Reflections from the CASS student challenge panel member, part 1

Each year, one student from an outside institution is appointed to ‘challenge‘ CASS with concepts from their own novel research. Pamela Irwin, the 2013/2014 student challenge panel member, is beginning to wrap up her ‘term’, and has put together a series of reflections on the process. Read the first entry below.

I am a mature student with a background in health and higher education, and currently completing my PhD in gerontology. My research centres on the interaction between age, gender and the community in the context of resilience in older women living on their own in rural Australia.

Although ageing is informed by many disciplines, my research route is via the broad domain of social sciences. Serendipitously, a peer review of a journal article was responsible for my formal exposure to linguistics and corpus linguistics. The reviewers indicated that my paper reflected a sociological rather than the requisite social psychology orientation, and while I was aware that my topic crossed these disciplines, I was not fully cognisant of the critical importance of language in differentiating these subtleties. As a result, I enrolled in a corpus linguistic programme designed to improve academic language use, and through the inaugural CASS summer school, I was then able to consolidate, expand and apply this knowledge. This immersion in the world of linguistics stimulated a new and growing interest in the ‘function’ of language in academia and everyday life.

However I soon realised that my grounding in the grammatical structures of the English language was extremely basic. While I could identify the fundamental parts of speech, I could not parse a sentence and any further analysis was well beyond my skill set. Since then, I have been introduced to new concepts (semiosis), terminology (concatenate), techniques (linguistic ‘friendly’ transcribing) and technology (WMatix) amongst others, as well as being challenged to rethink and change some of my preconceived ideas (metaphor).

Here, my understanding of the figures of speech is particularly salient. Resilience, a key theme in my research, tends to have different meanings depending on both the subject and context. An overview of the literature suggests that resilience is often described metaphorically as ‘bouncing back’ in academic and popular psychology, whereas in an Australian setting, resilience is more likely to be associated with an image of ‘the (little) Aussie battler’ (Moore, 2010). In this context, resilience represents perseverance, with the ‘underdog’ battling against all odds to overcome hardship in adverse conditions. By contrast, at a systems (socio-ecological) level, resilience is not yet related to a specific metaphor or image. It is however, closely linked to a related term, ‘panarchy’, that involves a dynamic process of adaptation and transformation.

Thus resilience is defined by a metaphor (a ball), an image (a battler) and a conceptual term (panarchy) in my study. These differences provide a rich ‘landscape’ to uncover with corpus linguistics.


Moore, B. (2010). What’s their story? A history of Australian words. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Return soon to read Pamela’s next installment! Are you interested in becoming the next student challenge panel member? Apply to attend our free summer school to learn more.

Introducing Challenge Panel Member: Alice Deignan

Our latest Challenge Panel introduction comes from Professor Alice Deignan via the University of Leeds. Read her brief autobiography below.


I am Professor of Applied Linguistics in the School of Education, University of Leeds, UK. I come from a language teaching background and many of my current students are language teachers. My interest in corpora dates back to my days as an MA student at Birmingham University where I was introduced to the Cobuild project in corpus lexicography. I was fascinated by the possibilities that corpus work opened up, and when I finished my MA, I joined the project as a lexicographer. I later worked for the project as a consultant on pragmatics and then as an author. Around the same time, I also became very interested in metaphors and other kinds of figurative language, partly because of the difficulties that my students had with this kind of expression.

I studied part time for a PhD, in which I used the Bank of English at Cobuild to explore the predictions that Conceptual Metaphor Theory makes for language patterns. I saw that the corpus could be cherry-picked to select examples that were completely consistent with the theory. However as a lexicographer I’d been trained to analyse entire concordances, or very large random samples of them, and to account for all the data. I was a huge fan of Conceptual Metaphor Theory so I was surprised to find that this rigorous analysis turned up patterns in the corpus that were not predicted by the theory, and needed other explanations. I later wrote up my findings as a book ‘Metaphor and Corpus Linguistics’ (Benjamins 2005).

More recently, I have become very interested in variations in figurative language across different genres and registers, and together with Jeannette Littlemore and Elena Semino wrote ‘Figurative Language, Genre and Register’ (Cambridge University Press, 2013). One of my studies for the book compared figurative language use in science research articles with their popularisations. This has led me to a broader interest in the language of science, especially as experienced by young people, an issue that has societal importance well beyond theories of language use. I am currently exploring this area with colleagues who work with secondary school pupils. I am also exploring the connections between collocation and different kinds of and degrees of metaphoricity.

Did you miss our previous introductions? Click through to the Challenge Panel page to see profiles, and check back soon for updates.

A criminologist’s introduction to AntConc and concordance analysis

My name is Julian Hargreaves ( and I’m a newcomer to these parts: a non-linguist and an outsider. Okay, the last bit is a slight exaggeration. I’m a member of the CASS Challenge Panel (an advisory board within CASS) representing post-graduate students from disciplines other than linguistics. I’m also a PhD student at the Lancaster University Law School where my research employs a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods to study criminology, hate crime, British Muslim communities, and the concept of Islamophobia.

Recently, thanks to Professor Tony McEnery and the CASS team, I was introduced to some research tools for linguistics: a piece of software called AntConc and a research method known as concordance analysis. Before the linguistic experts amongst you start groaning, a quick health warning: I’m afraid what follows here may be of little use to those familiar with these basic tools. However, it is hoped that newcomers and non-linguists will be persuaded to approach, without anxiety, both the software and the research methods described below.

Continue reading

Feature Challenge Panel Member: Michael Barlow

This week, we’re very pleased to feature Michael Barlow, our esteemed Challenge Panel Member from the University of Auckland. 


Michael Barlow received his PhD in Linguistics from Stanford University. He is currently Associate Professor in the Applied Language Studies and Linguistics Department at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and divides his time between Auckland and Houston in the United States. Dr. Barlow has created several text analysis programs including concordancers MonoConc and ParaConc and a collocation extraction program called Collocate. Recently, he has been working a software program, WordSkew, which links concordance data to the position of words or phrases within textual units such as sentences and paragraphs.

One strand of recent research involves examining aspects of the tension between the individual and the group with respect to the locus of linguistic investigations. There are obvious forces pushing studies at the group level: the use of corpora representing the language of a group of speakers or writers; the notion of language as social behaviour; Saussurean ideas about signs and conventionality; the desire to produce generalisations about language; an interest in the linguistic variation among different social groups; and so on.  These are all fundamental considerations in carrying out linguistic investigations and yet it is also important to understand the language of individuals as something more than an average, or an idealisation, associated with a particular social group.

Did you miss our previous introductions? Click through to the Challenge Panel page to see profiles, and check back soon for updates.

Introducing Challenge Panel Member: Fiona Farr

farrWe are happy to announce Dr Fiona Farr’s membership on the CASS Challenge Panel.

Dr Fiona Farr is Dean of Teaching and Learning at the University of Limerick, Ireland, where she is also a member of the Centre for Applied Language Studies (CALS), and the Inter-Varietal Applied Corpus Studies (IVACS) Research Group. Her background is English language teacher education, which she has been involved with at undergraduate and postgraduate levels for more than 15 years. Her professional and research interests include language teacher education, especially teaching practice and feedback, spoken corpora and their applications, discourse analysis and language variety.

Other positions include Series Co-Editor, Edinburgh Textbooks in TESOL; Editorial Board Member, Classroom Discourse Journal (Routledge); Co-Manager of the Limerick Corpus of Irish English (with Anne O’Keeffe); Executive Committee Member, Irish Association of Applied Linguistics; and Visiting Research Scholar, Queen’s University, Belfast (2012/2013) and Lancaster University, (2012-2015). She has published on corpus linguistics, language teaching and teacher education in several international journals including TESOL Quarterly, the Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Language Awareness, Intercultural Pragmatics, Language Learning, Classroom Discourse and Language Teaching. She has published many chapters in edited collections, as well as co-editing two books. Her own 2011 book, The Discourse of Teaching Practice Feedback: An investigation of spoken and written modes (Routledge), is an applied corpus-based examination of spoken language as it is used in 3rd level language teacher education contexts. She is currently writing a book for Edinburgh University Press entitled Practice in TESOL, to be published in 2014, and is co-editing (with Liam Murray) The Routledge Handbook of Language Learning and Technology, to be published in 2015.

Did you miss our previous introductions? Click through to read about Challenge Panel members Michael Hoey, Alan PartingtonMark Davies and Stefan Th. Gries

Introducing Challenge Panel Member: Alan Partington

The latest in our series of Challenge Panel introductions is Alan Partington, in his own words:


I work at Bologna University in Italy and live just north of the city in the town of Ferrara, which – I like to tell people – is exactly half way between Venice and Florence. I teach in the School of Political Science. The main topic of my undergraduate courses is the relationship between politicians and the media in English-speaking countries, as witnessed in the language used by each ‘side’.  My postgraduate courses are in the area of International Relations, where we discuss topics such as globalisation, Euroscepticism (and Europhilia), economic development, aid and trade, and the increasingly important social and economic roles of women in the developing world.

I’ve long been keen on using corpus techniques to study the language of political and social-sciences discourses and so I’m very pleased to be a member of the CASS Challenge Panel. Over the past few years, I’ve been involved in a couple of large-scale political-sociolinguistics projects, one into the reporting of the conflict in Iraq (funded by the Italian Ministry for Universities) and one into the perceptions  of European identity (funded by the EU). I’ve also looked at how antisemitism is discussed and evaluated in the UK broadsheet press and at how the Arab Uprisings were reported in the UK and US media. I am currently thinking about ways in which corpora might be used to study issues of social class.

I am also interested in the methodologies employed in using corpora in the social sciences and a team of scholars in Italy (‘SiBol’ from Siena and Bologna, the two universities involved) has been active in experimented techniques for corpus-assisted discourse studies which involves using corpora to investigate non-obvious meaning, that is, meaning which might not be readily available to naked-eye perusal. We have also looked at ways of tracking discourses around social issues over recent time, which we have named modern diachronic corpus-assisted discourse studies (or MD-CADS). The SiBol team has lately been investigating ways in which corpus techniques can be used to study areas often thought to be ‘tough nuts’ for corpus linguistics research, such as metaphor, irony, wordplay, politeness (including strategic laughter-talk), cohesion, investigating similarities between datasets (rather than the more common focus on differences) and searching, measuring and tracking what might be absent from a particular dataset (for example, which governments are sometimes called a ‘regime’ by the White House and which are never labelled as such?).

But a final word of caution. We need to be suspicious of approaches, however well-intentioned, which simply mine corpora to find evidence to support a preconceived argument. One of the added values of using corpora in social-sciences research is that this can help the data to speak for itself, which not only provides a measure of objectivity and replicability but also forces us to refine our hypotheses and frequently throws up suggestions for fresh avenues of research. As Tony McEnery pointed out in his recent TED talk, ‘we don’t throw away inconvenient data because it disagrees with our hypotheses. In fact we’re unusually interested in such data: we want to be challenged by it’. This takes a great deal of intellectual honesty, which has not always been in evidence, but it should be adopted as a slogan throughout the social sciences.

Did you miss our previous introductions? Click through to brush up on the exciting works of Mark Davies and Stefan Th. Gries

Introducing Challenge Panel Member: Mark Davies

Next in our series of Challenge Panel announcements, we are pleased to introduce Mark Davies (creator of the COCA, COHA, and TIME Magazine corpora, among others). 

markdaviesMark Davies received his PhD in Hispanic Linguistics from the Univ. Texas at Austin in 1992, and then taught Spanish at Illinois State University until 2003, when he came to the Department of Linguistics and English Language at BYU. He has published four books and more than sixty articles on corpus linguistics, word frequency, and language change and (genre-based) variation, all for English, Spanish, and Portuguese. He is the recipient of five large, multi-year federal grants to create and utilize large corpora, including three from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH; 2001-02, 2004-06, 2008-11) and two from the National Science Foundation (NSF; 2002-04, 2012-15). He is also the creator of several corpora that are freely-available at, which are used by hundreds of thousands of users each month, including linguists, teachers and students, and those in many other fields outside of linguistics proper, such as history, law, and cultural studies.

Did you miss yesterday’s post? Click here to catch up with Stefan Gries