Workshop on ‘Metaphor in end of life care’ at St Joseph’s Hospice, London

On 26th September 2014, three members of the CASS-affiliated ‘Metaphor in end of life care’ project team were invited to run a workshop at St Joseph’s Hospice in London. The workshop was attended by 27 participants, including clinical staff, non-clinical staff and volunteers.

Veronika Koller (Lancaster University) introduced the project, including its background, rationale, research questions, data and use of corpus methods in combination with qualitative analysis. Zsófia Demjén (The Open University) and Elena Semino (Lancaster University) presented the findings from the project that are particularly relevant to communication between healthcare professionals and patients nearing the end of their lives. These findings include: how patients diagnosed with terminal cancer use Violence and Journey metaphors to talk about their experiences of illness and treatment; and how patients and healthcare professionals use a variety of metaphors to talk about their mutual relationships. The project team pointed out the different ‘framings’ provided by different uses of metaphor, particularly in terms of the empowerment and disempowerment of patients. They provided evidence that no metaphor is inherently good or bad for all patients, but rather suggested that different metaphors work differently for different people, or even for the same person at different times. In the final session, Veronika Koller introduced the ‘Metaphor Menu’ – a collection of metaphors used by cancer sufferers, which the team are planning to pilot as a resource for newly-diagnosed patients.

A lively discussion followed each presentation, with many members of the audience asking questions and contributing their personal and professional experiences. The workshop received very positive evaluations in anonymous feedback questionnaires: 83% of participants rated the session at 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale (where 1 corresponds to ‘Very poor’ and 5 to ‘Excellent’). Comments included: Very interesting research & resonated with my experience. Food for thought!’ and ‘Will help with my area of care, will help me understand and think about what my patients and relatives are actually telling me. Will make me reflect and respond more appropriately’.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Reflections from the Front Line: Sarah Russell on MELC and Twitter

Sarah Russell (Director of Education and Research, Peace Hospice Care and the Hospice of St Francis) attended this month’s Language in End-of Life-Care event, where an audience of approximately 40 healthcare professionals and researchers specialising in palliative and end-of-life care gathered to share their perspectives.

In a new blog post on eHospice, she reflects on this experience, as well as sharing some insight into a tweet chat with @WeNurses, where 128 participants came together to discuss individual experiences, symptom control, communication, recognising dying, family and patient needs, caring, and denial as a coping mechanism.

Read more to learn about Sarah’s experience, and to hear her challenge for everyone (including researchers and health care professionals) by visiting eHospice now.

‘Language in End-of-Life Care’: A user engagement event

On 8th May 2014, the main findings of the CASS-affiliated project ‘Metaphor in End-of-Life Care’ were presented to potential users of the research at the Work Foundation in central London. The event, entitled ‘Language in End-of-Life Care’ attracted an audience of approximately forty participants, consisting primarily of healthcare professionals and researchers specialising in palliative and end-of-life care. Although most participants are based in the UK, international guests joined us from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the US.

melc1Professor Sheila Payne (Co-Investigator on the project and Co-Director of Lancaster’s International Observatory on End-of-Life Care), opened proceedings and acted as chair for the day’s activities. Two high-profile invited speakers shared their perspectives on communication in end-of-life care. Professor Lukas Radbruch (Chair of Palliative Medicine, University of Bonn) gave a presentation entitled ‘The search for a final sense of meaning in end-of-life discourses’. Among other things, he emphasized the influence of language and culture on perceptions and attitudes towards end of life and end-of-life care. Professor Dame Barbara Monroe (Chief Executive of St Christopher’s Hospice, London) discussed the main current challenges in hospice care in a talk entitled ‘Listening to patient and professional voices in end-of-life care’. These challenges, she argued, include those posed by a variety of linguistic and communicative barriers.

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The methods, data and findings of the ‘Metaphor in End-of-Life Care’ project were introduced by four members of the team: Professor Elena Semino (Principal Investigator), Dr Veronika Koller (Co-Investigator), Dr Jane Demmen (Research Associate) and Dr Zsófia Demjén (former Research Associate, currently at the Open University). The project involves a combination of ‘manual’ and corpus-based methods to investigate the metaphors used to talk about end-of-life care in a 1.5-million-word corpus consisting of interviews with and online forum posts by terminally ill patients, family carers and health professionals. The team introduced the findings from the analysis that are particularly relevant to practitioners in end-of-life care, namely: the use of ‘violence’ and ‘journey’ metaphors by terminally ill patients, and the narratives of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deaths told by hospice managers in semi-structured interviews. The implications of these findings for end-of-life care were suggested by the team and discussed with the audience. Participants were also invited to discuss selected uses of metaphors from the health professionals’ data, and to consider the potential value of some creative, alternative metaphors for cancer in particular.

melc3The richness of the interactions on the day and the liveliness of the event’s hashtag on Twitter (#melc14) suggest that the event was a success. In the words of a hospice director: ‘everybody at the conference was truly inspired by the potential for change in practice and training!’ Although the funded phase of the project is coming to an end, the contacts made on the day are likely to lead to further collaborative research between the Lancaster team and healthcare professionals in the UK and beyond.

Dispatch from YLMP2014

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I recently had the pleasure of travelling to Poland to attend the Young Linguists’ Meeting in Poznań (YLMP), a congress for young linguists who are interested in interdisciplinary research and stepping beyond the realm of traditional linguistic study. Hosted over three days by the Faculty of English at Adam Mickiewicz University, the congress featured over 100 talks by linguists young and old, including plenary lectures by Lancaster’s very own Paul Baker and Jane Sunderland. I was one of three Lancaster students to attend the congress, along with undergraduate Agnes Szafranski and fellow MA student Charis Yang Zhang.

What struck me about the congress, aside from the warm hospitality of the organisers, was the sheer breadth of topics that were covered over the weekend. All of the presenters were more than qualified to describe their work as linguistics, but perhaps for the first time I saw within just how many domains such a discipline can be applied. At least four sessions ran in parallel at any given time, and themes ranged from gender and sexuality to EFL and even psycholinguistics. There were optional workshops as well as six plenary talks. On the second day of the conference, as part of the language and society stream, I presented a corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis of the UK national press reporting of the immediate aftermath of the May 2013 murder of soldier Lee Rigby. I was happy to have a lively and engaged audience who had some really interesting questions for me at the end, and I enjoyed the conversations that followed this at the reception in the evening!

What was most encouraging about the congress was the drive and enthusiasm shared by all of the ‘young linguists’ in attendance. I now feel part of a generation of young minds who are hungry to improve not only our own work but hopefully, in time, the field(s) of linguistics as a whole. After my fantastic experience at the Boya Forum at Beijing Foreign Studies University last autumn, I was happy to spend time again celebrating the work of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and early-career linguists. There was a willingness to listen, to share ideas, and to (constructively) criticise where appropriate, and as a result I left Poznań feeling very optimistic about the future of linguistic study. I look forward to returning to the next edition of YLMP, because from what I saw at this one, there is a new generation of linguists eager to push the investigation of language to the next level.

Discourse, Gender and Sexuality South-South Dialogues Conference

Last week was spent in at Witwatersrand (Wits) University in Johannesburg where I had been invited to give a workshop on corpus methods, as well as a talk on some of my own research. The week was topped off by the first Discourse, Gender and Sexuality South-South Dialogues Conference which was organised by Tommaso Milani. Many of the papers at the conference used qualitative methods (analyses of visual data seemed particularly popular) but there were a few papers, including my own, which used corpus methods.

These included a paper by Megan Edwards who combined a corpus approach with CDA and visual analysis to examine a small corpus of pamphlets found around Johannesburg – these pamphlets advertise remedies for sexual and relationship problems and Megan demonstrated that embedded within the adverts were gendered discourses – relating to notions of ideal masculinity and femininity. This is probably one of the few corpora in existence where the top lexical word is penis.

Another interesting paper was by Sally Hunt who examined corpora of articles about sex work in two South African newspapers, focussing on the period when SA hosted the World Cup. She found that while there was a more balanced set of representations of sex workers than expected, they were still largely represented as immoral and criminalised for their actions while the agency of their clients was largely obscured. Sally is a lecturer at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and has recently completed the construction of a 1 million word South African corpus, using the Brown family sampling frame.

During the workshop that I hosted at the university I got participants to use AntConc to examine a small corpus of recent newspaper articles about feminists, and a number of interesting patterns emerged from the analyses of concordances and collocates that took place. For example, a representation of feminists as war-mongers or vocally annoying/fierce e.g. shrill, strident etc was very prevalent and perhaps expected, although we were surprised to see a sub-set of words which related feminists to Islam like feminist Taleban and feminist fatwas (killing two ideological birds with one stone). Additionally, it was interesting to see how these negative discourses shouldn’t always be taken at face value. They were sometimes quoted in order to be critical of them, although it was often only with expanded concordance lines that this could be seen. In all, a productive week, and it was good to meet so many people who were interested in finding out more about corpus linguistics.

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Keynote at the House of Lords

On 17th October 2013 I spent the afternoon at the House of Lords, giving a keynote for the British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG). Founded in 1907, BFWG has been providing scholarships for women in their final year of degree study since 1912, and it regularly makes awards from its charity to women graduates undertaking postgraduate study and research. BFWG is committed to promoting women’s opportunities in education and public life; fostering local, national, and international friendships; and improving the lives of women and girls worldwide. As such, it was a great honour to be asked by this wonderful organisation to give a keynote at their annual House of Lords seminar, sponsored by Baroness Randerson of Roath Park. Each year the seminar has a theme, and this year’s was, “A woman’s right to know”. The three invited speakers were:

Dr Shuruq Naguib (Lancaster University): “Muslim women: Gender and religious authority”. This talk discussed how women are represented in the Qu’ran and in Islamic thought throughout history.

Sian West (University of Kent): “Restorative justice: Does it work?” This talk considered the benefits of restorative justice and the role of women as victims or perpetrators in the social context in which they find themselves.

Dr Claire Hardaker (Lancaster University): “Meaning and meanness: Disconnecting the online threat from the offline reality”. In this talk, I covered four major areas: (1) What does the term trolling mean? (2) What motivations seem to prompt individuals to troll? (3) How is trolling carried out? And (4) How do those who troll “rationalise” their behaviour? (The slides for this talk can be accessed here.)

My many thanks to BFWG President Jenny Morley, to Vice-President Gabrielle Suff, to The Baroness Randerson, and to all the guests and attendees who made my visit especially warm, friendly, and hospitable. (Pictures of the seminar and lunch can be found here.)

Is translated Chinese still Chinese?

Is translated Chinese still Chinese? Do translated English and translated Chinese have anything in common? Can the properties observed on the basis of translational English in contrast to comparable non-translated English be generalised to other translational languages? These interesting questions were explored in Dr Richard Xiao’s keynote lecture entitled “Translation universal hypotheses reevaluated from the Chinese perspective”, delivered at the joint meeting of the 11th International Congress of the Brazilian Association of Researchers in Translation (ABRAPT) and the 5th International Congress of Translators, held at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Florianópolis on 23-26 September 2013.

Corpus-based Translation Studies focuses on translation as a product by comparing comparable corpora of translated and non-translated texts. A number of distinctive features of translations have been posited including, for example, explicitation, simplification, normalisation, levelling out (convergence), source language interference, and under-representation of target language unique items.

Nevertheless, research of this area has until recently been confined largely to translational English and closely related European languages. If the features of translational language that have been reported on the basis of these languages are to be generalised as “translation universals”, the language pairs involved must not be restricted to English and closely related European languages. Clearly, evidence from a genetically distant language pair such as English and Chinese is arguably more convincing, if not indispensable.

Richard’s presentation reevaluated the largely English-based translation universal hypotheses from the perspective of translational Chinese, on the basis of a systematic empirical study of the lexical and grammatical properties of translational Chinese represented in a one-million-word balanced corpus of translated texts in contrast with a comparable corpus of native Chinese texts.

The conference was organised by the Brazilian Association of Researchers in Translation (ABRAPT). During the conference, Richard also gave a talk about corpus-based translation studies at the Roundtable “Translation and Interdisciplinarity”.

Politeness and impoliteness in digital communication: Corpus-related explorations

Post-event review of the one-day workshop at Lancaster University

Topics don’t come much hotter than the forms of impoliteness or aggression that are associated with digital communication – flaming, trolling, cyberbullying, and so on. Yet academia has done surprisingly little to pull together experts in social interaction (especially (im)politeness) and experts in the new media, let alone experts in corpus-related work. That is, until last Friday, when the Corpus Approaches to Social Science Centre (@CorpusSocialSci) invited fifteen such people from diverse backgrounds (from law to psychology) gathered together for an intense one-day workshop.

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The scope of the workshop was broad. One cannot very well study impoliteness without considering politeness, since merely failing to be polite in a particular context could be taken as impoliteness. Similarly, the range of digital communication types – email, blogs, texts, tweets and so on – presents a varied terrain to navigate. And then there are plenty of corpus-related approaches and notions, including collocation, keywords, word sketches, etc.

Andrew Kehoe (@ayjaykay), Ursula Lutzky (@UrsulaLutzky) and Matt Gee (@mattbgee) kicked off the day with a talk on swearwords and swearing, based on their 628-million-word Birmingham Blog Corpus. Amongst other things, they showed how internet swearword/profanity filters would work rather better if they incorporated notions like collocation. For example, knowing the words that typically accompany items like balls and tart can help disambiguate neutral usages (e.g. “tennis balls”, “lemon tart”) from less salubrious usages! (See more research from Andrew here, from Ursula here, and from Matt here.)

With Ruth Page’s (@ruthtweetpage) presentation, came a switch from blogs to Twitter. Using corpus-related techniques, Ruth revealed the characteristics of corporate tweets. Given that the word sorry turns out to be the seventh most characteristic or keyword for corporate tweets, it was not surprising that Ruth focused on apologies. She reveals that corporate tweets tend to avoid stating a problem or giving an explanation (thus avoiding damage to their reputation), but are accompanied by offers of repair and attempts to build – at least superficially – rapport. (See more research from Ruth here.)

Last of the morning was Caroline Tagg’s (@carotagg) presentation, and with this came another shift in medium, from Twitter to text messages. Focusing on convention and creativity, Caroline pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, heavily abbreviated messages are not in fact the norm, and that when abbreviations do occur, they are often driven by communicative needs, e.g. using creativity to foster interest and engagement. Surveying the functions of texts, Caroline established that maintenance of friendship is key. And corpus-related techniques revealed the supporting evidence: politeness formulae were particularly frequent, including the salutation have a good one, the hedge a bit for the invitation, and for further contact, give us a bell. (See more research from Caroline here.)

With participants refuelled by lunch, Claire Hardaker (@DrClaireH) and I presented a smorgasbord of relevant issues. As an opening shot, we displayed frequencies showing that the stereotypical emblems of British politeness, words such as please, thank you, sorry, excuse me, can you X, tend not to be frequent in any digital media variety, relative to spoken conversation (as represented in the British National Corpus). Perhaps this accounts for why at least some sectors of the British public find digital media barren of politeness. This is not to say that politeness does not take place, but it seems to take place through different means – consider the list of politeness items derived by Caroline above. And there was an exception: sorry was the only item that occurred with greater frequency in some digital media. This, of course, nicely ties in with Ruth’s focus on apologies. The bulk of my and Clare’s presentation revolved around using corpus techniques to help establish: (1) definitions (e.g. what is trolling?), (2) strategies and formulae (e.g. what is the linguistic substance of trolling?) and (3) evaluations (e.g. what or who is considered rude?). Importantly, we showed that corpus-related approaches are not just lists of numbers, but can integrate qualitative analyses. (See more research from me here, and from Claire here.)

With encroaching presentation fatigue, the group decamped and went to at a computer lab. Paul Rayson (@perayson) introduced some corpus tools, notably WMatrix, of which he is the architect. Amanda Potts (@watchedpotts) then put everybody through their paces – gently of course! – giving everybody the opportunity of valuable hands-on experience.

Back in our discussion room and refreshed by various caffeinated beverages, we spent an hour reflecting on a range of issues. The conversation moved towards corpora that include annotations (interpretative information). Such annotations could be a way of helping to analyse images, context, etc., creating an incredibly rich dataset that could only be interrogated by computer (see here, for instance). I noted that this end of corpus work was not far removed from using Atlas or Nudist. Snapchat came up in discussion, not only because it involves images (though they can include text), but also because it raises issues of data accessibility (how do you get hold of a record of this communication, if one of its essential features is that it dissolves within a narrow timeframe?). The thorny problem of ethics was discussed (e.g. data being used in ways that were not signaled when original user agreements were completed).

Though exhausting, it was a hugely rewarding and enjoyable day. Often those rewards came in the form of vibrant contributions from each and every participant. Darren Reed, for example, pointed out that sometimes what we were dealing with is neither digital text nor digital image, but a digital act. Retweeting somebody, for example, could be taken as a “tweet act” with politeness implications.

Notes from the 3rd annual Boya Forum 2013 Undergraduate Conference

If, six months ago, you had told me that an assignment I was writing during my undergraduate degree would eventually send me to China for the weekend, I wouldn’t have believed you. However, that is exactly what I found myself doing last weekend, when I travelled to Beijing Foreign Studies University to present at the 3rd annual Boya Forum 2013 undergraduate conference. I was one of two students from Lancaster University sent there to present at the event, which aimed to celebrate the undergraduate research abilities of students in the areas of English literature, translation studies, media and communication studies, cultural studies, international and area studies and, most relevant to my work, language studies. The participants represented a total of 27 universities, and coming from Lancaster I was from one of only three universities from outside of China; the others being Columbia University in New York and Rollins College in Florida.

The conference ran four concurrent panels of talks at any given time, meaning that in just one day we produced a total of 70 individual presentations. It was an intense day of talks and discussions that ran from the early morning right through into the evening, and my talk was right at the end of the day so I knew I would have a job of trying to keep my audience’s attention. I presented a corpus-based critical discourse analysis of a Parliament debate about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which seems to have been my party trick over the summer (I gave a poster of this at the Corpus Linguistics 2013 conference in July and presented about it at a PhD course in Copenhagen in August). Afterwards I was posed some really interesting questions about my work from both the professor who acted as “commentator” for the session and from other students in attendance. It was a great opportunity to reflect on my work and think about what I might do differently the next time I do a similar piece of analysis. It was also really great to see four or five other presentations from Chinese students who had used corpus-based techniques in their research, and to be able to discuss how our approaches differ.

At the end of the day there was a closing ceremony where the professors from BFSU awarded prizes for the best presentations of the conference, based on the ratings of the commentators from each panel. I was very happy to be one of nine recipients of a “First Prize for Best Presentation” award and an official BFSU jacket to match. I wore it proudly on the journey back to Lancaster.

The organisers of the Boya Forum 2013 undergraduate conference should be proud of what they are doing. As a recently graduated BA student I completely agree that the research potential of undergraduate students, particularly in arts and social science-based disciplines, should be valued and celebrated more. Events like this are a brilliant way of showing undergraduate students that their work is valued beyond the difference between a first and a 2:1. This was the first year of the conference’s short history that students from outside of China had contributed to the event, and it was great to hear that the organisers hope to invite an even wider international presence next year. Though, unfortunately, I will no longer qualify to present at next time, I look forward to hearing about more undergraduate students from Lancaster and elsewhere travelling to Beijing to present at Boya Forum 2014. It certainly was a fantastic experience, and I am extremely grateful to CASS and BFSU for jointly funding my visit.