I was delighted to receive, a few days ago, a copy of Punctuation..?, a short reference book published by User Design.

Unlike more cumbersome style guides, Punctuation..? is quite concise: it spans 35 A5-size pages. These contain 21 sections, focusing on different punctuation marks, such as ‘square brackets’ or ‘semi colon’. Each section describes the use of a punctuation mark, and there’s also discussion of common usage errors (e.g. the infamous its//it’s distinction), and occasional comparisons to subtle differences in the usage of other languages.

User_design_Books_Punctuation_p34_35On the whole, I found the booklet useful and easy to use. The descriptions in each section are accurate, written in simple language and complemented by amusing illustrations that can help to reinforce recall. Despite its small size, the book is reasonably comprehensive, and I found a lot of information that was new to me: for instance, do you know what a pilcrow or guillemets are?

To be clear, this is not a hefty volume, nor should it be compared against publications such as the Chicago Manual of Style. But to me, the simplicity of the booklet is its most appealing feature.  I think that it can be a useful resource for language learners, and I would definitely recommend it for self-study or a self-access centre.

Call for papers: 37th TESOL Greece Annual Convention

The 37th Annual Convention of TESOL Greece will take place on the 19th and 20th March 2016, in the Goethe Institut in Athens (Omirou 14-16). This year’s convention is titled Join the Education R-Evolution and it aims to provide a venue for discussing what techniques, methods and practices could be considered ‘revolutionary’ in ELT, and “how to merge  teaching techniques and methods with practices which have “evolved” with the advent of educational  technology”.

Confirmed plenary speakers include:

  • Misty Adoniou (Senior Lecturer, University of Canberra)
  • Jeremy Harmer (author, among other things, of The Practice of English Language Teaching)
  • Alan Maley, (series editor for the OUP series Resource Books for Teachers)
  • Carol Read (Acting Vice President of IATEFL)

Call for papers

Submissions are invited for what are described as ‘r-evolutionary’ ideas on topics including sourcing course content, catering to learners’ individual needs, increasing learner and teacher motivation, fostering teacher and learner autonomy, creating a supportive learning environment and implementing effective teaching practices.

Proposals can be submitted online, by 4 December 2015.


I think this is a wonderful opportunity for ELT professionals in Greece to connect and discuss new ideas in the field. It is noteworthy to see that such practitioner-driven initiatives, which go a long way towards counterbalancing the inertia of Greek academics who pretend to work in the field.

Featured Image by Dungodung (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently Read: The Lingua controversy

This week’s ‘big story’ undoubtedly was the mass resignation of all the editorial board and the reviewers of Lingua, a prestigious journal published by Elsevier. For those of you who may have missed it, here are some highlights.

What happened?

Last July, the editors of Lingua asked Elsevier to renegotiate the way the journal worked. Like all academic journals, Lingua publishes articles written by researchers, whose salaries are paid by universities or research grants. These are submitted for free to the journal, and they are reviewed by unpaid volunteers. For their part, the publishers provide some services, such as proofreading and typesetting, often of somewhat uneven quality, and then they resell the content to university libraries through opaque deals, at what are arguably exorbitant prices. Alternatively, Elsevier might make individual articles publicly available under an Open Access model, in exchange for which they levy substantial Article Processing Charges, or APCs.

In a letter to Elsevier, the editors suggested the Lingua should become a fully Open Access journal with modest APCs. Here’s a relevant quote:

First of all, we would like Elsevier to transfer the journal to full Open Access status. We understand that the current Article Processing Charges (APCs) at Elsevier are in the amount of 1800 euros. We believe that this amount is too high under current market conditions, and would like to ask that the APCs be lowered to a maximum of 400 euros.

Predictably, Elsevier was reluctant to make such concessions, at which point all six editors and the 31 academics who made up the editorial board resigned their posts, and announced their plans to launch a new academic journal, called Glossa. Apparently, they already have a Twitter account:

Johan Rooryck, who has been editing the journal since 1998, made the following comments to International Higher Education:

By quitting his position, Rooryck will give up his current compensation from Elsevier, which he said is about 5,000 euros (about $5,500) a year. He said the pay is minimal for the two to three days a week he works on the journal. “I would be better off going to flip burgers in that time,” he said.

Rooryck expects to earn nothing when Glossa launches — and he’s fine with that. “I’m doing this for purely idealistic reasons. I’ve had it. I think you have to move forward and it might as well be linguistics” that does so. Rooryck said that while he is particularly bothered by Elsevier’s policies, the criticisms extend to other corporate publishers. He said that some of his colleagues are already talking to editors of other journals, and hope that they will follow the lead of Lingua and that “linguistics can be a model for other disciplines” in standing up to publishers.

The Empire Strikes Back

For their part, Elsevier have brushed off concerns. In a public statement that was issued on Wednesday, they pointed out that “they are are managing the activities of 80,000 editors for 2200 journals”, and that the small number of dissenters who handed in their notice will be replaced. They also presented their own account of events:

The editors of Lingua wanted for Elsevier to transfer ownership of the journal to the collective of editors at no cost. Elsevier cannot agree to this as we have invested considerable amount of time, money and other resources into making it a respected journal in its field. We founded Lingua 66 years ago.

There are many who might take issue with the last statement. Johan Rooryck, for instance, had the following comments to make:

It does not come down to what “we” means. It comes down to what “found” means. […] Elsevier seems to retroactively and transitively claim that North Holland, hence Elsevier, set up and established Lingua. Now please consult the introduction of the first volume of Lingua in 1949 […] North Holland is not even mentioned anywhere, it is simply the printer of the journal. So there is no way Elsevier can claim to have “founded” the journal 66 years ago. That claim is demonstrably false.

But the claim is also interesting, as it is revealing of the hubris of publishers today. Elsevier seems to believe that, because it has legal ownership of the title of the journal and the copyright of the articles, it can also claim intellectual ownership of the journal and of its articles. This is not so. Scientific results belong to their authors and to the public. Research is paid for with public money. Private companies should not make exaggerated profits on goods produced with public money.

What next?

It remains to be seen how successful Glossa becomes, both in terms of commercial sustainability, and in terms of academic reputation. I think it will do both. More importantly, it remains to be seen whether we are at the brink of a paradigm shift in academic publishing.

Patrick Dunleavy, writing in the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, argued that unless there is a substantial reduction in APCs, universities could reclaim scholarly publishing for the academic community. Here’s his take on what an alternative model might look like.

Serious, big universities will be thinking, are already thinking – why don’t we publish digitally and open access ourselves?  All that academics at (for instance) Stanford, Harvard, Imperial or LSE get from being published in prestigious journals is the certification of peer review, itself an increasingly battered and replaceable currency. Yet top universities could organize their own conventional peer review processes economically and effectively, much as they do for PhD examining in the UK, using a system of mutual service and support. All the rest of the piece – getting articles publicized by twitter and blogs, providing a well-edited product, delivering the article to any PC, phablet or colour printer in the world – can be done easily and cheaply by universities themselves.

There are already many signs that academic publishing is nearing a crisis point. Universities across the world are increasingly unwilling to pay extortionate prices for access to research [1, 2, 3], and many academics are wary of providing free labour to profit-making entities (e.g. the Cost of Knowledge campaign). I wouldn’t be surprised, or saddened, if the hard line adopted by Elsevier precipitates such a change.

Featured Image: University of Nottingham @ Flickr,  CC-BY-NC

Call for Papers: 18th Annual Conference of the English Department, Bucharest University

I was just sent the following invitation for a conference which will take place in Bucharest next June, which I am posting here, in case it is of any interest.

The English Department of the University of Bucharest are inviting papers for their 18th Annual Conference, which will take place between the 2nd and 4th June 2016. Contributions are invited in:

  • General Linguistics
  • Theoretical Linguistics (syntax, phonology, semantics and the interfaces)
  • Language acquisition
  • Applied Linguistics
  • Translation studies

Each presentation will be allocated 25 minutes and will be followed by a five-minute discussion. Abstracts (2 A4 pages max., 12pt. Times New Roman, single-spaced) are to be sent anonymously as both .pdf and Word attachments, to conf.eng.ling[at]lls.unibuc[dot]ro, by 12 March 2016. The authors’ name and institutional affiliation should be indicated in the body of the email.

The conference fee has been set at 50 euros or 200 lei, and it covers lunches and refreshments during the conference, excluding evening meals.

Image Credit: “The University”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia Commons

Recently Read: Drunken Aussies, Upgrading to PhD, and the REF

I’ve been in my new post in Graz for a month now, and life seems to be settling back into a pattern of regularity. This means that I now have time to read more broadly about things academic and professional. What follows is a selection of highlights from last week’s readings, which I found interesting.

David Crystal on ‘drunken Aussie’ accents

This story was quite widely circulated on social media last week, so chances are that you may have already come across it, but it’s too good not to quote. Apparently, David Crystal was recently asked to comment on a report that Australian English derives from the drunken speech patterns of convicts exiled to Australia by the British justice system. According to this post in his blog, he was not impressed:

I commented, all right. I used an ancient linguistic technical term: it’s complete bollocks. Rubbish, I added, helpfully. That wasn’t enough, it seemed. I then had to spend the best part of an hour doing my best to persuade the journalist, who had obviously fallen for this story hook, line and sinker, (a) that it had come from an Australian academic, Dean Frenkel, who, though described as a ‘speech expert’, doesn’t seem to have any backround in the relevant disciplines of historical sociolingustics and phonetics  […] Was my long conversation with the journalist worth it? Not in the slightest. When the article appeared, she quoted a couple of lines from me about the diversity of accents in the UK, and allowed the story to come across as if it were gospel. ‘So if the Aussie accent is down to booze, why do other parts of the world speak English so differently?’ The word ‘rubbish’ didn’t appear at all. Nor the other word.

This incident may be worth bearing in mind when reading ‘science’ journalism.

More to read: Incidentally, here’s some advice on dealing with journalists, in case you are asked to weigh in on a topic.

Thinking about the lessons we teach

Moving from linguistics to ELT, Sandy Millin has written a very useful contribution for the British Council TeachingEnglish blogs section, in which she suggests questions that we can use when reflecting on any lesson we have just delivered lesson. You can read the full list by following this link, and here’s a sample to persuade you to visit:

  • What did the students know by the end of the lesson that they didn’t know at the start? Is that what I expected them to learn?
  • What did I learn about my students today?

More to read: As some of you may know, Sandy Millin also owns an excellent blog where she shares thoughts about ELT. I strongly recommend following it, if you aren’t subscribed to it already.

Women in ELT

Some of you may recall a controversial talk delivered in IATEFL 2015 by Russ Mayne and Nicola Prentis, where they argued that women are underrepresented in the top of the ELT profession. As these things tend to do, the talk sparked some debate, and the thesis put forward by Mayne and Prentis did not seem to be unanimously accepted. Regardless of how one positions themselves on this debate, I think there is much value in a recent initiative by Mayne and Prentis:

While we think it’s certainly possible to find female speakers in a profession largely made up of them, it might be true that there isn’t one easy place to find who they are and what they speak about. We want to provide that reference and compile a directory of women who speak at conferences, or would like to, and their availability and areas of interest.

We can contribute to this directory by adding the names of female speakers who are interesting to listen to. The contact form, and the full text describing the initiative can be found here.

More to read: Some reactions to Mayne and Prentis’ talk included posts by Scott Thornbury (P is for Power), and Steve Brown (He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!).

Upgrading to a PhD

And here’s something for those of you who are working towards an academic qualification. Rachel Handforth, who is doing her PhD at Sheffield Hallam University, has shared some interesting thoughts about what they call the ‘upgrade’. This is an variously-named interim examination held in most UK universities early in the PhD process (in Manchester we used to call it the ‘progression panel’, although I think this has changed now).  It can be a stressful event, and Rachel’s post helps to demystify it. She also makes the following useful remark:

For those of you who are concerned about the upgrade, try not to worry too much. Even though everyone had told me that it would be straightforward, I worried and prepared and moaned about it anyway- but it really was fine in the end. Have confidence in your work and faith in your ability to justify what you’ve done. And for those of you who have recently passed the upgrade, take this opportunity to celebrate. In the PhD you don’t get many formal milestones, so make the most of the chance to enjoy your achievement, and reflect on everything you’ve learned so far.

More to read: Many members of our PhD community at the University of Manchester have described their experience of preparing and passing the Progression Panel. The Language Teacher Education Researcher Network blog has accounts by Bona Maandera, Susan DawsonSutraphorn Tantiniranat and Siti Fitriyah

Kant and the REF

And, closing this week’s collection, here’s an article from the Guardian comparing the modern university to its past incarnations. The article looks into the scholarly output of Immanuel Kant, René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz, and examines how well they would do in present day assessment exercises, such as the Research Excellence Framework (or REF). Here’s Kant’s assessment:

Immanuel Kant might look worthy of the nod – his three Critiques shaped a lot of the philosophy that came afterwards. However, those works were preceded by an 11-year hiatus in which he published nothing whatsoever – which means there would have been an entire Ref (sic) cycle for which he would not have been eligible. We may presume that his justification for this career break – that he had used that time to wake up from his dogmatic slumber – would have cut little ice with his (admittedly fictional) research coordinator.

More to read: Criticisms about the limitations of the REF abound in the web. Here’s a selection of reactions published in Times Higher Education, the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog and the Guardian.

Featured Image: ‘Reading in the park’ by Vincent Brassinne @ Flickr, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Αχιλλέας Κωστούλας Ιστοσελίδα και Ιστολόγιο


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