Putting that bird to rest

21 12 2009

That’s it, I’m calling it a dissertation. No more bending over backwards, no more worrying about arguments, no more fewer moodswings, no more late night revision rounds, no more excuses. Time to look up some old friends. Have a beer. Check out some new music. Relax. Sleep. Night everyone.





Michael McIntyre on indexical order

12 10 2009

I have written about this before, but Michael Silverstein’s concept of indexical order is so good it makes me smile. Indexical order refers to the normativity of meaning relations: it is the ‘principle’ that bestows discourse with a particular meaning in a particular context.

Registers are a case in point. For instance, Jane Hill (2005: 114) has illustrated that mock Spanish has at least two indexicalities: a first-order indexicality that is usually associated with qualities of speakers of Spanish. However, when used by English speakers, words like ‘mañana’ can take on a pejorative second-order indexicality of laziness and ‘taking it easy’.

This sort of stereotyping also works in posh English, as illustrated by British comedian Michael McIntyre.

Hill, Jane (2005). Intertextuality as source and evidence for indirect indexical meanings. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15: 113–24.
Silverstein, Michael (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23 (3-4): 193-229.





DiO Workshop day III: final plenaries

18 09 2009

Four, yes four, plenary presentations were scheduled on the Friday afternoon. Two corpus linguistic studies kicked off the written corporate communication theme. Birgitta Meex & Heidi Verplaetse (Lessius/KULeuven) compared German and English corporate mission statements. Berna Hendriks & Margot Van Mulken (University of Nijmegen) then presented an analysis of CEO communication.

The final two presentations were on…journalism. Ha! Martina Temmerman & Els Belsack (Erasmus University College Brussels) talked about positioning and self-representation during televised political interviews. Finally, Ellen Van Praet (Ghent University) and yours truly went the reflective/methodological route. We opted not to present micro data and instead focus on the pros and cons of secondary analysis.

Thank you: Geert, Katja, Craig, Chris, Sylvain, Priscilla and all the delegates for coming out. Hope to see you again at a DiO event.





DiO workshop Day I: Celia Roberts

16 09 2009

Celia Roberts kicked off the first DiO session with a keynote on how ethnic diversity gets squeezed into institutions, in particular during job interviews. What exactly goes on in these interviews? Why do ethnic minority groups have persistently lower success rates during job interviews?

Many companies nowadays use “competency frameworks” during interviews. For instance, one of the five competencies that were used during the selection of junior management positions in a large British corporation was the notion of ‘taking ownership’. This a somewhat vague concept referring to ‘skills’ like

  • owning up to responsibility for a manager’s impact on team performance;
  • maintaining high personal standards;
  • being honest about personal strengths, etc.

The rationale of competency frameworks is that it looks structured and fairer (“equal opportunities”) than questions such as “why do you want to work here”. Paradoxically, these frameworks produce disadvantages for candidates because they assume mastership of a register that is foreign to many applicants.

Job interviews blend three discourses: analytic talk, work-based talk and personal talk. These discourses are embedded and evaluated in a bureaucratic routine (it has to fit a certain ‘box’). In addition, there is a particular penalty associated with the interview that is inherently linguistic (cf. Bourdieu’s notion of ‘linguistic capital’). ‘Taking ownership’ is one such example of an abstract formulation that has been judged a suitable competence.

Crucially, some ethnic groups do not have access to these forms of linguistic capital and hence are almost systematically unsuccessful at job interviews. Celia looked primarily at low-paid jobs using an interactional sociolinguistic approach and video recordings of 76 interviews.

Celia’s data really drove home how successful candidates blend discourse modes (“customer-focused, deadline driven, “) and manage specific narrative structures (eg. the STAR structure – Situation, Task, Action, Result). Celia also looked at management interviews, in particular how some narratives are judged “acceptable” and others are not. Interestingly, successful candidates blended direct quotations with subtle, vivid and economic descriptions that display (analytic) agency and “responsible”, “professional” identities. Unsuccessful candidates used verbatim quotations and did not use self-evaluative descriptions.

So, if job interviews are indirectly discriminatory, one solution is to get rid of job interviews and substitute it with trials and more active mentoring for aspiring managers. Alternatively, educational materials in which the implied conversational rules are explained could be produced (e.g. DVDs).

“Job interview”, Flickr.com (Susanne13)





The Dinah Washington of appl. linguistics

1 09 2009

Dear colleague,

You are kindly invited to attend the opening of the 2nd three-day International  Workshop on Discourse in Organizations (DiO) on Wednesday 16 September 2009 at the Zebrastraat convention centre, purple room (Zebrastraat 32, Ghent).

19.30 Lecture by Professor Celia Roberts (King’s College London):
‘Taking ownership’: language and ethnicity in the job interview

21.00 Reception

PS: Celia is in a class of her own, kinda like Dinah. Aloxe recommended.





Having a language is like having access

26 08 2009

to a very large canvas and to hundreds or even thousands of colors. But the canvas and the colors come from the past. They are hand-me-downs. As we learn to use them, we find out that those around us have strong ideas about what can be drawn, in which proportions, in what combinations, and for what purposes. As any artist knows, there is an ethics of drawing and coloring as well as a market that will react sometimes capriciously, but many times quite predictably to any individual attempts to place a mark in the history or representation or simply readjust the proportions of certain spaces at the margins … Just like art-works, our linguistic products are constantly evaluated, recycled or discarded.

Alessandro Duranti (1997) Linguistic Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 334.

“used crayons” by chromatofobe @ Flickr.com





IPrA panel on collaborative news writing

14 07 2009

Takeaways from the 11th Int’l Pragmatics Conference in Melbourne:

  • Don Bysouth’s research on ‘teasing’ by American service personnel in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan – oh, the boredom of warfare
  • Val Williams’ inclusive research – empowering people with learning disabilities: feel-good applied linguistics research
  • Conference clichés: “So when did you arrive?”, “That’s really interesting, thank you”, “So what part of the States are you from, Tom?”, “And how’s your PhD coming along?”
  • Daniel Perrin’s social skills and networking expertise – in a class of his own
From L-R: Aloxe Jetlag, Daniel 'I flew business and slept 8 hours on the plane' Perrin, Lut Baten, Val Williams

From L-R: A still jetlagged yours truly, Daniel 'I flew business and slept 8 hours' Perrin, Lut Baten and Val Williams @ the IPrA conference opening reception

  • Marcel Burger’s jaw-dropping data – turning the process of television journalism inside out
  • the thematic coherence of and audience response to our panel on news production – thank you

Collaborative news writing: A discursive perspective on news production
Convenors: Daniel Perrin, Ellen Van Praet & Tom Van Hout

Panel line-up

  • Daniel Perrin – “Let the pictures do the talking” – Investigating TV journalists’ collaborative text production strategies
  • Tom Van Hout & Ellen Van Praet Buy or sell? The role of consumption and authorship in financial news writing
  • Ellen Van Praet & Tom Van Hout – Competence on display: negotiating status during editorial meetings
  • Marcel Burger – Dealing with conflicting journalistic styles to achieve texts: oral negotiation of written media discourse
  • Inés Olza – The role of metaphor in news production: Political metaphors in “preformulated” media texts
  • Jasper Vandenberghe – New Spanish conquistadores? Newspaper articles and press releases on Spanish foreign investments in Argentina.







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