Saturday, May 28, 2016

Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities

Imagined Communities is often cited as the single volume that changed the way that a range of disciplines view nationalism. Written as a response to the failure of Marxist scholars to account for why (typically) men were willing to lay down their life for their country, Anderson equates the nation to a modern religious force in most people's lives, providing them through print and other media technologies with a community that they imagine are carrying out the same activities at the same time in countless locations in the same nation.
I read the whole book (229 pages), from the perspective of critiquing Identity studies, so that I could use this quote: "Out of this estrangement [from one's own unremembered childhood past] comes a conception of personhood, identity (yes, you and that naked baby are identical) which, because it cannot be 'remembered,' must be narrated. Against biology's demonstration that every single cell in a human body is replaced over seven years, the narratives of autobiography and biography flood print-capitalism's markets year by year." (p.204) and write this statement: Anderson (2006) explains in glorious detail how one of the most apparently stable forms of identity - Nationalism - is the product of a particular historical moment, conducive to the economic transformation from imperial state, supported by divine right, to capitalist state, supported by economic might, enabled by mass education, print literacy and linguistic imperialism.
So worth it!!
(This last bit is from my review)
As a footnote, I found this obituary on the author, but there are plenty of others.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

IJLS Special Issues

Two special issues of the International Journal of Language Studies focusing on Systemic Functional Linguistics have recently been published.

Volume 10 no.2 is entitled "Systemic Functional Linguistics and (Critical) Discourse Analysis"
It features the following papers:

  • Teresa OTEIZA & Claudio PINUER: Appraisal framework and critical discourse studies: A joint approach to the study of historical memories from an intermodal perspective
  • Felipe Leandro de JESUS, Debora de Carvalho FIGUEIREDO & Fabio Santiago NASCIMENTO: Screening the unspeakable: The representation of gender/sex roles and same-sex love in Brokeback Mountain
  • Viviane HEBERLE & Marcos MORGADO: Discussing the representation of immigrants: An integrated view from SFL, CDA and Multimodality
  • Hector J. MCQUEEN: Exploring the intonation of appraised items in one speech by Obama: The case of prominence
  • Lucia Ines RIVAS & Miriam Patricia GERMANI: Analysing correlations between generic patterns and prosodic realizations in interviews in English
  • Tazanfal TEHSEEM: Investigating character construal of rape victims in Pakistani news reporting
Volume 10 no.3 is entitled "Systemic Functional Linguistics and Education"
It features the following papers:

  • Lucia ZUPPA & Susana REZZANO: The construction of the role of the teachers in academic articles on ICT and education
  • Susan HOOD & Jo LANDER: Technologies, modes and pedagogic potential in live versus online lectures 
  • Mark Shiu-kee SHUM, Dan SHI & Chung-pui TAI: The effectiveness of using 'reading to learn, learning to write' pedagogy in teaching Chinese to non-Chinese speaking students in Hong Kong
  • Mary MACKEN-HORARIK & Carmel SANDIFORD: Diagnosing development: A grammatics for tracking student progress in narrative composition
  • Maria Susana GONZALEZ: Discussion and challenge: Linguistic resources
Both of these issues are available for FREE from the IJLS Academia page.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Evaluating Integrating English with EEF

Enfield Council sponsored a project that used the LILAC (Language in learning across the curriculum) training programme to improve learning in all subjects for their EAL (English as an Additional Language) students. They were really pleased with the results, and wondered if the programme would work across the country. With significant help from the Bell Foundation, the Education Endowment Foundation have chosen the project as one of their approaches to researching EAL students.
I am very honoured to be part of the evaluation team at Sheffield Hallam University. There are more details in the form below and from this page.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Birkbeck Applied Linguistics @50

The department of Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck College, University of London, is celebrating their 50th anniversary. A range of talks and a one-day conference have been organised to make this a memorable year.
So far, the events have included talks by Peter Skehan, Jennifer Jenkins, and John O'Regan. If you could not get to London on the day in question, the good people at Birkbeck have recorded the talks and the videos are available for everyone to see. Happy 50th, Birkbeck!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Something smells very fishy at the Home Office - but what's new?
Not long ago, UKVI announced that from 5th April 2015 (that's this week) only TWO examination boards would be able to implement Secure English Language Tests (SELT). Worldwide. This means that anyone who wants to apply for a UK visa for anything more than a visit (Tier 4, Spouse, Parent, ILR, FLR - leave to remain - etc.) must pay either the IELTS Consortium (which consists of Cambridge Examinations, the British Council and IDP Australia) or Trinity College London (TCL) (see this very self-congratulatory press release). Ka-ching!!
Previously a wide range of examinations were accepted by the UK Visa and Immigration body and its predecessor UKBA (two public bodies that seem incapable of meeting publicly-announced targets). These included Cambridge English's Key English Test (KET), Preliminary English Test (PET), First Certificate in English (FCE), Business English Certificate Vantage, Cambridge Advanced English (CAE), Cambridge English Legal, Certificate in Financial English, Cambridge Proficiency in English (CPE), and ESOL Skills for Life, a range of examinations from City and Guilds, and Pearson's Test of English (PTE) which, like IELTS, offered an Academic and Workplace option (see here while you still can!). Many of these examinations offered the visa applicant the opportunity to sit an English language examination which would not only give a good indication of their CEFR level but would be relevant to their immigration, career or professional needs, unlike some of the examinations which are now accepted by UKVI. For instance, the TCL examination offered for the leave to remain visa (GESE) will only let the candidate know if they have passed the required level (e.g. A2) in speaking and listening.
What is very odd is that nobody seems able to explain why the examinations offered by City and Guilds, Pearson or Cambridge English (outside IELTS) are no longer acceptable as a SELT. In fact, UKVI seems determined that nobody will find out what the new conditions are for a SELT or why only the IELTS Consortium and TCL have been granted the 2-year contracts.
There are some very important questions that remain unanswered. If Cambridge English's facilities and procedures are secure enough to run IELTS, why are they not secure enough to run PET, FCE, CAE or CPE? If Pearson are trusted enough to run the country's driving theory tests, why are their language tests and test centres not up to spec, according to UKVI?
Pearson is a commercial organisation. It invested heavily in the PTE system and, imho, has produced a very good computer-adaptive test that assesses a range of (academic) English skills and was designed from the beginning with the CEFR in mind (unlike the IELTS test which was 'retro-fitted' to CEFR descriptors). Why was it not awarded the contract? Let's ask them shall we? Well, the nice people at BALEAP did, and here is the reply they received:
As a global education company, Pearson regularly receives and assesses Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for government contracts. In this instance, after careful consideration, Pearson took the decision that there were a small number of conditions which we were unable to agree to.
Consequently, the Home Office did not assess our application and Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) will not be accepted as a UK Home Office SELT from 6th April 2015. Tests taken on or before 5th April 2015 will continue to be accepted by the UK Home Office until 5th November 2015.
We are very disappointed that we will not be able to continue to offer PTE Academic as a UK SELT as we believe that the unrivalled security, speed and convenience of PTE Academic delivers an outstanding service to visa applicants and score users.
As you may know, any approved Higher Education Institution (HEI) can still use PTE Academic to assess a student’s level of English as part of a Tier 4 application for degree level study and above. PTE Academic continues to be accepted by the Australian and other governments around the world, as well as by thousands of institutions in the UK, Australia, USA and Canada.

So what were those 'small number of conditions' which Pearson were unable to comply with, despite preparing a commercial test precisely for this purpose and which, I would agree, offers "unrivalled security, speed and convenience" for "visa applicants and score users"? I guess we'll never know because nobody is allowed to disclose the details of the tender, as Password ELT (another commercial venture that have invested significant funds to produce a reliable CEFR-standardised test) have informed us:
As you and some of your members may know, in July 2014 the Home Office started the process of drawing up the recently announced new approved SELT list that will take effect from 6th April 2015. As a major English language test provider, Password ELT were invited to the briefing meeting where the new requirements for SELT providers were announced. Unfortunately all in attendance were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, thus we are not able to say anything substantial about the meeting or subsequent discussions. However I think it is allowable to comment that the due to the onerous operational and contractual requirements we weren’t sure any of test providers would be able – or willing – to submit compliant bids.
Pearson were unable to comply with a small number of terms and Password were not only unable or unwilling to comply with the 'onerous operational and contractual requirements' but they are unable to tell us what those terms were. The UKVI has put a gag order on all these companies presumably because it knows the new conditions it has placed on these companies are not only unacceptable to the public but in all likelihood unethical. Possibly illegal.
Will the UKVI come clean and reveal publicly why it has handed just two companies the contract to test English?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Let's hear it for LLT

Sometimes you just have to remember the good things that are not news, but they keep on going... good!
Language Learning & Technology is one of those good things. Now on Volume 18 - yes, technology in language learning has been studied seriously for at least 18 years - it remains a journal of quality and distinction - and FREE!
Supported by the University of Hawai'i National Foreign Language Resource Center (NFLRC) and the Michigan State University Center for Language Education and Research (CLEAR), LLT recently moved its founding editor Mark Warschauer to the advisory board. He has been replaced by Trudi Heift and Dorothy Chun who was previously assistant editor.
This issue included two articles in particular that caught my eye. Hee-Jung Jung of Chosun University in Gwangju in South Korea set out to discover what might make ubiquitous learning successful. His study identified that the factors of omnipresence, context customization, interactivity, self-directed learning, and perceived enjoyment of technology and the factors of innovation and computer self-efficacy in learners were significant in a student population of 376 learners.
Huifen Lin, of the National Tsing Hua University of Taiwan, carried out a meta-analysis of (quasi-) experimental research studies into the efficacy of computer-mediated communication on language learning. "Results from 59 primary studies show a positive and medium effect from CMC interventions" (from the abstract), with no significant difference between synchronous and asynchronous communications. Interestingly, this result is still tentative due to the typically small number of respondents and participants in the studies under review. Despite at least 18 years of serious research, I think it is still important that we remember that very few substantial studies exist that can reliably make claims about technology in language learning - which is why Jung's article, and many others in LLT, are so important.
That is the thing about LLT - in every issue there are always articles that catch my eye, and add a welcome perspective on the use of technology in language learning. It adds serious, academic research to an area of study that is regularly populated by hope, hype, unreliable studies and blind faith.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

41st ISFC & X Congreso Latinoamericano de Linguistica Sistemico-Funcional, Mendoza: SFL & Language Education

Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, is host to the 41st International Systemic Functional Congress in conjunction with the 10th Latin American SFL Congress. You can see more of Mendoza, a city at the foot of the Andes, here:

I am fortunate enough to have my abstract chosen by the committee, and this is the prezi for my paper called 'The Evolving Contribution of SFL to EAP":
More information is available from the conference website.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Emery & Moore (eds.) Teaching, Learning and Researching Reading in EFL

Published by TESOL Arabia in 2014, "Teaching, Learning and Researching Reading in EFL" has produced a number of well-researched papers on reading, many of which were produced in the Arab world. The images here show the cover and the contents pages.
Here is the introduction, written by myself and my co-editor Helen Emery, for the volume to give a flavour of what is included, and an indication of some of the significant insights the book provides.
This volume presents the reader with a thorough discussion of a wide range of issues all related to the teaching of reading in contexts where English is taught as a foreign or second language. The majority of papers present original research while others provide an overview of key topics. While the majority of contexts are located in the Arab-speaking world, a good proportion of other countries and contexts are also presented. This introduction aims to provide the reader with a general guide to the papers and attempts to highlight some of the key themes and significant contributions.
The papers in section one focus on the language learner as a reader. The approach taken by Helen Donaghue and Jason Thompson in the first paper is to elicit from students what they do to practice and improve their reading skills, as part of an evaluation into the innovative reading programme implemented in a college of higher education in the U.A.E. As interesting as the results is Donaghue and Thompson's assertion that by taking the time to listen to our students and respond more directly to their needs, preferences and practices, we can significantly improve the way we teach reading. Tariq Alkhaleefah and Nilüfer Demirkan-Jones look at how the type of text affects the use of reading strategies by university undergraduates in Saudi Arabia through a carefully controlled study. In doing so, they construct an impressive range of reading strategies that will be of great value to students, teachers and researchers alike. Victoria Tuzlukova, Fawzia Al-Seyabi, Ahlam Al-Rawahi and Abeer Al-Owasi also investigate the reading strategies of their students in an Omani university foundation programme, as well as their attitudes towards reading, and are consequently able to offer clear directions for syllabus planners. In the final paper in this section, Sasan Baleghizadeh and Mohammad Dehghan use two instruments to investigate the issue of reading anxiety in university students in Iran. Both instruments help to reveal the importance of reading anxiety and how it can significantly impact students' reading performance through their selection of reading strategy.
The papers in section two take the classroom as the focus of research and investigation. In the case of Helen Emery and Halima A'Thehli this involves investigating students' attitudes twoards the reading component of the Omani national curriculum and resulting issues connected to the teaching of reading using the course book English For Me. Their survey of teachers' attitudes, beliefs and practices highlights the central role that appropriate reading materials take in producing a successful reading programme. In an innovative study, Marwa Hegazy and Muhammad Abdelatif show how the practice of repeated reading in Egyptian prep schools can make a significant difference to students' ability to read fluently. Selma Deneme's paper reports on a research project that compared students' experiences of learning how to write summaries in universities in Jordan, Spain and Turkey. Across all three countries, it is evident that students recognise that they do not receive enough training in how to read for summary-writing or in how to prepare summaries. Based on a project in Indonesia, Handoyo Puji Widodo provides suggestions on how to plan and prepare materials for Vocational Education using a social semiotic approach. The next two papers, by Melanie Gobert and by Salma Al-Humaidi and Abdullah A'Riyami, both look into the use of graded readers in U.A.E. and Oman, respectively. While Gobert's study indicates significant gains made by students who were provided with relevant titles, the study in Oman offers interpretations as to why the graded reading materials offered by the Ministry of Education did not make a lot of difference to student progress or motivation. The final two papers in this section examine the assessment of reading. The very practical paper by Beth Wiens, Christine Coombe and Peter Davidson offers step-by-step guidance on how to prepare a reading test. In the final paper in section two, Nick Moore, Gillian Knight and Claudia Kiburz describe an assessment tool for reading that, despite the many changes that they describe, continues to develop a wide range of reading habits, particularly for students that start below the required standard of reading to gain entry into undergraduate studies in a U.A.E. university.
The aim of the final section is to take the attention of our readers to issues related to reading that are situated outside the classroom walls. The topic of leisure reading in both English and Arabic is investigated in a study by Melanie van den Hoven, Gillian Westera and Samia El Bassiouny that uses multiple perspectives to seriously challenge the notion that young Arab students are not readers. The data they gathered on the reading habits and attitudes of trainee teachers at a college in the U.A.E. reveals a complex picture of biliteracy that enables effective action to be taken. In a second study that looks into reading habits in both English and Arabic, Josephine O’Brien and Jill Cook examine in detail the reading abilities of their students in both languages to discover that there are, in fact, significant similarities across languages. That is, their Emirati students' reading strategies show considerable consistency across English and Arabic reading tests. In the next paper, Amanda Howard provides a detailed overview of research into reading from across the Middle East. The survey highlights that common themes in research into reading include discourse analysis, vocabulary and the use of the first language. The innovative programme Reading to Learn is described by Claire Acevedo in the next paper. The paper focuses on the repeated success that the programme has had in closing the performance gap between the stronger and weaker readers, detailing the results in Sweden where a large proportion of the previously-underperforming students were foreign language learners. The final paper in this collection questions the traditional notion of literacy. In describing some recent research into multiliteracies, Guy Merchant provides a valuable framework to interpret the role of different technologies in the teaching and learning of literacy in its more traditional guise and in other modes of meaning-making enabled by easy access to digital tools.
The majority of papers in this volume address the relatively un-researched notion that students in the Arab world do not appear to be good readers, especially by the time that they reach tertiary education. What all of the papers also show, however, is that there are many approaches to understanding this notion, to challenging the attitude that Arab students can not or do not read, and that for students that are struggling with reading in English, there are many solutions to guide them towards fluent reading. It is the hope of the editors and contributors to this book that, through the papers presented here, teachers and students will discover ways to bring more success in reading to all EFL learners.
The editors would like to thank all of the people involved in this project, including the TESOL Arabia Executive and the publications officers (past) Peter Davidson and (present) Peter Maclaren. They are especially grateful to all of the contributors whose hard work, kind nature and dedication to this book project have been inspiring.

The book should soon be made available to order online from TESOL Arabia publications. There are also plans to make the book available online, but these are likely to take some time.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bartlett: Analysing Power in Language - A practical guide

"Analysing Power in Language" starts very positively for a book on linguistic analysis. Bartlett tells the reader that they already know a lot about discourse analysis, but what his book will try to do is to put that knowledge into focus and provide a framework that allows the reader to discuss discourse in a principled way.
The framework is systemic functional linguistics (SFL), and Bartlett's approach is to reveal only as much of this rich framework as is required to deal with the interesting range of texts that are analysed in the book. This is done carefully through a step by step approach.
The tone of the book throughout is very friendly, and reads like you are having a chat with the writer, which may make it easier for some to cope with the range of concepts and labels in SFL, but may also make it harder to use as a reference book. The sections in the book are often quite long and may include a range of ideas and terms. More subsections would make it easier when the reader wants to return and find a point or cross-reference one idea to compare with another. Ironically, the very feature that makes this book reader-friendly - the friendly, narrative tone - is the feature that makes it more difficult to read as a textbook, because it is difficult to re-locate ideas that you half-remember or did not really understand the first time round. If you can find it, the explanation will be good. The trouble is finding it.
That complaint aside, the book is very practical. The text analysis does what it says on the tin (or the cover, at least) - it shows how different aspects of language are used in various contexts (Martin Luther King's famous'I have a dream' speech, Lord Coe's final address to the IOC, and Bartlett's own fieldwork research in Guyana, among others) to exercise power through language.
Overall, Bartlett makes a valuable and unique contribution to the range of books attempting to introduce people with different concerns to the model of discourse analysis provided by SFL. If you are the kind of person that likes to learn though talking ideas through with a friend, this book is as close to a personal guide as you will find.

As with my other reviews, this is also posted as a Goodreads review.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Open Academics

I was recently alerted to Martin Haspelmath's blog call to use technology to release academics from the
stranglehold of publishing houses - not the first and not the last to do so (Thanks to Beatriz Quiroz). As he puts it,
Publishers normally expect that the manuscript of your book is not freely downloadable from your website, so by“publishing” a book, you actually make it less public. While not published yet, it’s freely available on your website to anyone in the world, and after publication, it exists as a paper copy in a few dozen libraries in the rich countries – this is what I call absurd.
In one of the responses, Sebastian Nordhoff points out
reviewers (paid by the state) work for a publishing house (a private company), which then sells the product (the reviews) back to the state. Since reviewers work pro bono anyway, there is no reason why they could not work pro bono for a non-profit enterprise as well.
Clearly an absurd situation!
So what to do?
Well, as it happens like there is for so many things today, there is an open source solution. And then some. Haspelmath's response is to set  up an author-led publishing company called Language Science Press using open source publishing software. All you need to do is learn LaTeX - a formatting language, not unlike html or the early versions of WordPerfect that some may remember, where all formatting in a document is coded.While that may sound like a challenge to most linguists, I know a great many engineers that write more comfortably in LaTex than in "normal" trousers text (sorry couldn't resist that one!).
This brings us to the tasty bit of this post. Instead of going to all the trouble of setting up software to help with the publishing and printing, Haspelmath and  Stefan Müller (FU Berlin) used the open source OMP - Open Monograph Press. This allows you to edit, publish and maintain books:
Open Monograph Press is an open source software platform for managing the editorial workflow required to see monographs, edited volumes and, scholarly editions through internal and external review, editing, cataloguing, production, and publication. OMP can operate, as well, as a press website with catalog, distribution, and sales capacities. - See more at:
But, wait, that's not all. Surely, if you can do that for books you can do it for journals as well? Of course they can. The PKP (Public Knowledge Project hosted by Simon Fraser University) also offers an open source journal management system called "Open Journal Systems" (so, no surprises there, then). Does just what it says on the tin!
And, if that is not enough, there's more. Yes, what else do academics do alongside publishing? Running conferences was the answer that I was looking for when I asked the question that I already had the answer for (Yes, academics do that more than anyone else, too). So, does PKP have a free, open source solution to advertising, administering CFPs and delegates, registrations and preparing proceedings? You bet your plenary speaker they do.And it's called OCS. That stands for Open Conference System, in case your imagination switch had been turned off. What exactly does it allow you to do?

  • create a conference Web site 
  • compose and send a call for papers electronically 
  • accept paper and abstract submissions 
  • allow paper submitters to edit their work 
  • post conference proceedings and papers in a searchable format 
  • post, if you wish, the original data sets 
  • register participants 
  • integrate post-conference online discussions (See more at: 

Just in case you're still not impressed, one more job that SFU want to take away from the privateers is the aggregating of citations and publications. They have produced a system called OHS. You are not going to guess what that stands for. No, really you won't. It's Open Harvester Systems which will allow you to create a searchable index of metadata from Open Archives Initiative-compliant archives (see here for more info).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Process Types Graphic

The cover of Introduction to Functional Grammar (2nd Edition) by Michael Halliday (Arnold, 1985) featured a graphical version of the array of process types in English identified by Halliday. As well as it being a very attractive image, I have always marvelled at the simplicity and explanatory power of this illustration. The relationship between the process types and how they are realised in English is explored further in both IFG and "Construing Experience through Meaning" by Halliday and Matthiessen. Unfortunately, even in  this digital day and age, I have yet to find a good quality version of the image. The best on the net is here - it looks like a scanned and trimmed copy from the cover.
So, I tried to re-create the image, if not in detail at least in spirit. My apologies to Michael Halliday and the illustrator if my version does not match up to the original, and I will be more than happy to remove it if someone feels it is infringing a copyright. In the meantime, I will use it where I can, remembering to acknowledge it wherever possible.

Model of Process Types (from Halliday, 1985)

Model of Process Types (from Halliday, 1985)

This is a PNG version
This is a JPG version

Friday, October 4, 2013

Learn 2 Read 4 Life

November sees the inaugural conference for the Reading4Life organisation in Uppsala, Sweden entitled "Education for Social Justice." The name says it all, really! But, just in case you are not clear what Reading4Life might be about, here is their mission:
Reading for Life works towards the goal of democratising education so that all learners are given the best opportunities to develop cognitively, linguistically, socially and emotionally regardless of age, sex, ethnicity or social background and have available a range of options to enable them to participate fully in society.

Based on the successes of ReadingToLearn, this European organisation has already found partners in at least 8 countries, and counting.
The principles and philosophy that the organisation are based on also provide a clear picture of their understanding of learning and education:
Principles and philosophy 
Reading for Life’s work is based upon the beliefs that:
  • knowledge is a social construct,
  • linguistic and cognitive development are inextricably linked and dependent on social interaction,
  • school learning depends on classroom interactions, so teacher–student interactions have a powerful impact on learning and the construction of learner identity,
  • learning is fostered through a range of different experiences and reflection from multiple perspectives so learning occurs best in heterogeneous groups,
  • powerful learning occurs by experiencing success in accomplishing challenging tasks. Therefore schools/teachers need to carefully plan how to support or “scaffold” learners so that they move through continuous cycles of success,
  • language is the most important tool for learning. Therefore schools/teachers not only need to teach explicitly through language but they must also teach how language operates to make meaning in all subject areas. Therefore chlidren/students learn language, learn through language and learn about language,
  • language is the most effective tool for self-expression, communication and exercising power and influence. Therefore, all children/students need to understand and learn to use language for a variety of purposes, so that everybody has equal opportunities to make an impact and influence the development of society,
  • while competence in the official language of any country is an essential goal for education, all languages are important, for the individual and for society at large. Therefore, students’ knowledge of any language must be encouraged and supported by schools as well as the learning of new languages
  • the role of the teacher is to scaffold student learning by modelling, guiding and joint work in students’ “Zone of Proximal Development” (Vygotsky). A socio-cultural, teaching-learning centred, model of learning supports the notion of scaffolding rather than dichotomies such as teacher-centred (traditional) or student-centred (progressive/constructivist) models of teaching and learning 
  • school development is best promoted in ”learning organisations” where ideas and pedagogies are critiqued and tested in the classroom through action research. Reading for Life does not believe that school improvement will be achieved by privatisation and competition.
Just to give us a further insight into the principles of the organisation and how it operates, here are some interviews with one its main founders, Dr. David Rose

Introduction to Reading To Learn

More information on Reading to Learn

A Talk by David Rose (thanks to "Manxman" Alan Hess for sharing this)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New Journal: Functional Linguistics

At the official opening of the M.A.K. Halliday library at Sun Yat-sen University during ISFC 40 (see news here), the library announced that it will sponsor the new SpringerOpen journal Functional Linguistics. The journal has the great and good of the SFL community serving as editors and on its editorial board and promises to be a major source for new research in SFL.
In addition to regular research articles, authors are invited to contribute book reviews, reviews, commentaries and short reports to Functional Linguistics. Here is the description of the journal from the website:

Functional Linguistics publishes scholarly articles and reviews in the broad area of functional studies, with a special focus on systemic functional linguistics. The journal aims to provide a platform for the exploration of language and linguistic issues from a functional and meaning-oriented perspective. Areas to be covered in this journal include: language and context, functional grammar, semantic variation, discourse analysis, multimodality, register and genre analysis, educational linguistics, etc.

The journal will have the support, quality and prestige of Springer publishers because of the peer review process, but will be Open Access thanks to the generous sponsorship of the library and so all of the articles will be freely available. This appears to the ideal combination. Congratulations to everyone involved in this project. The journal is now accepting papers for publication. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, July 25, 2013


It's here. (I told you it was coming.) For its 4th edition, An Introduction to Functional Grammar (known to its friends as IFG) has been re-branded as "Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar." Following on from the major revision by Michael Halliday and Christian Matthiessen for the 3rd Edition, IFG4 contains copious corpus samples and detailed descriptions of theory and sample analyses. IFG has now been revised four times in the last four decades and is published (officially in 2014), for the first time, by Routledge instead of (Edward) Arnold.

IFG4 is now much more of a reference grammar than the teaching grammar that appeared as IFG1 in 1985. This is probably because we now have the very useful guides by Geoff Thompson ("Introducing Functional Grammar" now in its 3rd Edition), Bloor and Bloor ("The Functional Analysis of English" also 3rd Edition), Eggins ("An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics" 2nd edition), Butt et al. ("Using Functional Grammar" 3rd edition), Drogba and Humphrey, Martin, Matthiessen and Painter, and so on.

It seems to me, at first glance, that a majority of the revisions come from connecting to other research in SFL - an extended bibliography constitutes more than 20 of the approximately 100 new pages. This, and the extended index, add great value and functionality to the volume, particularly compared with IFG1, while maintaining almost the same analytical framework.

IFG remains the definitive guide to Systemic Functional Linguistics. It is not the only approach to Systemic Functional Linguistics, (Martin's "English Text" and various volumes by Fawcett offer alternative views on SFL analysis) but it is undoubtedly the most influential and the version that most newcomers to discourse analysis try to learn.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Need a ready-prepared research tool to assess interaction patterns in a language classroom? Ask IRIS. Need to find a typical activity to evaluate reading at intermediate level? Ask IRIS. Need to find a questionnaire on learner styles? Ask IRIS. So who's IRIS?

IRIS (Instruments for Research into Second Languages) is a database of tools for language and linguistics research. Or, as they put it:
IRIS is a collection of instruments, materials and stimuli used to elicit data for research into second and foreign languages. Materials are freely accessible and searchable, easy to upload (for contributions) and download (for use).
This is a project by the University of York in the UK and Georgetown University in the US, with supporters including Rod Ellis, Susan Gass, Jan Hulstijn and Peter Skehan, and is run by Emma Marsden at York and Alison Mackey at Georgetown. You can freely browsesearch and download from the database and you can join up, which gives you the choice to upload your own research tool to the database.
As with any database, it can only be as useful as its contents. The research community is asked to contribute their research papers, using the form to identify research tools, references, participants etc.
As a quick test, I was able to filter the results to reading tests and found the page on the right, which I have also downloaded. Quick, easy and very helpful.
For researchers, the advantage of IRIS is that they do not have to reinvent a (possibly inferior) research tool while for contributors clearly the advantage is the possibility that someone may replicate their research or  validate their research tool.
There is a conference on 2-3 September in York, called Eliciting data in second language research: Challenge and Innovation, which promises to be a very stimulating event. Finally, if you would like to spread the news, here is a poster for the database

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Nunberg - The Linguistics of Punctuation

The Linguistics of Punctuation by Geoffrey Nunberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'The Linguistics of Punctuation' does just what it says on the tin. It does it very well... unfortunately. Nunberg provides a wide range of incisive remarks and observations on the function, role and syntax of punctuation in text. The problem is that he tries to place those observations within a generative framework of linguistics that neither accommodates his theory nor would accept it. His work has often been referred to by natural language processing researchers and has a wide range of followers. Trying to go with the flow of mainstream linguistics at the time of publication prevented Nunberg from stating the obvious - most schools of formal linguistics are defined by punctuation. Generative (or government and binding or minimalist or whatever the prevailing term and flavour may be) linguistic theories operate within the confines of written languages, most of which use punctuation to delimit units of language. As Nunberg points out, only modern written English and a few other romance languages are segmented this way - it is not a necessary condition of language. This latter point is not emphasised, however, as that would expose generative theories for the Euro-grapho-centric theories that they are. This does not detract however, from Nunberg's astute analysis of the behaviour of certain punctuation marks (such as parentheses versus parenthetical dashes). What is missing from the book. however, is a long-standing theory of punctuation. As far as I know, nobody has attempted a serious book-length linguistic analysis of punctuation since 1990. Anybody that attempts to will have to work hard to surpass Nunberg's volume. What is need is for someone to bring his observations up to date, or remove them entirely from a generative linguistics-bound paradigm.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Scrivener - Learning Teaching

Learning Teaching attempts to kill two birds with one stone - it aims to be an initial training handbook and also a guide to continuing teacher development - and it manages to do both better than many single-focussed books. The key to its success is its focus on practical advice. Throughout the different sections, it offers clear practical tips and hints on getting through a language teaching class with confidence. Highly recommended for anyone starting a certificate course in TEFL/TESOL as well as new and practising teachers. Everyone will find something of value in these pages, which are likely to become the most well-worn in any teacher's library. The newest edition (not pictured) is enhanced with samples of language classes on the accompanying DVD.

Be lazy! Copy & Paste your Goodreads reviews into your blog. I do!

BALEAP Competency Framework

BALEAP (formerly British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes) is the self-professed "Global Forum for EAP Professionals." The BALEAP competency framework was published in August 2008. (As usual with me, this is not news!) That has given the world (or at least the UK) of EAP a good 5 years to demonstrate the usefulness of the document and show how it has been used as per the aims of the document which are:
  • An agreed description of good practice
  • A reference document acting as a basis for:
    • supporting the professional development of EAP teachers within institutions
    • self-monitoring of professional development for freelance teachers
    • accreditation of individual teacher portfolios as evidence of professional achievement
    • EAP teacher recruitment and selection
    • course design for teacher training in EAP
    • course accreditation for teacher training in EAP
  • A means of raising the profile of the profession within institutions and the further and higher education sector
You would think someone had given it a thorough road-test by now, wouldn't you? Well, apart from a few plucky individuals at recent BALEAP conferences, that does not seem to be the case. I have no doubt that the TEAP Working Party (probably the following:  Olwyn Alexander, Douglas Bell, Sandra Cardew, Julie King, Anne Pallant, Mary Scott, Desmond Thomas, Magdalen Ward Goodbody) did their very best to identify best working practices based on the most up to date information. However, that is not the same as empirically validating the document. It is about time someone did. Watch this space!!!

Monday, May 6, 2013

O'Toole - The Language of Displayed Art. Second Edition

This book is astonishing in so many ways, but let's stick with perhaps the most significant. Michael O'Toole's aim in this book is to offer everyone the chance to say what a piece of art means to them. To achieve this, none of us need to spend decades studying the history of art, the influences of different movements on different painters, the changing techniques and tools, or the personal stories, triumphs and tragedies of individual artists so often considered the mainstay of academic art "appreciation." All we need is a framework to translate what we already know into something that we can say. Fortunately, that framework is available to us all, by virtue of having language. O'Toole has taken Halliday's social semiotic framework for language and applied it to visual art, sculpture and architecture. The application works because these art forms have meaning for us all - they are social and semiotic - and so the three 'metafunctions' that work for language also work for art. Halliday has continuously claimed that language simultaneously enacts meaning between people (the interpersonal metafunction) and represents meanings of the world around us (the ideational metafunction) within the bounds of a social context and a textual co-text (the textual metafunction), and has spent many years showing exactly how these meanings are achieved in language. What O'Toole has managed so well is to take the three metafunctions and demonstrate how interpersonal, representational and textual meanings are realised in non-linguistic messages and artifacts. He presents a highly-practical framework of analysis that anyone can use and then demonstrates what an analysis might look like for very different forms and examples of art. The "proof of the pudding" are his highly perceptive but instantly recognisable interpretations of a wide variety of works of art.

Also available as a Goodreads review.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Svenbro - Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece

Some modern theorists on reading in the modern and ancient world want to view the act, process and social position of reading from a modern position. What Svenbro manages in this volume is to make clear just how different the social position of reading was in ancient Greece. The debate around silent reading seems to produce violent reactions because, I believe, modern theorists do not want their heroes viewed as somehow deficient, and maintaining that Plato or Plutarch had to, at least, subvocalise when reading or, at worst, always read aloud is liking calling them dunces (put on the cone-shaped hat & stand in the corner Plato!). Svenbro makes very clear that the social stigma attached to reading aloud simply did not exist in ancient Greece. In fact, writing was only seen as a (poor) replacement for the voice. The role of the written word was to produce a voice, and only when the ear caught the words could a meaning be reproduced. This was so important to the Greeks that myths were developed to separate Greek writing from its Phoenician roots. Unlike other commentators, however, Svenbro disagrees that the ancients could not read silently. It was possible (although the form of writing in scriptura continua made it far less efficient than modern spaced writing), but it was very unusual and was only practiced by scholars, playwrights or poets that had to read a lot of text. Svenbro deduces all of this from original documents, placing particular emphasis on inscriptions on statues that announce themselves to the reader as well as extracts of plays and poetry.

Yep. You guessed it - also available as a Goodreads review.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Beware! Predatory Publishers

Scholarly Open Access is a blog maintained by Jeffrey Beal, a librarian at Auraria Library, University of Colorado Denver. The aim of this blog, it seems, is to warn everyone about the dangers of people exploiting open source publishing to produce substandard academic publications. In particular, Beal warns us about Predatory Publishers - his latest list published on 4th December lists 244 publishers and 126 individual journals that fall into this category.
What does a publisher or journal have to do to be labelled a predatory publisher? Perhaps the most common way of finding yourself labelled as predatory is to demand that authors pay for their publications. It is implied, and sometimes stated, that payment is likely to dilute the peer review process, or in some publications the peer review process may not be transparent or applied. In general, the publisher or journal does not conform to the codes of conduct for the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, Committee on Publication Ethics or the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers. Other factors include lack of transparency, the setting up of a journal for no other purpose than earning money from the publication, any manner of false claims, any practice that brings academic publishing into disrepute and any form of plagiarising practice. All of this is carefully laid out in Beal's Criteria for Determining Predatory Open-Access Publishers.
The blog is not afraid to name and shame and includes many specific instances of what Beal calls predatory publishing. Applying the criteria, here is a typical example, brought to my attention by IJLS editors. I particularly like the poor spelling - dead giveaway!!! IJLS takes a very stern approach towards predatory publishing and no longer accepts papers from authors who have had their work accepted in the list.
I expect more publishers to take a similar line as more unscrupulous businesses cotton on to the generally subjective nature of the peer review process - a system of review that is just waiting to be exploited by people with no investment in the long-term development of academic standards.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Do the Doodle

Running a poll, trying to schedule an extra class, arranging a lunch or a meeting or just trying to schedule an event with  lots of other busy people? Doodle is the place for you. This quick-and-easy site allows you to choose timeslots and then send an email asking your guests what is the best time for everyone. You will instantly see who has replied and how many people are still to say when they are free. The timeslot that most people choose becomes the winner!! Then you get Doodle to confirm the time with everyone. You can then integrate the scheduled time with the software calendar of your choice. It's that easy.

You can sign up for an account, or just use the site as and when you need it. There is also a 'premium' service - isn't there always! Find out more from the Doodle site.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Steels - Experiments in Cultural Language Evolution

Luc Steels co-founded the Computer Science Department at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and is part of their Artificial Intelligence Lab. In 1996 he founded the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris, and is now  ICREA research professor at the Institute for Evolutionary Biology. Since about 1995, he has been heavily involved in finding practical ways to demonstrate how language evolves. His main approach, revealed in a wide range of publications, is to simulate the emergence of language in computational and, more recently, robotic agents. A recent book, Experiments in Cultural Language Evolution, published by John Benjamins, details these experiments by his team.  Here is an interview from 2006, courtesy of "Talking Robots." His work has resulted in a theory of language called "Fluid Construction Grammar" which reflects many issues brought up in usage-based approaches to language acquisition.

Review of  Experiments in Cultural Language Evolution

Reviewer:  Nick Moore
Book Title: Experiments in Cultural Language Evolution
Book Author: Luc Steels
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics; Historical Linguistics; Linguistic Theories; Text/Corpus Linguistics


The ten papers collected in “Experiments in Cultural Language Evolution” represent the state-of-the-art of research into simulated multi-agent interaction. Centered around Luc Steels’ work at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory, Paris, this volume represents the culmination of more than a decade of work dedicated to uncovering the practicalities of language evolution in a social setting. The book is divided into three sections. An introductory section comprises a Foreword and an Introduction, both by Steels, that set out the direction and the theoretical framework for the remaining papers. Part 1 describes experiments in vocabulary evolution and Part 2 details how grammatical features evolve in experiments in the same framework. Each experiment enhances results gained in previous experiments.

The Foreword places the volume in its historical context by stressing that the question of language evolution is almost as plagued by speculation today as in 1995, when Steels launched this research project. Because there is no fossil record and because we cannot allow any modern language to represent languages as they first emerged, we can only be guided by general principles of evolution when theorising the evolution of languages. Steels and his team have since synthesised an approach to language evolution that attempts to simulate the evolution of language in a cultural context by using computational agents, typically embodied as robots. The Foreword also summarises each chapter.

Chapter 1, “Self-organization and selection in cultural language evolution” by Steels, outlines the theoretical framework for the empirical descriptions in the remaining chapters. Steels demands that any theoretical description of language evolution be biologically feasible, demonstrate advantage to social reproduction, and adapt to cultural change. Language in this model is assumed to be open-ended, distributed, and transmitted non-telepathically. The key aspects of an evolutionary theory that are applied to language are fundamentally functional, i.e., Does language succeed in communicating? Agents apply general strategies that adapt language for optimum expressive adequacy, cognitive effort, learnability and social conformity. The repeated application of these strategies to instances of communicative events produces a language system based on the probability of communicative success. The language system is the combination of the general cognitive capabilities of routine processing and meta-analysis. Ready-made responses may be available to a speaker, but analysis is required to evaluate those responses. Where self-evaluation indicates a lack of success, a repair is introduced. Repair actions may require a reframing of the chosen sentence, the selection of an alternative lexical item, or the creation of a new item or structure. Self-evaluation is possible because of a routine termed ‘re-entry’ (i.e. a process that matches the mirror-neuron hypothesis; see Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004), which allows the speaker to practice the communicative effect of the chosen sentence before it is articulated by acting as the hearer in an internal process.

While the language system adapts, constrained by language strategies, language items emerge through a self-enforcing cumulative process of invention, trial, and alignment between agents. As with repair, alignment is central to the self-organising character of language. Alignment is the social enaction of frequency, such that the communicatively successful use of a language item increases the likelihood of it being adopted by other agents. This process is demonstrated throughout the volume in various experiments. To further strengthen the centrality of self-organisation in language evolution, Steels also employs the principle of 'structural coupling' (Maturana, 2002), which facilitates alignment through linguistic transmission due to the structure of an organism and its interaction with the living, non-living and linguistic environment, without the need for intention or a central authority.

The key issue for Steels is to provide empirical evidence for the theoretical framework sketched here. Contemporary evolutionary linguistic processes, such as creolisation, can shed light on how language evolves, as can placing linguistically-competent subjects into a context where new language must be invented to complete a communicative task. However, Steels and his collaborators choose to model evolutionary processes computationally and robotically, using embodied agents to enact language games. Throughout the volume, robots engage in: acquisition experiments, where one linguistically competent robot passes on a linguistic system to another robot with a pidgin version of the language, through tutoring, although neither robot knows which has the full version; emergent experiments, where both robot agents, using the strategies described above, collaborate to converge on a non-predetermined stable linguistic system; and reconstruction experiments, where strategies are varied by agents to simulate known linguistic evolution. The remaining chapters describe these experiments for selected vocabulary (Part 1) and grammatical (Part 2) features.

Steels and Martin Loetzsch start Part 1 with the simplest language game: the naming game. In the “non-grounded” version of this emergent experiment, two agents share the same viewpoint of a set of objects. The speaker offers a name for an object, to which the hearer points. If the hearer matches the speaker’s object, a new round is played. However, a number of repairs may occur. The speaker may identify an object with no known name, in which case it has to invent one. The hearer may not know the word, so it guesses the object. If the guess is correct, the new word is remembered, but if it is incorrect, the speaker points out the object, and the new word is remembered. If the hearer knows a different word for the same object, scores are given to the different words so that, through usage, agents converge on agreed words. Thus, in one experiment, twelve words for five objects after 50 games become five to six words, on average, after 200 games. In the “grounded” version of the game, the agents are mobile and may see the same objects from different angles. Identifying objects through luminance, yellow/blue and red/green scores, x and y coordinates, and height and width measurements, agents store prototypes of objects which they then collaborate to name with other agents, using similar strategies and repairs as in the previous game. Aggregate results produce close to 100% communicative success after 1,000 games producing 20 terms after 18 views of 10 objects. Adding the ability to both track moved objects and update prototype models results in about 90% success with 11 terms from 1,500 games after 16 views of 10 objects. That is, these two learning heuristics produce far less ambiguity and synonymy.

In “Language Strategies for Color”, Joris Bleys engages robot agents in naming games for colour, thereby accounting for how categories emerge from a natural spectrum. Agents carry out the same language games as in the previous experiment, but here the objects are distinguishable only by colour. Robot agents use a learning strategy that adjusts, rather than replaces, the current prototypical colour towards the speaker’s use of the colour word whenever communication is unsuccessful. Using English words based on scores for brightness, red/green and yellow/blue scores, robot agents score about 83% communicative success, matching baseline or target scores set by human agents. In an emergent experiment using only hue (or brightness), robot agents achieve about 72% success. To make the experiments more closely match natural language, Bleys also investigates graded membership of colour categories (e.g. “only slightly”, “somewhat” or “very” red). In a reconstruction experiment, robot agents produce words that were “qualitatively similar” (p.74) to their human counterparts in baseline data. Similarly, in acquisition experiments, robot agents demonstrate communicative success at rates marginally below humans. An emergent experiment for colour produces almost 95% communicative success with little variance for 5 words after about 15,00 games. The impressive results for graded membership demonstrate another important aspect of these evolutionary experiments: language strategies adapt to give selective advantage. In this case, graded membership of colours allows a higher rate of success than brightness-only or hue-and-brightness systems.

The experiments in the next two chapters, “Emergent mirror systems for body language” by Steels and Michael Spranger and “The co-evolution of basic spatial terms and categories” by Spranger, add complexity to the linguistic models developed in the previous two chapters by adding verbal and adverbial options (Steel and Spranger) and prepositional meanings (Spranger). Spranger’s experimental embodied-robotic subjects achieve 98% communicative success when reconstructing German spatial terms. Steel and Spranger claim that “It is only by the full integration of all aspects of language with sophisticated sensory-motor intelligence that agents were able to arrive at a shared communicative system that is adequate for the game” (107) of correctly ordering a fellow robot agent to strike a particular pose. That is, communicative success is achieved by: grounding the agents in a sensory experience relative to their own body and its parts; employing a prototypical, rather than categorical, approach to language; simulating mirror neurons (by enabling robots to simulate and monitor, without enacting, a motor programme); and providing feedback loops for the motor system.

Part 1 culminates in the chapter “Multi-dimensional meanings in lexical formation”, by Pieter Wellens and Loetzsch, which attempts to simulate a more natural environment for lexical emergence and demonstrate the adaptive benefits of the strategies adopted in the studies in this volume. The language games played by robot agents in the preceding chapters all focus on one aspect of language, but this does not reflect natural language use, when speakers must select the most suitable linguistic features to distinguish objects. The most favourable results are obtained when agents use a probability-based ‘Adaptive Strategy’ for word learning, whereby a fuzzy-logic algorithm for ‘best fit’ is used in naming objects as speaker or hearer. In experiments where 25 agents able to distinguish 16 features per object play 4,000 games each, totalling 50,000 games over 10 repetitions, the agents achieve 90% communicative success after 10,000 games, and approach a 98% success rate after 30,000 games. Another measure, lexicon coherence, which quantifies the alignment between agents’ lexicons at any time, reaches 0.4 after 10,000 games and averages only as high as 0.45 on a scale of -1 to +1 after 50,000 games. This reflects natural language, where high levels of communicative success are achieved even when agents do not totally agree on word meanings.

Part Two of the book, ‘Emergence of Grammatical Systems’, opens with Remi van Trijp’s ‘The evolution of case systems for marking event structure’, which posits three bold hypotheses: 1. “Case evolves because it has selective advantage for communication” (170); 2. case emerges when a population shares a ‘case strategy’; and 3. “Case markers can be repurposed for a different language system if the original selective advantages of a case system have been ‘usurped’ by more dominant, competing systems in the language” (170). In experiments where one robot agent describes a scene that the two agents have just watched together, robot agents acquire the case system for German, although van Trijp rejects the need for 'a priori' grammatical categories. After 5,000 games, coherence scores are above 0.95, the language system is highly systematic, and cognitive effort is at a minimum, thus providing support for the first hypothesis. Moreover, the evolution of the Spanish personal pronoun system is reconstructed in experiments that provide evidence for hypotheses 2 and 3 above. As with native speakers, grammatical variation is accommodated by robot agents who produce language with preferences for certain structures. Similarly, subsequent experiments demonstrate a paradigm shift in the population, with preferences moving from one system to another. In the conclusion, van Trijp is careful to emphasise that these experiments demonstrate a high level of communicative success using general shared cognitive strategies – typically, “analogical reasoning or similarity-based categorization” (202).

In “Emergent functional grammar for space”, Spranger and Steels demonstrate the selective advantage of grammaticalising spatial relationships over the solely lexical variant in experiments that reconstruct German and that self-organise into an emergent system. Crucially, they show how a semantically-oriented strategy towards grammaticalised spatial relationships requires less cognitive effort for greater communicative success. Similarly, Katrien Beuls, Steels and Sebastian Höfer’s experiments into “The emergence of internal agreement systems” produce results that reduce cognitive effort and ambiguity by grouping related words into groups or phrases. Kateryna Gerasymova, Spranger and Beuls investigate the Russian system of Aktionsarten in “A language strategy for aspect”. Although the Russian system of aspect is considered complex and elaborate, robot agents are able to reconstruct and acquire the system, partially aided by the ability to accept holophrases (a learned combination of words) for later analysis. Robot agents then demonstrate how an entirely new aspect system can emerge. As in the experiments by Wellens and Loetzsch, the final chapter ''The emergence of quantifiers'', by Simon Pauw and Joseph Hilferty, demonstrates the selective advantage of fuzzy categories by focusing on quantifying expressions. Experiments in acquisition and formation compare the alternative strategies of absolute quantification and scalable quantification, resulting in the conclusion that the more unpredictable the environment, the more likely a scalable strategy will prevail.


Although each paper has different authors, the volume exhibits both a remarkable sense of consistency and a clear sense of progression from one chapter to the next. The research reveals a sense of direction shared by Steels and the other contributors that is laid out in Chapter One. In fact, it is advisable to read Chapter One again after examining the results of later experiments, in order to fully appreciate the significance of the bold approach taken by this team of researchers.

The greatest danger of depending on functional explanations to support a hypothesis is that evidence can only be interpreted as supporting an inert status quo. Fortunately, Steels and colleagues avoid this theoretical blind alley by incorporating the dynamics of alignment and the explanations and mechanisms for linguistic change. For instance, in van Trijp’s chapter, experimental evidence provides support for the hypothesis that the advantages provided by grammatical case in Spanish have been replaced by other grammatical features, freeing case markers to function in new ways. Perhaps my only concern with some of the papers in the volume is that there is an over-reliance on formal, rather than functional models of language. While some functional models may be difficult to model computationally, there are solutions, such as Halliday and Matthiessen (1999), which may provide the research team with grammatical models more aligned with the non-representational approach to language that is central to the research reported here.

This book and other experiments by the same team provide empirical evidence for the emergence of language based on evolutionary principles, on what we currently understand about brain structure and organisation (e.g. Edelman 1999; 2004) and, significantly, without the need for language-specific acquisition strategies; in all of the experiments here, the learning strategies employed are general cognitive strategies rather than language-specific. The experiments repeatedly demonstrate that: language can emerge without a priori conditions; current language systems can be aligned within a community through structural coupling; known developments in language can be modelled in embodied robotic agents with simulated mirror neurons; and language functions probabilistically, not categorically. I am unaware of any other series of falsifiable experiments that provide verifiable evidence to counter these conclusions, despite many theoretical claims to the contrary. Consequently, this volume should be of value to anyone interested in language evolution, in the application of natural languages to robotic agents, and in general linguistic theory.


Edelman, G.M. 1999. Building a picture of the brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 882 June 1999, p.68-89

Edelman, G.M. 2004. Wider Than the Sky - The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness. New Haven: Yale University Press

Halliday, M.A.K. and Matthiessen, C.M.I.M. 1999. Construing Experience through Meaning: A Language-based Approach to Cognition. London: Continuum

Maturana Romesin, H. 2002. Autopoiesis, Structural coupling and cognition: A history of these and other notions in the biology of cognition. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 9(4), pp.5-34

Rizzolatti, G. and Craighero, L. 2004. The Mirror-Neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27, pp.169-92

Nick Moore has worked in Brazil, Oman, Turkey, the UAE and the UK with students and teachers of English as a foreign language, English for specific and academic purposes, and linguistics. His PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Liverpool addressed information structure in written English. His other research interests include systemic functional linguistics, corpus linguistics, theories of embodiment, lexis and skills in language teaching, and reading programs. He is the co-editor of 'READ', maintains a blog on language, linguistics and learning at and has recently joined the TESOL unit at Sheffield Hallam University.

The review for this book is posted here on