Islam in the Media – A new CASS project working with The Aziz Foundation

We are very pleased to announce that in our next CASS project we will be working with The Aziz Foundation  to examine representations of Islam in the British press. The project will be led by Tony McEnery (Principal Investigator) with Gavin Brookes as Co-Investigator. We are also delighted to announce that Isobelle Clarke will be joining us later this year as Research Fellow on this project – welcome Isobelle! (introductory blog post to follow…).

The aim of this research will be to expand on previous work on this topic carried out by members of the Centre. The project will be methodologically innovative, devising new techniques and adapting existing methods to afford new insights into representations of Islam in the UK and how these vary across different parts of the Country and over time. Specifically, this project will be structured according the following three strands:

  1. Examining press representations of Islam over time. This will involve expanding the University’s existing database of press articles about Islam – which currently represents national news articles up to 2015 – allowing for a comparison of representations of Islam over time, from 1998 to the present day.
  2. Comparing national and regional press representations of Islam. As well as providing insight into what is, in the regional press, an under-researched area of media representations of Islam, this strand will also be able to address hypotheses which suggest that Muslims positively appraise local over national media coverage of Islam and Muslims (Open Society Institute, 2010: 215). In addition to expanding the existing dataset to include articles published up to the present day, as per (1), this strand will entail the expansion of this dataset to include regional (as well as national) newspaper articles about Islam published from 1998 to the present day. By studying temporal changes in both the national and regional press, this project will be able to assess the extent to which any shifts are uniform across both tiers (local/national) or, on the other hand, whether divergences between the two actually become starker over time.
  3. Exploring the social effect of press representations. This strand will analyse how readers respond to both positive and negative framings of Islam in ‘below-the-line’ comments which accompanying the articles in the data. This strand will therefore take a wider view of societal discussions of Islam, comparing readers’ perspectives against press representations in order to ascertain the extent to which such representations might influence but also be challenged by the public. By exploring comments both on articles which contain positive as well as negative representations – as these are identified in (1) and (2) – this strand will provide useful evidence for demonstrating to the media the social effects of constructive journalism over poor journalistic practice.

We will actively engage members of the British Muslim community in our research by sharing our findings with them, listening to their thoughts and feedback, and helping them to read media texts more critically in order to challenge negative representations in the future, for example by formulating complaints that are informed by (corpus) linguistic insight. We are excited to begin this exciting project and are looking forward to working with The Aziz Foundation and, of course, to welcoming Isobelle to Lancaster!

‘Collaborations between Linguistics and the Professions’ event – Three participants’ views

On 4th-6th March 2019, we organised an event on ‘Collaborations between Linguistics and the Professions’. If you missed it, here are three reports from early-career researchers – one for each day.

Day One – by Mathew Gillings

The aim and focus of the Collaborations between Linguistics and the Professions event was to look at connections and opportunities that arise between the academic discipline of linguistics and wider industry. Broadly speaking, the event considered how university-based linguists may be able to advise in both the public and private sectors, providing consultancy to help inform real-world issues. As a PhD student applying corpus methods to the study of deceptive language, the first day of the three-day event was of particular interest to me, due to its focus on forensic linguistics and public engagement.

After a quick welcome and opening of the event from Elena Semino, we started with a talk by Louise Mullany. Louise works at the University of Nottingham, but also carries out linguistic consultancy through the Linguistic Profiling for Professionals unit she directs. Louise discussed how her team has worked within a whole range of sectors and applied linguistic theory to help inform their practice. For example, politeness theory might well provide the answers to why one firm is struggling with their customer service; or perhaps an investigation into gendered talk might reveal some underlying problems or tensions. Perhaps even other methods could provide further insight, such as eye-tracking, or putting clients through an online learning course. Louise’s talk gave a good insight into how such a unit operates.

The second talk built on the first one, with Isobelle Clarke showing us not only what you need to think about and be aware of, but also what you shouldn’t do when trying to build a reputation as a linguistic consultant. Although Isobelle has already had some good opportunities through the connections made throughout her PhD, she argued that her reputation will always be questioned for the stereotypes that come with the territory. For example: she is female, unlike most forensic linguistic consultants; she is from Essex, and therefore has an accent that is often prejudiced against; and she is also still early-career. These are things she cannot change, but still unfortunately affect whether or not she is considered credible as an expert in the field. It was good to hear such an open and frank discussion about inequalities within the field.

Continuing with the forensic linguistics theme, Georgina Brown offered an insight into how new methodologies within forensic speech science are now being used to inform proceedings within the courtroom. Georgina introduced us to Soundscape Voice Evidence, a new start-up based right here in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster, which is all the proof you need that there is a real appetite for further collaboration between academia and industry.

Another interesting talk later that day was by Lancaster’s very own Claire Hardaker, who talked about learning when to say ‘no’ to opportunities that come your way. Claire discussed several cases where, due to her own excitement, she may have jumped into a new opportunity too quickly. As a PhD student, it was good to hear advice on how to handle different cases, and especially on how to be careful in picking which cases to pursue. Likewise, this seemed to be a common theme over the three days, with a whole range of attendees discussing issues they had encountered whilst carrying out this kind of collaborative work.

The day came to a close with Tony McEnery’s talk discussing linguistics and the impact agenda. Tony reflected on some of his own experiences working with various agencies outside of academia, but the bulk of his talk concerned impact work against the backdrop of the REF. Tony gave some top tips for how to get your research out there and informing public life through the Civil Service, but also spoke very realistically about the priority it will be given by others. Everyone is busy – those in academia and those outside of it – and we must not lose sight of that. Tony finished with a call to arms: language pervades each and every aspect of our life, and it is clear that the discipline has a lot more to offer than it has traditionally done in the past.

Day one of the Collaborations between Linguistics and the Professions event was enlightening. I, for one, never knew quite how much consultancy work linguists are involved with, and it was refreshing to see such a healthy appetite for it within the room – especially from early-career researchers, like myself, who may well do it in the future.

Day 2 – by Sundeep Dhillon

I attended the education focused sessions on Tuesday, given that my background is in English language teaching and, as a current ESRC doctoral student in Applied Linguistics, I was keen to find out more on collaborations between linguistics and the professions. The day started with a warm welcome from Elena Semino prior to the first presentation. Alison Mackey spoke about her work as a linguistics consultant in the private sector which ranged from educational technology companies to private schools in the USA. Alison gave lots of varied (and humorous) examples of the consultancy work and how she achieved these contracts, which she traced back to three key factors. These were networking and word of mouth referrals, the publication of a book on bilingualism by Harper Collins, and a Guardian article which has over 65,000 shares on Facebook. I was impressed by the range of Alison’s work activities, proving that linguistics can be widely applied to real-life practical contexts.

One of the schools Alison has worked with in the USA, ‘Avenues: The World School’, was then represented by Abby Brody. The private school has an innovative approach to teaching as students are immersed in Spanish or Mandarin (alongside English) with the aim of becoming ‘truly fluent’. The links between linguistics and the school’s curriculum development over time were outlined. It was clear that the school was responsive to research and adapted their teaching and learning practices accordingly.

The next presentation by Judit Kormos was very inspiring in that the linguistics research has led to a direct impact on the way inclusive practices are promoted in educational publishing and second language assessment. Judit’s research on specific learning difficulties and L2 learning difficulties has aimed to give a voice and agency to those who are traditionally underrepresented. There were a number of examples given of working with publishers and government departments to develop strategies and ways of working which are inclusive. The success of Lancaster’s Future Learn MOOC  on Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching was also discussed and there is now an opportunity to join the next launch of this MOOC on the 15th April 2019.

Following a lovely long and well catered lunch break, we then heard from Claire Dembry of Cambridge University Press (CUP). Claire outlined the many opportunities for links between the publisher and academic research, including the recent Spoken British National Corpus 2014 (BNC) project in collaboration with Lancaster University. This project involved collecting 11.5 million words of spoken conversation and the BNC 2014 is now available online with free access. There are also opportunities to contribute to articles, books, research guides and white papers which are produced by CUP. Claire also answered questions on practical considerations such as contacting CUP, pitching ideas and negotiating fees, all of which was useful information to consider prior to any collaboration.

We then heard from Vaclav Brezina about corpora and language teaching and learning. There were three main sections in the presentation – accessibility, research partnerships and interdisciplinarity. Accessibility covered the link between theoretical ideas of linguistics and the practical tools and techniques used in projects such as the BNCLab and #LancsBox. Research partnership highlighted the importance of collaboration with others such as CUP and Trinity College London. Finally, interdisciplinarity covered good practice guidelines on working with others including flexibility and collective ownership of goals.

Cathy Taylor of Trinity College London presented about ‘The Spoken Learner Corpus’ (SLC) project collaboratively undertaken by Trinity College London and CASS, Lancaster University. This has involved collecting data from Trinity’s spoken Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE) at B1 level and above, leading to the creation of the SLC which can be explored for language teaching and research purposes. Cathy described the stages of the project including the rationale, the practical data collection of audio recorded exams from GESE and also the creation of teaching and learning materials based on the SLC. These materials are available on the Trinity website and cover topics such as managing hesitation and asking questions. This project is a great example of how corpus data can be used to inform and improve the classroom experience of English language learners.

The final presentation was by John Pill, who spoke about his experience of updating the Occupational English Test (OET), an English language test for medical professionals. Collaboration between the test developers, language researchers and medical experts was outlined, including tensions between them in relation to the expected content, assessment criteria and outcomes of the OET. Overall, the process to create a relevant language test which covered English language and also practical medical aspects was successful with an updated test being launched following the collaboration.

Each of the presentations linked the research within linguistics to applications in the wider education profession. There was a lot of useful information and plenty of food for thought for the audience in considering future collaboration activities.

Day 3 – by Joelle Loew

It is the third day of the conference – by now a familiar crowd is coming together around coffee in the morning, and the atmosphere is at ease. People have come from all over the UK and beyond to the beautiful campus of Lancaster University – I had flown in from Switzerland a while ago, where I am doing my PhD in Linguistics at the University of Basel. Everyone is looking forward to the last day, which brings together researchers and practitioners applying linguistics in various professions including media and marketing. We start off with a talk from Colleen Cotter from Queen Mary University of London on bridging ‘the professional divide’ between journalists’ and academics’ talk about language – she outlines journalistic language ideologies but also highlights journalistic audience design and corresponding readership-orientation as an example of how journalistic practice can feed into academic practice. After a quick refill, we gather again to hear Lancaster’s own Veronika Koller discuss her experience of opportunities and obstacles in linguistics consulting in healthcare. Throughout the presentation she refers to and outlines the main stakeholders in healthcare particularly relevant to linguistics:

https://twitter.com/ZsofiaDemjen/status/1103251411268182016

On we then go to hear Jeannette Littlemore from the University of Birmingham discuss her work with marketing and communications agencies on their use of figurative messaging. She focuses on the role of metaphor and metonymy for brand recognition, brand recall and consumer preference, drawing on examples from her research and work with the creative industry. Discussions following her talk continue into the lunch break, refreshed and well fed we move into an afternoon packed with insight from industry. Gill Ereaut brings in the perspective of a linguist working within the professions, introducing her consultancy Linguistic Landscapes. Their work includes evidence-based consulting for organisations on multiple levels, including organisational culture change. Another perspective from industry follows by Sandra Pickering from opento, who talks about the role of language in marketing. She provides a wide array of fascinating examples from her diverse experience with different organisations, and spends some time outlining how brands become metaphorical persons on their quest to build compelling brand narratives. The audience discusses some well-known brand narratives and archetypes of smaller and bigger players in the industry following her talk.

https://twitter.com/VeronikaKoller/status/1103306088953331713

Dan McIntyre and Hazel Price from the University of Huddersfield then present two very different case studies applying corpus linguistics in a private and a public setting with their consultancy Language Unlocked. The day ends with a Skype talk by Deborah Tannen from Georgetown University who captures the audience with her account on why and how she writes for non-academic audiences. Her multiple and diverse experiences of writing for the broader public make for interesting insights on the differences in writing for academics and writing for a lay audience. She emphasizes the value of having to find simple terminology for expressing and simplifying complicated ideas. Her talk was followed by a lively discussion, as were the others in the day. Exploring opportunities and challenges in linguistic consultancy work through discussing hands-on examples from different perspectives allowed highlighting recurrent themes too, such as the importance of considering ethical aspects in this process. It also showed the tremendous potential and relevance of linguistics for a variety of different aspects of the professional world.

In sum, it was a fascinating day and a very inspiring conference overall – throughout the day it was evident that attendees genuinely felt the exchange between academics and practitioners applying linguistics in the professional world was very fruitful, and I am almost certain it is not the last we’ve heard of events such as this! It certainly broadened my own horizon as a PhD researcher looking at professional communication – showing many opportunities and highlighting the challenges to prepare for and navigate when seeking collaboration between linguistics and the professions.

CASS Down Under!

Earlier this month, a few members of the CASS team travelled to Australia to give talks and deliver workshops at two of the Country’s most prestigious universities – Australian National University (Canberra) and The University of Sydney.

Our journey begins in Sydney, where on the 18th March, Paul BakerGavin BrookesTony McEnery and Elena Semino spoke at the Corpus Showcase and launch of the Sydney Corpus Lab. Elena was first to speak, as she presented findings from her research with Alice Deignan (University of Leeds) on metaphors for climate change in the classroom. Tony then spoke about his work studying shifts in the historical discourse surrounding Venereal Disease, before Paul concluded the morning session with a talk which brought together a series of corpus studies of sexual identities in personal ads. Following lunch, Gavin presented early findings from the Representations of Obesity in the News project, using keywords to compare tabloid and broadsheet data. So, a wide range of topics reflecting the diversity of the projects within CASS, which both our hosts and members of the audience commented on and seemed to enjoy. More information and photos from this event can be found here.

CASS Director, Elena Semino with Corpus Lab Director, Monika Bednarek

Monika Bednarek with Paul Baker, Tony McEnery, Laurence Anthony and Gavin Brookes (L-R)

Following the event in Sydney, our next stop was Canberra, where the team was joined by Dima Antansova and Luke Collins for a series of corpus lingustics workshops at the Institute for Communication in Health Care (ICH), Australian National University (ANU).

Day 1 in Canberra: Paul Baker, Dima Atanasova, Shannon Clark (ANU), Luke Collins, Tony McEnery, Elena Semino, Diana Slade (Director of ICH, ANU), Gavin Brookes, Susy MacQueen (ANU) (L-R)

On the first day of our stint in Canberra, the CASS team exchanged details about our work on health communication with members of the ICH, with the view to future collaboration in this area. On days 2 and 3, we delivered a corpus linguistics workshop to approximately 50 delegates from an impressive range of disciplines, including health care, theoretical linguistics, creative writing and anhropology, to name just a few! On the first day of workshops, Tony introduced corpus linguistics, Paul spoke about his research using corpora in discourse analysis and Luke led practical sessions on corpus construction and collocation. On the second day,Tony gave a lecture on stats and Paul led a practical session on using corpus techniques in discourse analysis. Also, on the final day, Elena and Gavin both gave lectures on the application of corpus methods to the analysis of health language data. Elena’s talk focused on metaphor in cancer and end-of-life care, before Gavin wrapped up the sessions with a talk about his work with Paul on NHS feedback in England. Our hosts were welcoming and hsopitable and the attendees were lively, engaged and seemed to gain in confidence as the workshops went on. In summary, this was a thoroughly productive and enjoyable expereince that was more than worth the long journey. Now we just have to find an excuse to go back and find out how everyone is getting on!

 

 

Corpus methods and multimodal data: A new approach

By William Dance, Alex Christiansen and Alexander Wild

Within corpus linguistics, multimodality is a subject which is often overlooked.

While there are multiple projects tackling multimodal interactional elements in corpora, such as the French interaction corpus RECOLA and the video meeting repository REPERE, corpus linguistic approaches generally tend to struggle when faced with extra-textual content such as images. Until now, the only viable approach to including such content in a corpus has been manual image annotation, but such an approach runs into two overarching issues: first, visual modality is the most labour-intensive form of multimodal corpus annotation when performed ‘by hand’ and second, multimodal corpora are often limited in scope and therefore remain very specialist using relatively small datasets.

However, as Twitter and other social media are quickly becoming popular sources of natural text, it is important to recognise that ignoring images means ignoring a large portion of potential meaning. In the worst instances, texts become entirely meaningless without the context supplied by the image – take for example this relatively innocuous tweet about superheroes:

without its image content.

As opposed to with it.

The image in the example above comprises part of the meaning making process and without the image, meaning is lost. Although evidence of the number of posts which include images are scarce, an engagement analysis sampling 1,000,000 posts from Twitter tentatively noted that 42% included an image.

As a step towards fixing this omission, we are introducing a new methodological tool to the corpus linguistic toolbox, tentatively named Visual Constituent Analysis or simply VCA. As the name implies, the approach draws from the concept of grammatical constituencies, presenting images as a series of individual semiotic constituents, which can then be shown in-line with any co-text found in the tweet. Using Google’s Cloud Vision API, VCA seeks to redress the issues raised earlier of scalability and scope by automating the annotation process and consequently widening the research scope, allowing studies to be extended to a much larger portion of multimodal data with very little extra work involved.

In addition to extending the scale of analysis, Vision also supplies information that would otherwise be missed by most annotators. This includes the function called web entities, which retrieves the set of all indexed web-pages using a particular image and extracts the most representative keywords from the context the image was used in. As an example, note that in the sample image below Vision detects only that the image contains a ‘journalist’/’commentator’ and that there is a ‘photo caption’, while web entities highlight that the people in question are Sean Hannity and Mitch McConnel, as well as the fact that the image relates to Fox News and the Speaker of the United States’ House of Congress.

Input

Output

Labels Journalist; Commentator; Facial Expression; Person; Forehead; Photo Caption; Chin; Official
Web Entities Sean Hannity; Mitch McConnell; FOX News; Kentucky; United States Senate; Republican Party; Capigruppo al Senato degli Stati Uniti d’America; Speaker of the United States House; United States Congress; Election; President of the United States
Document “STOP WHINING AND GET TO WORK”

 

While we recognise that there are obvious issues with allowing an algorithm to take over the task of annotating images, we posit that the same issues are inherent to human annotation, perhaps to an even larger degree. Within the traditional annotation method, a human element is required to process the non-textual data by hand, with implications of scale, consistency and knowledge-base. Vision offers vast scalability as well as the web indexing power of Google and consequently can help to analyse large multimodal datasets that would require teams of human annotators to process.

To test the viability of the approach as well as the reliability of the data-labelling supplied by Google’s neural network, we will use VCA to analyse the use of images in hostile-state information operations on social media in Twitter’s recently released Internet Research Agency dataset (T-IRA). T-IRA includes all the users identified by Twitter as being connected to Russian state-backed information operations and measures more than 9 million tweets, including a database of more than 1.4 million images.

This project will test the viability of VCA as a method of corpus construction but will also provide insights into how information operations weaponise images on social media. Using VCA, we will seek to identify the strategies used in T-IRA to try and influence people’s political and social views. Looking at studies of online disinformation as well as linguistic studies of manipulation these strategies will be codified into a typology of online image-based manipulation.

A cognitive scientist’s perspective on taking the CorpusMOOC

Rose Hendricks, a researcher at the Frameworks Institute in Washington D.C., shares her experience of taking the CorpusMOOC:

‘I’m a social science researcher and have been curious for a while how we can learn more about human culture and cognition by looking at large collections of language — so I jumped at the opportunity to take the Corpus Linguistics online course by Lancaster University.

The course had an great mix of videos, readings, and activities, and covered topics in just the right amount of detail. There was enough information to get a good sense of how corpus linguistics methods can be used in a huge range of ways, from addressing questions in sociolinguistics to developing textbooks, dictionaries, and resources for language learners.

Conversations with researchers who use corpus linguistics methods gave us an even deeper sense of the interesting and important topics that benefit from tools to extract patterns from huge amounts of text.

Throughout the course, I came up with many ideas I plan to explore with the methods we learned about, especially #LancsBox, a tool that helps researchers analyze and visualize their language data.

I would recommend this course to people with any level of background knowledge on the topic — there’s something for everyone.’

Introductory Blog – Luke Collins

I am delighted to have joined the CASS team as Senior Research Associate and will be working across the new programme of studies in Corpus Approaches to Health(care) Communication. I have already begun working on a fascinating strand exploring the Narratives of Voice-hearers and I will be working closely with Professor Elena Semino in applying corpus methods to see what effects a therapeutic intervention has on the experiences of those who hear distressing voices – and how they articulate these experiences – over time. More broadly, we will be examining representations of mental health and illness in the media, looking to address issues of stigmatisation and support public awareness and understanding.

Working towards the application of corpus linguistics and the findings of corpus analysis to health services is a great motivation to me and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to build on my previous work in this area. I have published work on the experiences of people undergoing a therapeutic intervention and demonstrated how corpus approaches can help to capture some of the complexities of those experiences. I have also implemented corpus analyses to investigate discussions of complex global issues in the news media (specifically, climate change and AMR), thinking about public understanding and how media reporting can help readers to comprehend their role in such issues. I have recently been working on my edition of the Routledge ‘Corpus Linguistics for..’ series, focusing on applications of corpus tools for analysing different types of online communication and hope to announce its release early next year. Throughout my work, I have endeavoured to raise awareness of corpus methods outside of the discipline and create opportunities to work with collaborators from various backgrounds. I am glad to find that in my role with CASS, this can continue!

Outside of my work, I have a reputation for hand-made greeting cards and I am an avid record collector. Since I have moved to Lancaster I have been exploring the local area and discovering what a picturesque part of the country this is. I don’t even mind the rain!

Statistics in (Higher) Education: A few thoughts at the beginning of the new academic year

As every year around this time, university campuses are buzzing with students who are starting their studies or returning to the campus after the summer break – this incredible transformation pours life into buildings – empty spaces become lecture theatres, seminar rooms and labs. Students have the opportunity to learn many new things about the subject they chose to study and also engage with the academic environment more generally.  Among the educational and development opportunities students have at the university one transferable skill stands out: statistical literacy.

Numbers are an essential part of our everyday life. We count the coins in our pocket, the minutes before the next bus arrives or the sunny days in a rainy year. Numbers and quantitative information are also very important for students and educators. Statistical literacy – the ability to produce and interpret quantitative information – belongs to the basic set of academic skills that, despite its importance, may not always receive the attention it deserves.

Many students (and academics) are afraid of statistics – think about what your first reaction is to the equation in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: The equation of standard deviation (mathematical form)

 

This is because statistics is often misconstrued as the art of solving extremely complicated equations or a mysterious magic with numbers. Statistics, however, is first and foremost about understanding and making sense of numbers and quantitative information. For this, we need to learn the basic principles of collecting, organising and interpreting quantitative information. Critical thinking is thus much more important for statistics than the number crunching ability. After all, computers are very good at processing numbers and solving equations and we can happily leave this task to them. For example, many even complex statistical tasks can be achieved by using tools such as the Lancaster Stats Tool online, where the researcher can merely copy-paste their data (in an appropriate format) and press one button to receive the answer.

Humans, on the other hand, outperform computers in the interpretation skills. This is because we have the knowledge of the context in which numbers appear and we can therefore evaluate the relative importance of different quantitative results. We as teachers, linguists, sociologists, scientists etc. can provide the underlying meaning to numbers and equations and relate them to our experience and the knowledge of the field. For example, the equation in Figure 1 can be simplified as follows:

Figure 2: The equation of standard deviation (conceptual)

When we relate this to what we know about the world, we can see that the question we are asking in Figure 2 is how much variation there is in our data, a question about variability, difference in tendencies and preferences and overall diversity. This is something that we can relate to in our everyday experience: Will I ever find a twenty-pound note in my pocket? Is the wait for the bus longer in the evening? Is the number of sunny days different every year? When talking about statistics in education, I consider the following point crucial: as with any subject matter, it is important to connect statistical thinking and statistical literacy with our daily experience.

To read more about statistics for corpus linguistics, see Brezina, V. (2018). Statistics in Corpus Linguistics: A Practical Guide. Cambridge University Press.