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 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Introduction to Functional Grammar - The Video

So many people attempt to study Halliday (and Matthiessen's) Introduction to Functional Grammar - or IFG. There are at least 3 great books that guide people on how to study IFG (introductions to the Introduction): Thompson, Bloor & Bloor and Martin et al. But these are all books. That's like giving someone a map to find a map. So, here's a new way of doing it - the video. Anabelle Lukin has used the SFL Video group in Vimeo to post videos of her lectures on introducing IFG. This one, for example, introduces the concept of the functional grammar:

Here we have another example, this time introducing and explaining how the clause exchanges meanings between persons, enacting interpersonal meanings:

Here is a full list of the Vimeo videos in this series:

Chapters 1&2
An introduction to An Introduction to Functional Grammar

A map of language: basic concepts for the study of language

Five principles of constituency

Understanding the clause

Chapter 3
Clause as message PART 1

Clause as message PART 2

Chapters 4 & 10
Clause as exchange PART 1

Clause as exchange PART 2

Chapter 5
Clause as representation PART 1

Clause as representation PART 2

Chapter 6
Below the clause: groups and phrases

Chapter 7
Above the clause PART 1/2

Above the clause PART 2/2

By the way,don't forget to order your copy of the new version of IFG - Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar (HIFG??) - by Halliday & Matthiessen, now in its 4th edition.

And, finally, just for a laugh, here is one more video to help you learn Systemic Functional Grammar - the SFG Rap!! Take it away...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Teaching, Learning and Researching Reading in EFL

I am very pleased to announce that TESOL Arabia has agreed to myself and Helen Emery editing a collection of papers on reading in EFL. (Helen is moving from Essex to Oman just after I move from UAE to Sheffield.) We both know a few people who can help us out, and we hope we can produce a very high standard collection of papers when the book is launched in March 2014 at TACON 20. I hope that together we can match the high standard achieved by Helen and Fiodhna for their young learners book.

Here is the CFP (and it is currently on the News page of the TESOL Arabia website):

If you or anyone you know can contribute, drop us a line.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I knew it!! The Technoskeptic Strikes Back

We all know that a lot of money from big business is going into making teachers believe they are inadequate in some way if they are not using communications & information technologies whenever possible during all forms of pedagogic interaction. A recent suggestion by many is to "leverage" student time on social networking sites to the benefit of learning. Sounds like a good idea? The thinking is, and I've heard it put this way, "Well, as they spend so much time on Facebook, we should get them to use it to keep studying." Perhaps we should spend a little time, and comparatively little  money, on finding out exactly what benefits Facebook and other social networking sites have for education, before insisting that teachers spend time interacting with computers instead of students.

So far, as usual, there is little or no empirical support for the use of social networks for education. I have also heard it suggested that online learning benefits the few students who are likely to be shy in class, and they can then contribute more in online contexts because they feel less threatened. I am glad to say that I have found some empirical evidence for quite the opposite. In Tracii Ryan & Sophia Xenos. 2011. Who uses Facebook? An investigation into the relationship between the Big Five, shyness, narcissism, loneliness, and Facebook usage. (Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 27, Issue 5, September 2011, Pages 1658–1664, see this DOI), it is clear that Facebook appeals to a particular demographic:
The results showed that Facebook users tend to be more extraverted and narcissistic, but less conscientious and socially lonely, than nonusers. Furthermore, frequency of Facebook use and preferences for specific features were also shown to vary as a result of certain characteristics, such as neuroticism, loneliness, shyness and narcissism.

Similarly, and more importantly for education, in Khe Foon Hew. 2011. Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook. (Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 27, Issue 2, March 2011, Pages 662–676, see this DOI), we find a pretty damning indictment of the promotion of social media for education:
The conclusions overall suggest that Facebook thus far has very little educational use, that students use Facebook mainly to keep in touch with known individuals, and that students tend to disclose more personal information about themselves on Facebook; hence attracting potential privacy risks upon themselves.
y u no visit 9gag?

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Man A Plan

Palindromes - say them backward the same way you would say them forward. So, I've always thought "A Man A Plan A Canal Panama" was a pretty cool palindrome, until I came across this, "Dammit I'm Mad" by Demetri Martin. Mad, brilliant and strangely poetic. (Says a lot about the kind of poetry I read!!).

Dammit I’m mad.
Evil is a deed as I live.
God, am I reviled? I rise, my bed on a sun, I melt.
To be not one man emanating is sad. I piss.
Alas, it is so late. Who stops to help?
Man, it is hot. I’m in it. I tell.
I am not a devil. I level “Mad Dog”.
Ah, say burning is, as a deified gulp,
 In my halo of a mired rum tin.
I erase many men. Oh, to be man, a sin.
Is evil in a clam? In a trap?
No. It is open. On it I was stuck.
Rats peed on hope. Elsewhere dips a web.
Be still if I fill its ebb.
Ew, a spider… eh?
We sleep. Oh no!
Deep, stark cuts saw it in one position.
Part animal, can I live? Sin is a name.
Both, one… my names are in it.
Murder? I’m a fool.
A hymn I plug, deified as a sign in ruby ash.
A Goddam level I lived at.
On mail let it in. I’m it.
Oh, sit in ample hot spots. Oh wet!
A loss it is alas (sip). I’d assign it a name.

Name not one bottle minus an ode by me:
“Sir, I deliver. I’m a dog”
Evil is a deed as I live.
Dammit I’m mad.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Alternatives in Assessment

Just a quick one! This prezi was prepared for the Khalifa University faculty day which focused on "Alternative Assessment." For me, a test is one alternative in assessment that must be justified just as any other format, and so other assessments should not be considered alternative to tests; hence the title "Alternatives in Assessment."

I have to work on a way to add a voice-over. I know it can be done.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Meanwhile in Bologna - ESFLCW 23

A fantastic array of papers were lined up for the "limited-places only" 23rd European Systemic Functional Conference and Workshop in the beautiful setting of the University Residential Center of Bertinoro, hosted by the Center for Linguistic-Cultural Studies (CeSLiC), University of Bologna from 9th - 11th July.. I only wish I could have been there but you cannot be too greedy! 

I sincerely hope that there is a publication in the near future around the theme of "Permeable contexts and hybrid discourses". In the meantime we have videos of the three plenary speakers: Srikant Sarangi on Hybridity-types, role-sets and professional practice, Caroline Coffin on Re-orienting semantic dispositions: the role of hybrid discourses and Geoff Thompson on Hybridisation: how language users graft new discourses on old root stock.

ISFC 39 - Boldly Going

I was fortunate enough to attend ISFC 39, hosted by UTS. The 39th International Systemic Functional Congress was held at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), 16-20 July, 2012. The plenary talks were bold, innovative and inspiring, and none were presented by the SFL 'old guard;' the organisers were brave enough to give the opportunity to 'The Next Generation' of SFL researchers. The event was also attended by the 'legends' of the discipline: Halliday, Hasan and Martin amongst others. I met lots of very nice people that had previously been just names in books, such as David Rose, Mary Macken-Horarik, Terry Royce, Geoff Williams and Alison Moore (no relation!). I was introduced, formally, to Legitimation Code Theory, an update of Bernstein's code theory, by Karl Maton, dazzled, furiously, by Chris Cleirigh's rough ride over semiotics, biology and evolution, and inspired, sublimely, by Shooshi Dreyfus' linguistic analysis of her severely disabled son's communication patterns. The programme was packed with interesting talks full of insight. I learned about the grammaticalisation of movement, the pedagogic cycle that inspires the reading-to-learn programme and its application in new second language contexts, and the importance of the concept of recontextualisation, to name just a few. Finally, there were so many new publications by authors present at the conference that an extra date had to be added to launch all of the books (thanks to Pauline Jones' great organisational skills).

I was also lucky enough to attend two very different pre-congress institutes (courses related to SFL matters). The first was a 'traditional' tutorial-style hands-on attempt by Jim Martin to help the rest of us construct our own system networks. He advocates a 'gently does it' approach, limiting grammatical features and only bringing in new ones when you can account for all of the others. The second was a much freer discussion-based course on the concept and use of Register in SFL, led by Annabelle Lukin (yes, she of the Vimeo SFL group fame - the same). She kindly shared all that she could on a dedicated website and made it clear that we were there together not to find answers but to start asking the right questions. Thanks to Annabelle and ISFC39 I have a much better understanding of David Butt and the work that he and his colleagues have achieved.

Please download the ISFC39 Proceedings, carefully edited by John Knox. (My paper is also available on the site.) It is packed full of fascinating insights on a range of SFL topics covering a variety of modalities and languages. As soon as there are any videos of the plenary talks made available I will add a new post.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What is Genre?

Every so often it happens that various people working independently converge on a single idea. This happened about 20 years ago when 'Genre' became a key term in applied linguistics. To celebrate this event,  Carleton University in Canada organised Genre 2012: Rethinking Genre 20 Years Later to "continue the tradition and scholarly conversation that originated with the first international colloquium on Genre Studies, “Rethinking Genre,” held at Carleton University in 1992." The programme shows a wide range of high quality papers from across the globe, and an edited collection is anticipated.

Thankfully the organisers had the foresight to video the plenary speakers, including Jim Martin (evidently a regular visitor to Carleton). What becomes apparent quite quickly while watching these videos is that everyone has very diverse views on what genre means in applied linguistics. To Swales, Hyland and Bhatia it is an approach to English for Specific Purposes, for Martin it is an abstraction of text structure, while for Bazerman it is a new way to present rhetoric in writing courses. While the first two may share some common theoretical background, the third approach is very distinct, rooted as it is not in linguistics but language studies.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pennycook: Critical Applied Linguistics - A Critical Introduction. A Critique

Alastair Pennycook takes us on a very personal voyage of where he thinks a Critical approach to applied linguistics should take us. Along the way he is quite critical (small c) of a large number of applied linguistics, including Critical (large C) Linguists.
Pennycook is less than sympathetic towards writers that would consider themselves Critical Discourse Analysts, such as Fairclough. He thinks that Fairclough just isn't Critical enough, but he saves most of his scorn for Widdowson. It seems as though Widdowson has just stumbled onto the topic of critical linguistics via Google, and believes his gravitas should be sufficient to allow him full vent of his opinions. Pennycook viciously deconstructs all of the false dichotomies that Widdowson applies to Critical linguistics, and reveals that Widdowson really does not understand what the real issues are. It seems that Fairclough was let off lightly!
However, Pennycook's view of Critical (i.e. Critical Theory, i.e. modern Marxism) is not really that clear, either. Perhaps the only person that is not saved from Pennycook's rejection of claims to Critical Applied Linguistics is Foucault, whose brand of critical theory is obviously admired by Pennycook. Finally, Pennycook suggests how a Critical approach to applied linguistics might change the language learning classroom.
In all of Pennycook's carefully constructed arguments, however, I found one important thing missing: Linguistics. Despite his disregard for Fairclough's linguistic analysis, Pennycook offers no new way to analyse how language may actually work in real texts to support the very detailed power structures described in his neo-Foucaultian framework. When I see such models I may be less critical of his view of Critical Applied Linguistics.

How did you know this is another cheap shot? Yes, it's a Goodreads review I'd almost forgotten, but as I'm going to UTS, (Pennycook's stomping ground), I thought I'd dust it off and give it an airing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

GoAnimate! Star Trek & Information Structure

I prepared this for IFSC39 as part of my presentation. Well, it's their fault. If you are going to give your conference the title of "To Boldly Go" you are asking for it.
TOS_Information by NickMoore on GoAnimate

Animation Software - Powered by GoAnimate.
I am expecting a few spare Aussie trekkies on the first day, at least!
And the presentation is here:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sounds - App by Macmillan

Sounds is a phonetic alphabet app by Macmillan publishers, available as an Apple or Android app or as a downloadable stand-alone app for your pc (click on the "Phonetic Chart - full screen version (exe)" link for a flash version).
You can watch a video about Sounds here:
As with the excellent website by Paul Meier (see earlier blog), the user just clicks on a phonetic symbol and the app makes the right sound.
The Macmillan Sounds app comes in two versions: the Free and the "Premium" (£3.99 / $5.99). The free download offers basic sounds for British & American English phonetic symbols, while the paid-for version adds wordlists which can be supplemented or replaced plus various activities and inter-activities.
This can be used by students working on their own to improve their pronunciation, or in class to demonstrate the sounds of English and how words can be pronounced.
Further information on this and similar products can be found at the Language Bits blog.

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Saeed Al Mannai who brought this to my attention.

Pause and Effect

An exquisite volume of scholarship. The text combines a history of punctuation in the West, as a narrative based almost entirely on evidence from original manuscripts, with copious notes and samples of manuscripts that come complete with original text, translations into modern English and a commentary on the importance of the manuscript to the development of punctuation.

Parkes reveals the correlation of historical conditions leading to changing functions for written English with the changes in type and function of punctuation marks, identifying where and how historical changes produced the current merging of written-to-be-spoken and written-to-be-read-silently punctuation marks and practices.

Another review.

An original copy of this book, published by Scolar Press, was kindly provided by KUSTAR as a British Library loan. It is also available online from, who have reprinted and republished it. The new edition is a great improvement: the manuscripts and documents are so much clearer than in the previous edition. Here is what Ashgate have to say about the book:

From its publication in 1992 Pause and Effect has become a cornerstone of the study of punctuation across the world. Described as 'magisterial' by Lynne Truss in her best-selling Eats, Shoots and Leaves, this book has stimulated interest and scholarly debates among writers, literary critics, philosophers, linguists, rhetoricians, palaeographers and all those who study the use of language. To celebrate this extraordinary achievement, Pause and Effect has been republished in September 2008, coinciding with the publication of the author's new work, Their Hands Before Our Eyes.
The first part of Pause and Effect identifies the graphic symbols of punctuation and deals with their history. It covers the antecedents of the repertory of symbols, as well as the ways in which the repertory was refined and augmented with new symbols to meet changing requirements. The second part offers a short general account of the principal influences which have contributed to the ways in which the symbols have been applied in texts, focusing on the evidence of the practice itself rather than on theorists. The treatment enables the reader to compare usages in different periods, and to isolate the principles which underlie the use of punctuation in all periods.
The examples and plates which are at the core of the book provide the reader with an opportunity to test the author's observations. The examples are taken from a wide range of literary texts from different periods and languages. Latin texts are accompanied by English translation intended to illustrate the use of punctuation in the originals in so far as this is possible.

Release Mohammad Ali Salmani Nodoushan

Mohammad Ali Salmani Nodoushan is an Iranian applied linguist. I have read a number of his papers and have great respect for his work. I have been in contact with him on a number of occasions in relation to the International Journal of Language Studies (IJLS). He was very quick to offer me the opportunity to join the Editorial board in 2010, and has sent me a number of papers for review.
However, it would appear that Mohammad has been re-arrested. His personal facebook page ( and the facebook page for IJLS ( have both been de-activated, even though the co-editor for IJLS attempted to re-activate it.
Mohammed was released from Iranian jail a few months ago after facing the death penalty. The Iranian authorities accuse him of converting to Christianity which they consider is worthy of the death penalty. Although it is almost impossible to confirm this information, the following message was sent earlier this week:

I am contacting you on behalf of your friend. 
Please DO NOT reply to this mail. I will delete this address as soon as this email is sent. 
Your friend in C*U*S*T*O*D*Y again since 14:00 hours local time June 13, 2012. 
1.        Conversion 
2.        Persistence on New Faith 
3.        Propaganda against G*O*V*E*R*N*M*E*N*T by placing a footnote on page 1 of the article at: 
4.        Including some J*E*W*S and I*S*R*A*E*L*I*s on I*J*L*S editorial board (i.e., this has resulted in his being charged for E* S* P*I *O *N *A *G *E for that G*O*V*E*R*N*M*E*N*T) 
Items 1 to 4 all automatically entail a D*E*A*T*H sentence. 
Please make sure you go public with this info since our cyber activities are CTRLed here, so we cannot do anything. Things must be done outside of here.   
Please remember that my name must be kept S*E*C*R*E*T.  Please: 
1.        Contact S*A*R, U*N* Human R*I*G*H*T*S W*A*T*C*H, and other related organizations and N*G*Os. 
2.        Open a new P*E*T*I*T*I*O*N on G*O*P*E*T*I*T*I*O*N dot C*O*M 
3.        Go public with all the past info and documents on F*A*C*E*B*O*O*K and other M*E*D*I*A 
4.        Whatever else you think will help. 
Thank you very much. 

When Mohammad was arrested previously there was a campaign to raise his case in international media and with the concerned charities and NGOs, such as Scholars At Risk and Amnesty International. As you can see, there is a call to do the same this time in order to save the life of a fellow academic whose only crime is to profess to a belief that the governing political regime consider hostile. 

Please help in any way you can. There is an online petition that you can sign here:
Release Mohammad Ali Salmani Nodoushan Petition | GoPetition
If you know any other way, please share with the IJLS co-editor Professor Randall Gess.
(Another unusual post for this blog.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Year of the iPhone

Okay, I admit that this is not exactly a typical post for this blog, but with all the hype about how iPad and iPhone can revolutionise education I feel that I am justified (see a small sample of the hype here). I have just given away my iPhone 4. I am incredibly relieved that I will no longer have to put up with the stupid way it does everything.
Give a few examples you say? Okay, then. Let's start with iTunes. First of all, why do I have to use an iTunes account at all? I do, because without it Apple does not let me start the phone I just paid much too much money for.
Then why do I have to give Apple Inc. my credit card & billing details when I just want free stuff? Imagine that you went to a "regular store" (i.e. one without an i added to the beginning for no reason) & as soon as you step inside, they take your credit card from you. As you walk around the shop, you suddenly realise that the store has taken money from your credit card. When you query them, they kindly inform you that their very special products cannot remain in your shopping trolley for more than 5 minutes without you being charged. Would you go back there again? Ever? So why do we allow Apple Inc. to treat us this way?
Next, back to iTunes. It is rubbish. It is designed to make you use it exclusively. When I try to back up my terrible photos from my phone,  iTunes tries to copy all of my photos from the computer to the already full memory on the phone. The memory cannot be increased, and why would I want that anyway? Without asking me? With almost no control over where it places anything? Can't I have photos that exist independently of the rubbish images that iPhone produces? I have a VERY extensive music collection - far bigger than will fit on any Apple device and none of which I bought from iTunes. Most of the music is from my own collection of CDs. iTunes works on the principle that I have a music library that I must have bought from iTunes that 'synchs' with my phone, and so I can only have as much music as will fit on my iPhone, unless I want to copy everything that I want to transfer to the phone into a separate directory on my computer. Waste of space - waste of time.
Then there are all those pointless apps (e.g. Newsstand, Stocks, Weather, Gamecenter etc.) that I have no use for, but which take up the insufficient memory and cannot be removed. Ever. For no reason.
Then there's the micro SIM card. Because of this (exclusively) Apple innovation, it is next to impossible to transfer your contact information to and from your iPhone. I had to manually enter my contacts. Twice. The first time on buying the phone, and the second when the wonderful update lost half my contacts details despite supposedly backing up first.
I should stop. But I won't. Welcome back all those websites that still use the Flash animation format in preference to Quicktime. Wow, there's a lot of you out there!
Apple may have reinvented the mobile phone business with its AppStore, but it is no longer alone, no matter what it may wish for through absurd legal disputes. And in most cases Android apps are free - for life (although there are hints that Apple is teaching Google bad habits). There are almost no apps that are exclusive to Apple, so why would you pay up to three times as much for your device to be over-charged again?
Finally, back to that question of iPads and iPhones in education. While these devices may seduce you with their smooth, easy touch, it must be remembered that they are both primarily devices for electronic media consumption, not production (see here, here and here for more comments). You can watch, listen, view and surf with ease, but writing on one without cumbersome accessories quickly becomes tiresome - as does carrying around self-defeating cumbersome accessories. This makes them suitable only for passive inactivity. They are unlikely to engage thinking and so can have little effect on learning.
Wake up people. Apple are NOT the "good guys" of the software industry. Just because their advertising image is whiter than white, it does not mean the company is. Apple must be guilty of far more anti-competitive practices than any other software company (again, why do I have to go through the Apple AppStore or iTunes? Why can I not delete Apps? Why should websites be forced into using Quicktime instead of Flash?), so why aren't they in court already? If people did not like the way Bill Gates & Microsoft went about their business, through anti-competitive bundling of products and bullying acquisitions of competitors, how blind do you have to be to not see Apple Inc. doing just the same things? At least Bill Gates knows how to spend his money. Apple users stop making excuses for the company because they have made you think you have bought into a California-cool lifestyle. Wake up & smell the Jobbies, people!!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Grammar Joke

Past, present and future met in a bar.

It was Tense!

Everett Update

Dan Everett's been busy of late. He has been involved in a documentary about his beloved Pirahã, and has a new book out. The documentary is called "The Grammar of Happiness" and the book is called "Language The Cultural Tool." Naturally, all this activity is firmly directed against the school of Chomsky and against Pinker's multi-million best-sellers. Everett appears intent intent on publicly discrediting the generativist/minimalist school. 
Trailer for "The Grammar of Happiness"

The debate rages on about whether the Pirahã language has recursion or not (and if it does not, does it really matter), but just to stoke the fires  higher, Everett has published a new book, called "Language The Cultural Tool." Yes, that's right. You would be hard pushed to pick a phrase that more succinctly says "No. Syntax is not autonomous." For years, generativists have been misrepresenting the ideas of Whorf and Sapir, not least in combining them into a mythical Whorf-Sapir hypothesis that simply does not exist. I hope that Everett is able to bring the debate back onto neutral ground and really tackle the question of how our language construes our perception of the world. For all his image as a 'radical' or 'the U.S. dissident', Chomsky's linguistics is deeply ideologically conservative (Chris Knight explains this very well in Weekly Worker 655, 656 and 657). Maintaining that you do not need to analyse language linguistically in order to identify its power structures, or that habitual language use does not blind one to the legitimacy of incumbent power structures, contributes to the obscuring of the ideological role of language.

You can find reviews of the new book from New York Times and The Guardian, among others.

On a separate but related note, I was on DubaiEye's 'Talking of Books' programme on June 9th, where I  championed Everett's earlier popular book "Don't Sleep there are Snakes" (reviewed in an earlier blog). You can hear most of that segment of the show on Grooveshark.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bring Hope to the Bonobos - Again

The Great Ape Trust desperately needs your help to keep their research and the apes alive. Donate to if you love language, animals or Des Moines, Iowa. Hey, Bill Bryson, I think that must mean you. Anybody have his number?? Join me, Bill Greaves and Peter Gabriel in trying to keep Sue Savage-Rumbaugh's great work going. We do not want another Nim!

More Video links: 
BBC: Super Smart Animals (Great Ape Trust segment starts at time 50:20) 
Oprah Show: Kanzi the talking Ape 
Anderson Cooper (CNN): Anderson as the Easter Bunny (with Kanzi) 
60 Minutes (in Australia): Talk to the Animals
And the latest appeal from Sue & The trust:

Update: I am very happy to report that this year's Target has been achieved. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Michael Halliday @ Connecting Paths, Nov.2010

Thanks again to Annabelle Lukin for posting this video to the Vimeo SFL Linguists Group. In this talk, Michael Halliday draws various links from SFL to Sydney Lamb's linguistic theories, including stratificational linguistics, and points out that the differences between their approaches are mostly a result of their different  research areas rather than a difference in their views on language.
Other talks from the same Connecting Paths Symposium are also available from Annabelle's vimeo page, including the talks by Ruqaiya HasanJim Martin and Sydney Lamb. Congratulations to City University of Hong Kong and to Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou for hosting such an interesting forum and for making it accessible to the rest of us.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Lessons Worth Sharing - TedEd

Those lovely people at TED have come up with a new idea they call TedEd. Just like the RSAnimate videos by CognitiveMedia (see the Ian McGilchrist post), they want to combine great talks with great pictures on a video, but they know they can't stop there. Each video is accompanied by quick quiz questions, open ended questions and resources.

Watch the Video - The folks at TEDEd explain it very clearly!

Again, though that is not enough. You can also "Flip" the video - which means you can customise the 'package' to suit your class. You can edit the title, the quiz and "think deeper" questions and the resources. And, but, that's not all. You can then "flip" any YouTube video and make it into a TedEd format video lesson.
So here's my flipping attempt - a short video from YouTube on the history of writing with some questions, some resources and a research project. Here's another flipping attempt. This one uses a video about Everett's claims about Pirahã.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Christian Matthiessen @ Register & Context 2012

In this talk from the Register and Context Symposium 2012, Christian Matthiessen offers, among other things, his 'wheel of register' which relates the field mode and tenor of different written and spoken genres. The link to the symposium also offers a wide range of resources and links to other videos.

Part 1 of the talk (Video 1 is an introduction by Annabelle)
Part 2 of the talk
Always a pleasure to hear you talk, Christian, and thanks so much to Annabelle Lukin for organising the symposium and for making the talks available at the time and through the SFL group on Vimeo. Also available from the Vimeo site are videos featuring Ruqaiya Hasan and there's more to come. If you are interested in these and similar videos, Annabelle requests that you  join the group so we can see how much interest there is.