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.

ghana1

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.

ghana2

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.

ghana3

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

training:
MASS VERB:
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.

References:

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.

Newby Fellow appointed to CASS

The Department of Linguistics and English Language has recently appointed a Newby Fellow, Dr. Helen Baker, to work on the CASS project entitled ‘Newspapers, Poverty and Long-Term Change. A Corpus Analysis of Five Centuries of Texts’.

Dr. Baker is a social historian who was awarded her Ph.D. in Russian History at the University of Leeds in 2002. Her thesis examined popular reactions to the Khodynka disaster, a stampede which took place during the coronation celebrations of Nicholas II in 1896. She taught Russian and European history at the University of Bradford before working as a teaching assistant in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Leeds between 2003-2007.

Helen Baker has previously worked as a transcriber and historical researcher for the Department of Linguistics and Language, completing a historical chronology of the Scottish Glencairn Uprising of 1653 for the British Academy funded ’Newsbooks at Lancaster’ project. This research sparked an interest in early modern history and she went on to investigate the lives of seventeenth-century English prostitutes. Her first book, co-authored with CASS Centre Director, Professor Tony McEnery, is forthcoming and uses the study of early-modern prostitution as a case study to illustrate that historians and corpus linguists have much to gain through academic collaboration.

The project ‘Newspapers, Poverty and Long-Term Change’, which is funded by the Newby Trust, aims to assemble the largest ever corpora of newspapers and related material from 1473 to 1900 and use this to investigate changing discourses on poverty across this period. Dr. Baker will officially join the project on 1 July 2014, working with Professor Tony McEnery, Dr. Andrew Hardie, and Professor Ian Gregory.

The appointment will mean something of a home-coming for Helen Baker, who studied for her undergraduate degree in the History Department at Lancaster University between 1994-1997.

Knighthood for CASS Chief Project Ambassador

Cary Cooper, Distinguished Professor of Organisational Psychology and Chief Project Ambassador for CASS, has been knighted for his services to social science.

“This honour really means a lot to me – particularly as an American who has now made his home in Britain,” said Professor Sir Cooper.

“It’s a real thrill and pretty humbling for someone like me who has come from a working-class background – with immigrant parents from the Ukraine and Romania – and being the first in my family to go to university.

“I’ve lived in the UK for 50 years, having moved to the UK as a student in 1964. So now I feel as if I have finally been accepted!”

Professor Sir Cooper has been chair of the UK’s Academy of Social Sciences, an umbrella body of 46 learned societies in the social sciences representing 88,000 social scientists, since 2009. In 2001 he was awarded a CBE for his contribution to occupational safety and health. He was also lead scientist on the Government Office for Science Foresight project, Mental Capital and Wellbeing, in 2008.  He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians, was the founding President of the British Academy of Management and is currently President of Relate.

He is the author or editor of over 160 books and written over 400 scholarly articles for academic journals . He is also a frequent contributor to national newspapers, TV and radio.

He is currently working with MPs, Lords and board-level business leaders as part of the All-Parliamentary Commission on the Future of Management. The Commission, which is co-chaired by Peter Ayliffe, President of the Chartered Management Institute, and Barry Sheerman, MP, will report its findings in July.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn becomes Project Ambassador for the CASS project ‘Newspapers, Poverty and Long-Term Change. A Corpus Analysis of Five Centuries of Texts’

We are delighted to announce that the Rt Hon Alan Milburn has kindly agreed to become the project ambassador for our project ‘Newspapers, poverty and long-term change. A corpus analysis of five centuries of text’. He will provide guidance and share his expertise with members of the CASS team who are working on the project which is funded by the Newby Trust and led by Professor Tony McEnery.

Alan Milburn served as a Labour MP for Darlington between 1992 and 2010. During this period, he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1998-1999); Secretary of State for Health (1999-2004); and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (2004-2005). Under the present government he has been appointed to chair the Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty which has a statutory duty to monitor and report on developments in both areas.

Alan Milburn’s commitment to our project has stemmed from his lifelong interest in the causes and consequences of poverty: “I am happy to support this worthwhile and fascinating project that will investigate changing attitudes to poverty throughout five hundred years of our history. By finding out how poverty is conceived, we are better equipped to eradicate it.” We wholeheartedly welcome Alan Milburn as our project ambassador and look forward to sharing our research with him as it progresses.

Reflections from the CASS student challenge panel member, part 2

Pamela Irwin, this year’s CASS student challenge panel member, is looking back on her past year of research. This is part 2 of her reflections — did you miss part 1? Click here to catch up.


As my research is predicated on a realist ontology, I have been concerned that it is at odds with the constructivist perspective adopted by many studies investigating the use of language in society.

Very simplistically, realists believe in the existence of a reality that is external to a person, whereas for constructivists, reality is contingent on language and signification.

Different versions populate both ontologies. Realism is largely associated with the critical realists spearheaded by Bhaskar and Archer. Likewise, constructivism is noted for its variations, such as those associated with the sociocultural and critical constructivists.

As such, I am struggling with ‘if and how’ to reconcile these “incompatible meta-theories” (Chouliaraki, 2002, p. 83). Lichbach (2003) suggests that there are three ways to address this philosophical schism: ‘competitors’ exaggerate the differences between these perspectives, ‘lumpers’ try to synthesise them into one centre, and ‘pragmatists’ roll over and ignore discrepancies. Here, my view aligns with the competitor’s insistence on separate ontologies.

Interestingly, a lumper approach is deemed workable in an ontological/epistemological combination. For Chouliaraki (2002, pp. 97-98), this is “a discourse informed by realist elements”, where a constructivist ontology is combined with a realist epistemology to draw out conceptual, analytical and temporal effects. Conversely, Buroway (2003, p.655) “presumes an external ‘real world’ but it is one that we can only know through our constructed relation to it…realist and constructivist approaches provide each other’s corrective.” His sequence (a realist ontology and a constructivist epistemology) aligns with my conceptual position.

I am also intrigued by the potentiality of ‘critical’ as a hinge linking the critical realist and critical constructivist worldviews. (Incidentally, two recent papers address this realist/language divide: Elder-Vass (2013) with his seven classifications of linguistic realism and Lau and Morgan (2013) via discourse theory). When contextualised to my realist/constructivist framework and research data revealing inequalities in power relations and social structures in the rural community, a comparable option for me might be to underpin critical gerontology (ontology) with a critical discourse analysis (epistemology), mediated through corpus linguistics.

References:

Buroway, M. (2003). Revisits: An outline of a theory of reflexive ethnography. American Sociological Review, 68(5), 645-679. Retrieved from: http://jstor.org/stable/1519757

Chouliaraki, L. (2002). ‘The contingency of universality’: Some thoughts on discourse and realism. Social Semiotics, 12(1), 83-114. doi; 10.1080/10350330220130386

Elder-Vass, D. (2013). Debate: Seven ways to be a realist about language. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. doi: 10.1111/jsb.12040

Lau, R.W.K., & Morgan, J. (2013). Integrating discourse, construction and objectivity: A contemporary realist approach. Sociology. doi: 10.1177/003803513491466

Lichbach, M.I. (2003). Is rational choice theory all of social science? Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.


Return soon to read Pamela’s next installment! Are you interested in becoming the next student challenge panel member? Apply to attend our free summer school to learn more.

A Journey into Transcription, Part 1: Our Approach

To Transcribe:
VERB:
to put (thoughts, speech, or data) into written or printed form
origin:
mid 16th century (in the sense ‘make a copy in writing’):
from Latin transcribere, from trans- ‘across’ + scribere ‘write’

In September 2013 we applied for the post of Audio Transcriber in the CASS Office in the Department of Linguistics and English Language here at Lancaster University.  The job description seemed straightforward; to transcribe audio tape materials according to a predefined scheme and to undertake other appropriate duties as directed.  And the person specification?  As you would expect, a list of essential/desirable skills including working effectively as part of a team; the ability to learn and apply schemes (more of that later); and the ability to work with a range of accents and dialects of English (this is the fun part!).

We say the post of Audio Transcriber since, as far as we knew, only one post was available.  How wonderful to find ourselves both appointed (long may the funding last!); the opportunity to establish a slick working team, as well as to consult when problems arise and, not least, to celebrate the successes (yes, transcribing is a rewarding job!) are a huge benefit not only to ourselves in our work but also to the success of project as a whole.  In the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science, it must be the corpus that is at the heart of the centre.  Knowing that we play a key role within the team working together to develop this corpus, we take great pride in what we do.  After all, our listening skills, our focus on accuracy and our meticulous attention to detail have the potential to help develop a corpus of excellent quality, and this will make a vital contribution to the validity of the all the research that will follow.  Quite simply, it is this which makes our job so enjoyable and rewarding.

Our day-to-day work involves transcribing recordings of oral examinations taken by learners of English as a second language at elementary, intermediate and advanced stages.  The examinations have been carried out by Trinity College London and have taken place in various countries; Spain, Mexico, Italy, China, India and Sri Lanka so far.  Each language and each stage have their own unique features.

Seven months and 1.5 million words later (Stage One completed and celebrated with colleagues and cake!), we were delighted to be invited to contribute a BLOG documenting our experience as transcribers.  Over the coming months we plan to describe and discuss various aspects of the job.  The aim is to offer an insight to other transcribers and researchers about this particular process.

Look out for the next instalment on Getting Started!

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

They told me I had type A blood, but it was a type-O.