Two women, sitting on park benches, reading

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 

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