New CASS Briefing now available — How to communicate successfully in English?

CASSbriefings-EDLHow to communicate successfully in English? An exploration of the Trinity Lancaster Corpus. Many speakers use English as their non-native language (L2) to communicate in a variety of situations: at school, at work or in other everyday situations. As well as needing to master the grammar and vocabulary of the English language, L2 users of English need to know how to react appropriately in different communicative situations. In linguistics, this aspect of language is studied under the label of “pragmatics”. This briefing offers an exploration of the pragmatic features of L2 speech in the Trinity Lancaster Corpus of spoken L2 production.

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

New open-access CASS publication on discourses of maritime security

Dr Basil Germond’s latest article discusses the geopolitical dimension of maritime security, which has been neglected by scholars so far. The article analyses three practical examples of maritime security geo-strategies (texts) all released in 2014; one by the UK and two by the EU. The results demonstrate that states’ and international institutions’ maritime security objectives and interests are indirectly and directly influenced by geographical and geopolitical considerations, although this link is only tacitly acknowledged in official documents (narrative). Scholars and practitioners interested in maritime security are encouraged to further engage with this dimension at the practical and discursive level.

Basil Germond “The Geopolitical Dimension of Maritime Security”, Marine Policy 54 (April 2015), pp.137-142. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X14003509

Marine Policy is an interdisciplinary journal in social science devoted to ocean policy studies. It has a 5-year impact factor of 2.948. 

Latest research on executive compensation by CASS co-investigator featured in Financial Times

Debate surrounding executive compensation is an enduring feature of the U.K. corporate landscape. Although concern over compensation levels continue to grab the attention of politicians and headline writers, concern is also growing over the extent to which performance measures that are widely used in executive compensation contracts (e.g., earnings per share growth and total shareholder return) represent appropriate measures of long-term corporate value creation. This debate partly reflects fears that U.K. executives face excessive pressure to deliver short-term results at the expense of long-term improvements in value.

The Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) Society of the UK commissioned researchers at Lancaster to undertake a pilot study of executive compensation arrangements and their association with corporate value creation using a subsample of FTSE-100 companies over the period 2003 through 2013. While the results provide a degree of comfort they also create cause for concern. On the positive side, we document evidence of a material positive link between CEO pay and several measures of value creation. The evidence suggests that prevailing executive pay structures incentivize and reward important aspects of value creation even though contractual performance metrics are not directly linked with value creation in many cases.

More troubling, however, is the evidence that: a large fraction of CEO pay appears unrelated to periodic value creation; key aspects of compensation consistently correlate with performance metrics whose link with value creation is indirect at best; and in many cases the metrics used to incentivize and reward senior executives are not directly aligned with the key performance indicators (KPIs) that firms highlight as fundamental drivers of business value..

Although the structure and transparency of executive compensation practices has come a long way since the “fat cat” headlines of the 1990’s, the journey appears far from complete.

Read more details about this research as featured in a recent article in the Financial Times.

New CASS Briefing now available — What words are most useful for learners of English?

CASSbriefings-EDLWhat words are most useful for learners of English? Introducing the New General Service List. Learning vocabulary is a complex process in which the learner needs to acquire both the form and a variety of meanings of a given vocabulary item. General vocabulary lists can assist in the process of learning words by providing common vocabulary items. In response to problems identified in the currently available General Service List, the authors decided to investigate the core English vocabulary with very large language corpora using current corpus linguistics technology.


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

New CASS Briefing now available — The EDL: moving right-wing populism online in the UK

CASSbriefings-EDLThe EDL: moving right-wing populism online in the UK. The English Defence League (EDL) is a far-right populist political movement and campaigns specifically on issues concerning the presence of Muslims and Islam in Western societies. This briefing from CASS presents the results of a corpus study on the online activities of the EDL and its supporters. The briefing shows that, although the hierarchy of the EDL claims to be specifically concerned with radical Islam, the discourse of supporters is less focussed and contains more explicit forms of Islamophobia.


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

A three-parent baby or a change of battery? Language in the ethical debate on mitochondrial donation

On 22nd October 2014, the House of Commons Science and Technology committee will hold a one-off evidence session on a new human fertilisation technique variously known as mitochondrial donation, mitochondrial transfer or mitochondrial replacement. This technique is intended to help women who carry serious genetic diseases that are passed to the embryo through the mitochondria – the outer layer of the egg (e.g. muscular dystrophy). In such cases, the cell’s mitochondria would be replaced with mitochondria from a healthy donated egg immediately before or after fertilisation, thus eliminating the possibility that the child will inherit the genetic disease.

The first embryo with donated mitochondria was successfully created at Newcastle University in 2010. In 2012, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics approved the procedure. However, the technique has not yet been legally approved in the UK. Two public consultations have found that the majority of people are in favour of introducing the technique, but have also revealed some opposition. Previous parliamentary discussions have primarily focussed on the safety of the procedure. However, concerns have been expressed both in Parliament and in the media about the ethics of manipulating the genetic make-up of human embryos.

As far as the ethical issues are concerned, the language used to describe the procedure is crucial, especially in media reporting. In order to study this language systematically, we constructed a dataset (corpus) including all relevant news reports published in the UK press between April 2010 (when the Newcastle team announced the success of the technique), and September 2014. The corpus contains a total of 119 news articles, amounting to 64,804 words. We have found that, in our data, the words used to express the case for or against approval frame the issue in opposite and irreconcilable ways. This, we suggest, reduces the chances of a reasoned debate, and makes it difficult to see the merits of the case.

The case in favour: changing a faulty battery

In April 2010, Newcastle University issued a press release in which one of the directors of the research, Professor Doug Turnbull, explains the new procedure as follows:

‘Every cell in our body needs energy to function. This energy is provided by mitochondria, often referred to as the cells’ ‘batteries’. Mitochondria are found in every cell, along with the cell nucleus, which contains the genes that determine our individual characteristics. The information required to create these ‘batteries’ – the mitochondrial DNA – is passed down the maternal line, from mother to child.

[…]

“What we’ve done is like changing the battery on a laptop. The energy supply now works properly, but none of the information on the hard drive has been changed,” […] “A child born using this method would have correctly functioning mitochondria, but in every other respect would get all their genetic information from their father and mother.”

The ‘battery metaphor’ is one of the main rhetorical strategies used in our data to suggest that the procedure poses no ethical issues, and should thus be approved on medical grounds: most people can relate to how changing the battery in an appliance does not affect its essential characteristics. The noun battery occurs 38 times in the data, including both the singular and plural forms. We used a new software tool to find the top ‘collocates’ of the singular form battery, i.e. the words that are strongly associated with this word in our corpus. This tool displays collocates as a network with the search word in the centre (see figure 1).

figure1

Figure 1 – Collocation network for battery

Battery is closely linked with the technical term mitochondria on the one hand, and, on the other hand, with a small set of words that belong to the ‘battery’ metaphorical scenario: pack, faulty, replacing and changing. The extracts below are instances of the pattern displayed in figure 2:

About one in 6,500 children are born with defects in their mitochondria – the “batteries“ that power each cell.

The new techniques would see defects in a cell’s battery pack, the mitochondria, replaced by a healthy version supplied by a woman donor

[Mitochondria] are like batteries in a camera or a laptop – you can change them without changing anything else. The child’s identity will come from its two parents, who determine the nuclear DNA.

In these extracts, the focus is on the way in which serious medical problems can be avoided by means of an intervention at the level of cells.

The case against: three-parent babies

The case against approval focuses on the babies who would be born as a result of the procedure, and particularly on their kinship relationships with the people whose cells would be involved in the creation of the embryo: the woman who carries the genetic disease, the woman who donates the healthy mitochondria, and the man whose sperm is used to fertilise the egg.

The word baby as a singular noun occurs 99 times in the corpus, and the plural form babies occurs 268 times. Figure 2 shows the network of words that centres around the plural form babies in our corpus.

figure2

Figure 2 – Collocation network for babies

As figure 2 shows, the collocates of babies include:

  • Words that relate to the debate, and to the issue of official approval: approve, legalise, draft, sanction, permit, backing, comment, ministers.
  • Words that relate to the procedure itself and its outcome: create, created, creation, order, genetically, modified, GM, designer, eugenics, three, three-parent.

The second group in particular reveals the main argument against approval of the procedure, namely that it involves the creation of genetically modified babies with three biological parents. This, it is argued, would pave the way to a future where prospective parents can choose the characteristics of their children, such as eye colour. The following extracts express this position:

Three-parent babies may never know their ‘second’ mother

Government accused of dishonesty over GM babies

Dr David King, of watchdog Human Genetics Alert, said: “This will eventually lead to a designer baby market. [...]”

Done differently, it could lead to the creation of designer babies , made to order by hair colour or eye colour.

More specifically, the corpus contains 40 instances of three-parent baby/babies, 33 instances of designer baby/babies and 12 instances of GM babies. In some articles, these phrases are used to place mitochondrial donation alongside other ethically controversial issues:

Issues ranging from fracking to three-parent babies and genetically modified crops are all difficult […].

The problem with the two alternative linguistic framings

The cases for and against approval or mitochondrial donation are expressed in the press in ways that polarise the issue in an extreme, and arguably unhelpful, fashion. In the case against, the creation of a human baby from the genetic material of three people results in a genetically modified, designer human being, and in an abnormal kinship relationship involving two mothers and three parents. In the case in favour, the use of mitochondria from a donated egg is a mechanical process that has negligible genetic implications and no abnormal kinship implications at all. More generally, the case against focuses on the people involved in the process and their relationships, while the case in favour focuses on what scientists do in a lab in order to prevent serious incurable conditions. As figures 1 and 2 show, the two networks centering on babies and battery do not meet: they have no words in common. For example, the verb form associated with the battery network is replace, whereas for babies it is create.

In this context, it is difficult for non-experts to make sense of the complex scientific issue that underlies the ethical questions, namely the function of mitochondria and their role in the genetic make-up of human beings. Those who adopt the ‘battery metaphor’ tend to point out that mitochondria only provide 0.1% of a human being’s genetic material, none of which influences the characteristics that we associate with identity and uniqueness. Those who adopt the ‘three-parent’ view implicitly suggest that two women are equally involved in the creation of the embryo, presumably because the provision of any amount of genetic material would constitute biological parenting.

The language used in the media to represent both sides over-simplifies and polarises the issue, and therefore makes it difficult to understand the basis of the disagreement. It would be desirable to have a debate that enables the public to appreciate the nature and complexity of the scientific issues, so that they can form a reasoned view of the implications of the introduction of the procedure. To achieve that, both sides have to abandon the current linguistic framings, and find a common linguistic ground from which to argue their respective cases.

The Scottish referendum – did it unite the Guardian and the Mail?

The Guardian and the Mail are very different newspapers. The Guardian is a left-leaning liberal broadsheet while the Mail is a more popular right-leaning ‘middle-market’ newspaper. Generally, they can be relied on to disagree with one another on a range of social, economic and political issues. However, both newspapers supported the recent “No” campaign during the Scottish Independence referendum, which raises a few interesting questions – how did their discourse around Scottish independence contrast? Did they use similar arguments and language, or did they still manage to retain their individual identities?

To explore these questions, we built corpora of the Mail and Guardian (and their Sunday editions) from 18 June 2014 until 18 September 2014 (the three months leading up to the referendum on Scottish independence) by collecting all articles which contained the term Scottish directly followed by independence, referendum, vote or poll.

We then examined the keywords which emerged when each corpus of articles was compared against the 1 million word BE06 Corpus of general British English. A keyword is simply a word which occurs much more often in a corpus when compared against a larger reference corpus. Corpus tools (we used Antconc) can quickly calculate keywords by conducting statistical tests on all the words in the corpus. We looked at the strongest (in terms of statistical saliency) 100 or so keywords for each corpus, and then compared the two sets of keywords to see which occurred just in the Guardian or just in the Mail, but also which were shared by both. The table below shows the keywords that were found.

Guardian Keywords Keywords in both newspapers Mail Keywords
austerity, Britain, Brown, campaigners, Carrell, country, devolution, EU, festival, Holyrood, ISIS, nation, nationalism, north, oil, political, politicians, politics, polling, polls, powers, Saturday, says, secretary, Severin, voted, votes, voting, weather, YouGov Alex, Alistair, all, August, bank, BBC, better, border, Cameron, campaign, currency, Darling, David, debate, Ed, Edinburgh, election, former, Games, Glasgow, has, independence, independent, July, Labour, leader, London, Miliband, minister, MPs, nationalists, No, party, poll, prime, pro, referendum, Salmond, Scotland, Scots, Scottish, September, SNP, tax, Thursday, Together, Tory, UK, undecided, union, vote, voters, Westminster, will, would, Yes Balmoral, border, cabinet, CBI, chairman, crisis, investors, James, Kingdom, MP, PM, prince, Queen, said, shares, sterling, Tories, Tuesday, twitter, uncertainty, United, warned, week, year,

 

This table isn’t really an analysis though – we need to explore the keywords in more detail by reading the articles that each keyword appears in and getting a sense for how and why they were used. This is achieved by looking at concordance lines, although we can also expand each line to read the entire article. Here are some of our preliminary findings.

The Mail was much more concerned than the Guardian about how the vote would impact on the Royal Family, with its keywords including Prince, Queen and Balmoral. Much is made of the queen’s ‘neutrality’, her relationship with David Cameron, her ‘soft power’ in influencing the vote, her carefully calculated comments, and characteristically, what she is wearing (“a turquoise outfit and hat” in one article). The Queen is also described as receiving daily updates from Balmoral.

The Mail also refers to the keyword uncertainty a lot more than the Guardian, particularly appearing concerned about how the progress of the campaign is bad for markets, investors, businesses and pension holders who don’t like uncertainty e.g. “uncertainty is the enemy of investment’. The use of the Mail keyword crisis also pins the Scottish vote to the idea of a crisis – the vote could trigger an “EMU-style currency crisis within the UK” but there could also be a “leadership crisis” for both Labour and the Conservatives. Another somewhat worrying Mail keyword is warned, with the Mail reporting various people and businesses (Stagecoach, Paul Krugman, Goldman Sachs, Standard Life, John Major, Mark Carney, Doug Flint) issuing warnings about a range of dire consequences that could occur if Scotland gains independence.

Perhaps surprisingly, twitter is a keyword for the Mail, which is interesting given the editor of the Mail, Paul Dacre’s dismissal of the ‘firestorm’ of tweets around a previous Mail article by Jan Moir which attracted the highest number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission ever back in 2009. But the Mail now seems to have accepted the importance of Twitter and views tweets as newsworthy. To wit, it reports on Rupert Murdoch’s twitter behaviour, as well as tweets from people who disliked the Better Together advertising campaign #PatronisingBTLady. The Mail is especially disapproving of “tartan trolls” who use Twitter to attack celebrities like JK Rowling who endorse the Yes vote.

How about the Guardian? One keyword it used was nationalism, which at first glance may appear that the Guardian wished to critique the “Yes” voters as nationalists. However, there were cases were writers like Billy Bragg and George Monbiot argued that the label of nationalism was unfairly used to obscure ‘self determination’. One journalist approvingly refers to the lack of ‘braveheart nationalism’ in the campaign, although other journalists do attribute nationalism to some Scottish people, but this is felt to be due to London being out of touch and inward looking. Nationalism either doesn’t exist in the campaign, or when it does, can be excused.

Another Guardian keyword is austerity, with some journalists citing views that the current government’s austerity program being blamed as helping the yes camp. This could be an opportunity for the Guardian to blame the government’s economic policy for breaking up the union, but generally this is not done and instead, it is argued that a Yes vote would not end austerity, but merely impose it from Holyrood rather than Westminster.

Unlike the Mail, the Guardian doesn’t spend as much time reporting the warnings of ‘financial experts’, although the keyword oil was interesting, occurring with reference to North Sea Oil reserves and revenues. In a number of articles, the Guardian foregrounds claims by Sir Ian Wood that Alex Salmond has exaggerated North Sea Oil reserves by up to 60%. In terms of perspectivation, Sir Ian Wood’s position is given precedence over Salmond’s e.g. Wood is described as ‘one of the most influential figures in the Scottish oil industry’ and other people are described as quoting his position too. A woman who claims that the No campaigners have ‘downplayed the amount of oil we have left’ is subtly positioned as greedy: ‘It was “our oil”, she said…’ and thus her argument is weakened somewhat. At the end of the same article, another opinion, given by a local Lib Dem chairman who is described as a ‘marine engineer’ appears to be given more precedence: he says ‘Nobody knows how much oil is there’. The Guardian may not know how much oil there is, but it manages to do a good job of casting enough seeds of doubt to make us think that neither does Alex Salmond.

Finally, both newspapers had Yes as a keyword. How did they represent the yes campaigners? The Guardian made reference to yes voters who are starry-eyed, fierce, enterprising, determined, hardline, vocal and proud. It has very little to say about the no voters, indicating a somewhat subtle sense that the yes voters are a little pushy in their sentiments. The Mail doesn’t mention characteristics of the yes voters much, although it does refer to Alex Salmond as shouty and describes the no campaign as floundering and lacklustre.

So, while both newspapers generally supported Scotland staying within the UK, they each did it by using different strategies and in a way which helped them to maintain their own identities, reflecting the concerns and interests of their readers. From this admittedly preliminary analysis it is difficult to make a confident conclusion but the Guardian did appear to make more of an effort to allow a range of positions to be represented, and was somewhat more subtle in its disapproval of the ‘yes’ campaign. The two newspapers did have different strategies on what they said about each other in respect to the campaigning. The Mail barely mentioned the Guardian, only referring a couple of times to a Guardian poll that put Alistair Darling as scoring a victory over Alex Salmond during a two hour debate. The Guardian was more critical of the Mail, however, using the campaigning to get in a few digs at the Mail. One writer sneeringly referred to ‘the Daily Mail’s insistence that anyone who wants to see a fairer society must be a Stalinist’ And another Guardian columnist expressed surprise that ‘I’m on the same side as the Daily Mail too! Which appears to be taking a short break from convincing us the UK has gone down the tubes to press home a slightly perplexing message of: hey, please don’t break up this wonderful hideous slutty drunken immoral country where women, gays and foreigners don’t know their place!’

Now the vote is over, the two newspapers can get back in their respective bunkers.

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)cambridge.org

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.

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.