CASS: Five more years

We are delighted to announce that CASS has been awarded £2.5 million funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Lancaster University to continue existing activities and pursue a new research programme for five more years, from April 2018 to March 2023.

The funding, which includes £750,000 from the ESRC, will be used to maximise the economic and societal impact of the research carried out in the first phase of the Centre, particularly in the areas of: Corporate Communications; Climate Change and Maritime Security; Language Development, Disorders and Environment; and Spoken Learner Language.

In addition, a new research programme will extend the facilitative and transformative power of corpus methods to the study of health (care) communication, in the following areas:

  • Language and mental health (including: communication about anxiety disorder; presentation and diagnosis of psychosis; depression in users of social media);
  • Communicating and diagnosing chronic pain;
  • Media representations of obesity;
  • English language assessment and training for medical professionals.

The Centre will also continue to create new openly accessible corpora, extend the existing programme of methodological and technological innovation, especially through #LancsBox and CQPWeb, and continue to disseminate methods and tools through the Corpus MOOC, Summer Schools and free workshops in the UK and internationally.

The new CASS team brings together 15 scholars from different disciplines at Lancaster University and two collaborating institutions: Durham University and University College London (see below).

Two postdoctoral Research Associates will also be recruited to work with the rest of the team for the next five years.

CASS Director Professor Elena Semino said: “We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded five more years of funding by the ESRC and grateful to the University for its part in supporting the Centre.

“This award will ensure that the work we have done so far achieves its full potential in terms of societal impact, and will enable us to carry out new research on communication about illness and healthcare.”

CASS is one eight established research centres awarded a total of £6.9m to continue their work under a new funding model designed to secure the long term sustainability of social science research excellence in the UK.

Watch this space for updates on the Centre’s work and the release of new tools and corpora!


The CASS team from April 2018:

Principal Investigator:
Elena Semino – Linguistics and English Language (Lancaster University)

Co-Investigators:
Andrew Hardie – Linguistics and English Language (Lancaster University)
Paul Baker – Linguistics and English Language (Lancaster University)
Vaclav Brezina – Linguistics and English Language (Lancaster University)
Dana Gablasova – Linguistics and English Language (Lancaster University)
Claire Hardaker – Linguistics and English Language (Lancaster University)
John Pill – Linguistics and English Language (Lancaster University)
Dimitrinka Atanasova – Linguistics and English Language (Lancaster University)

Basil Germond – Politics, Philosophy and Religion (Lancaster University)
Garrath Williams – Politics, Philosophy and Religion (Lancaster University)

Kate Cain – Psychology (Lancaster University)
Steve Young – Accounting and Finance (Lancaster University)

Angela Woods – English Studies and Hearing the Voice project (Durham  University)
Joanna Zakrzewska – University College London Hospitals

Collaborator:
Zsófia Demjén – UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics (University College London)

CASS plays leading role in major European heritage language project

The ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science will play a leading role in the new Heritage Language Consortium. The Consortium is a strategic partnership for the study of heritage languages in Europe and involves six leading universities in the UK, Germany and Portugal, as well as the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Through this partnership, CASS will have privileged access to over 130,000 students in 85 countries, and we will use this unique opportunity to build the world’s largest heritage language corpus. The corpus will enable ground-breaking new research on language learning and education and have important implications for educational policy, curriculum design, and materials development.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed at a ceremony in Lisbon to officially launch the Consortium. The launch event featured statements by the Secretary of State for the Portuguese Communities, Dr José Luís Carneiro, by the Secretary of State for Education, Professor João Costa, by the President of the Camões Institute, Ambassador Luís Faro Ramos, and by the Consortium’s Director, Dr Patrick Rebuschat, from Lancaster’s Department of Linguistics and English Language.

Portugal maintains a heritage language network across 85 countries for the families of Portuguese citizens, the world over. This enables children to improve their heritage language with qualified teachers who go into schools to run approved language programmes funded by the Portuguese government.

The Consortium Director, LAEL’s Dr Patrick Rebuschat, said: “This strategic partnership provides us with a unique opportunity – no other country maintains such a significant heritage language network overseas, and we will have privileged access to substantial, yet completely unexplored data.

“The Consortium is a major international initiative which uses Portuguese as a ‘test case’. The insights gained from this project will be applicable to other languages, of course. Our research will help us understand how children and adults learn new languages and identify those factors that make some of us particularly good language learners. We can then use these insights to improve language teaching.

“The Consortium will also organize impact and outreach initiatives to engage with parents, teachers, and policy makers across Europe.”

Professor Steve Bradley, Lancaster’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International), said: “This important initiative demonstrates again Lancaster’s strong international outlook and our commitment to playing a leading role in research that impacts lives, communities, and educational practices across the globe. The Consortium will provide unique opportunities for Lancaster’s staff and students to be involved in a research area that is of particular significance to Europe today.”

The idea for the consortium was born earlier this year when the Portuguese Secretary of State for Education, Professor João Costa, visited Lancaster University to deliver a keynote at a conference organized by Dr Rebuschat. The event focused on bilingualism and heritage language education across Europe. It brought together policy makers from the Portuguese Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education, leading academics, journalists, school teachers and parents to discuss current trends and challenges in heritage language research and education.

Caption: A Memorandum of Understanding was signed at a ceremony in Lisbon to officially launch the Consortium. From left to right: Ambassador Luís Faro Ramos, President of the Camões Institute; Dr José Luís Carneiro, Secretary of State for Portuguese Communities; Professor João Costa, Portuguese Secretary of State for Education; Professor Susana Trovão, NOVA University Lisbon; Dr Patrick Rebuschat, Lancaster University; Professor Maria de Fátima Marinho, University of Porto; Professor Detmar Meurers, Tübingen University; Professor Paulo Farmhouse Alberto, University of Lisbon; Professor Cristina Flores, University of Minho.

For more information, please visit http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/heritage-language or email Dr Patrick Rebuschat: p.rebuschat(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancaster.ac.uk.

Lancaster Summer Schools in Corpus Linguistics (#LancsSS18)

CASS is pleased to offer three free training events that cover the techniques of corpus linguistics and their application in three different areas.

The schools include both lectures and practical sessions that introduce the latest developments in the field and practical applications of cutting-edge analytical techniques. The summer schools are taught by leading experts in the field from Lancaster University.

The summer schools are intended primarily for postgraduate research students but applications from Masters-level students, postdoctoral researchers, senior researchers, and others will also be considered.

Dates: 25 – 28 June 2018 (four days)

Venue: Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK


Application: To apply for a place in one of the Lancaster summer schools in corpus linguistics, please fill in the Registration form. Since the places in the summer schools are limited, we recommend applying early. Applications will be evaluated on a rolling basis.


The summer schools are free to attend; the participants will need to arrange their own travel and accommodation. During all four days, we will offer free refreshments during the tea & coffee breaks and participants will have time during the lunch break to buy their lunch on campus.

Organising committee: Dr. Dana Gablasova (Chair), Rachael McCarthy

For further details, click through to each Summer School’s full description. Queries about the summer schools can be directed to the Summer School administrator, Rachael McCarthy (r.mccarthy2(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancaster.ac.uk).

To tweet about the event, please use: #LancsSS18

CASS in the 2017 ESRC Festival of Social Science

The ESRC Festival of Social Science is an annual celebration of social science research – comprised of a huge array of public events of all kinds, and designed to promote awareness of UK social science research across the board. This year, it runs from 4th to 11th November.

As the team at ESRC says,

“You may be surprised at just how relevant the Festival’s events are to society today. Social science research makes a difference. Discover how it shapes public policy and contributes to making the economy more competitive, as well as giving people a better understanding of 21st century society. From big ideas to the most detailed observations, social science affects us all everyday – at work, in school, when raising children, within our communities, and even at the national level.”

As an ESRC Centre, CASS has been involved in the Festival since our work began in 2013. We have organised events of different types in different years – for instance, in the first year of the Centre, our contribution to the Festival was a series of talks in schools in the North West of English to introduce the kind of social science analysis in which we specialise to students in sixth-form. It was great to be able to reach out to an audience that we rarely have a chance to communicate with about our work.

In subsequent years, we organised events under our “Valuing language” banner – aimed at using examples of our work to present to a public audience the benefits across the social sciences that arise in research that understands the value of language for all kinds of social investigations. Our first “Valuing language” event was in London; the following year we held another event in Manchester.

This year our contribution to the Festival of Social Science is a new “Valuing language” presentation. This event focuses in particular on two strands of research that have been under way in CASS for the past two years or so, looking at the intersection of language with the critical issue of health and healthcare. We are also returning to London for the event, entitled “Valuing language: Effective communication in healthcare provision”. The event – at 6.30 pm on Thursday 9th November – is particularly aimed at healthcare practitioners and those training to enter healthcare services – but of course, it is open to anyone with an interest in this work!

The evening will include two presentations, one on each of these strands of work. First will be a presentation of research into patient comments on healthcare services collected through the NHS Choices website. Patient feedback has often been analysed by looking straightforwardly at the numeric ratings given in feedback. However, the textual responses supplied alongside these ratings are a far richer source of data – albeit so extensive they can be non-straightforward to analyse! But this is, of course, where corpus-based linguistic methods come in. A CASS project, led by Paul Baker, has applied these methods to investigate patients place on interpersonal skills and effective, compassionate communication. Two members of the team working on this project, myself and Craig Evans, will give an overview of how we have gone about analysing this unique and fascinating source of data.

In the second half of the event, CASS Director Elena Semino will present her work looking at patients’ reporting of pain. A common way for healthcare practitioners to assess the level of pain that patients are experiencing is to use questionnaires that present descriptor  words – such as “pricking/boring/drilling/stabbing”. The descriptor word that a patient chooses is assumed to reflect the level of their pain. Elena’s research suggests, however, that patients’ choice of descriptor may in many cases instead be a result of how strongly associated with the word “pain” the descriptor word is. Again, this is a problem that corpus-based language analysis is an ideal way to address. Elena will explain the findings of her investigation and also consider the implications these findings have for how descriptor-word questionnaires should be used in assessing patients’ pain.

We’re all looking forward to participating once again in the ESRC Festival and we hope to see you there!

Find out more (and sign up for the event) via http://cass.lancs.ac.uk/festival17.

The Spoken BNC2014 is now available!

On behalf of Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press, it gives us great pleasure to announce the public release of the Spoken British National Corpus 2014 (Spoken BNC2014).

The Spoken BNC2014 contains 11.5 million words of transcribed informal British English conversation, recorded by (mainly English) speakers between the years 2012 and 2016. The situational context of the recordings – casual conversation among friends and family members – is designed to make the corpus broadly comparable to the demographically-sampled component of the original spoken British National Corpus.

The Spoken BNC2014 is now accessible online in full, free of charge, for research and teaching purposes. To access the corpus, you should first create a free account on Lancaster University’s CQPweb server (https://cqpweb.lancs.ac.uk/) if you do not already have one. Once registered, please visit the BNC2014 website (http://corpora.lancs.ac.uk/bnc2014) to (a) sign the corpus’ end-user licence and (b) register your CQPweb account – following the instructions on the site. When you return to CQPweb, you will have access to the Spoken BNC2014 via the link that appears in the list of ‘Present-day English’ corpora. While access is initially only via the CQPweb platform, the underlying corpus XML files and associated metadata will be available for download in Autumn 2018.

The BNC2014 website also contains lots of useful information about the corpus, and in particular a downloadable manual and reference guide, which will be available soon. Further information, as well as the first research articles to use Spoken BNC2014 data, will be available in two in-press publications associated with the project: a special issue of the International Journal of Corpus Linguistics (due next month) and an edited collection in the Routledge ‘Advances in Corpus Linguistics’ series (due early 2018).

The BNC2014 does not end here – we are currently working on transcribing materials provided to us by the British Library to provide a substantial supplement to the corpus – find out more about that here: http://cass.lancs.ac.uk/?p=2241. For now, we will be waiting and watching with interest to see what work the corpus releases today stimulates. As ever with corpus data, it does not enable all questions to be answered, but it does allow a very wide range of questions to be investigated.

The Spoken BNC2014 research team would like to express our gratitude to all who have had a hand in the creation of the corpus, and hope that you enjoy exploring the data. We are, of course, keen to hear your feedback about the corpus; this, as well as any questions, can be directed to Robbie Love (r.m.love(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancaster.ac.uk) or Andrew Hardie (a.hardie(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancaster.ac.uk).

Change of Leadership in CASS

Andrew Hardie is delighted to announce that he has handed over his role of CASS Centre Director to Elena Semino.

Elena has been Head of Department for Lancaster’s Department of Linguistics and English Language for 6 years, and has published widely in the areas of stylistics, metaphor theory, and medical humanities/health communication.

In Elena’s own words: 

‘It is a great honour and challenge to take over as CASS Director. Over the last four years, CASS has led the way nationally and internationally in the application of corpus methods to a wide range of social scientific problems, and has had a significant impact on research, policy and practice in many different contexts. I look forward to working with colleagues in Lancaster, and partners in the UK and around the world, to continue and extend this work in years to come.’

 

CASS PhD Student Tanjun Liu wins Best Poster Award at EUROCALL2017

In late August, I attended the 25th annual conference of EUROCALL (European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning) at the University of Southampton. This year’s theme encompassed how Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) responds to changing global circumstances, which impact on education. Over 240 sessions were presented covering the topics of computer mediated communication, MOOCs, social networking, corpora, European projects, teacher education, etc.

 

 At this conference, I presented a poster entitled “Evaluating the effect of data-driven learning (DDL) on the acquisition of academic collocations by advanced Chinese learners of English”. DDL is a term created by Tim Johns in 1991 to refer to the use of authentic corpus data to conduct student-centred discovery learning activities. However, even though many corpus-based studies in the pedagogical domain have suggested applying corpora in the domain of classroom teaching, DDL has not become the mainstream teaching practice to date. Therefore, my research sets out to examine the contribution of DDL to the acquisition of academic collocation in the Chinese university context.

 

The corpus tool that I used in my research was #LancsBox (http://corpora.lancs.ac.uk/lancsbox/), which is a newly-developed corpus tool at CASS that has the capacity to create collocational networks, i.e. GraphColl. The poster I presented was a five-week pilot study of my research, the results of which show that the learners’ attitudes towards using #LancsBox were mostly positive, but there were no statistically significant differences between using the corpus tool and online collocations dictionary, which may be largely due to very short intervention time in the pilot study. My poster also presented the description of the forthcoming main study that will involve longer exposure and more EFL learners.

 

At this conference I was fortunate enough to win the EUROCALL2017 Best Poster Award (PhD), which was given to the best poster presented by a PhD student as nominated by conference delegates. Thank you to all of the delegates who voted for me to win this award and it was a real pleasure to attend such a wonderful conference!

How to Produce Vocabulary Lists

As part of the Forum discussion in Applied Linguistics, we have formulated some basic principles of corpus-based vocabulary studies and pedagogical wordlist creation and use. These principles can be summarised as follows:

  1. Explicitly define the vocabulary construct.
  2. Operationalize the vocabulary construct using transparent and replicable criteria.
  3. If using corpora, take corpus evidence seriously and avoid cherry-picking.
  4. Use multiple sources of evidence to test the validity of the vocabulary construct.
  5. Do not rely on your intuition/experience to determine what is useful for learners; collect evidence about learner needs to evaluate the usefulness of the list.
  6. Do not present learners with a decontextualized list of lexical items; use/create contextualized materials instead.

To find out more, you can read:

Brezina, V. & Gablasova, D. (2017). How to Produce Vocabulary Lists? Issues of Definition, Selection and Pedagogical Aims. A Response to Gabriele Stein. Applied Linguistics, doi:10.1093/applin/amx022.

CASS Guided Reading project presented to The Society for the Scientific Studies of Reading (SSSR)

In mid-July, it was my pleasure to represent CASS at the SSSR conference in Novia Scotia, Canada! Over 400 professionals attended, including language and literacy researchers, school teachers, and speech and language therapists.

My primary aim was to demonstrate how our CASS language development project is using corpus search methods to identify the effectiveness of teacher strategies that are being used in guided reading classroom interactions (also see part 1 & part 2 of my project introduction blogs). The best opportunity for this was during my poster presentation, which highlighted our first round of findings on the types of questions that teachers ask children.

We first demonstrated that teachers are paying attention to recommended guidelines to ask a lot of wh-questions (why, how, what, when etc): wh-questions typically take up around 20% of the total questions being asked in normal adult conversation, but took up 40% of the total questions asked by teachers in our spoken classroom interactions.

Second, the poster presents initial findings on our developmental question of whether teachers of older children ask more challenging question types than teachers of younger children. However, our chosen categories of question type (thus far) were used equivalently across year groups, so this prompts a follow up to examine whether finer categories of question type differ in their proportion of usage across year groups.

Third, the poster reported that teachers at schools in low socio-economic-status (SES) regions asked a higher proportion of wh-questions than teachers at schools in high SES regions. Most viewers of the poster agreed that this prompts us to look at children’s responses: the high proportion of wh-questions asked by teachers at schools in low SES regions might be shaped by less engaged answers from low SES children that require more follow up wh-questions relative to the typically more engaged answers provided by high SES children.

Although there were a number of other posters throughout the week that examined classroom interactions, none had taken advantage of the precise, fast and reliable search methods that we are using. Therefore, attendees were very impressed by how we have been able to interrogate our large corpus without being restricted by the amount of manual hand coding that can be achieved within a realistic time window.

Finally, a big thanks to CASS and SSSR for making this visit possible. As well as the incredible learning opportunities provided by the wide range of high quality presentations on reading research, I also had a good time meeting the fun and interesting conference attendees  – and local Canadians too! Novia Scotia is a beautiful place to visit, with a very friendly and youthful demographic.


Liam will be presenting a talk on this project at the Corpus Linguistics 2017 conference on Wednesday 26th July at 4pm in Lecture Theatre 117, Physics Building, University of Birmingham. For updates, watch this space and twitter @CorpusSocialSci @LiamBlything

 

 

CASS go to ICAME38!

Researchers from CASS recently attended the ICAME38 conference at Charles University in Prague. Luckily, we arrived in Prague a day early which gave us plenty of time to explore the city. The weather was sunny, so we walked to Wenceslas Square, and then took the lift to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower to enjoy the views over the city.

The following day, it was time to begin the conference! Over the course of the event, seven CASS members presented their research (you can view full abstracts of all talks here). Up first was Robbie Love, presenting “FUCK in spoken British English revisited with the Spoken BNC2014”. By replicating the approaches of McEnery & Xiao (2004) on the new data contained in the Spoken BNC2014, Robbie found, among other things, that FUCK is now used equally by men and women, and that use of FUCK peaks when speakers are in their 20s and then decreases with age, apart from the 60-69 group which has a higher frequency than the 50-59 group.

Also discussing the BNC2014 project was Abi Hawtin, who presented “The British National Corpus Revisited: Developing parameters for Written BNC2014.” Abi discussed the progress on the project so far, and gave the audience a chance to look at the sampling frame which has been designed for the corpus. Abi also highlighted the difficulty of collecting certain text types, particularly published books.

Amelia Joulain-Jay presented “Describing collocation patterns in OCR data: are MI and LL reliable?” Amelia discussed the fact that data which has been digitized using OCR procedures often has low levels of accuracy, and how this can affect corpus analysis. Amelia tested the reliability of Mutual Information statistics and Log Likelihood statistics when working with OCR data, and found that, among other things, Mutual Information and Log Likelihood attract high rates of false positives. However, she also found that correcting OCR data using Overproof makes a positive difference for both statistics.

CASS director, Andrew Hardie, also presented research using OCR data. He gave a talk titled “Plotting and comparing corpus lexical growth curves as an assessment of OCR quality in historical news data”. Andrew further drew our attention to the amount of errors, or ‘noise’, in OCR data, and showed that if a graph is constructed of number of tokens observed versus count of types at intervals (say, every 10,000 tokens) a curve characteristic of lexical growth over the span of a given corpus emerges. Andrew showed that visual comparison of lexical growth curves among historical collections, or to modern corpora, therefore generates a good impression of the relative extent of OCR noise, and thus some estimate of how much such noise will impede analysis.

Also presenting was Dana Gablasova who discussed “A corpus-based approach to the expression of subjectivity in L2 spoken English: The case of ‘I + verb’ construction”. Dana used the Trinity Lancaster Corpus (TLC) to investigate the ‘I + verb’ construction in L1 Spanish and Italian speakers aged over 20 years. Dana found that with the increase in proficiency the frequency of emotive verbs decreased while the frequency of the epistemic verbs increased considerably. The study also identified the most frequent cognitive and emotive verbs and the trends in their use according to the proficiency level of L2 users.

Vaclav Brezina (and Matt Timperley, who was unfortunately not able to attend the conference) gave a software demonstration of #LancsBox – a new-generation corpus analysis tool developed at CASS. Vaclav showed that #LancsBox can:

  • Search, sort and filter examples of language use.
  • Compare frequency of words and phrases in multiple corpora and subcorpora.
  • Identify and visualise meaning associations in language (collocations).
  • Compute and visualize keywords.
  • Use a simple but powerful interface.
  • Support a number of advanced features such as customisable statistical measures.

#LancsBox can be downloaded for free from the tool website http://corpora.lancs.ac.uk/lancsbox.

Dana and Vaclav also gave a presentation together, titled “MI-score-based collocations in language learning research: A critical evaluation.” Dana and Vaclav identified several issues in the use of MI-score as a measure in language learning research, and used data from the BNC and TLC to:

  • place the MI-score in the context of other similar association measures and discuss the similarities and differences directly relevant to LLR
  • to propose general principles for selection of association measures in LLR.

Finally, former CASS senior research associate Laura Paterson, who recently moved to a lectureship at the Open University, presented “Visualising corpora using Geographical Text Analysis (GTA): (Un)employment in the UK, a case study”, which stemmed from her work on the CASS Distressed Communities project. Laura showed how GTA can be used to generate maps from concordance lines. She showed lots of interesting data visualisations and highlighted the way in which GTA allows the researcher to visualise their corpus and adds a consideration of physical space to language analysis.

Aside from all of the fascinating talks, ICAME38 also had a brilliant social programme. We were able to go on 2 boat trips along the river. The first gave us brilliant views of the city, and the second allowed us to get much closer to the bridges and buildings which line the river. The Gala dinner was also great fun – we had a linguistics themed menu and, best of all an Abba tribute band!

Thank you to all of the organisers of ICAME38 for such an enjoyable and well-organised conference!