Welcome to our newest senior research associate – Gavin Brookes!

CASS just keeps getting fuller! Gavin Brookes is the newest senior research associate to join the centre, and will be working on our “Beyond the checkbox – understanding what patients say in feedback on NHS services” project. Here’s a little about Gavin, in his own words:

received_10153870011246093I am very excited to begin my role as Senior Research Associate working with Professor Paul Baker on the CASS project, “Beyond the checkbox – understanding what patients say in feedback on NHS services”. The purpose of this research is to help the National Health Service better understand patient feedback with a view to improving frontline healthcare service provision (you can find more info. here: http://cass.lancs.ac.uk/?p=1832). This project is corpus linguistics at its most applied. Its aims are timely and have clear and significant practical consequences and I am thrilled to be a part of it!

I am endlessly fascinated by the relationship between discourse and social life and have adopted corpus linguistic, (critical) discourse analytical and multimodal approaches to investigate this relationship in my research to-date. My enthusiasm for this project will come as little surprise when I tell you that I am particularly interested in how discourse shapes and represents our experiences and understandings of health and illness. My ESRC-funded doctoral research, undertaken in the School of English Studies at The University of Nottingham, examines the discursive construction of a contested condition known as diabulimia in a specialised corpus of online health messages.

Outside academia I spend my time walking, travelling, reading fantasy and science fiction novels, partaking in pub quizzes, and following my beloved (if perpetually under-achieving) Mansfield Town FC. I am delighted to be here and can’t wait to learn more about, and get involved in, the research that is being undertaken within the Department.

Congratulations to our newest CASS PhD student!

We are excited to be welcoming Craig Evans to the centre in October, as the recipient of a PhD studentship which was awarded to CASS for winning the Queen’s Anniversary Prize. Here is a little about Craig, and the project he will be working on, in his own words:

Craig Evans photoI am delighted to have been offered the opportunity to study for a PhD at Lancaster University from October. The PhD is part of a studentship funded by the Queen’s Anniversary Prize, and will involve working with a 40-million-word corpus of NHS patient feedback forms. A primary aim of the research will be to identify ways of improving patients’ experience of the NHS using corpus-based discourse analytic approaches.

I developed an interest in corpus linguistics and discourse analysis during my undergraduate degree in English Language and Linguistics, which I studied at the University of the West of England. There, I used corpus methods in a number of projects. A particular highlight was a study of the media representation of state care for children, where I investigated keyword differences between corpora using tabloid and broadsheet articles. This formed part of my undergraduate dissertation on the topic of care leaver identity, which helped to cement my interest in how social reality is constructed in discourse, especially in relation to care practices.

I am currently studying for an MA in Discourse Studies at Lancaster. When I’m not studying, I like to go walking in the countryside, mostly in the Forest of Bowland which is near to where I live. Other things about me: I enjoy watching films, in particular documentaries and psychological thrillers. I like the novels of Graham Greene, although my favourite novels are Sartre’s The Age of Reason and Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I spent my early teens living in Muscat, Oman. I like to visit different European cities when I get the chance. I like comedy, especially satire. And finally, I love music: I have varied tastes, but must admit that I listen to more 80s electronic pop than I probably should.

Welcome Jens Zinn – Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow

Jens ZinnCASS is delighted to welcome Jens Zinn to the centre after being awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship! This is an extremely prestigious award, named after the double Nobel Prize winning Polish-French scientist famed for her work on radioactivity. The fellowships support outstanding scholars at all stages of their careers, irrespective of nationality.

Jens has studied and taught at many universities in Germany, and in 2009 he was appointed Associate Professor and Reader in Sociology at The University of Melbourne. Jens has founded a number of international research networks on the Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty (SoRU). The joint internet portal of these groups is open to everyone to contribute to current debates and ongoing activities. His research activities include a number of studies on people’s management of risk and uncertainty during the course of their life (e.g. youth transitions into the labour market; certainty constructions in reflexive modernity; British veteran’s management of risk and uncertainty). He led a collaborative research initiative ‘Risk, Social Inclusion and the Life Course – A Social Policy Perspective’ at the University of Melbourne and a research project ‘Decision Taking in Times of Uncertainty. Towards an efficient strategy to manage risk and uncertainty in climate change adaptation’ funded by the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research. Most recently he has worked with Daniel Mcdonald on a project examining the change of the risk semantic in the New York Times from an historical perspective combining corpus linguistics with sociology.

Here at CASS, Jens will be working with Professor Tony McEnery on a project which aims to advance our understanding of the forces that have driven the proliferation of risk discourses in the UK and Germany since World War Two. Working at the boundaries of risk sociology and corpus linguistics, this is a highly innovative enterprise, both theoretically and methodologically. It will examine the contribution made by main-stream risk theories to explaining the increasing use of the risk semantic in media coverage during the last 50 years, and it will develop an empirically grounded theory of the observable shift towards risk. Jens will utilise cutting-edge corpus-based research strategies to systematically reconstruct the changing use of the discourse-semantics of risk and will complement these with interviews of media experts to examine how these changes are linked to institutional and socio-cultural changes and historically significant events.

CASS would like to congratulate Jens on securing this highly esteemed fellowship, and we are very much looking forward to working with Jens on this exciting project!

Check back soon for more updates!

Welcome to our newest CASS PhD student!

It’s the start of a new academic year, and the offices of CASS continue to get busier and busier! This week we welcomed our newest PhD student, Ruth Byrne, to the team. Here’s a bit aout Ruth and her research, in her own words:

Ruth ByrneI’ve just begun the first year of my ESRC-funded PhD, and will be using the British Library’s 19th Century newspaper collection to explore historic attitudes to immigration. I completed my undergraduate and masters’ degrees within the History department at Lancaster.

I’ve always been an avid reader and thrived on close textual analysis. So, although my background has firm roots in History, and not Linguistics, the study of language has naturally woven its way through much of my research. The main focus of my undergraduate study was the shifting media language surrounding the struggle for Indian Independence. Without realising it, I effectively conducted a manual hunt for collocates within lines of concordance. Terms I was not to encounter until I heard about the work of CASS during my MA. Unaware of Corpus Linguistics as an approach, and of how it could have hugely increased my efficiency and rapidity, I was frequently frustrated at the laborious nature of the process which I had chosen to undertake.

Perhaps because I’ve found my own work and interests so hard to categorise, I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of interdisciplinary research. I was thrilled to find out that I’d be joining an experienced team who are pushing the boundaries of Corpus Linguistics as an interdisciplinary research tool, and that I’d be working at the intersection of two departments. I am keen to compare the challenges which face researchers working with corpora to those traditionally faced by historians working with large archives.

Some extra-academic trivia: I’m from a family of wine-merchants and spent most childhood holidays being dragged unwillingly around vineyards. As a result I’ve accumulated a lot of odd knowledge about grape varieties and whisky distilleries. When not working on my thesis, I’ll most likely be hiking up a hill in the Lake District.

MA students all pass with Distinction!

Myself, Róisín, and Gillian were delighted to find out last week that we all passed our MA Language and Linguistics degrees with Distinction. Our degree programme included taking a wide range of modules, followed by two terms spent researching and writing a 25,000 word dissertation. All three of us used this opportunity to conduct pilot or exploratory studies in preparation for our PhD studies, which we are excited to be commencing now! You can see the titles and abstracts of our dissertations below:

Abi Hawtin

Methodological issues in the compilation of written corpora: an exploratory study for Written BNC2014

The Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) at Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press have made an agreement to collaborate on the creation of a new, publicly accessible corpus of contemporary British English. The corpus will be called BNC2014, and will have two sub-sections: Spoken BNC2014 and Written BNC2014. BNC2014 aims to be an updated version of BNC1994 which, despite its age, is still used as a proxy for present day English. This dissertation is an exploratory study for Written BNC2014. I aim to address several methodological issues which will arise in the construction of Written BNC2014: balance and representativeness, copyright, and e-language. These issues will be explored, and decisions will be reached about how these issues will be dealt with when construction of the corpus begins.

Róisín Knight

Constructing a corpus of children’s writing for researching creative writing assessment: Methodological issues

In my upcoming PhD project, I wish to explore applications of corpus stylistics to Key Stage 3 creative writing assessment in the UK secondary National Curriculum. In order to carry out this research, it is necessary to have access to a corpus of Key Stage 3 students’ writing that has been marked using the National Curriculum criteria. Prior to this MA project, no corpus fulfilled all of these criteria.

This dissertation explores the methodological issues surrounding the construction of such a corpus by achieving three aims. Firstly, all of the design decisions required to construct the corpus are made, and justified. These decisions relate to the three main aspects of the corpus construction: corpus design; transcription; metadata, textual markup and annotation. Secondly, the methodological problems relating to these design decisions are discussed. It is argued that, although several problems exist, the majority can be overcome or mitigated in some way. The impact of problems that cannot be overcome is fairly limited. Thirdly, these design decisions are implemented, through undertaking the construction of the corpus, so far as was possible within the limited time restraints of the project.

Gillian Smith

Using Corpus Methods to Identify Scaffolding in Special Education Needs (SEN) Classrooms

Much research addresses teaching methods in Special Education Needs (SEN) classrooms, where language interventions are vital in providing children with developmental language disorders with language and social skills. Research in this field, however, is often limited by its use of small-scale samples and manual analysis. This study aims to address this problem, through applying a corpus-based method to the study of one teaching method, scaffolding, in SEN classrooms. Not only does this provide a large and therefore more representative sample of language use in SEN classrooms, the main body of this dissertation attempts to clarify and demonstrate that corpus methods may be used to search for scaffolding features within the corpus. This study, therefore, presents a systematic and objective way of searching for the linguistic features of scaffolding, namely questions, predictions and repetitions, within a large body of data. In most cases, this was challenging, however, as definitions of features are vague in psychological and educational literature. Hence, I focus on first clarifying linguistic specifications of these features in teacher language, before identifying how these may be searched for within a corpus. This study demonstrates that corpus-based methods can provide new ways of assessing language use in the SEN classroom, allowing systematic, objective searches for teaching methods in a larger body of data.

CL2015 – Presenting for the First Time at an International Conference

In July 2015 I was lucky enough to give a presentation at the Corpus Linguistics 2015 conference at Lancaster University. This was my first time presenting at an international conference, and I was nervous but very excited. I thought I would use this blog post to elaborate on my experience of presenting at a conference for the first time, and hopefully give some advice to people who may be worrying about giving their first conference presentation (or to see how my experience compares to those of you who are already well practiced at this)!

All the way back in January 2015 I put together my abstract to submit to the conference. This was quite a tricky process as the abstracts for CL2015 were required to be 750-1500 words in length. This meant that more than a simple summary was needed, but that I also couldn’t go into a great amount of detail about my method or results. After many re-drafts I managed to find a balance between the two, and with crossed fingers and toes I submitted my abstract. Crossing my fingers must have worked (or maybe it was all the re-drafting…) because I was delighted to find out that I had been accepted to present at the conference! The feedback from the reviewers was mostly positive, but, even when reviewers suggest lots of changes, it’s important to see this as a way to make your work even better rather than as negative feedback.

After the elation of being accepted had worn off, I had a sudden realisation of “Oh my God, I actually have to stand up and talk about corpus linguistics in front of a whole room of actual professional corpus linguists!” However, after lots of practice in front of my PhD supervisors and fellow students who would be presenting at the conference I began to feel more confident. That was until the first day of the conference arrived and I found out that I would be presenting in one of the biggest lecture theatres in the university!

After a few moments of worry about whether anyone would be able to hear me, or whether anyone would even come, I thought “Well, there’s no point being nervous, you’ve practiced as much as you can, let’s just enjoy it!” And, as is usually the case when you’ve spent a long time worrying about everything that could go wrong, everything went absolutely fine. I had a good sized audience, my presentation worked, and I managed to answer all of the questions put to me. Something I found very helpful whilst presenting was to have a set of cue cards with very short bullet point notes on for each slide – I barely looked at them, but it was reassuring to know that they were there in case I completely froze up! The only thing that didn’t go quite to plan was my timing; I was a couple of minutes short of the allotted 20 minutes for presenting. However, over the course of the conference I learnt that this is vastly preferable to being over the time limit. Giving a presentation which is too long makes you seem unrehearsed and leaves you with no time for questions or comments. It can also ruin the timings for all of the other presenters following you, so make sure you rehearse with a stopwatch beforehand!

I received some lovely feedback after the presentation both in person and on Twitter. This allowed me to meet lots of other people at the conference with similar research interests to mine, and gave me lots of ideas for future research.

Overall, presenting at CL2015 was a very enjoyable and extremely valuable experience. It taught me that, with the right amount of preparation, giving a presentation to experts in your field is not something to worry about, but rather an opportunity to showcase your work and help it progress. My top tips for those of you worrying about presenting at a conference would be:

1) Don’t rush your abstract, you won’t get the chance to worry about presenting if your abstract doesn’t showcase why your work is important and interesting.

2) Practice with friends, colleagues, anyone who will listen! And time yourself with a stopwatch – you don’t want to be the one that the chair has to use the scary ‘STOP TALKING NOW’ sign on!

3) Use cue cards if it makes you feel more confident. However, DON’T write a script – this will make you seem over-rehearsed and you won’t be as interesting to listen to.

4) Put your Twitter handle on your presentation slides so that you can network and people can give you feedback online as well as in person.

5) See presenting as a valuable chance to have your work evaluated by experts in your field, and enjoy it!

Do my experiences of presenting at a conference for the first time match yours? Have you found these tips helpful? Let us know @corpussocialsci!

“Fleeing, Sneaking, Flooding” – The importance of language in the EU migrant crisis

With tensions over the current EU migrant crisis increasing, we at CASS thought it would be timely to highlight the importance of the language used in the debate about this humanitarian crisis. In this paper, by Paul Baker and Costas Gabrielatos, the authors analyse the construction of refugees and asylum seekers in UK press articles.
For readers who do not have access to Sage, you can find a final draft of the paper here free of charge. Please note that this version of the paper has the tables and figures at the end of the paper.

 

New CASS Briefing now available – Analysing narratives in the Corporate Financial Information Environment

cassnarrative-briefingAnalysing narratives in the Corporate Financial Information Environment. Transparent and effective communication between firms and the investment community is a key determinant of corporate success. Audited financial statements and associated narrative disclosures are among the main methods that firms use to communicate with investors and analysts. These disclosures combine with information from financial journalists and other market commentators to form the Corporate Financial Information Environment (CFIE). While a considerable body of work exists on financial narratives, research has been limited by the methods used for measuring the characteristics and quality of such disclosures. In particular, the need to hand-collect relevant data from firms’ annual reports and the subjectivity of textual scoring based on manual methods has restricted progress. Recent advances in computational and corpus linguistics provide a basis for undertaking more sophisticated analyses.


New resources are being added regularly to the new CASS: Briefings tab above, so check back soon.