Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Visualisation - Thesis:Topic:Sentence::Conclusion:MainPoint:Point

In an attempt to show how students can short-cut their learning, by applying the same concept at different levels of language (just like tense and aspect, but that's another post), I tried to illustrate the relationship between a Thesis Statement, Topic Sentence and Theme and their relationship with the Point, a Main Point and a Conclusion (and the relationship between those items), as the general progression from what you are talking about to what you want to say. The diagram came out looking like like the one here.

The idea, from SFL, is that Macro-Themes (aka Thesis Statement in academic writing / composition) project to Hyper-Themes (or Topic Sentences) which project to Themes in clauses. Similarly, a Conclusion is a Macro-New, or the accumulation of Hyper-News (main points of the paragraphs) which are the accumulation of the New from each clause in a sentence. This is not a new idea, as it comes from Jim Martin's "English Text" (John Benjamins, 1992). I just thought I could re-visualise it and apply it directly to the pedagogic context.

And then I thought, would it be possible to develop this into an animation. I have not tried to use Flash animation for a very long time (a few years at least) so I thought I should try and revive my previous very low level of skills. This may have been a very misguided thought, but since Blogger refuses to upload the Flash movie you will just have to take my word for it!

Monday, December 5, 2011


Various initiatives to provide shared, open-learning objects have been proposed, particularly from disciplines in engineering and medicine. Now we have the opportunity to contribute, share and download learning objects from the Humanities, through HumBox. This is a UK-based project, and has shown steady growth since its start last year. The aim is as follows: "to publish a bank of good quality humanities resources online for free download and sharing, and in doing so, to create a community of Humanities specialists who were willing to share their teaching materials and collaborate with others to peer review and enhance existing resources" (from the HumBox website).

The HumBox website is supported by HEA (including the LLAS) and JISC, and hosted by Southampton University. You can browse and download materials at any time, and you can quickly create an account so that you can upload materials or add comments to what is already on the site. Linguistics currently has 33 resources, but you will also find other useful other tags such as Language, Language Learning, Language Teaching, Language Variation, TESOL, TEFL, Teaching English, Text Cohesion and so on.

The advantages of the website have been blogged at the LLAS site (see the feed on the top right of this blog) by Kate Borthwick. Kate explains how HumBox might help you in the following ways:

  1. Use your OER repository as your personal website.
  2. Avoid carrying paper/USBs with you when you present at conferences.
  3. Refine and polish your teaching material following review by colleagues.
  4. Find useful resources to adapt or use if teaching a class at short notice.
  5. Enhance your digital presence and international reputation.
  6. See how other practitioners approach particular topics and keep up with developments in your discipline.
  7. Get good ideas for enhancing your practice and reflect on what you do.
  8. Use OER early in your career to glean ideas, and showcase work and teaching experience.
  9. See perspectives from other humanities disciplines.
  10. Feel confident in adapting and re-using other people’s materials.

When they hear about shared online resources, a lot of lecturers believe that they will never have to prepare a powerpoint again. They naturally become very disappointed when they find out that other people teach the same subject in a very different way, that their students do not share the same assumptions as the materials or that the materials are not to the standard that they would produce (not to mention problems with logos, names and copyrights). What I like about the list above is that the comments are very realistic about the use of shared resources. Sharing resources does not mean using the web to cut-and-paste classes. It means sharing ideas, making sure other people (especially those that pay you) are aware of your work, providing inspiration and acknowledging colleagues and fellow professionals. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Descartes' Error

Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain
by António R. Damásio
Penguin (Non-Classics), 2005 (first published 1994)

The book starts with neuroscience's cause celebre - a man whose head was pierced by a metal stake that passed through his neck and out of the top of his head. The fact that he survived is astonishing, and is where many neuroscientists in the past have stopped, having proven some point or another about neuroanatomical structure. Damasio not only provides us with gorgeous detail about the tragic accident that resulted in Phineas Gage's custom-made tamping rod exploding through his skull, he also follows Gage after his initial recovery into a tragic story of the downfall of a once-proud man. As well as Gage, Damasio offers many more intriguing stories of brain damage and other ailments that affect the way that we operate in our social environments and in doing so he makes a very strong case for the reintegration into science of emotion. Damasio complains that emotion has been ignored for too long - perhaps because of the over-riding desire to be logical and "scientific".

Even if (as Descartes would have us believe) it is possible to think and act logically, that does not mean that we cannot logically study the emotions. On the contrary, it is the passion, insight, intuition and inspiration that has produced the greatest advances in science - great innovators just knew they were right even when nobody else believed it. More specifically, Damasio argues that it is precisely when people lose their ability to evaluate emotionally that they become paralysed by logical thought. Certain syndromes result in people being unable to choose the right option, even when one may involve losing a job or a friendship. Damasio's answer is to propose a model of thought that gives the emotions a key part in cognitive processes, and demanding that the Dualism so popular in science that follows Descartes is consigned to the history books.

If you are not entirely convinced that emotion plays a part in our most logical thought processes, consider these 2 points:
1. Descartes reasoned that the only truth any of us can be sure of is that "I think therefore I am". One error he made was that he did not take his logical analysis 1 step further. How do we know we think? We feel we know. Without the feeling that we know we would not be so sure that we think. This is not how Descarte's error is explained in the book, but it is what I have learned from it.
2. Our primary sense is not vision. It may be the one we are most aware of using, but vision depends on another sense: Touch. Not touch at the end of the fingertips, but touch as our whole skin. We touch our environment by taking a position within it, and only when we know where we are and how we are situated in our environment can we start using our other senses as comparative measures. We feel who we are and where we are. Without touch we have no awareness, and without awareness we have no thought.

You guessed it... another Goodreads review

Monday, November 14, 2011

Project Nim

A film about linguistics... in the cinema. Who woudda thunk?!?!?

Nim Chimpsky has refound fame - albeit posthumous. (Nim died of a heart attack in 2000, aged 26.) From James Marsh, the man who brought us the brilliant 'Man on Wire' documentary as a 'heist', comes Project Nim about the chimpanzee who was taught by humans to sign as a story of  abandonment by (almost) every human who was supposed to care for him. Based on the book by Elizabeth Hess, this is a story of the inhumane treatment by humans of an animal that became a member of a family, the subject of a scientific experiment, a laboratory test animal and a legal test case.

Originally envisaged as a means of showing how animals can acquire syntax, thereby disproving Noam Chomsky's (hence the name - geddit?!?) assertion about unique human abilities to learn language, and apparently as a way to make the main investigator, Herbert Terrace, famous, it seems Nim never conformed to humans' expectations. Surprisingly, he turned out to be a chimpanzee - but one who was able to communicate with humans.

(More clips from the film available here.)

The film was thoroughly enjoyable and comes highly recommended. If you can't get to a cinema in time, the DVD is on its way.

Linguistic Nativism and the Poverty of the Stimulus

Alex Clark & Shalom Lappin critique the Argument from the Poverty of Stimulus (APS) in this new book from Wiley-Blackwell.

This is certainly not the first attack on the bedrock of TG and its decsendants, and I fear not the last, but having read the first few chapters, I feel that it is taking the argument to formal, generative linguists by using just the arguments that they would understand.

With Pullum & Sholtz (see here and here) working hard to discredit the theory, Tomasello working full out to empirically disprove the hypothesis (see examples here and here and his homepage), and Luc Steels (see his homepage) demonstrating that you do not need any kind of hard-wiring for language to evolve, not to mention theories of embodiment, emergentism, and evidence from autopoiesis, you would think that the APS would be a thing of the past. I expect that there are too many people (and research grants) dependent on this hypothesis so we cannot expect it to disappear too soon.

Review for LinguistList on its way, and there is a GoogleBooks entry.  Serendipitously, Prof. Pullum of Edinburgh University recently posted yet another refutation of most of Chomsky's arguments to Linguistlist after the MIT professor delivered a lecture at University College, London.  Meanwhile, here are a few pages from Clark & Lappin, courtesy of the publisher's page. (To read these pages, click on an image, and then right click to open the image in a new page/tab. Then it can be magnified to a suitable size.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

ISFC38 Plenary - Frances Christie

The eminently practical  and ever-reliable Frances Christie offers her views on "Knowledge structures and school literary studies" in this plenary session from the 38th International Systemic Functional Congress in Portugal, on 25th July 2011. Prof. Christie focuses on how the subject of English literature is represented in knowledge structures (from Bernstein).

The link  to the Flash version  is a much better version than the Quicktime link  which is provided only for those unfortunate enough to be accessing the internet through a handicapped Apple device.Flash version: https://educast.fccn.pt/vod/clips/6cs00bsxg/flash.html. Quicktime version: https://educast.fccn.pt/vod/clips/6cs00bsxg/quicktime.mov

For more ISFC38 plenaries, watch this space or, to find out more yourself, go here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

DRAL Proceedings

The proceedings for the DRAL conference held at King Monkut's University of Technology, Thonburi, in Thaliand, April 21st & 22nd 2011 are now available online.
There are 2 'volumes.' One is a CD and one is a publication, but online they are the same. Below are the TOC for each volume. (Click to enlarge)
And you can read about my experience of DRAL here:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Just to let you know that, thanks to Collins Cobuild & Oliver Mason, GRAMMAR PATTERNS 1: VERBS is available in its entirety online for FREE!!!
All you have to do is navigate to this part of Birmingham University's website, et voila!

Here's the TOC:
Chapter 1: Simple Patterns
1 V
2 V n
3 V pl-n
4 V pron-refl
5 V amount
6 V adj
7 V -ing
8 V to-inf
9 V inf
10 V that
11 V wh
12 V wh-to-inf
13 V with quote
14 V so/not
15 V as if, V as though
16 V and v
Chapter 2: Simple Patterns with Prepositions and Adverbs
1 V prep/adv, V adv/prep
2 V adv
3 pl-n V together
4 V prep
5 V about n
6 V across n
7 V after n
8 V against n
9 V around/round n
10 V as adj
11 V as n
12 V as to wh
13 V at n
14 V between pl-n
15 V by amount
16 V by -ing
17 V for n
18 V from n
19 V in n
20 V in favour of n
21 V into n
22 V like n
23 V of n
24 V off n
25 V on n
26 V on to n, V onto n
27 V out of n
28 V over n
29 V through n
30 V to n
31 V towards/toward n
32 V under n
33 V with n
34 Less frequent patterns

Chapter 3: Complex Patterns
1 V n n
2 V n adj
3 V n -ing
4 V n to-inf
5 V n inf
6 V n that
7 V n wh
8 V n wh-to-inf
9 V n with quote
10 V n -ed
Chapter 4: Complex Patterns with Prepositions and Adverbs
1 V n prep/adv, V n adv/prep
2 V n with adv
3 V pl-n with together
4 V way prep/adv
5 V n about n
6 V n against n
7 V n as adj
8 V n as n
9 V n as to wh
10 V n at n
11 V n between/among pl-n
12 V n by n
13 V n for n
14 V n from n
15 V n in n
16 V n into n
17 V n into -ing
18 V n of n
19 V n off n
20 V n on n
21 V n onto n, V n on to n
22 V n out of n
23 V n over n
24 V n to n
25 V n towards/toward n
26 V n with n
27 Less frequent patterns
Chapter 5: Link Verbs
Chapter 6: Reciprocal Verbs
Chapter 7: Ergative Verbs
Chapter 8: Ergative Reciprocal Verbs
Chapter 9: Verb Patterns with it
1 Introductory it as Subject
2 Introductory it as Object
3 General it as Subject
4 General it as Object
Chapter 10: Patterns with there
Chapter 11: Auxiliaries, Modals, and Phrasal Modals
1 Auxiliaries
2 Modals
3 Phrasal modals
Chapter 12: Combinations of Patterns

ISFC38 Plenary - Jim Martin Speaks Out

The 38th International Systemic Functional Congress (ISFC 38) in Lisbon, Portugal may not have been the most well-attended event, but it certainly produced some interesting talks. It was also interesting for including a number of non-systemic linguists as plenary speakers who were employed well for summarising, responding to and engaging with the plenary speakers. (While ISFC 37 had non-systemicists they were generally not linguists.)

The good news is that the influential and often controversial Jim Martin was given a microphone that actually worked. (Unfortunately for him, he had to hold it throughout the talk.) This means we can see and hear him from here.

His talk is "Modelling Context: Matter as Meaning" and attacks the issue of how SFL deals with context. Although SFL considers that it accounts for context better than most linguistic theories, this talk points out that SFL still has a long way to go before it can consider that it has a satisfactory description of the 'interface' between language and context.

Thanks to Carlos A. M. Gouveia & his team for making these videos available. I will (as with last year's videos) review and post them when I get the chance.


phpSyntax is a handy online resource that allows you to draw tree diagrams.

Through a very simple interface, you are asked to enter your syntactic strings. The example given is

[S [NP phpSyntaxTree][VP [V creates][NP nice syntax trees]]]

The interface tells you if you have closed as many brackets as you have opened, and if you have then you can ask it to draw your tree diagram. The example here produces:

The options offered for the drawing are:
Font Type - Font Size - Colour (or b/w) - Smooth Lines (look better on screen) - Auto subscript (to number each token) - Triangles (or open boxes).
So, for example, from this input:
[S [NP [Det The] [NP [Adj quick] [Adj brown] [N fox] ]][VP [VP [Aux V1][V jump] [Adv over]][NP [Det the] [NP [Adj lazy] [N dog]]]]]
all the different choices produce this image:

I know I am not the world's number one fan for syntactic approaches to language (just look at this blog), but sometimes you just have to work this way and I like the great results offered by this programme. (All images are png and so can be used in a variety of programmes). But don't just take my word for it. Latest figures tell me that nearly 120,000 graphs have been drawn since November 2003. It is also possible to download the code and set up the program yourself (or with a little help, as I had) online or using a virtual php server. Thanks to Mei Eisenbach for the idea and linguistic guidance and to André Eisenbach for coding & design.

Journal of Academic Language and Learning

Journal of Academic Language and Learning (ISSN: 1835-5196) is a peer-reviewed online, open access journal. That means - it's good quality and FREE!!!

JALL 5/1 has just been published. Here is the TOC for this edition:

  • How effectively and consistently do international postgraduate students apply the writing strategies they have been taught in a generic skills based course to their subsequent discipline based studies?            Janet Elizabeth Counsell
  • Apprenticing students to academic discourse: Using student and teacher feedback to analyse the extent to which a discipline-specific academic literacies program works.          Tessa Kathleen Green          Cintia Inès Agosti
  • A historical literature review of Australian publications in the field of Academic Language and Learning in the 1980s: Themes, schemes, and schisms: Part One           Kate Chanock
  • A historical literature review of Australian publications in the field of Academic Language and Learning in the 1980s: Themes, schemes, and schisms: Part Two           Kate Chanock
  • Peer feedback on writing: Is on-line actually better than on-paper?           Josephine Ellis
  • When a pass is not a pass           Keith McNaught
  • Speaking and listening in the multicultural University: A reflective case study           Helen Fraser
  • Identifying the needs of students with English-as-an-additional-language for pharmacist-patient counselling: an interdisciplinary research approach           Beverley Anne Kokkinn           Ieva Stupans
  • Co-constructing academic literacy: Examining teacher-student discourse in a one-to-one consultation           Kate Wilson          Garry Collins          Judy Couchman          Linda Li
You can also find more good quality papers from the archive.

Help the Apes

You may have heard about Kanzi, Panbanisha or other apes at The Great Ape TRUST, you may have heard about the enormous advances made by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and her colleagues in communicating with another species, or you may have seen a talk on the amazing developments made in reducing the misunderstanding that many people have about what makes human language different from communication systems of other genetically closely-related species. If not, please check out the TED talk by Sue here and on an earlier blog entry here and from The Great Ape TRUST.

Did you know that despite the amazing breakthroughs that they have made, this exemplary research centre is under threat due to a lack of funds? They are asking people to make donations, small or large, to help with research projects, day-to-day running of the centre and feeding programmes. This is hopefully a temporary situation as the centre makes the transition from depending on a few benefactors to a wider range of donations and sources of funding. You can find out more from here, and you can make a donation by clicking on the small window on the right of the home page for  The Great Ape TRUST. It looks just like the one on the left.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ways and Modes of Human Communication

a small plug
Editors: Rosario Caballero Rodriguez & M. Jesus Pinar Sanz.
Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla La Mancha
Publisher's page is found here (When I say found, I really mean it - the book was not listed for a long time after publication and it is not easy to find this publisher.)
Description: The present book starts with the work of five well-known scholars on the topic: Gunther Kress (University of London), Salvatore Attardo (Texas A&M University-Commerce, USA), Charles Forceville (Universiteit van Amsterdam), Alan Cienki (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam) and Mª Luisa Villanueva (Universitat Jaume I, Castelló), all of whom explore the diverse aspects of multimodality (i.e., those forms of human communication which do not rely exclusively on verbal expression, such as gesture, images, etc., or which combine various modes such as images, language and sound).
The rest of the papers included in the CD attached to the volume offer a rich and interesting ongoing discussion about these questions, as well as about topics related to the various disciplines that conform to what is known as Applied Linguistics (Pragmatics, Discourse Analysis, Language Learning and Acquisition, Languages for Specific Purposes, Developmental Linguistics & Psycholinguistics, Sociolinguistics, Corpus & Computational Linguistics,Translation & Interpretation and Lexicography) and some of the hot topics in Applied Linguistics –for instance, Content and Language Integrated Learning or CLIL.
ISBN 13: 978-84-8427-759-0

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

CL2011: Modelling the flow of discourse in a corpus of written academic English

This is a Prezi of the presentation I gave at CL2011 (Corpus Linguistics 2011).

I aim to prepare a paper for the proceedings which will be available online. Watch this blog for a link to the paper.

CL2011 (Corpus Lnguistics - 'Discourse and Corpus Linguistics') was very enjoyable and there were a great many high standard sessions. I really look forward to seeing the proceedings to review the sessions I saw and to learn about some of the sessions I missed.

Congratulations to Paul Thompson, Nathan Wadell & all the team at Birmingham for a well-organised event. CL2013 will be held in Lancaster & should be very interesting.

Corpus Approaches to Evaluation: Phraseology and Evaluative Language

AUTHOR: Susan Hunston
TITLE: Corpus Approaches to Evaluation
SUBTITLE: Phraseology and Evaluative Language
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Advances in Corpus Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2011


‘Corpus Approaches to Evaluation’ by Susan Hunston is the thirteenth volume in the series of ‘Routledge Advances in Corpus Linguistics’, edited by Tony McEnery and Michael Hoey. Nine chapters, an appendix of concordance lines, notes, references and an index constitute the 199 numbered pages.

'Corpus Approaches to Evaluation' aims to combine the discourse analysis of evaluative language with a corpus linguistic approach, advocating the use of phraseology and pattern grammar to do so. Throughout, examples from naturally-occurring data are used to illustrate the various approaches, including concordance lines from a corpus of New Scientist articles and data from the Bank of English, as well different models of discourse analysis. The methods, texts, results and the variety of approaches examined are likely to appeal to anyone interested in corpus linguistics and discourse analysis, and to researchers in related areas such as computational linguistics, FrameNet, English for academic and specific purposes, and theories of embodiment and constructional grammar.


The introductory Chapter One defines the major terms used in the study. Evaluative language is described as indexing an act of evaluation or stance taking. Evaluation and stance are further investigated in chapter two, but two important points must be made here. The first is that evaluation may be cumulative in a text and it may also be implicit. The second point, in fact the central challenge in this book, is that evaluation is typically analysed after a close reading of discourse. That is, an analysis of evaluative language is not normally carried out by computer through an automatic process. It is a main aim of this book to make the analysis of evaluation in discourse amenable to corpus analytical methods. Here, a corpus refers to a machine-readable collection of texts that can be exploited by data manipulation techniques. Data is often extracted from a corpus to identify the frequency of lexical items or grammatical classes, but Hunston advocates the use of this corpus data to study phraseology through the use of collocation, colligation and lexical priming (Hoey, 2005). Finally, chapter one outlines the remaining chapters, dividing the book into three parts – the first three chapters focusing on discoursal issues, chapters four to eight dedicated to corpus issues, and a concluding chapter that summarises and outlines future research.

Chapter Two investigates discourse analytical approaches to appraisal, stance and evaluation. Outlining four main approaches to the study of evaluative language in different traditions, Hunston observes six similarities. All approaches: emphasise the subjective and inter-subjective nature of evaluation; describe the role of reader and writer in jointly construing ideologies; recognize a broad range of indices for evaluative language, some of which have stable meanings while others are context-dependent; view evaluation as cumulative through text and dependent on context; have both a target and a source, and; recognize that evaluative language is relative, demanding that the point at which the analyst no longer recognizes evaluation needs to be made explicit. The four approaches to evaluation of Appraisal Theory, Status, Value & Relevance, Stance, and Metadiscourse are then reviewed in detail. In brief, Appraisal Theory (Martin & White, 2005) is a reading, rather than an analysis, because categorisation is still largely subjective. A typical category in Appraisal theory is Attitude (generally, feelings), which is subdivided into Affect (emotional responses of un/happiness, in/security or dis/satisfaction), Judgement (aesthetic view of object) and Appreciation (view of behavior). Three acts (moves) in discourse reveal Status. An object is identified for categorization (Status), it is accorded a Value and the finally the interpretation is given significance (Relevance). In some respects, Status, Value and Relevance have been superseded by Appraisal Theory. Stance, as evaluation, has been interpreted in two distinct ways. The first, from corpus linguistics, identifies and quantifies lexical items in a corpus as individual markers of evaluation. The second, from Conversation Analysis, views Stance (more accurately, stance-taking) as the active combination of evaluation (of an object), positioning (of subject) and alignment (with other subjects). Finally, the various discussions of metadiscourse characterize the degree to which a writer’s presence and use of evaluation of the text are made explicit.

Chapter Three further examines the construct of Status, and applies its analysis to multimodal texts. A writer avers status on propositions in a text, or attributes the status of a proposition to another source. Texts do not reflect the world but the writer’s construal of the world, including what is said, what may be, what is likely and what we think. Thus, “one function of evaluation is to reify texts and propositions by assigning them an epistemic status.” (p.25) The notion of status, described here and based on previous work by Hunston (e.g. 2000), can be usefully compared with the two concepts from Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) of Modality and Engagement. Modality is treated as the semantic space between ‘it is’ and ‘it isn’t,’ reflecting not just polarity but also obligation, possibility and desirability, most congruently realized in modal verbs but also allowing for metaphorical realizations such as ‘I think’ and ‘It is likely that.’ An Engagement analysis plots the writer’s negotiation of the (imagined) dialogue with the reader. Analyses of texts from different genres highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the Status and Engagement models of analysis.

The fourth chapter marks the transition of the book from discourse theories to corpus approaches, beginning with the contribution of corpus studies to understanding evaluation. Corpus approaches often identify a limited set of lexical items used for marking evaluation and examine their behavior in and across corpora. These Corpus studies permit a wide range of discourse-based findings, showing for instance that evaluation is relatively more frequent in spoken than written discourse, that metadiscourse is relatively more frequent in doctoral than masters theses and that some academic disciplines exhibit counter-intuitive patterns of evaluative language. Results from corpus and appraisal analyses have been integrated into sentiment analysis (or “opinion mining”), which attempts to automatically characterize attitudes and opinions in text. While automatic analysis is unable to recognize context-specific evaluation, one can expect no more than a ‘good enough’ indication of the polarity of the evaluation. This chapter also introduces the importance of phraseology, drawing inspiration from Sinclair’s (e.g. 1991) pioneering corpus work which emphasized that units of meaning are routinely realized by linguistic units beyond single words. The key concepts, developed in later chapters, are collocation (items that regularly co-occur with a core term), colligation (grammatical features associated with the core term), semantic preference (the set of words that regularly appear within the frame of a core term) and semantic prosody (the pragmatic meaning, or discourse function, of a core term). For instance, corpus analysis of the behavior of words reveals that negative evaluation may be a stable feature of a word and that its collocations may also be typically negative, or that a word may have a stable meaning that is neutral but that it collocates almost exclusively with items with negative evaluation. The chapter ends by previewing the combination of discourse and corpus analysis to shed light on evaluation in discourse.

The study of modal-like expressions in chapter five appears at first a digression, but later becomes a central aspect of the argument of the book. While the congruent meanings of modal auxiliaries express evaluation (typically obligation, possibility and desirability), other phrases and structures can be used in context or across contexts to express similar meanings. The challenge is to identify these phrases and structures without recourse to ‘guesswork.’ Hunston advocates using corpus results to identify lexical items which co-occur frequently with recognisably evaluative items such as modal auxiliary verbs. Starting with verbs, the words that appear relatively frequently in the vicinity of modal expressions, particularly verb-preposition combinations, are studied for frequent phrases. Concordance lines are produced for the analyst to then look for patterns in the data. For instance, ‘decide’ occurs regularly within the vicinity of modal auxiliary verbs. Examining the data for decide, the phrase ‘to decide wh-‘ (where wh- represents wh- question words, relative clause complementisers, or similar) reveals itself to carry a meaning similar to that typically carried by a modal auxiliary, even when there are no auxiliaries in the co-text: “almost all of the most frequent immediate left collocates of to decide whether turn out to be part of phraseologies that have a modal meaning although the grammatical functionality is different in each case.” (p.73) Expressions that carry a modal meaning are labelled Modal-Like Expressions, or MLEs. MLEs offer greater flexibility in distribution through the sentence, enabling greater flexibility to assign lexical items the status of Theme and New information. On further investigation, a range of selected verbs exhibited a tendency to appear as a base form (infinitive) and to be regularly associated with certain phraseologies. For instance 46% of all uses of ‘prefer’ occurred in the phrases ‘I prefer,’ ‘would prefer’ and ‘if you prefer’; 41% of all uses of ‘care’ were ‘don’t care,’ ‘didn’t care’ or ‘couldn’t care less.’ Hunston interpreted these phraseologies to carry evaluative meaning when examined in the context of concordance lines.

Chapter six investigates status, as described in chapter two, using the method described in chapter five. A previous study identified 11 nouns (including ‘idea’, ‘assumption’ and ‘conclusion’) that appeared in the ‘Noun + that’ structure to identify status. These were then examined using concordance lines from a corpus of New Scientist articles, and recurrent patterns revealed five groups of meanings for these nouns. Status nouns are used for the discourse functions of Existence, Evaluation (subdivided into agreement, affect and appreciation), Cause, Result, and Confirmation (subdivided into support, explanation, and consistency). For instance, when ‘assumption’ is used in the frequent pattern such as ‘this assumption,’ ‘had assumed that,’ or ‘the assumption that’, whatever is being evaluated is “far more likely to be evaluated negatively than positively” (p.100). Examination of concordanced examples suggest that ‘assumption‘ indicates a site of contention or an old assumption that has been overturned by a newer discovery. Another example, ‘fact’, is particularly problematic because, unlike the word hypothesis which always labels a hypothesis, facts are rarely labeled as such. Examination of ‘the fact that’ phrases in context results in three identifiable groups: those with a ‘cause motif’ (e.g. ‘rely on the fact that’, ‘problem lies in the fact that’), an ‘orientation motif’ (e.g. ‘account for the fact that’) or a ‘human response motif’ (e.g. ‘blind us to the fact that’, ‘draw attention to the fact that’, ‘draw comfort from the fact that’).

The aim of chapter seven is to use pattern grammar (Hunston and Francis, 1999) and local grammar (e.g. Barnbrook 2002) to identify evaluation in a corpus. Pattern Grammar uses Sinclair’s (1991) ‘Idiom Principle’ which observes that natural, fluent language consists far more of pre-assembled chunks than spontaneously constructed sequences predicted by a slot-and-filler model of generative linguistics. Pattern grammar urges us to look at larger units which are rarely ambiguous, especially in context. While we may be able to identify meanings for individual lexical items, these meanings are ad hoc and mutable and derived from repeated behaviour across phrases, and it seems to be the phrases that display the most stable meanings. Looking at evaluative phrases, Hunston notes that ‘that-‘, ‘to –‘ and ‘wh-‘ clauses package information for subjective comment, while prepositions typically classify, and prepositions like ‘about’, ‘as’ and ‘against’ may evaluate. Combining these cues for evaluation with gradable adjectives, which are also frequently but not exclusively associated with evaluation, Hunston produces very similar patterns to Martin and White’s ‘grammatical frames’ for evaluation of Affect, Appreciation and Judgement (as outlined in chapter two). Using the canonical grammatical frames for each type of evaluation (I feel, I consider it X, and It was X of him/her to, respectively), Hunston applies the methodology of chapter 6 by looking at concordances of the most frequent collocates of these phrases to discover the tendency of prepositions to recur in the patterns. This results in a variety of patterns, or frames, that typically evaluate: ‘it V-link Adj that’, ‘there V-link something Adj about n/Ving’. While some ‘Adj about N’ patterns depend on the choice of adjective, some of the patterns (‘V N as N’, ‘V N as Adj,’ ‘V N N’ and ‘V N Adj’) typically evaluate and are multilayered. Exemplifications include ‘represent the story as a steady progression,’ ‘consider him aloof,’ consider us a happy family,’ and ‘pronounced him sane.’ Finally, Hunston notes similar results between an approach using local grammar, which should be a fully functional grammatical description, and FrameNet in the categories for ‘difficult’ and similar gradable evaluating adjectives, even though local grammars start with a phraseological pattern while FrameNet approaches language from semantic elements.

Not all evaluations are equal, and so chapter eight attempts to measure the mutually-supporting intensity (strength) and density (extent or quantity) of evaluations through phraseology. One reason the identification of evaluation in a text can be problematic is that it tends to behave prosodically, rather than using particulate forms. Pulses of consistent evaluations through a text tend to support each other to create coherence, but as evaluations become more relatively frequent or increasingly forceful in a text, each instance becomes more redundant. Using corpus linguistic techniques Hunston is able to identify a range of phrases that are typically associated with intensifying evaluative meanings, such as ‘in an epoch of,’ ‘in the event’ and ‘as is humanly possible.’ Starting with individual texts, phrases such as ‘to the point of’ and ‘bordering on’ are investigated in a corpus for behaviour across texts revealing an important intensifying role. Hunston then outlines a process to identify similar intensifying phrases. Starting with typically evaluative lexical items (‘aggression,’ ‘endure,’ ‘suffer,’ ‘tragedy’ etc.), i.e. items with a ‘stable meaning’ for evaluation, a suitable corpus is searched for the most common collocates. After removing non-significant collocates, concordance lines are classified. For instance, starting with the phrase ‘tragedy,’ ‘of’ was added as a highly frequent collocate of tragedy and because it has already been identified as potentially contributing to evaluative meanings. The corpus process described for ‘of tragedy’ produced the phrases ‘in the face,’ ‘a time,’ ‘in the midst,’ all of which are used for negative evaluation, and ‘an air,’ ‘fair share,’ and ‘the seeds,’ which can be used for positive or negative evaluation. Taking other probes in place of ‘tragedy’, identified the intensifying phrases ‘to the point of,’ ‘on the verge of,’ a hint of,’ and ‘can’t emphasise enough’ among others. In the last two cases, the phrases increase intensity but not redundancy because their polarity is unpredictable.

In the concluding chapter Hunston reviews the corpus linguistic methods used in this study of evaluative phrases to stress that corpus linguistics is not defined by its object of study – a corpus of machine-readable texts – but by its methods of research and interrogation. Using some of the simplest corpus investigation tools available, (frequency data and concordance lines), Hunston has investigated one of the most elusive functions of language. There is still much work to do. As Hunston reminds us in chapter eight, “only the tip of the iceberg has been investigated here.” (p.165)


‘Corpus Approaches to Evaluation’ is written in a clear style with very little assumed knowledge. The concepts and arguments are presented clearly and logically which should make it accessible to a wide audience. This is despite the rather elusive subject matter. Any researcher who becomes involved in language as it is produced on a day-to-day basis will recognize that evaluation is a ubiquitous part of language use in all contexts. While great strides have been made to understand and analyse this language (e.g. Martin and White, 2005), this title takes the project of analyzing evaluative language one step further by taking steps towards its reliable automatic recognition.

Hunston successfully demonstrates the identification of a wide range of language exponents of evaluation through very simple corpus tools. In fact, one of the most surprising aspects of Hunston’s approach is the lack of sophisticated statistical methods to identify significant phrases. It would be interesting to compare Hunston’s results, which depend heavily on the labour-intensive examination and analysis of concordance lines, with those from a statistical approach that utilises relative frequency, t-test, mutual information and other measures of variance from expectation. I believe that this would help to resolve the one issue I see with Hunston’s methodology. All of the examples shown in the book depend on a non-corpus source for the identification of an initial probe. The sources for the original evaluative term are previous studies by Hunston (often with Francis), suggestions from Martin & White’s appraisal framework or from FrameNet, sentiment analysis or similar. With an initial probe derived from these sources, Hunston is able to reliably identify a range of valid evaluative phrases. However, this appears to be an ad hoc methodology that could easily neglect many significant phrases – without a discourse analysis to identify a certain probe, the associated phrases will not be found, and the methodology is dependent on chance.

This volume succeeds in taking an aspect of language which does not appear to be amenable to corpus linguistic analysis and manages, as with all good corpus studies, to reveal language that we all know to be important in performing a certain function but which we would be unable to identify spontaneously. There is still a lot of work to do here, but Hunston shows how a suitable corpus linguistic methodology can be applied to validate theories of discourse analysis.


Barnbrook, Geoff. 2002. Defining Language: A Local Grammar of Definition Sentences. Amsterdam: Benjamins
Hoey, Michael. 2005. Lexical Priming: A New Theory of Words and Language. London: Routledge.
Hunston, Susan. 2000. ‘Evaluation and the planes of discourse: Status and value in persuasive texts.’ In S. Hunston & G. Thompson (eds.) Evaluation in Text: Authorial Stance and the Construction of Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Hunston, Susan and Francis, Gill. 1999. Pattern Grammar: A Corpus-Driven Approach to the Lexical Grammar of English. Amsterdam: Benjamins
Martin, James R. & White, Peter R.R. 2005. The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Sinclair, John McH. 1991. Corpus Concordance Collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press


Nick Moore has worked in Brazil, Oman, Turkey, UAE and UK with students and teachers of English as a foreign language, English for Specific and Academic Purposes and linguistics. He holds the RSA/UCLES Dip. TEFL and Aston University’s M.Sc. in Teaching English. His PhD in applied linguistics from the University of Liverpool addressed information structure in written English. Other research interests include systemic functional linguistics, corpus linguistics, theories of embodiment, lexis and skills in language teaching, and reading programmes. Dr. Moore is a reviewer for a number of journals and the co-editor of ‘READ.’ He currently coordinates and teaches undergraduate courses in English composition and technical writing, as well as an introductory linguistics course, at Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates.

NOTE: This review was prepared for linguistlist.org and can also be viewed from here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Labour-saving Devices?

Particularly in large organisations, IT applications have become a required part of our daily routine.

Many educators have noted that the ease of finding information on the internet has resulted in many students taking the easy way out of research, even when they know better, and copying and pasting large sections of other people's work into their own, rather than expressing the ideas in their own way and acknowledging the contribution made by others to their understanding, as is the norm in the academic world. Because of this tendency, applications such as "turnitin", a web-based service that compares the submitted piece of work with previously published and submitted work, was designed to make it fairly quick and simple for a teacher to identify plagiarised work.
Predictably, when large organisations discover, and pay for, such a service the practice of checking students' work for suspected plagiarism becomes a required practice for ALL students rather than a quick check for the minority who have clearly cheated.

When we add another routine, such as using a web-based hosting service (like Moodle) which organises and displays course material, as well as allowing students to submit assignments, we almost inevitably come across issues of incompatibility between the two systems.

With this in mind I recently prepared a Prezi that shows how to take the assignments handed in by students into Moodle, and quickly & easily submit them to turnitin.com.

What took no time at all before we had these great labour-saving devices called computers now takes a good 15 minutes per assignment. Of course, none of this would be necessary if we could just trust that the majority of students are doing what they are supposed to do. We don't, because of organisation-think.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New Home for an Old Idea

This is a short paper prepared for DAARC 2007, but was not presented there. I have yet to find a good home for it, so I guess this is as good a place as any.
 Pronouns are a typical realization of Presuming reference in text, but Presuming reference has a range of realizations (Martin, 1992). In order to resolve anaphora in discourse, all instances of Presuming reference first need to be identified. One obstruction to extending resolution of anaphora to realizations beyond pronouns is the influential concept of bridging (Clark, 1977), a type of inference which posits a distinction between direct reference, including pronouns, and indirect reference. This paper outlines objections to bridging, and recommends that semantic relations, including repetition, superordination and composition (e.g. meronymy), better explain referential ties than bridging. This reinterpretation positions anaphora in the system of Presuming reference under the semantic category of repetition. Adopting a centering approach (Strube and Hahn, 1999) within a systemic-functional framework of discourse semantics, the resolution of Presuming reference is enabled by semantic relations. Consequently, anaphora, as realizations of Presuming reference, can be resolved through a range of sense relations. Examples of text analysis are provided with quantitative results. Suggestions for incorporating computational tools such as Word-net demonstrate the applicability of the model to computational implementation.