The Spoken BNC2014 project features in the Daily Mail

BNC2014 logoThe recently announced collaboration between Cambridge University Press and CASS, the Spoken BNC2014 project, has made headlines in the Daily Mail.

The article, entitled, “No longer marvellous – now we’re all awesome: Britons are using more American words because traditional English is in decline”, describes the preliminary findings of the project, which is in its early stages.

To participate in the project, native British English speakers from all over the UK can record their conversations and send them to us as MP3 files. For each hour of good quality recordings we receive, along with all associated consent forms and information sheets completed correctly, we will pay £18. Each recording does not have to be 1 hour in length; participants may submit two 30 minute recordings, or three 20 minute recordings, but for each hour in total, they will receive £18.

To register your interest in participating, please email corpus(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)

In memory: Professor Geoffrey Leech

It is with great sorrow that we report the death on 19th August of Professor Geoffrey Leech.

Geoff was not only the founder of the UCREL research centre for corpus linguistics at Lancaster University, he was also the first Professor and founding Head of the Department of Linguistics and English Language. His contributions to linguistics – not only in corpus linguistics, but also in English grammar, pragmatics and stylistics – were immense. After his retirement in 2002, he remained an active member of our department, not only continuing his own research but also, characteristically, providing advice, support and encouragement for students and junior colleagues.

All our thoughts are with Geoff’s wife Fanny, and with his family.

It is still hard for us to find the right words at this time. For many of us he was an inspirational teacher and mentor, but for all of us, he was a kind and generous friend.

The video below was recorded by Tony McEnery in conversation with Geoff in late 2013 for Lancaster’s online course in corpus linguistics. In it, Tony and Geoff discuss the history of the field. We present it now publicly as a first tribute to Geoff’s life and work.

(A transcript is available from this link.)

Gypsies, tramps and thieves? UK national newspaper depictions of Romanians and Bulgarians analysed

British tabloid newspapers repeatedly associated Romanians – but not Bulgarians – with criminality and anti-social behavior during 2012-2013, a comprehensive new “big data” report by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory shows.

The report Bulgarians and Romanians in the British national press was undertaken by CASS Challenge Panel Member William Allen and Dora-Olivia Vicol at the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. It provides a detailed analysis of the language used by 19 British national newspapers to discuss Romanians and Bulgarians between December 1st 2012 and December 1st 2013. The analysis encompasses 4,000 articles, letters and comment pieces mentioning Romanians and/or Bulgarians, a total of more than 2.8 million words.

Key findings include:

  • Language used by tabloid newspapers to describe and discuss Romanians as a single group was frequently focused on crime and anti-social behavior (gang, criminal, beggar, thief, squatter). This was less prevalent in broadsheet newspapers.
  • Where Romanians and Bulgarians were discussed together this was consistently in the context of immigration, across both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.
  • Verbs used to describe or discuss Romanians and Bulgarians together, across both broadsheets and tabloids were frequently related to travel (come, arrive, move, travel, head). In tabloids these included metaphors related to scale (flood, flock).
  • Words appearing before “Romanians and Bulgarians” in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers were frequently related to prevention of movement (stop, control, block– tabloids) (deter, restrict, dissuade – broadsheets).
  • References to Romanians and Bulgarians together were frequently associated with specific numbers, across both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. The most common specific numbers were 29 million – the approximate combined populations of Romania and Bulgaria – and 50,000 – a prediction from MigrationWatch, a pressure group which campaigns for reduced immigration, of how many A2 migrants would be added to the UK population each year for five years following the end of transitional controls.

Some language associated with stories unrelated to UK migration was also evident – particularly Romanian abattoirs implicated in the horsemeat scandal and the blonde Bulgarian Roma child who sparked an ‘abduction’ investigation in Greece.

William Allen, co-author of the report said: “The report is valuable because it provides a comprehensive account of how British national newspapers discussed Romanians and Bulgarians during a key period. The language used to describe Romanians – particularly in tabloid newspapers – often mention them alongside criminality and anti-social behaviour, while this was not the case with Bulgarians.” Read the full report here.

How to be a PhD student (by someone who just was), Part 3: Towards the viva

After successfully defending my viva early this year, I’ve been sharing some of the lessons I learned over my 38 months as a PhD student. In this installment, I talk about powering through your final year and preparing for your viva. 

If you missed the previous entries, click through to read Part 1 (Preparing for the programme) or Part 2 (Managing your work and working relationships). 

Coming down the final stretch

When you absolutely can’t stand the sight of your PhD, you know you’re nearly finished with it. From speaking to my friends and colleagues, this tends to happen around 8-10 months before submission, which means that you get about 40 weeks of steely focus, single-mindedly trying to get the demon out of your computer and into the hands of your examiners. This is a testing time for your personal relationships and for your scholarly stamina, but a most excellent time for your academic work.

I’ve yet to meet someone who had the problem of too little material for their PhD (though I suppose they might be out there), so remember ABC: Always Be Cutting. When re-reading your work, keep a sharp eye out for words and phrases such as basically, simply put, in other words, and so on. These are clear indicators that you’ve been repetitive and could be more succinct.

Don’t be afraid to be absolutely ruthless in editing and rewriting, especially in this magical 8-10 month period where you just want it gone. Print out a copy of your research questions and hang them somewhere in sight of your working space. As you finish your analyses and revise your structure, make sure that all words serve the research questions. If you find that your work drifts, you have two choices:

  1. Revise the research questions to match what you researched. It is the worst-kept secret in the academic world that research questions posed in the infancy of a project might not be those we end up answering along the way. This is totally natural. What’s unnatural is if your research questions and chapters/analyses do not evolve together, and your thesis ends up looking more like a centaur than a human or a horse. Pick a human or a horse, and run with it!
  2. Remove analyses that do not directly contribute to the thrust of your thesis. This can be very painful, but is almost always necessary. You do so much work during the PhD that you want to be able to show it all off at the end. But the truth of the matter is: not everything is relevant, and 80,000 words cannot hold the entirety of your own knowledge, let alone the accumulated learnings of the human race. If you find analyses that are clear departures from your research questions, remove these from the main document and save them in a series of new files to turn into papers when you’re ready. Summarise each of these in bullet points, and you can add them into the ‘further work’ section of your thesis, which means that you can still demonstrate that you’ve thought about (and even journeyed toward) new directions in your work. The upside here is that you have a clear path to follow-on publications.

Remove distractions. Be selfish. This is a very short time in your life where it is perfectly fine to just stay the course and keep your eyes on the prize. Surround yourself with understanding, patient, and supportive people. Work each day until you are not being productive anymore, and then relax doing something that is not mentally exhausting but is not mentally destructive. Try your best to stay flexible and (self-) reflexive.


Staying flexible and reflexive

Everyone who starts a PhD is a perfectionist, to some point. We all came to this point (the highest tertiary degree on offer) with a unique mixture of natural talent, intellectual curiosity, mental fortitude, and real hard-headedness. Either you or many of the people in your cohort would have been at the top of their Masters or Bachelors classes, or come from a solid career in industry. The thing about a PhD is that it is designed to be both finite and imperfect.

In the postgraduate socialising area of the linguistics department at Lancaster, we once hung a sign that said, “There are two kinds of PhD: Perfect, and finished”. Choose ‘finished’! The last year of your PhD will break your heart, because that’s when you realise just how much you can do in your finite period, and more devastatingly, how much you just cannot fit in. I can’t remember who told me this, but whoever it was should step forward (because I owe you a drink):

Your PhD is not your great work. If you stay in academia, it is almost certain to be your worst work.

We do this to prove that we can do greater things if given more time, money, chances, collaborators, experiences. If you save all of the interesting things that you can’t fit into your PhD into separate folders, you have a good head start on papers that you can publish either during or directly after your doctorate. You can easily fill up a ‘Future Work’ section in your final chapter. And most importantly, you can finish your PhD.

As soon as I let go of the idea of my thesis as this all-encompassing, nearly-perfect, staggering contribution to science and accepted the fact that it was just the best version of many possible (apprentice) books that I could have written in that time, it just flowed out of me.

For instance, throughout my thesis, I worked on a method of downsampling that could help researchers who were, like me, working with very large corpora resulting in hundreds or thousands of collocates per search node. To make sure that this method was applicable to different data sets, I did two case studies, and I was able to refine the method quite dramatically in the second half of my study. As I wrote up the second half of my PhD, I agonized about the first half, which was completed and written up using the now-outdated, subpar version of the method. “Do I have to go back and redo the entire thing?” I wailed to my long-suffering supervisor. “It will be more perfect if I do”. In his wisdom, my supervisor suggested that I find a way to turn these lemons into lemonade, rather than turning them into 6 months of additional hard labour.

In the end, I presented my PhD warts and all. I was transparent about my ‘research journey’, which my examiners looked upon very favourably. Remember that this process is meant to be hard work; totally whitewashing your PhD by removing all traces of earlier errors, therefore denying yourself the ability to weave in a narrative about the learning experience itself will not do you many favours. Also, including brief notes about where you went wrong, how you identified problems, and what you did to fix them, will help future PhD students immensely. Everyone who opens your thesis afterwards can avoid reinventing the wheel you already sweated over – they can focus on their own unique and novel problems!

Choosing your panel

Choosing the people who will sit on your panel is one of the most crucial decisions of your doctorate. In the UK, we generally have four panels: a pre-confirmation, a confirmation, a post-confirmation, and a viva voce.

The pre-confirmation happens during your first year, and generally checks your progress and working relationship with your supervisor. I suggest choosing an examiner who is (even marginally) in your field and can make some comments about your literature review and some suggestions for possible directions in your work. The most important trait of an examiner in the pre-confirmation (in my opinion) is that they are supportive and kind. Choose someone who will boost your confidence for the road ahead!

The confirmation panel (in my department, taking place in the second year) confirms the movement from PhD student to PhD candidate. This panel is high-stakes, as failing it can mean a significant delay in finishing your PhD, or even discontinuing it completely. Despite this pressure, I recommend choosing the toughest possible person from your department to examine your confirmation panel. For this spot, you want the person most likely to pick holes in your theoretical and methodological choices while there is still time to adjust before the viva. If you choose correctly, your confirmation will be the hardest panel of your PhD – mine certainly was!

The post-confirmation panel happens in the third year of the PhD here, and checks that you have settled on research questions and are on target to submit. Your examiner should be someone quite critical about research questions and design, but also someone who you feel that you can trust and talk to, particularly if you’re encountering issues. This is your last panel before the viva, so it’s a good place to take the temperature of your overall research design and to get a bit of a confidence boost or a reality check.

Finally, we come to the viva. In Lancaster, this happens after 3-4 years of PhD study. I know that some universities don’t give students much control over the members of their panel, but I urge you to have an open dialogue with your supervisor about this. The people sitting in those seats can not only change the outcome of the day, but also have a lasting effect on your career. For my viva, I needed to have three examiners: one internal and two external. (At Lancaster, your supervisor is present during the viva, but cannot speak.) I chose a variety of scholars who have all used corpus linguistic methods in their work, and whose previous findings have been echoed in my thesis. I knew that they would be critical of my work, but would most likely receive it positively. At this point in the process, you would like to engage in a lively debate about your research, but you do not want this to be a negative or a defensive one.

Preparing for the day

This was quite controversial at the time, but I also only told three people (my partner and two very close friends) which day my viva was on. I was freaking myself out enough counting down the days to V-Day; I didn’t want a dozen other friends (as well-intentioned as they might have been) ramping up the pressure by constantly reminding me of the impending panel.

You’ll likely have quite a bit of practice describing your research from speaking to fellow students, scholars, and conference attendees. However, speaking to influential people in your field is much different; it’s a good idea to practice some answers just in case you find yourself freezing up on the day. Here are some questions that could/maybe/will come up in a viva:

  1. Explain your thesis in fewer than 5 sentences.
  2. Explain your thesis for a layman.
  3. What is the one idea that links the entire work together?
  4. What motivated you, personally, to undertake this work?
  5. What do you think the main contribution of this work is?
  6. What was the most crucial decision that you made in designing/structuring/undertaking this work?
  7. Do you think you could have done better work with more data or less data?
  8. How have you, as a researcher, influenced the outcome of this analysis? What safeguards have you put in place against this?
  9. How has the process influenced you? Has your view of the data/circumstances/research topic changed over the course of the degree?
  10. Summarise your major/key findings. Are any of these surprising? Why are they interesting?
  11. Who will find this work most interesting? Do you think it’s accessible to this audience?
  12. Do you have plans for distributing these results to non-academic audiences? What about the contributors/stakeholders?
  13. How would you begin future research?
  14. What sort of advice would you give future PhD students? (Maybe you can write 3 blog posts about it!)
  15. Why do you think that this merits a PhD? (This is the toughest question in the book, and I think it’s only asked in extenuating circumstances, but best to be prepared.)

The best thing that I did to prepare for my viva (personally) was to read through my thesis one last time, with comments and track edits turned on in MS Word. I got a head start correcting typos that were spotted by my examiners, and I was able to add comments expanding on some areas that I thought might fall under their scrutiny. Because I was reading the thesis closely enough to edit it, I really re-familiarised myself with the content (much of which I had blocked out in the two months between submitting and defending it). When I was done, it was this copy that I printed and brought with me in a ring folder to the viva. I’ve seen a lot of people put post-its and highlights all through their theses, but I just put tabs on each chapter and post-its marking the areas I thought we’d turn back to regularly: 1) key words; 2) details of corpus design; 3) final comments. I’ve heard of people bringing stacks of books to their viva, but if a critical reference isn’t contained within your PhD, you have much bigger problems! The printed, annotated copy of my own thesis was totally adequate.

On the day itself

On the day of your viva, try not to do anything that makes you more anxious than normal. For instance, I’m a coffee addict but I only had one cup that morning, resisting the urge to chain-drink the stuff to get some rocket fuel before the main event. Try not to run around the department like the sky is falling, or to haphazardly skim-read your thesis; you know what’s in there. Go about your business like it’s a normal day and then go to talk about your work with some people.

That’s important enough to bear repeating: you’re just talking with people. During the viva, remember to be as respectful and as grateful as possible, and you will (most likely) be treated with kindness in return. Examiners read hundreds of pages — for free — and often travel great distances just to discuss your work with you. Be gracious about this! Not everyone is entitled to a smooth, friendly viva, but we all hope that we get one.

So when an examiner asks you a question about your thesis (your baby! your precious!), answer as calmly and objectively as possible. They are genuinely curious! Famous people! About your work! Remember that nobody has read and done paperwork and travelled to be horrible to you.


Unlike in sports, the best defense is not a good offense. If the PhD is an apprenticeship, the viva gets close to teaching new scholars what it is like to present to the toughest crowd at a conference, or to get back the most detailed peer review from a journal. In almost all cases, you can accept what your examiner says, or thank them for their comment and think over the ramifications later. This is not to say that you should go limp during the viva; if you feel misunderstood, or if you feel as though a challenge to your theoretical framework/methodology/research design is unfounded and can be easily responded to, do your best to present your perspective. But much of the viva is a group of very clever, very curious people asking questions, hoping for clever, interesting answers. If you are able to get into this mind-set, you might actually be able to do the unthinkable and enjoy your viva. If you manage to impress examiners with both your work and your congenial attitude, your viva might also be the birthplace of new collaborations or lasting scholarly relationships.

You can do it!

This was my last post in the series. If you have any questions about being a PhD student, or if you’re considering doing a PhD at Lancaster University, please get in touch! You can email me at a.potts(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign) or follow me on Twitter @WatchedPotts

Spoken BNC2014 project announcement

BNC2014 logo

We are excited to announce that the ESRC-funded Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) at Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press have agreed to collaborate on the compilation of a new, publicly accessible corpus of spoken British English called the ‘Spoken British National Corpus 2014’ (the Spoken BNC2014).

The aim of the Spoken BNC2014 project, which will be led jointly by Lancaster University’s Professor Tony McEnery and Cambridge University Press’ Dr Claire Dembry, is to compile a very large collection of recordings of real-life, informal, spoken interactions between people whose first language is British English. These will then be transcribed and made available publicly for a wide range of research purposes.

We aim to encourage people from all over the UK to record their interactions and send them to us as MP3 files. For each hour of good quality recordings we receive, along with all associated consent forms and information sheets completed correctly, we will pay £18. Each recording does not have to be 1 hour in length; participants may submit two 30 minute recordings, or three 20 minute recordings, but for each hour in total, they will receive £18.

The collaboration between CASS at Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press brings together the best resources available for this task. Cambridge University Press is greatly experienced at collecting very large English corpora, and it already has the infrastructure in place to undertake such a large compilation project. CASS at Lancaster University has the linguistic research expertise necessary to ensure that the spoken BNC2014 will be as useful, and accessible as possible for a wide range of purposes. The academic community will benefit from access to a new large spoken British English corpus that is balanced according to a selection of useful demographic criteria, including gender, age, and socio-economic status. This opens the door for all kinds of research projects including the comparison of the spoken BNC2014 with older spoken corpora.

CASS at Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press are very excited to launch the Spoken BNC2014 project, and we look forward to sharing the corpus as widely as possible once it is complete.

To contribute to the Spoken BNC2014 project as a participant please email corpus(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign) for more information.

New working paper on “Changing Climate and Society: The Surprising Case of Brazil” now available

Why is Brazil unique when it comes to climate change? Brazil is a major emerging economy and it is the sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. However, its fossil fuel-based emissions are low by global standards. Brazil has been innovative in developing some relevant low carbon ways of generating energy and pioneered significant transport innovations. It has also played a major role in international debates on global warming and Brazilians’ degree of concern about global warming is higher than almost anywhere else. Brazil has the largest reserve of agricultural land in the world and it houses most of the Amazon forest and river basin.

climatechangeworkingThis working paper examines the interesting case of Brazil, offering a general overview of the centrality of Brazil within climate policy and politics.

Download and read the complimentary working paper now.

Summer at SILK Road

On Saturday 5th July I’ll be boarding a plane bound for Hong Kong once again this year, as I journey east for the SILK Road International Summer School. The programme, organised by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Faculty of Humanities, will put me and four other Lancaster University Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences students through our paces as we complete two full credit-bearing university modules in the space of three weeks.

We’ll be spending the first week at Hong Kong PolyU’s campus before travelling to mainland China for two weeks at Jiaotong University in Xi’an, home of the famous Terracotta Army. There we will learn about Chinese culture, religion, geography and, of course, language. During our time outside the lecture halls we’ll be taken on a series of trips to visit places of interest in both Hong Kong and Xi’an.

The initials SILK stand for Study in an Intercultural Environment and Learn to be Kreative, so I will be back in a few weeks with an update on just how ‘kreative’ I have become!

CASS visit to Ghana

On June 24th, I and three other members of CASS spent a week in Accra, Ghana, demonstrating corpus methods and our own research at two universities, the University of Ghana and the recently established Lancaster University Ghana campus in Accra. From the UK it’s just over a six hour flight although thankfully only one hour of time difference. However, travel did involve some advance preparation, with jabs for yellow fever (and a few other things), visa applications and taking anti-malarial pills for a month after the trip. Fortunately, we only encountered one mosquito during the whole trip and none of us were bitten.

Although close together, the two universities we visited have a very different feel to them, the former is a large university spread out over a lot of land, with many departments and buildings, while the latter is (at the moment), a three storey modern-looking grey and red building with the familiar Lancaster logo on it.


Our first trip was to the University of Ghana, where Andrew, Tony and I each gave a lecture to about 90 members of staff and students. Tony talked about the theoretical principles behind corpus linguistics, I discussed (and problematized) sex differences in the British National Corpus and Andrew showed applications of corpus linguistics to field linguistics using Corpus Workbench. The University of Ghana has some alumni members of Lancaster University and it was great to run into Clement Appah and Grace Diabah (formely Bota) again.


Over the following two days, we gave corpus linguistics workshops, which included a two hour lab session where Andrew walked students through setting up a CQPweb account and doing some analysis of the Brown Family of corpora. I suspect this was the highlight of the day for those who attended, who were pleased to get access to many of the corpora we have at Lancaster. Each day we taught about 35 people, including some who had travelled quite long distances to get to us. Four students had driven in that morning from Cape Coast – a journey that we did some of when we went to Kakum National Park on our day off, and that took us over three hours – so we were impressed by their dedication. Tony gave an introduction to corpus linguistics and Vaclav talked about the General Service List for English words and let the students use a tool he had developed for exploring it. I ended each day with a talk on corpus linguistics and discourse analysis.


As I’d mentioned, we had a day off, where we visited Kakum National Park. This gave us an opportunity to see more of Ghana on the drive there, and then we had a great experience in the park, walking across a 350m network of rope bridges (the Kakum Canopy Walk) that were suspended high above the ground – you literally got a bird’s eye view of the tropical rainforest below. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had and I think we all came away with very positive feelings about our trip, and are looking forward to our next visit to Ghana. I also hope that we managed to inspire people to incorporate some corpus linguistics methods into their own research.

A Journey into Transcription, Part 2: Getting Started

The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour.

So how to begin?  With experts as our guides (and thankfully no animals in sight!)…

The Context:  The first week was to be dedicated to training.  We began by watching a short video clip of a Trinity examination in progress.  Although our day-to-day work is based purely on audio recordings, we really appreciated having this quick peak into the world of the examination room.  Being able to picture the scene when listening to exam recordings somehow brings the spoken language to life.

Picture this: a desk with a friendly examiner seated at one side; tape recorder in situ and possibly a fan whirring (quietly, we hope) in the background;  a pile of papers (perhaps held down by a paperweight); and then, most importantly for us in this research into learner language, a student seated on the  other side of the desk;  some nervous, some shy, some confident, some excited, some reluctant to speak and a rare few who might even have felt quite at home seated on the other side of the desk! 

Time spent viewing this clip was truly a valuable introduction to the context of this research and the real world to which the audio transcriber is privy on a daily basis.

What next?  Enthusiastic to get started, headsets on, foot pedals down…

Practice File:  We started with a practice recording that had been transcribed previously, applying to it our first set of transcription conventions.  (These have subsequently been altered and updated  on numerous occasions.)  This was an extremely valuable process – in listening separately and together to sections of the recording and in comparing our own transcripts with each other and with the original, we quickly realised the range of subtleties that are involved in this task.  The aim, of course, is for transcribers to do as little interpretation as possible and to be able to apply the conventions in a more or less uniform manner, thus making  the transcription process as straightforward as possible.  This, after all, is what will enable us to build a reliable corpus of words that are actually uttered.  Whilst the technology now exists to generate text from spoken words, the accuracy of the text produced does not come close to that produced by a real-life human transcriber.

Key to this task is the fact that it is unlike transcription in other working environments; we are not seeking to produce grammatically correct punctuated documents such as you might find on a BBC website when you want to review that radio programme you heard, or perhaps missed.  In spoken language there are only utterances and our job is to record every utterance precisely by following the given conventions, the only punctuation in sight being apostrophes and the odd question mark.  So is that syllable a word ending, a false start to another word, perhaps a filler used intentionally to maintain a turn in conversation, or perhaps an involuntary sound? All these are natural features of spoken discourse.  Tackling this challenge and striving to produce a document that represents as accurately as is humanly possible the words actually uttered by each individual speaker – once again, here is the challenge that makes our job enjoyable and rewarding.

And finally… A Transcriber’s  Thought For The Day:

I tried to catch some fog.  I mist.

Reflections from the CASS student challenge panel member, part 3

Pamela Irwin, this year’s CASS student challenge panel member, is looking back on her past year of research. This is part 3 of her reflections — need to catch up on the others? Click here to read part 1, or here to read part 2

Lately, I have been examining sociolinguistics and its related sub-disciplines as part of my exploration of the synergy between the social sciences (sociology/social gerontology) and language (corpus linguistics) in relation to my research.

My first task was to compare sociolinguistics with the sociology of language. According to the literature, in brief, the focus of sociolinguistics is to ascertain the effect of society on language, whereas the sociology of language is oriented around the influence of language on society.

Even with this conceptual clarification, I still found it quite difficult to assimilate the vertical (layers) and horizontal (scope) dimensions of sociolinguistics and then to differentiate within and between the sociolinguistic sub-specialities. At this stage, it was a relief to discover that some of these social/linguistic links had already been mapped, including sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics (Baker, 2010), critical discourse analysis and corpus linguistics (Baker, Gabrielatos, Knosravinik, Krzyzanowski, McEnery & Wodak, 2008), realism and corpus linguistics (Sealey, 2010) and linguistics and ethnography (Rampton, Maybin & Tusting, 2007).

Linguistic ethnography has particular relevance my study’s ethnographic methodology. During my ethnographic fieldwork in rural Australia, I obtained data from multiple sources: historical records, contemporary materials such as local newspapers and community notices, participant interviews and journals, and field notes. As I had naively assumed that all types of data are equally valid, Creese’s (2011) advocacy of a non-hierarchial balance between researcher fieldnotes and interactional data (interviews, conversations) was reassuring.

According to Rampton (2007), a distinctive linguistic ethnography is still evolving and as such, it remains open to wider interpretative approaches. Here, Sealey’s (2007) juxtaposition of linguistic ethnography and realism to address ‘what kinds of language in what circumstances and with what outcome?” (p. 641) makes a valuable contribution to my analytical repertoire. For instance, my findings suggest that the older and late middle-aged women’s life history narratives vary significantly in terms of their depth (reflective/instrumental) and breadth (expansive/constrained). While these differences do not seem to be related to the type of data (written versus spoken accounts), the influence of temporal (age, period, cohort) and situational (rural/urban, ‘local’/newcomer) circumstances on the women’s accounts is less clear. Corpus linguistics provides an objective analytical method of unravelling these complex inter-relationships.


Baker, P. (2010). Sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C., Khosravinik, M., McEnery, T., & Wodak, R. (2008). A useful synergy? Combining critical discourse analysis and corpus linguistics to examine discourses of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK press. Discourse & Society, 19(3), 273-306. doi: 10.1177/0957926508088962

Creese, A. (2011). Making local practices globally relevant in researching multilingual education. In F.M. Hult and K.A. King (Eds.). Educational linguistics in practice: Applying the local globally and the global locally. Chapter 3. pp. 41-59 Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Rampton, B. (2007). Neo-Hymesian linguistic ethnography in the United Kingdom. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 11(5), 584-607. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2007.00341.x

Sealey, A. (2007). Linguistic ethnography in realist perspective. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 11(5), 641-660. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2007.00341.x

Sealey, A. (2010). Probabilities and surprises: A realist approach to identifying linguistic and social patterns, with reference to an oral history corpus. Applied linguistics, 31(2), 215-235. doi: 10.1093/applin/amp023

Are you interested in becoming the next student challenge panel member? Apply to attend our free summer school to learn more.