Chomsky, he’s not the messiah, he’s a very misquoted linguist

Sean Wallis runs a great corpus linguistics blog. So I was intrigued as to a recent click bait post titled Why Chomsky was wrong about Corpus Linguistics. I thought initially he was going to go over the history that has been rightly critiqued by Jacqueline Léon in Claimed and Unclaimed Sources of Corpus Linguistics (pdf). In fact he uses an interview given by Chomsky in 2001. Further in developing his first point he takes as given Christina Behme’s assertion that Chomsky “acts now as if no data can challenge his own proposals”.

I think Wallis’ article about some major issues in corpus linguistics stands on its own well and does not need the Chomsky angle.

The part Behme quotes to the question What kind of empirical discovery would lead to the rejection of the strong minimalist thesis? is All the phenomena of language appear to refute it, she even emphasises the All!

I looked up the fuller quote she uses to make her claim about Chomsky dismissing any data that goes against his theory:

AB&LR:: What kind of empirical discovery would lead to the rejection of the strong minimalist thesis?

NC: All the phenomena of language appear to refute it, just as the phenomena of the world appeared to refute the Copernican thesis. The question is whether it is a real refutation. At every stage of every science most phenomena seem to refute it. People talk about Popper’s concept of falsification as if it were a meaningful proposal to get rid of a theory: the scientist tries to find refuting evidence and if refuting evidence is found then the theory is given up. But nothing works like that. If researchers kept to those conditions, we wouldn’t have any theories at all, because every theory, down to basic physics, is refuted by tons of evidence, apparently. So, in this case, what would refute the strong minimalist thesis is anything you look at. The question is, as in all these cases, is there some other way of looking at the apparently refuting phenomena, so as to preserve or preferably enhance explanatory power, where parts of the phenomena fall into place and others turn out to be irrelevant, like most of the phenomena of the world, because they are just the results of the interactions of too many factors?

Chomsky (2002), On Nature and Language, pg. 124

Looking at it one can clearly see Chomsky is expounding on the nature of scientific enquiry not denying data to his own theories. This pattern of Chomsky critics misquoting him for their own polemic appears often. I was still surprised that this one was so blatant. I did leave a comment on the Behme post so will update this post in the event of a response.

Thanks for reading and remember, Chomsky, he’s not the…ah you get the point.

Update:

Christina Behme responds, I think she accepts she was misquoting (if it makes me happy). You can read responses and decide for yourself, do comment either here or there should you wish to.

References:

Chomsky, N. (2002). On Nature and Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clinton conditional conundrum

This is a short post that sparked my curiosity about conditionals. Take it as you want.

Recently a story has emerged about Hilary Clinton. The popular quote is this:

And if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.

[http://observer.com/2016/10/2006-audio-emerges-of-hillary-clinton-proposing-rigging-palestine-election/]

A more extended quote is this:

First, I don’t think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. If we were going to push for an election, we should have made sure we did something to determine who was going to win instead of signing off on an electoral system that advantaged Hamas.

[http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1725828/posts]

According to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, CGEL (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002) there are two kinds of conditionals – open and remote. Open refers to something that may or may not be the case, remote refers to something being unlikely or remote.

Remote conditionals must have a modal auxiliary in the main clause (e.g. should) and a modal past form were in the if part.

For the first Clinton quote we have these two features hence this is a remote conditional.

If we look at the fuller quote we can argue that Clinton wanted to emphasize to this particular audience that the Bush administration at that time made a mistake. She uses the conditional to highlight this by imagining an alternative world where she was involved in making the decision. In this world she would have done something more than “signing off on an electoral system that advantaged Hamas” and “did something to determine who was going to win”.

Now as to whether this means she would have rigged the election is up for anyone to speculate and whether that applies to election rigging in the US is similarly up for grabs.

I’d be very interested to get your opinion, thanks for reading.

References:

Huddleston, R., & Pullum, G. K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yeah but…A first debate lesson

This post suggests a first lesson for debating. It shows students, via a transcript and its related video, how a formal debate speech is done as many of my students are used to a more free-for-all kind of style.

1. Write on the board the following:

Who’s that?
Right on!
True that.

Tell students that these three things refer to three important ways to persuade people. Invite students to guess what they are.

It is likely they will first recognize the third one – True that. Inform them that this refers to the logic and reason of your arguments. Also known as Logos.
Then add that Who’s that? refers to the credibility and character of the speaker otherwise known as Ethos. Right on! refers to emotion and appeals to the heart, classically called Pathos.

There was a short comment/discussion on what Hilary Clinton & Donald Trump seemed to prefer in terms of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. This can be an opportunity to categorise the style of whoever happens to be the talking point of the moment.

2. Next write on the board 6 bullet points. Tell them that these refer to how the structure of a typical speech is arranged. Ask them to guess what they are.

As students respond add the following to the 6 bullet points:
a. Introduction
b. Statement of facts
c. Division
d. Proof
e. Refutation
f. Conclusion

Add more details to each of the parts, I took mine from Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement.

I also noted that the statement of facts can be critical as this is where you get the chance to frame your debate. Hence if your opponents try to shift ground you can claim that they are being irrelevant with respect to how you stated your concerns initially.

3. Next in groups of 3 (or 2) instruct 2 (or 1) of them in the group to put in order a jumbled text (I split the text into 10 parts but you could change this, see end of post). The other person will have the text in the correct order. The person with the text can monitor the people/person that have to rearrange the text. Also the person with the text can check whether the text follows the Arrangement outlined previously.

4. After this have a discussion on the text in terms of arrangement. Students may point out that there is not a real Refutation part. This is true though the lines “But like this is only ordinarily regrettable.” and “It’s not hugely harmful.” could be pointed to as being short admissions of weakness.

5. Now play the video. After playing the video ask class for comments about the delivery. Students may mention things like hurried delivery at times, use of “like” and “right”.

6. Ask students to search the text for any things they notice about the language used.

E.g. Use of humour at start – “So my job tonight like all good feminists is to make you hate things you love and to, like, ruin the simple pleasures of life, like going out.”;
Exaggeration/irony“But then what happens was that Taylor Swift has one coffee with Lena Dunham and the whole of the history of feminism was altered for ever.”;
Repetition and groups of three“But, secondly it is just a huge amount of cultural power mis-spent. It’s a huge number of interviews and a huge amount of airtime that she could be spending,”

This lesson took me about an hour. For the remaining 30 mins I asked them in small groups of 5 (or 4) to pick a debate from the idebate.org 100 most popular motions. They then had to work out positions to argue. This was rehearsal for next week’s session where they would perform in their groups in front of the class.

Thanks for reading and I would be very interested to hear about other debate class lessons or ideas or resources.

Lesson Resources:

Video Transcript
So my job tonight like all good feminists is to make you hate things you love and to, like, ruin the simple pleasures of life, like going out. So I’m gonna explain to you why you should be deeply regretful of the rise of Taylor Swift. I’m gonna explain to you why you should wish that she had never exploded the way that she did onto the music scene and why specifically we should regret her faux feminist awakening and all the ways that has helped all the women in the world, specifically Taylor Swift.

So, like, first let’s have a little chat about Taylor Swift pre-feminism. I know it seems like a long time ago but this was only last year, right. This was, like, the album she released before 1989. When she was happy to write lyrics like “She’s an actress better known for what she does in the mattress. She wears high-heels I wear sneakers. She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts.” And of course “I’m not that kind of girl”, right. Lyrics designed to make clear the superiority of Taylor Swift over, like, some un-named slut-shamed other in her, like, pursuit of the man in the song, right. But like this is only ordinarily regrettable. This is only, like, standard beautiful white woman popstar is imperfect in the mass-media, right. But then what happens was that Taylor Swift has one coffee with Lena Dunham and the whole of the history of feminism was altered for ever. So the the rest of my speech is broken down into what I’ve called Girl Power Squad Feminism, White Feminism, and then lastly Self-Serving Taylorism.

So firstly Girl Power Squad Feminism. What is this? Well, like, basically, this is when Taylor Swift parades out large numbers of supposedly successful but noticeably very beautiful women, stand behind her while she talks about solidarity and girl power. Which means, incidentally, buying tickets to Taylor Swift tours, right. Like, firstly, this is just not good enough, right. That’s not what feminism is. It’s not enough to be just successful and claim that you should be behind her just because she’s a woman. But like, secondly, it’s this really strange version of feminism where she declares that she’s supporting other women by letting them stand behind her on her stage whilst she makes a fortune. Like when she drags out the women’s soccer team and gets them to all stand behind her on a stage, at the, whatever the equivalent is of the Wembley Arena is in New York. Like no-one is helped but Taylor Swift. Like, this is just not interesting feminism. It’s not hugely harmful.

But then we come to White Feminism. And because when your feminism is that simple some women necessarily get left behind. Some women are necessarily not helped by a brand of squad girls, white girl feminism. So let’s see for example her exchange with Nikki Minaj labelled a spat or a cat fight or something other, something else gendered and boring in the media.

So what happens is Nikki Minaj tweets saying that women of color are structurally disadvantaged in the music video. Taylor, poor Taylor, feels victimised and plays the solidarity women card which is what feminism is, remember. She says “All I’ve ever done is love and support you” and then says “If I ever win something you can come and stand behind me like you could at one of my concerts, right. This is, like, a kind of strange feminism that just, like, revolves around Taylor, one, not getting it, not getting like the patriarchy affects women of color differently, that it affects queer women differently, that it affects disabled women differently. That your access to a version of empowerment that is built around looking like Taylor Swift is only available to you if you are a woman who looks like Taylor Swift but, two, this is an example of her like, like getting in the way of other women trying to explain some real problems in the world in order to advance her own personal, likable, girl next door brand.

And this is the thing with Taylor Swift’s feminism it is so transparently self-serving. It’s like so completely designed to enable her to use the language of an emerging social movement, popular feminism for her own PR and financial gains. It’s a way for her to deflect criticism and protect her girl next door likability. So if another artist criticises her for getting undue attention because she is a privileged white woman writing inoffensive pop songs as opposed to a woman of color celebrating black female bodies and empowerment in the music industry. She gets to say that, like this is a breakdown of feminist solidarity right. Because of course to be a feminist is to love and support Taylor Swift. It enables her to defend herself against the less powerful right. In the same way that she like uses her enormously powerful team of legal experts to sue people who make “Shake it Off” branded mugs and sell them on Etsy for six dollars. Taylor Swift is using her power against those less powerful than her which includes like Etsy vendors, Niki Minaj and all other women who aren’t Taylor Swift.

So we’re proved she’s not a perfect feminist but does that make her by herself especially regrettable? Well I think it does for several reasons.

Because firstly she hijacks the emerging movement of popular feminism. Something that is, like, building a groundswell of support amongst young women who are starting for the first time to call themselves feminist. And makes it about something just too simple and too easy and that crucially does absolutely no good to anyone but a tiny number of women, right.

But, secondly it is just a huge amount of cultural power mis-spent. It’s a huge number of interviews and a huge amount of airtime that she could be spending, like, actually helping someone, raising money for women’s charities or, like, doing something else.

But lastly, like, it just obscures the work it takes to live a properly feminist life, by making it too easy, by making it all like squad girls, goals and selfies and for me that’s not good enough. Propose.

Video
From 1m45 to 7m33

Corpus linguistics community news 7

If you follow events in the UK one can say, without much accusation of hyperbole, that these are indeed strange times.

So why not turn to the relative sanity of corpus linguistics community news 7.

First up is an example of searching BYU-COCA for use of a preposition of place.

Next a post on one way to explore some recent audio-video corpora.

couple of posts related to history of CL.

top tip when using BootCat.

My recommended link is to a mini or maybe it’s a micro CL course by Oxford Dictionaries.

A tool that uses TF-IDF scores to extract n-grams using as an example prime minister questions from ex-prime minister David Cameron and the still leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn.

Do check previous corpus linguistics community posts if you haven’t yet.

Thanks for reading and have a good summer/winter.

Alphabet Street aka Corpus Symposium at VRTwebcon 8

I was delighted to be able to take part in my first webinar as a presenter. Leo Selivan (@leoselivan) asked me to join the corpus symposium for the 8th VRT web conference along side Jenny Wright (@teflhelper) and Sharon Hartle (@hartle). You can find links to our talks at the end of this post as well as my slides.

Presenting on a webinar is definitely a unique experience like talking to yourself knowing others are watching and listening in. Other things to be noted are making sure your microphone is loud enough and that uploaded powerpoints to online systems like Adobe Connect don’t show your slide notes!

My talk was about using BYU-Wikipedia corpus to help recycle coursebook vocabulary and was titled Darling (BYU) Wiki in homage to the recent passing of the great musician Prince. Another webinar note – people can’t hear the music from your computer if you have headphones on!

As I have already posted about using BYU-Wiki for vocabulary recycling, in this post I want to give some brief notes on designing worksheets using some principles from the research literature. When talking about the slide below I did not really explain in the talk what input enhancement and input flood were. And I also did not point out that my adaptation from Barbieri & Eckhardt (2007) was  very loose : ).

worksheet-design2

Input  enhancement  draws  learners’  attention  to  targeted grammatical features by visually or acoustically flagging L2 input to  enhance  its  perceptual  saliency but  with  no  guarantee  that  learners will attend to the features” (Kim, 2006: 345).

For written text they include things such as underlining, bolding, italicizing, capitalizing, and colouring. Note that the KWIC output from COCA uses colour to label parts of speech.

Input flood similarly enhances saliency through frequency and draws its basis from studies showing importance of repetition in language learning.

Szudarski & Carter (2015) concluded that a combination of input enhancement and input flood can lead to performance gains in collocational knowledge.

Hopefully this post has briefly highlighted some points I did not cover in my 20 min talk. A huge thanks to those who took the time to attend, to Leo and Heike (Philip, @heikephilp) for organizing things smoothly and my co-presenters Jennie and Sharon. Do browse the recordings of the other talks as there are some very interesting ones to check out.

Talk recording links, slides and related blog posts

Jennie Wright, Making trouble-free tasks with corpora

Sharon Hartle, SkELL as a Key to Unlock Exam Preparation

Mura Nava, Darling (BYU) Wiki

Question and Answer Round

My talk slides (pdf)

Summary Post by Sharon Hartle

8th Virtual Round Table Web Conference 6-8 May 2016 program overview

References and further reading:

Barbieri, F., & Eckhardt, S. E. (2007). Applying corpus-based findings to form-focused instruction: The case of reported speech. Language Teaching Research, 11(3), 319-346

Han, Z.,  Park, E. S., & Combs, C. (2008). Textual enhancement of input: issues and possibilities. Applied Linguistics 29.4: 597–618.

Kim,Y. (2006). Effects of input elaboration on vocabulary acquisition through reading by Korean learners of English as a foreign language. TESOL Quarterly 40.2: 341–373.

Szudarski, P., & Carter, R. (2015). The role of input flood and input enhancement in EFL learners’ acquisition of collocations. International Journal of Applied Linguistics.

Interview with Mike Scott, WordSmith Tools developer

WordSmith Tools, a corpus linguistics program, turned 20 this year quite a feat for software from an independent developer. I have an OSX system so I don’t use WordSmith (though it can be run using Wine and/or virtualization) and also because it is a paid program – always an issue for us poor language teachers. However with the great support and new features on offer the fee seems more and more tempting. Mike Scott kindly answered some questions.

1. Who are you?
A language teacher whose hobby turned into a new career, software development for corpus linguistics. Lucky to get into Corpus Linguistics early on (1980s) and before that lucky to get into EAP early on (in the 1970s). Basically, lucky!

2. What do you think is the most useful feature in WordSmith Tools for language teachers?
WordSmith is used by loads of different types of researchers, many of them not in language teaching: literature, politics, history, medicine, law, sociology. Not many language students use it because they can get free tools elsewhere and many just use Google however much we might wish otherwise. Language teachers probably find the Concord tool and its collocates feature the most useful. 

3. Of the new features in the latest Wordsmith Tools which are you most excited about and why?
I put in new features as I think of them or as people request them. I am usually most excited by the one I’m currently working on because then I’m in the process of struggling to get it working and get it designed elegantly if I can. One I tweeted about recently was video concordancing. I think it will be great when we can routinely concordance enhanced corpora with sound and images as well as words! 

4. How do you see the current corpus linguistic software landscape?
Very much in its infancy. Computer software is only about as old as I am (born soon after WWII). Most other fields of human interest are as old as the hills. We are still feeling our way in a dark cavern full of interesting veins to explore, with only the weakest of illumination. Fun!

Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to respond and to you for reading.

#IATEFL 2016 – Corpus Tweets 4

It is good to see a talk on how to create your own corpus as this is arguably one of the key strengths of corpus linguistics i.e. language that is mined for your students in your particular context. Very far from what a coursebook can address. As ever much appreciation to Sandy Millin for bringing us this talk.

IATEFL 2016 Corpus Tweets 4

Teacher-driven corpus development: the online restaurant review by Chad Langford & Joshua Albair as reported by Sandy Millin

  1. Chad Langford and Josh Albair on creating a corpus of restaurant reviews based on TripAdvisor, as they are linguists and teachers

  2. CL/JA They teach adults, not degree seeking, but find writing is a challenge, esp as learners don’t write much, even in L1

  3. CL/JA Genre of these reviews works as learners can relate to it and feel empowered, memberes of non-geographically bound community

  4. CL/JA By crating a corpus, they believed that would characterise the genre as objectively as possible, and improve materials devmnt

  5. #iatefl CL/JA Basic steps for treating the data to make corpus https://t.co/NobXQJ2782

    CL/JA Basic steps for treating the data to make corpus pic.twitter.com/NobXQJ2782


  6. CL/JA They narrowed down TripAdvisor reviews to London, with 100-200 reviews per restaurant, with 3-dot average


  7. CL/JA They copied over 8000 reviews and copied them into Word – pretty tedious! Huge amount of text and lots to be manually deleted

  8. CL/JA Cleaned data in Word is readable and only has tagline and body of review, maintaining paragraphs for later research


  9. CL/JA Needed to standardise, e.g. three dots for ellipsis, standardise common misspellings, removing extraneous spaceing


  10. CL/JA To so this they used Notepad++ which is a free powerful text editor which they used to tidy up formatting

  11. #iatefl CL/JA Examples of coding they were able to lesrn very quickly https://t.co/fk7uHn48zM

    CL/JA Examples of coding they were able to lesrn very quickly pic.twitter.com/fk7uHn48zM


  12. CL/JA Then added POS tagging, metadata about tagline and types of restaurant etc. Used Wordsmith tools which is cheap, but good


  13. CL/JA They used wordlist, keywords and concord tools within WordSmith


  14. CL/JA Final corpus has 67 restaurants, over 8000 reviews and over 1 million words. Can start to identify restaurant review genre


  15. CL/JA Identified positive/neg evaluative adjectives, retaurant-related vocab: experience, description, food, non-food, person, place


  16. CL/JA Also very high frequency of first person pronouns, overwhelming use of was/were (copulative use?)


  17. CL/JA Discourse showed very common to use ‘but’ as marker in 3dot reviews,very rare in 1/5 “good but” v “but good” – meaning change


  18. CL/JA One was much more common the other. Think it was “good but” – missed it!


  19. CL/JA High instance of subject-less clauses, determiner ellipsis and one more grammar feature I missed


  20. CL/JA Determiner ellipsis is very rarely pointed out to our students, except in headlines. e.g. restaurant was dirty, fish was tasty


  21. CL/JA In class they’ve used it for ranking activity – place five taglines on cline on board, next group can add 5 more/move first


  22. CL/JA Second activity is guided discovery sheet based on authentic review which exemplifies characteristics they’ve identified


  23. CL/JA Can get in touch with them at the University of Lille if you’d like to find out more


  24. CL/JA Tilly Harrison brings up the point that this corpus data draws on comments that perhaps people haven’t given permission to use