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It’s been a long year…


And it’s only February! I know that I usually start these posts with ‘I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last posted’, but genuinely, I can’t believe I last posted in October last year! Part of this is still to do with the fact that I’m struggling to find a balance between teaching, admin, research and finding time to blog.

And it’s not like there’s not been interesting stuff to discuss, from the article on New York English, to a new blog I found (Lexical Valley), stuff on pronoun usage on Google, gender neutrality in children’s books, linguistic discrimination in the trial about Trayvon Martin’s shooting, Danny Dyer and Game of Thrones and loads more besides. So there’s been loads of stuff going on that would have been interesting to have spent a bit more time on, so over the next few months I hope to go back to some of these stories and have a bit of a think about what they tell us about language.

But alas, my focus has been primarily on course directing, marking, doing my external examiner duties, wedding planning (!), a bit of writing and assorted other work-related responsibilities. One of the things that is coming to an end (ok, in the next 10 months) is the impact volume that I’m working on with Dave Sayers (Sheffield Hallam). We even have our own entry in the Routledge catalogue, so it’s all systems go as far as that’s concerned. All the chapters are in (I finished my chapter last Sunday), the introduction is still to be finished, and then it’s just the wee bits and pieces of indexing etc that’ll be left to do around about June or so. I’m really looking forward to this coming out, and it’ll be the end of a long process going back to 2012. These projects take far too long to do, and that’s one of the things that I talk about in my chapter!

Anyway, I had a quick 30 minutes tonight to get this post done. Apologies it’s not exactly high on quality content, but I kind of guilt tripped myself into writing something down!

The Social Linguist

Some research stuff!


Ok, so I know it’s been ages since I last posted, something which is particularly embarrassing given the fact that my last post mentioned that I would be updating more regularly. And that hasn’t happened. Ugh. Part of the reason for this is because I’ve been settling back into my life in Birmingham after my Fulbright life in Pittsburgh came to an end, and to be totally honest, I’m still kind of finding my feet. It’s amazing how despite living in a city for years, even a short time away can make everything seem so new again. I mean, I spent nearly 10 years in Glasgow and now when I visit there, I hardly recognise the place, and the same happened a wee bit with coming back to Brum.

But after a few months back, things are slowly coming together. I’m back teaching, I’m back sitting in meetings, I’m back driving back and forth to work, and I’m gradually getting to grips with this UK life, but I think it’ll take another few months before I can honestly say things are back to the way they were before I left. What’s a bit worrisome is that I still find myself pining for Pittsburgh, about the places and people I met there, and while I had that a bit with Tucson, it’s more pronounced this time. I’m sure it will pass, but being melancholy about it certainly won’t help!

In other news, there’s been quite a lot happening in the world of sociolinguistics recently. For example, we had Lindsay Johns banging on about the power of the spoken word and how we should all be speaking Standard English. We had the banning of slang words in a high school in south London. There was the story about declining literacy rates in the UK and the slump in foreign language learning at university level. Oh, and there was also the story that ‘huh’ might be a linguistic universal. All of this, and more, continues to show how language is still very much front and centre on the national and international stage, although bizarrely, there’s not much in the way of input of actual linguists… That’s probably a story for another post, particularly as it relates to my own research on social media and the reporting of sociolinguistic research (I gave a talk about this at the recent Language in the Media conference in London).

Lastly, I’m happy to announce that I’ve had a flurry of things getting published recently, including an article on TH-fronting in Glasgow, which will be in English World-Wide and my own chapter on what ethnography can tell us about sociolinguistic variation over time, which will be in my edited volume Sociolinguistics in Scotland (and you can now buy it on Amazon!). Both of these pieces of work have been a wee while in the making, so as you can imagine, I’m pretty chuffed to have them done and dusted (especially the edited volume!). /blatentselfpromotion (!)

So yeah, I’ll try try try to start updating this more regularly, especially because it is quite good fun and it’s something a bit different from the usual academic-y kind of writing that I have to do. If only I could use some of my blog posts as REF outputs…

The Social Linguist

Edited volumes: Worth it in the long run?


So, I eventually managed to finish off the edited volume I’ve been working on for over two years now, and with that, I can rest easy that my REF return is all done. It was a real relief to send the final version off, and all that’s left is the proofs and the cover-art, although I’m sure that I’ll find out even more horrors are in store for me when I get to that stage! In any event, it’s been a massively beneficial experience for me and I’ve learnt loads about managing expectations, dealing with peer reviewers, trying to tie all the chapters together, structure, content, word limits etc etc, but I still have this nagging feeling at the back of my head of ‘was it worth it?’. Now, this mainly comes about because edited volumes are, for better or worse, not as highly regarded as that peak of academic achievement, the all-glorious journal article. This is primarily because a) chapters are (usually) solicited by the editor rather than submitted by authors, b) the peer-review process tends to be somewhat less rigorous than that for journals and c) chapters for edited volumes tend not to be rejected regardless of peer-review comments (the line of thinking is, I suppose, that if the editor solicited the chapter, then it should be accepted).

With all the above in mind, then, you’d think that no right minded academic would think about doing an edited volume, especially an academic at the early part of their career (like me!). I mean, I spent over two years working on this, time which might have been better spent doing peer-reviewed articles (which I did during that time anyway), or working more on the book. But of course, edited volumes come out all the time, usually done by well-known and established academics, so they can’t be *that* bad of an investment?

I think there’s two sides to this really. The first is that yes, you probably shouldn’t invest too much time doing an edited volume at the beginning of your career. The time spent between soliciting chapters (or doing a call for papers), sorting out and deciding which chapters to accept, sending out rejection letters to those you didn’t want, preparing the proposal for consideration by a publisher, doing the response to the reviewers, having the proposal rejected anyway, doing the proposal all over again, liaising with contributors to keep them up to date with what’s happening, eventually having the proposal accepted, setting out deadlines for authors, finding peer-reviewers to read chapters, liaising with reviewers and authors, reading and commenting on all the chapters, writing your own chapter, finding someone to do the foreword, reading peer-reviewer comments and deciding what the authors need to address, writing your own chapter, re-reading re-submissions, re-doing *more* comments, finishing your own chapter, finding a map for the book, getting copy-right permissions to use the map, cross-checking all the bibliography entries, proof-reading everything, doing the introduction, finding a reviewer for the introduction, dealing with their comments, re-doing the introduction, paginating everything, doing the pre-publication checklist, writing the table of contents, the table of figures *and* the table of tables (all with the right page numbers), finding out that you missed a page number out and having to the that all over again, deciding that you don’t like the order of the chapters and having to change pagination again, doing contributor biographies, writing the catalog description (50 words), the website description (150 words) and the blurb (200 words), getting contributor agreements, sending all the paperwork to the publisher, and deciding that you just don’t have enough time to do the index so you’re going to outsource it to a professional indexer (fully recommend this btw), I could have written another two journal articles on top of the ones I *did* write while doing all of the above.

At this stage of my career, more publications is always a good thing, but the other side of it is that I have gained an incredible number of skills I otherwise wouldn’t have had I decided not to do the edited volume. Not least among these was learning to co-ordinate a group of highly-skilled academic researchers from around the world in producing a fairly substantial piece of work which will (hopefully!) be a major contribution to work on sociolinguistics in Scotland.

I would say, though, that doing an edited volume wouldn’t be high priority on my ‘to-do’ list post-PhD, and I’d always recommend targeting peer-review publications first and foremost. But once you’ve got a few of them under your belt, I think that there are worse ways to spend your time in academia than doing an edited volume (although I’d probably advise against this if if you’re on a US-based tenure-track position, since journal articles will likely count for far more in your tenure bid than edited volumes would. My guess is that’s why most edited volumes in the US come from already-tenured professors, whereas in the UK, early career researchers publish edited volumes as well as journal articles).

So yeah; edited volumes – more work than I realised, but worth it.

The Social Linguist

Writing a book….


So I’ve now embarked on the whole ‘writing a book’ malarkey, and I have to say, it’s been a bit of a rough transition from article writing to book writing. When I was doing my PhD, finishing the thesis was the big aim, and since you usually have three years in which to complete it, a whole thesis doesn’t seem like too big an effort. Once I was done with my thesis and started writing articles for publication, the jump down from writing 100,000 words for one piece of work to only having to write ~10,000 words was fantastic! The great thing about a journal article is the sense of progress. You start with a blank piece of paper, and (hopefully!) within a few months, you’ll have at least a first draft to work with. Progress is very noticeable with a journal article and that sense of achievement keeps you going on and plugging away at it. Moreover, you know that, generally speaking, you’ll be able to draw a line under it after a few months.

But with the book, I’m back to the long, drawn out process of thinking about my research over the course of 100,000 words, rather than a short, punchy 10,000 words. And unlike writing a journal article, there’s less of a sense of progress, especially when I’ve planned to write nine chapters. Keeping positive when I know that there’s another 90,000 words to go (or eight chapters, depending on how you look at it) is tough, and despite having already written that much for my thesis, girding my loins for a marathon rather than a sprint is, thus far, proving to be a bigger challenge than I had originally thought.

I suppose part of the solution is to break it down into manageable chunks, and to forget that each chapter is working towards the book as a whole (since that can be dealt with during the re-write part). So instead of seeing it as one big book, seeing it as a bunch of quite detailed journal articles. That way, there’s more of a sense of achievement once each chapter is ticked off. And I think that seeing any long piece of writing (a thesis, a book, an edited volume etc) as one long slog is probably self-defeating. Chunking it up and breaking it down into smaller bits and pieces keeps you focused on short-term goals and targets and makes you feel as though you’re actually getting through the work.

But I’ll be able to better comment on that once the book is done.

The Social Linguist

Back in the saddle!

November 20, 2012 1 comment

Ugh… Ok, so I don’t quite know how it happened, but it’s been nearly three weeks since my last update. Ok, it’s a lie that I don’t know how it happened, but it sounds so ‘wah, look at me! I’m so BUSY!!!’ humble-braggy that I’m not even going to entertain the thought…

In any event, I’m back in the saddle and trying to plough my way through about half a dozen minor projects before I start on the magnum opus of THESIS 2.0 (or, ‘The thesis I wish I had written three years ago if I knew then what I know now’, although it’s unlikely that a publisher will go for that title…). So yeah, I’m back in Pittsburgh, I’ve got my home office all set up (with a bookshelf and a side light and everything. It’s very mature) and I’m raring to get stuck into getting this book done.

But genuinely, I’ve got precious little idea what I’m actually going to write about. I’ve been here for two months already, and while I’ve got through a good amount of stuff, I’ve not even started to think about ‘Chapter 1’, never mind what goes into the rest of the thing. So a lack of thinking time has kind of ham-stringed (hamstrung?) me, and I’m guessing that it’ll only be when I sit down at the computer and go ‘right then, let’s get on with this’ that my creative synapses will start firing and I’ll figure things out.

I’m sure this is going to be a big job, and I’m kind of tempted to shunt off thesis 1.0 and just change the title, although that *definitely* won’t get picked up by a publisher. Ok, well, there’s one thing that I want to do, and that’s more coding and analysis, probably of the rest of my Year 3 data, and that’s the plan for December. Once that’s done, I can then sit down and hash out the other stuff I want to write about. Probably some stuff about Glasgow. And male speakers in Glasgow. And masculinity. And masculinity in Glasgow. And language. And ethnography. And stuff.

It’s gonna be a best-seller.

– The Social Linguist

Categories: Home life, Writing Tags: , ,

Dae ye hink yer hard pal?

October 6, 2012 1 comment

I’m putting the finishing touches to an article I’ve been working on over the past few months on phonetic variation in Glasgow, focusing specifically on TH-fronting and its intersection with social identity (TH-fronting is where words like think are pronounced with [f] rather than [th]). Why this particular variable is interesting is because it’s not a traditional Scottish or Glaswegian variant and it seems to have arrived through various points (possibly television, possibly dialect contact, possibly a combination). Its use is being led mainly by working-class adolescent males rather than loosely tied middle-class speakers, again, something which is quite unusual.

Part of the argument I’m drawing on builds on work by Jane Stuart-Smith and Lynn Clark, both of whom argue that the variant [f] indexes something like ‘rough’, ‘tough’, ‘anti-establishment’ and so on. I’m interested in why and how this variant acquires this kind of meaning, since a variant usually acquires its meaning through who uses it (this has been covered in detail in Penny Eckert’s work). But [f] is only one choice for the variable (th) and it has to operate alongside the more established variant of [h]. So while I don’t doubt that [f] can index ‘tough’ and so on, I think that there’s something else going on with other variants as well.

Specifically, because [h] is closely associated with working-class Glaswegian culture (that is, a ‘hard man’ culture, as I’ve explored elsewhere), it makes more sense to me that [h] indexes ‘tough’ while [f] indexes something like ‘anti-establishment’ or ‘counter-culture’ (I’m still working on my thinking on this point here!). Part of motivating this is that one of my least ‘hard man’ and ‘tough’ groups still use [f], but not at the same rate as other groups in Banister Academy. I don’t think they’re trying to be ‘tough’, but they might be indexing something like ‘not following the mainstream’ or something along these lines. But I also hit upon a cracking example of [h] in the following tweet which might lend some credence to my claim:

If that’s not indexing ‘toughness’, I don’t know what it is doing!

The Social Linguist

Crowd-sourcing a title


For the past six months or so, I’ve been working on an edited volume with Dave Sayers, a sociolinguist at Swansea University, on sociolinguistics beyond academia. We’ve got all our contributors lined up, the proposal is more or less finished, and we’re ready to send it to the publishers. But we’re stuck on one slight issue, and that’s where you come in.

We have two very similar titles, but we’re not sure which one is better. This is your chance to help shape the title that we’ll (probably!) end up using (usual disclaimers apply!). Granted, the difference between the two is minimal, but we’re interested in seeing which one ‘flows’ better.

Alternatively, if you have another suggestion, add it to the comments!

The Social Linguist