Monthly Lectures 2016

Date Title Speaker (Affiliation)
Dec 10 The Evolution of the Common Mandarin Standard from the Míng Dynasty into the 20th Century Richard Van Ness Simmons (Rutgers University)
Nov 12 Vagueness in youth speech. Functional analyses of spoken Danish Tanya Karoli Christensen (University of Copenhagen)
Oct 8 Categorisation and the Lingua Franca Speaker: data from service and gatekeeping encounters in English in Flanders Stef Slembrouck & Katrijn Maryns (Ghent University)
May 14 The changing face of New York City English Gregory Guy (New York University)
Apr 9 The Use of Corpus-based Methods in Forensic Linguistics: Recent Research and Applications Tammy Gales (Hofstra University)
Feb 13 The Problem with Big Service: Neoliberal ideologies in everyday institutional talk Maureen Matarese (Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY)

Dec 10, 2016

The Evolution of the Common Mandarin Standard from the Míng Dynasty into the 20th Century

Richard Van Ness Simmons (Rutgers University)

Time: 11am - 12noon
Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Room N451, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

The northern Mandarin of Běijīng had grown to some prominence in the Yuán (1279-1368) when that city served as the capital of the Mongol dynasty (then known as Dàdū). But after the Yuán fell to the Míng (1368-1644), Běijīng's language played second fiddle to the southern Mandarin Jiāngnán dialect, even after the Míng court moved its capital to the city in 1421. Subsequently in the Qīng (1644-1911), the Běijīng dialect served together with Manchu as the court vernacular, but was not widely accepted in China as the standard for Guānhuà, which role Jiāngnán Mandarin continued to hold even through the 19th century and into the 20th century.

When contact with national language standards in Europe and elsewhere led to calls for the development of a national language standard in China at the beginning of the 20th century, the Chinese government quickly took up work on a unified standard pronunciation after the collapse of imperial China and the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1911. What they came up with was a compromise drawn on the basis of competing regional linguistic interests, a mixed language that came to be known as lán-qīng Guānhuà 藍青官話 'blue-green Mandarin' because it included disparate features from several Mandarin dialects, such as the rù tone and the jiān-tuán 尖團 'sharp-round' distinction. As such, it was a language that had no true native speakers and proved impossible to teach and implement. Ultimately in the mid 1920s the ROC Ministry of Education finally officially designated Běijīng as the national standard.

Yet the 'blue-green Mandarin' standard reflects much about turn-of-the-century Chinese sociolinguistic attitudes and ideas that have their origins in Míng and Qīng varieties of Mandarin and the various attitudes about exactly what common spoken Chinese should be. The situation forces us to reevaluate the role of the Běijīng dialect and just exactly what the popular conception of the traditional Guānhuà koine actually was in late imperial China and the early Republican period, as well as the general attitude toward the dialect of Běijīng in those times.




Nov 12, 2016

Vagueness in youth speech. Functional analyses of spoken Danish

Tanya Karoli Christensen (University of Copenhagen)

Time: 11am - 12noon
Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Room N451, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

Young people have always been charged with ruining the language of their parents and grandparents by being sloppy and imprecise in their speech (and writing, for that matter). However, it has long been argued that 'vague' language may serve a range of interactional functions (e.g. Kempson 1977; Dines 1980; Channell 1994; Gassner 2012). For instance, vagueness may arise because of unclear reference between a linguistic item and a class of objects, because a speaker (or her language) lacks an appropriate word for a specific concept, or because precision is uncalled for in the context.

Many different types of linguistic items have been categorized as vague in one way or another, including approximate quantifiers (about N), generic expressions (thing), general extenders (and stuff like that) and epistemic phrases (I think). Since the interpretation of vague expressions rests on context, many studies revolve around the semantics-pragmatics interface, but because vague expressions come in such great variety, sociolinguists have also studied such expressions as examples of so-called discourse variation (e.g. Cheshire 2007; Tagliamonte & Denis; Pichler 2010).

In this talk, I review data and results from a series of research projects related to different types of vague expressions in modern spoken Danish, i.e. epistemic adverbials (måske 'maybe') and epistemic phrases, general extenders, as well as the highly productive equivalent of English -ish (Dan: -agtig). The material I draw upon is the large and richly annotated LANCHART database of sociolinguistic interviews compiled during the 1980s and early 2000s.

On the backdrop of distributional data, I exemplify and discuss some representative uses of vague expressions in youth speech. One particularly interesting context is the elicitation of language attitudes. The task of categorizing other people on the basis of their speech is obviously a face-threatening act (Brown & Levinson 1987), and informants orient to this by couching their descriptions in vague terms (1-2).

(1)

  • altså måske er de lidt mere landlige ovre i Jylland men jeg ved det ikke rigtigt
  • I-mean maybe they are a-bit more rural over in Jutland but I don't really know
  • (2)

  • det er sådan lidt mere ... slang ... og bare ... go with the flow-agtigt ... end det der andet
  • it is like a-bit more ... slang ... and just ... go with the flow-ish ... than the other one
    • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. 1987. Politeness: Some universals in language usage (Vol. 4). Cambridge university press.
    • Channell, J. 1994. Vague language. Oxford: OUP
    • Cheshire, J. 2007. Discourse variation, grammaticalisation and stuff like that. Journal of Sociolinguistics 11(2). 155-193.
    • Dines, E. R. 1980. Variation in Discourse: "And Stuff like That". Language in Society 9, 13-31.
    • Gassner, D. 2012. Vague Language That Is Rarely Vague: A Case Study of "Thing" in L1 and L2 Discourse. International Review of Pragmatics 4(1), 3-28.
    • Kempson, R. M. 1977. Semantic theory . Cambridge: CUP.
    • Pichler, Heike. 2010. Methods in discourse variation analysis: Reflections on the way forward. Journal of Sociolinguistics 14, 581-608.
    • Tagliamonte, S. A., & Denis, D. (2010). The stuff of change: General extenders in Toronto, Canada. Journal of English Linguistics.




    Oct 8, 2016

    Categorisation and the Lingua Franca Speaker: data from service and gatekeeping encounters in English in Flanders

    Stef Slembrouck & Katrijn Maryns (Ghent University)

    Time: 11am - 12noon
    Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Room N451, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

    As a result of successive globalization waves, institutions of public service across Western Europe have faced multilingual challenges in their encounters with clients. Various strategies are in practice being adopted to bridge language barriers: e.g. use of the dominant language with clients with limited proficiency in that language, the use of an ad hoc informal interpreter, the use of professional interpreters, reliance on multilingual professionals who speak the L1 of the client, the use of a lingua franca, etc. Critical issues during such encounters surround the deployment of institutional categories: the labels and criteria used, the scope of the category, the implications of its adoption, etc. A category may also need to be translated, explained, and even compared to equivalent categories in other contexts (the latter is arguably a dimension of counselling and mediation). While this is happening, interactants are likely to anticipate how a category comes with entitlements and obligations, and more generally: how it is made relevant to the situation at hand ( Mäkitalo 2014). The central proposition which we would like to explore is that processes of categorization and particularisation (Hall, Slembrouck & Sarangi 2006) permeate the language mediation efforts of the institutional agent and/or the language worker who provides mediation (Maryns and Slembrouck 2015).

    In this paper, we want to concentrate on a number of interactions recorded in Flanders/Belgium with clients of international descent. The interactions are in English used as a lingua franca (not the first language of either the client or the professional). Data is drawn from:

    1. student administration services (registration office for international students, university)
    2. asylum interviews (national agency, commissariat)
    3. welfare support interviews (social welfare department, local authority)

    As Canagarajah (2013: 14) notes, the focus in ELF-research should be less on "shared form", as the orientation to ontological constructs may hide diversity in communication and the practices that generate meaning. A focus is invited instead on "the pragmatic strategies people use to negotiate difference and achieve intelligibility". What sort of intelligibility is centrally at stake then? A range of possibilities can be noted which manifest themselves in interactional sequences. For instance, institutional agents in their efforts to mediate access to the institution's concepts and procedures may face the internally contradictory pressures between explaining the category and avoiding the pre-empting of entitlement by "giving away the game". Or, clients may interactionally go along with inaccurate translations and do so despite the negative identity consequences attached to the translation, if this means that their case moves forward in the desired direction. So, while proficiency in the use of English (one should add here: whose English?) and adequacy in the translation of local terms and concepts into English undoubtedly matter a great deal in these encounters, what matters equally, and perhaps even more, is how mutual understanding and interactional consequence at different levels of social action are interactionally negotiated and (fail to be) accomplished.




    May 14, 2016

    The changing face of New York City English

    Gregory Guy (New York University)

    Time: 11am - 12noon
    Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Richard Harris Terrace, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

    Many features that long characterized New York City English (NYCE) are receding or disappearing in contemporary speech. Vocalized (r), which in Labov's 1964 study was nearly categorical in casual style, is now rare for most New Yorkers. The raised vowel in BOUGHT is lowering among younger speakers. The NYCE short-a pattern, with tensing before voiceless fricatives (half), voiced stops (mad), and front nasals (ham, man), is giving way to the nasal system that is widely dominant in North American English (tensing only in ham, man, hang). Evidence from real time as well as apparent time confirms a number of ongoing changes in NYCE.

    Two factors are implicated as likely drivers of these developments: demography and language attitudes. The ethnolinguistic makeup of the city has changed dramatically in the last half-century. In today's population, half of city residents speak a language other than English at home, and one-quarter are African American. The city also has substantial numbers of in-migrants from elsewhere in the US. Hence, the New York-born-and-raised white speakers, who in prior dialect research were the focal speakers of NYCE, now form no more than a fifth of the city's population. Ethnic minority groups that in the past mostly adopted local features in the course of linguistic assimilation, now typically target variants that are widespread in American English outside of NYC. Acquisition and retention of traditional NYCE features is further deterred by the substantial stigma that has long been attached to the NYC dialect: New Yorkers in contact with speakers of other US dialects may seek to suppress or reduce their use of NYCE characteristics.




    Apr 9, 2016

    The Use of Corpus-based Methods in Forensic Linguistics: Recent Research and Applications

    Tammy Gales (Hofstra University)

    Time: 11am - 12noon
    Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Richard Harris Terrace, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

    Corpus linguistics is a sub-field of linguistics that focuses on a set of procedures, or methods, for studying large quantities of authentic language in use (McEnery and Hardie, 2012). Corpus-based studies, in particular, use language data in order "to explore a theory or hypothesis, aiming to validate it, refute it, or refine it" (ibid.). Such corpus-based studies have been utilized in a variety of linguistic contexts and have "spawned new theories of language-theories which draw their inspiration from attested language use and the findings drawn from it" (ibid.).

    In the context of Forensic Linguistics - the study of language in criminal and civil contexts - this kind of rigorous exploration and testing is vital for investigatory and evidentiary purposes (Solan, 2013). In fact, the U.S. has some of the strictest standards for the admissibility of evidence in court, mainly due to the Daubert Standard, which requires that the methodologies used to provide the evidence must have been peer reviewed and published in a field-relevant journal, gained acceptance from the relevant scientific community, and demonstrated a known rate of error (see Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579: 1993). Until recently, these criteria relegated most linguistic analyses to an investigatory role; however, continuing advances to the qualitative and quantitative corpus-based methodologies used in forensic linguistics are enhancing not only the analytic tools used by investigators, but also the scientific principles upon which the field is built.

    This talk will review recent research and applications of corpus-based approaches that the author has been involved in that have aided in the linking and solving of FBI cases, the honing of law enforcement threat assessment protocols, the delineation of threat types for legal purposes, and the analysis of cases of questioned authorship.




    Feb 13, 2016

    The Problem with Big Service: Neoliberal ideologies in everyday institutional talk

    Maureen Matarese (Academic Literacy & Linguistics, BMCC, City University of New York)

    Time: 11am - 12noon
    Venue: Borough of Manhattan Community College, Richard Harris Terrace, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, USA

    Initiated by U.S. President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher and later propagated by U.S. Presidents Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama, neo-liberal approaches to social and human services have been characterized by decentralization, privatization, standards reform, routinized practices, individual responsibility, increased accountability, and an approach to poverty that constructs the poor in moral terms, with top-down, paternalistic solutions. This model has been widely critiqued on global (Chomsky, 1999) and national (Ritzer, 2000, 2007; Soss, Fording, & Schram, 2011) levels, as well as in disciplinary fields such as education (Apple, 1999; McNeil, 2000; Olson, 2007) and social work (Kirkpatrick, 2006). Few studies conduct cross-institutional comparisons of neoliberal ideology, one exception is Maynard-Moody and Musheno's (2003) study, which examines educators, police officers, and counselors, asking practitioners to tell stories about their uses of discretion. These studies, however do not examine the interactions themselves but stories about them. Moreover, Maynard-Moody and Musheno argue that the challenges practitioners face in managing accountability are rarely found in the stories of their practitioners, a point I take issue with in this paper.

    In recent years, applied linguists have turned their attention to the relationship between neoliberalism and language. While Fairclough (2000, 2006) addresses neoliberalism, he conflates it with the terms like globalization and capitalism, thereby under-theorizing neoliberal ideology (Holborrow, 2012). Block, Gray, and Holborrow (2012), drawing on Bourdieu (2005), Vološinov (1929), Phillipson (2008) and Pennycook (2007), define and expand on the relationship between neoliberalism and language. Most research conducted in these areas, however, focuses on language policy and practice and not on institutional discourses spoken in situ.

    This paper, therefore, examines the ways in which neoliberal discourses, particularly those addressing responsibility and accountability, surface in three diverse institutional contexts: educational, social work, and policing. Using Conversation and Discourse Analyses, this paper describes how these discourses surface in everyday conversation between practitioners and clients, be they a professor and his students, social workers and her clients, or police officers and the drivers he pulls over. The paper concludes with a discussion and critique of "Big Service", a term I have coined to describe the corporate take-over of service institutions that moralizes and punishes the poor and narrows opportunities for practitioners-cum-bureaucrats who want to help.




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