Jonathan Culpeper talking ‘Sarcasm’ tonight on The One Show

Sarcasm is one of the phenomena that seems to have endless fascination for British people, partly because  they are stereotypically associated with it. When did sarcasm first start?  Is there something about British culture that makes it flourish?  And what is sarcasm anyway? These are some of the questions that Gyles Brandeth  of BBC 1’s The One Show puts to Jonathan Culpeper in an item reflecting on sarcasm in Britain.

Tune in to BBC1 tonight at 19:00 to hear CASS co-investigator Prof. Jonathan Culpeper discussing sarcasm on The One Show.

Call for Participation: ESRC Summer School in Corpus Approaches to Social Science

The ESRC Summer School in Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences was inaugurated in 2013; the 2014 event is the second in the series. It will take place 15th to 18th July 2014, at Lancaster University, UK.

This free-to-attend summer school takes place under the aegis of CASS (http://cass.lancs.ac.uk), an ESRC research centre bringing a new method in the study of language – the corpus approach – to a range of social sciences. CASS is investigating the use and manipulation of language in society in a host of areas of pressing concern, including climate change, hate crime and education.

Who can attend?

A crucial part of the CASS remit is to provide researchers across the social sciences with the skills needed to apply the tools and techniques of corpus linguistics to the research questions that matter in their own discipline. This event is aimed at junior social scientists – especially PhD students and postdoctoral researchers – in any of the social science disciplines. Anyone with an interest in the analysis of social issues via text and discourse – especially on a large scale – will find this summer school of interest.

Programme

The programme consists of a series of intensive two-hour sessions, some involving practical work, others more discussion-oriented.

Topics include: Introduction to corpus linguistics; Corpus tools and techniques; Collecting corpus data; Foundational techniques for social science data – keywords and collocation; Understanding statistics for corpus analysis; Discourse analysis for the social sciences; Semantic annotation and key domains; Corpus-based approaches to metaphor in discourse; Pragmatics, politeness and impoliteness in the corpus.

Speakers include Tony McEnery, Paul Baker, Jonathan Culpeper, and Elena Semino.

The CASS Summer School is one of the three co-located Lancaster Summer Schools in Interdisciplinary Digital Methods; see the website for further information:

http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/summerschool

How to apply

The CASS Summer School is free to attend, but registration in advance is compulsory, as places are limited.

The deadline for registrations is Sunday 8th June 2014.

The application form is available on the event website as is further information on the programme.

 

Rude Britannia – what our politeness says about our nation

Britain is still a nation of polite people and fears that texts, tweets and Facebook are making people ruder is a myth, according to research from Lancaster University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). The British are famous for their reserve, indirect way of saying things and a love of queuing. However, new research shows that what we find polite, and what we find rude is unique to our culture and can be very different to notions of rudeness in other cultures.

The research carried out by Professor Jonathan Culpeper, an expert in linguistic politeness, will be presented at an event as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s annual Festival of Social Science, which runs between 2-9 November 2013.

Read more…

Politeness and impoliteness in digital communication: Corpus-related explorations

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

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

CASS workshop cropped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CASS Q&A: “Part suspended” versus “Partly suspended” on the London Underground

Last month, I received an interesting email about some terms that London commuters might be very familiar with:

We at London Underground currently operate the electronic service update board which indicates the real-time status of each of our lines. Most of customers are familiar and use it daily. We currently use the phrases – good service, severe delays and part suspended. I wonder how correct these phrases are; in particular should part be partly or partially?

After querying some corpora, I responded:

Traditional grammar would have it that a verbal form should not be modified by an adjective but an adverb. Thus, only “part suspended” is problematic. Modern grammarians would normally recommend that people follow customary practices. I checked the frequencies of “part suspended” and “partially suspended” in several large electronic databases. “Partially suspended” is always more frequent. In conclusion, “good service” and “severe delays” are fine, but go for “partially suspended” rather than “part suspended”.

Do you have a question about language in use? Ask us at cass@lancs.ac.uk and we’ll try to post the answer here.

Official launch of the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science

The official opening of the £4.1 million ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) took place on Tuesday, 23 July 2013, at the start of the seventh international Corpus Linguistics 2013 conference attended by more than 300 delegates. Delegates representing dozens of universities around the world convened with civil servants to honour the past, promote the present, and celebrate the future of corpus methods in the social sciences.

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke was among several special guests at the launch event including representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Environment Agency. Mr. Clarke said a few words to the audience of scholars and other users of research, stressing the importance of investigating language in the context of society, as well as continuing to foster and nurture interdisciplinary collaborative links in social science research.

With such a large and influential crowd gathered, we took the opportunity to showcase a variety of new and exciting research featuring corpus methods applied to the social sciences to a wide network of people. A range of researchers from Lancaster and much further afield were invited to give poster presentations highlighting their current work, which offers a variety of exciting contributions ranging from methodological advances to increased social understanding, and greater emphasis on interdisciplinarity in academia. Poster presenters included Mike Scott, Alan Partington, Ute Römer, Kevin Harvey, Elena Semino, Veronika Koller, Ramesh Krishnamurthy, Alan Partington, Alison Sealey, Andrew Salway, Paul Rayson, Steve Young, Jonathan Culpeper, Paul Baker, Rachelle Vessey, Charlotte Taylor, Anna Marchi, Catherine Chorley, Costas Gabrielatos, and Robbie Love. The posters proved great fodder for stimulating conversation about the future potentials of corpus linguistics and corpus approaches to social science.

Click below to see the full gallery of photos from the evening.

The neglected west: first-order politeness in Britain

Teaching and Learning (Im)politeness: An International (Im)politeness Conference“, will be held at SOAS, University of London, 8-10 July. I will be giving a talk with Jim O’Driscoll (Huddersfield) on the topic below:

Almost without exception, it is scholars based in “Western” locations that have introduced the ideas with pretensions to universal application which are commonly regarded as major milestones in the field of politeness studies: face (Goffman); politeness principle (Leech); politeness as redress to face and positive & negative faces (B&L); first versus second order politeness and politic behaviour (Watts 1992ff); impoliteness (Culpeper 1996ff); discursive politeness (Eelen 2001, Watts 2003, Mills 2005ff). Typically, the role of scholars from non-western areas has been to present culture-specific evidence to challenge or tinker with these ideas. Likewise, a perusal of merely the table of contents of edited collections (e.g. Watts et al 1992, Bargiela-Chiappini & Haugh 2009, Bargiela-Chiappini & Kádár 2011) suggests that data from western environments needs no specific labelling as such, while contributions from elsewhere have to indicate geographical specificity in their titles.

This decidedly western discursive deictic centre (O’Driscoll 2009) has a distorting effect. For one thing, there is a tendency to believe that the politeness2 and face2 conceptualisations emanating from western locations are actually accounts of politeness1 and face1 in these western cultures, so that, for example, Goffman’s face (second-order) is American face (first-order) or that B&L’s politeness (second-order) reflects ‘English’ politeness (first-order) (cf. Matsumoto 1988; Ide 1989; Gu 1990; Mao 1994; Nwoye 1992; Wierzbicka 1991 [2003]). For another, it has resulted in a relative paucity of emic studies of core western cultures, leading in turn to an unwisely unexamined acceptance of certain stereotypes of these cultures.

This paper probes English people’s understandings of politeness. More specifically, it investigates their usage of the term polite. Deploying methodologies from corpus linguistics, we report results from the 500 million-word subsection of the Oxford English Corpus. These results fly in the face of the large number of studies which have found evidence that present-day English politeness – by which English English politeness is meant – is often characterised by off-record or negative politeness (e.g. Blum-Kulka 1989; Stewart 2005; Wierzbicka  2006; Ogiermann 2009). We refine these results further by looking at variation across the social categories of the British National Corpus.

Check back after the event for access to slides.

Call for Participation: ESRC Summer School in Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences

We are very pleased to issue the first call for participation for our ESRC Summer School in Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences, which will take place at Lancaster University 16th-19th July 2013. This event takes place under the aegis of CASS, a new ESRC research centre bringing a new method in the study of language – the corpus approach – to a range of social sciences. CASS is investigating the use and manipulation of language in society in a host of areas of pressing concern, including climate change, hate crime and education.

Who can attend?

A crucial part of the CASS remit is to provide researchers across the social sciences with the skills needed to apply the tools and techniques of corpus linguistics to the research questions that matter in their own discipline. This event is aimed at junior social scientists – especially PhD students and postdoctoral researchers – in any of the social science disciplines. Anyone with an interest in the analysis of social issues via text and discourse – especially on a large scale – will find this summer school of interest.

Note: This summer school is aimed at beginners who have little or no experience using corpus tools in their work. Those  who have at least some introductory experience of analysis using language corpora, and who wish to expand their knowledge of key issues and techniques in cutting-edge corpus research, will be more interested in the UCREL Summer School in Corpus Linguistics.

Programme

The programme consists of a series of intensive two-hour sessions, some involving practical work, others more discussion-oriented. Topics include: Introduction to corpus linguistics; Corpus tools and techniques; Collecting corpus data; Foundational techniques for social science data – keywords and collocation; Understanding statistics for corpus analysis; Discourse analysis for the social sciences; Semantic annotation and key domains; Corpus-based approaches to metaphor in discourse; Pragmatics, politeness and impoliteness in the corpus. Speakers include Paul Baker, Jonathan Culpeper, and Elena Semino.

The CASS Summer School is part of three ‘Lancaster Summer Schools in Interdisciplinary Digital Methods’, see the website for further information. There are additional daily plenary lectures shared with the other two Summer School events, each illustrating cutting-edge digital research methods using corpus data. The confirmed plenary speakers are Tony McEnery, Ian Gregory, and Stephen Pumfrey.

How to apply

The CASS Summer School is free to attend, but registration in advance is compulsory, as places are limited. For more details, see the website.