New partnership between the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science and the Sydney Corpus Lab

We’re excited to announce that the University of Sydney, Australia and the University of Lancaster, UK have signed an MOU agreement to work on collaborative research in corpus linguistics. This new partnership builds on existing connections between the newly established Sydney Corpus Lab and the Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), which was founded in 2013. Last year, a CASS contingent attended the launch of the Sydney Corpus Lab in March 2019, and, in June 2019, A/Prof Monika Bednarek from Sydney was a Visiting Researcher at CASS. During her visit, we made plans for a new collaboration on representations of obesity in the Australian Press. This MOU now allows us to formalise this collaboration and to strengthen our existing research links.

Caption: CASS director Elena Semino (left) and Sydney Corpus Lab director Monika Bednarek (right) at the launch event in Sydney in March 2019

In the immediate future, CASS will build a corpus of Australian news items about obesity, and will advise on the analysis, based on a current project on representations of obesity in the UK Press. The Sydney Corpus Lab will analyse the Australian corpus, with the help of a new postgraduate research scholarship funded by the Charles Perkins Centre and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney.

The project will explore:

  • Existing media guidelines around the reporting of obesity
  • The use of the words obesity and obese in the Australian news media
  • The impact of the Obesity Collective’s campaign to shift the narrative away from stigma and blame
  • How obesity is represented more generally in the Australian news media, over time and across newspapers

Researchers from the Sydney Corpus Lab and CASS will collaborate on the dissemination of findings, including engagement with research users. We will work with the Obesity Collective and health journalism expert and educator Dr Catriona Bonfiglioli (University of Technology, Sydney) to help steer our analytical focus and for successful impact outside academia.

The MOU also includes mutual visits, and CASS Senior Research Associate Gavin Brookes is already planning to visit Sydney in July 2020, for research meetings and to present a talk at the Corpus Linguistics Down Under symposium.

Watch this space for updates on these activities and announcement of future collaborative initiatives between Lancaster and Sydney!

 

Representing trans people in the UK press – a follow-up study

I do not identify as trans, nor did I carry out this research for profit or because I am an activist. I approached the subject from the position of allowing the data to speak for itself, and the corpus methods I use rely on computational techniques that are unbiased – computer software identifies the most frequent words, phrases and combinations of words, which then have to be accounted for by the analyst.

Introduction

A few years ago I published the “corpus linguistics” chapter in an edited collection relating to different methods of carrying out critical discourse studies. As a case study for the chapter, I decided to look at the representation of trans people in the British press. At the time there had been a disapproving article about a trans person who was also a school-teacher in The Daily Mail who had committed suicide three months later, while another article published in the Observer, one of the more respectable Sunday broadsheet newspapers, had used pejorative phrases about trans people like ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’ and ‘screaming mimis’. I wanted to use corpus approaches to see whether these articles were typical of the general press discussion around trans people or whether they stood out as unusually harsh. I built a (small by corpus linguistics standards) corpus of around 900 articles, just from 2012 and used traditional corpus methods (keywords, collocates, concordancing) to examine a range of words like transgender, transsexual and trannie. My analysis found that the two articles mentioned above were at the extreme end of a continuum, although:

“the analysis did find a great deal of evidence to support the view that trans people are regularly represented in reasonably large sections of the press as receiving special treatment lest they be offended, as victims or villains, as involved in transient relationships or sex scandals, as the object of jokes about their appearance or sexual organs and as attention-seeking freakish objects. There were a scattering of more positive representations but they were not as easy to locate and tended to appear as isolated cases, rather than occurring repeatedly as trends.” (Baker 2014)

I was recently approached by the charity Mermaids UK who asked me if I would carry out an updated analysis of more recent press representation. This time I collected data from the previous 2 years (21 October 2017 to 21 October 2019), resulting in a larger corpus of around 6,400 articles, indicating that there were around 3 and a half times as many articles written about trans people in this later period. In terms of news values, trans people are seen as rather more newsworthy these days. So has the discourse around them changed?

Changing Labels

In terms of how the press refer to trans people, in 2012, the most common term by far was transgender. In 2018-19, transgender and trans were about of equally frequency, this being mostly an effect of the Guardian and Observer showing a strong preference for trans. Terms I had expected that would have died out, like sex-change and transsexual, had decreased somewhat but were still being used about once every other day, with the Mail, Telegraph and Times making the bulk of such cases. Another decreasing term, tranny occurred about once a fortnight. In 2012 it was used to imply bad taste, outlandishness, sex romps or the subject of jokes. The term was a particular favourite term of journalist AA Gill (who used it in bizarre ways like tranny panto and tranny centaur night out). However, in 2018-19 it was now mainly acknowledged as a bullying term (AA Gill died in 2016). The rather jarring use of transgender(s) as a noun (“How about One Guy, A Girl, A Transgender and Two Nonbinary Persons” (The Sun)), occurred 37 times in 2018-19 (there was only 1 such usage in 2012).

Collocates of trans(gender)

Examining the contexts that trans and transgender people were written in showed one of the most notable changes though. I’d noted in 2012 that transgender people were implied to be quick to take offence – in that year there were 8 cases of trans(gender) co-occurring with words like angry, clash, complaint, fury, offended, outrage, row, spat, upset and wrath. There were enormous increases of this representation in 2018-19 though – 586 cases. While a small number of these cases don’t attribute trans people as being the ones who are cast as angry or complaining, the vast majority do – and the wider point is that trans people are being discussed as being at the centre of controversy. A similar set of words which relate to conflict including aggressive, demand, harassed, bullied, confronted, lunge, militant, outspoken, pressure and threat saw a similar pattern – 5 cases of these kinds of words appearing near trans(gender) in 2012, but 334 cases in 2018-19. The result is that trans people are constructed as newsworthy because they are difficult, angry, easily offended (and often unreasonably so).

Scout leaders have been told to avoid referring to children as boys and girls to ensure transgender members are not offended. (Mail on Sunday)

A transgender woman is demanding an apology and £2,500 compensation after claiming she was called “sir” by rail company staff. (Times, March 16, 2019)

It’s not a new representation. I saw the same thing when I looked at news stories about gay people in the early 2000s, Muslims in the 2000s and feminists in the 1990s and 2000s. Another representation (also used on gay people) was to link trans people with crime, connecting them to words like killer, prisoner, lag, criminal, murderer, rapist, jail and kill. These words occurred with trans(gender) 3 times in 2012, but 608 times in 2018-19.

It’s crazy to give trans prisoners everything they say they want,’ said chair Janice Williams. Why wouldn’t they lie in the circumstances? (Daily Mail)

Women’s jail holds trans lag born lad (The Sun, September 13, 2019)

Some of the trans brigade advocate the murder of Terfs as the best course. (Telegraph, 12 January 2019)

Transphobia, trans children and the trans lobby

What about more general contexts? What topics are trans people talked about in relation to more, or less these days? Here we see potentially a change for the better. Topics that now take up less space in the overall debate involve references to transvestites and ladyboys as well as discussion of implants, the clothing worn by trans people and their ability to “pass” as a particular gender. There’s less of the inappropriate prurience in trans people that’s associated with sitcom characters like Alan Partridge. In its place, the biggest area of growth is in stories relating to transphobia and discrimination, although there were also increases in references to transitioning, inclusivity and gender-neutral pronouns.

Lest we think that references to transphobia indicate that the press are overall more concerned about trans people being abused, a closer look indicates this is not always the case. Although such references are 112 times more frequent in 2018-9 compared to 2012, 15% of the 2018-19 mentions put the word transphobia in quotes, implying authorial distance or even rejection of the term.

A transgender teenager who demanded the removal of a female Labour member from her post as women’s officer over her allegedly “transphobic” views has been elected to the post in her local Labour party. (The Times, November 20, 2017)

I took 100 random cases of transphobia and related words like transphobe and looked at them in more detail. Approximately half (47) used the term to raise questions about its validity – either using the distancing quotes, referring to “supposed” or “alleged” transphobia, mentioned the way that the accusers behave: e.g. “howled down as transphobia” or simply baldly stating that something is not transphobia.

An analysis of the term trans(gender) children found a slightly better picture. That term doesn’t occur in the distancing scare quotes – so the concept of trans(gender) children appears to be more accepted in the press than the concept of transphobia. An analysis of 100 random cases found 56 that accepted the existence of trans children and/or advocated that they should receive support. Thirty seven cases were more disapproving, either suggesting that children who identify as trans should not be supported in transitioning or that efforts to support them (e.g. through pronoun stickers or gender-neutral toilets) are unnecessary, even unhelpful. A further seven cases appear more neutral, noting that this is an issue which divides people but not clearly coming down on either side. It’s very rare to find voices of trans(gender) children in these press articles.

A final change relates to the increase in the phrase trans(gender) lobby. There were no mentions of this phrase in 2012. In contrast, 2018-19 saw 151 mentions of it, with over 90% of such cases writing about it in a negative way (e.g. as silencing debate, peddling politically-correct fallacies, being deranged or aggressively militant). The transgender lobby is described in somewhat contradictory terms across the press. At times, journalists go out of their way to stress that it is unimportant, referring to it as miniscule and doomed, yet at other times it is described as powerful, hegemonic and influential (with the implication that it should not be these things).

Conclusion

The UK press wrote over 6,000 articles about trans people in 2018-19. On the surface there appear to have been improvements – the more sexualising and joking uses of language around trans people have reduced since 2012 and there are many more stories around transphobia and inclusivity. However, there are large swathes of the press which write about these topics in order to be critical of trans people and many articles which consequently paint trans people as unreasonable and aggressive. The picture suggests that the conservative press and most of the tabloids have shifted from an openly hostile and ridiculing stance on trans people towards a carefully worded but still very negative stance.

Reference

Baker, P. (2014) ‘”Bad wigs and screaming mimis”: Using corpus-Assisted techniques to carry out critical discourse analysis of the representation of trans people in the British press.’ In C. Hart and P. Cap (eds) Contemporary Critical Discourse Studies. London, Bloomsbury: 211-236.

Time to Celebrate: Trinity Lancaster Corpus

On Wednesday 30 October, The ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches (CASS) organised a small get-together in its new location, Bailrigg House, to celebrate the research that is being carried out at the centre. Specifically, on this occasion, we wanted to highlight the Trinity Lancaster Corpus, a corpus of spoken learner English built in collaboration between Lancaster University and Trinity College London.

Cutting the cake with the Trinity Lancaster Corpus logo

We are really proud of the corpus, which is the largest learner corpus of its kind. It took us over five years to complete this part of the project. Here are a few numbers that describe the Trinity Lancaster Corpus:

  • Over 2,000 transcripts
  • Over 4.2 million words
  • Over 3,500 hours of transcription time
  • Over 10 L1 and cultural backgrounds
  • Up to four speaking tasks

A balanced sample of the corpus is now available for online searching via TLC Hub (password: Lancaster1964). To read more about the corpus and its development, check out this article in the International Journal of Learner Corpus Research:

Gablasova, D., Brezina, V., & McEnery, T. (2019). The Trinity Lancaster Corpus: Development, Description and ApplicationInternational Journal of Learner Corpus Research5(2), 126-158. [open access]

A new special issue of the journal featuring articles on various aspects of learner language, which use the Trinity Lancaster Corpus as their primary data source, is available from this link.

Table of contents of the special issue of the International Journal of Learner Corpus Research

A cake to celebrate the Trinity Lancaster Corpus

Celebrations at CASS

Celebrations at CASS (posters featuring research on TLC in the background)

New Senior Research Associate in CASS: Isobelle Clarke

My name is Isobelle Clarke. I am the newest member of CASS. This is my first academic position outside of education. I am so excited about being a part of CASS, not just because I can tell all my family that I FINALLY have a job, but also because the research environment here is buzzing and thriving (but I don’t need to tell you that)! My major research areas include corpus linguistics, forensic linguistics, discourse analysis and uncovering patterns of language variation and change. Lancaster University, especially CASS is certainly the place that covers all of these areas… I can honestly say I feel at home.

I have been appointed here as a Senior Research Fellow on the project investigating the Discourses of Islam in the press with Tony McEnery and Gavin Brookes that is partially funded by the Aziz foundation. Our task is to extend on the work of Baker, Gabrielatos and McEnery (2013) and Baker and McEnery (2019) that investigated the Discourses of Islam in the UK National Press from 1998-2014. We will be bringing that research up to the present day, examining the extent to which the Discourses have changed and how. Then, we will be comparing the representation of Islam in the national press with the local press and tracking the representations over time. We will also be looking at the representation of Islam on Twitter using various corpus and computational techniques. I am very excited to be working on this important project and in partnership with the Aziz foundation. The aim is not just to scrutinise the media’s representation of Islam, but to also be proactive, making suggestions about the ways in which the media can report on Islam in a more neutral way. It is hoped that the findings from the project will also help to provide British Muslims with the tools to critically engage with public narratives, as we identify and describe why and how particular depictions of Islam can be biased and damaging.

I am passionate about understanding language that harms and so most of my research has focused on online abuse. I have just submitted my PhD dissertation under the supervision of Jack Grieve. I investigated and compared the major communicative styles of trolling tweets and general tweets. Spoiler alert: they are considerably more similar than they are different.  “Why?” You may ask. I have a few theories but I’ll save them until I hear the opinions of my examiners!

I have conducted research with Jack Grieve looking at the major communicative styles of abusive language and hate speech on Twitter, and we have also investigated the major communicative styles of Donald Trump’s tweets and tracking their use over time, especially during the campaign.

On a more personal note, here are some facts about me: I love hummus… like big time! I make my own and I have a recipe, which can be found here. My other love is birds. My favourite bird is the marsh warbler because it is the bird that can mimic the most bird songs. Essentially, it is the bird version of Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire (“I do voices”) or Ariana Grande (for the younger generation who haven’t seen Mrs. Doubtfire – #shameonyou).

I also love Harry Potter – for any language lover let me take you to the scene in the final deathly hallows film where Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter are in the spiritual world (Kings Cross Station) after Harry has come to his fate with Voldemort. Dumbledore says the most amazing thing. He says: “Words are in my not so humble opinion our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”

 

So long story short… Spread hummus not hate!

References

Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C. and McEnery, T. (2013) Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Baker, P. and McEnery, T. (2019) The value of revisiting and extending previous studies: The case of Islam in the UK press. In R. Scholz (ed.) Quantifying Approaches to Discourse for Social Scientists, pp. 215—250. Palgrave Macmillan

CASS is strengthening its links with colleagues at the University of Mosul in Iraq

As reported in the media, in recent months we have been delighted to support staff and students at the University of Mosul in Iraq who are rebuilding the Department of English after the devastation caused by the so-called Islamic State group . Via the CorpusMOOC and other forms of long-distance support, we have begun to interact with colleagues in Mosul, and to appreciate both the size of the task ahead of them and their determination to succeed. We are now in the process of arranging a month-long visit to Lancaster from two Mosul academics, so that we can strengthen our ties, including by exploring joint projects. Watch this space for updates on the visit and our future joint activities.

What is corpus stats about? A new book on Statistics in Corpus Linguistics has been published

This practical guide will equip the reader to understand the key principles of statistical thinking and apply these concepts to their own research, without the need for prior statistical knowledge. The book provides step-by-step guidance through the process of statistical analysis and offers multiple examples of how statistical techniques can be used to analyse and visualize linguistic data. It also includes a useful selection of discussion questions and exercises. The book comes with a Companion website, which provides additional materials (answers to exercises, datasets, advanced materials, teaching slides etc.)  and Lancaster Stats Tools online (http://corpora.lancs.ac.uk/stats), a free click-and-analyse statistical tool for easy calculation of the statistical measures discussed in the book.

British National Corpus 2014: A sociolinguistic book is out

Have you ever wondered what real spoken English looks like? Have you ever asked the question of whether people from different backgrounds (based on gender, age, social class etc.) use language differently? Have you ever  thought it would be interesting to investigate how much English has changed over the last twenty years? All these questions can be answered by looking at language corpora such as the Spoken BNC 2014 and analysing them from a sociolinguistic persective. Corpus Approaches to Contemporary British Speech:  Sociolinguistic Studies of the Spoken BNC2014 is a book which offers a series of studies that provide a unique insight into a number of topics ranging from Discourse, Pragmatics and Interaction to Morphology and Syntax.

This is, however, only the first step. We are hoping that there will be many more studies to come based on this wonderful dataset. If you want to start exploring the Spoken BNC 2014 corpus, it is just three mouse clicks away:

Get access to the BNC2014 Spoken

  1. Register for free and log on to CQPweb.
  2. Sign-up for access to the BNC2014 Spoken.
  3. Select ‘BNC2014’in the main CQPweb menu.

Also, right now there is a great opportunity to take part in the written BNC 2014 project, a written counterpart to the Spoken BNC2014.  If you’d like to contribute to the written BNC2014, please check out the project’s website for more information.

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