, if a Chinese professor can interpret Shakespeare as adequately as Lu Xun.

Although the decline of the liberal arts subjects seems a shared concern across institutions and cultures, the English major in China has its specificities. After all, it is pathetic to find what started out as part of the “solution” to the country’s modernization has become a “problem” of its own. As globalization deepens, a similar pity is likely to be felt in other contexts around the world where the program once played a big part in training personnel who pioneered international communication and engagement. Yet opportunities are born out of crises. The raised concerns could inspire creative changes to the system. And while we are a long way away from figuring out what the future holds for the English major in China, getting a sense of the distressing reality can be the first step.