Category Archives: Topics in Sociolinguistics

Turkish Lira

Let me first start with a word of caution; the title might be misleading but the content of this post has no relation to ‘economics’. It’s only that as a non-participant observer I have come to realise that the Turkish community living in London often use ‘Lira’ instead of ‘sterling’ or ‘pound’ when conversing with each other, and that includes myself (!), but only when with my parents. I thought I was – or we were – the odd one(s), but surprisingly overheard other local Turks using ‘Lira’ while conversing amongst each other, especially while shopping. I’m very curious as to why this might be the case and personally interpreting this as an indication of attachment to your homeland, especially with the first generation. The second (like myself) and third generation, by contrast, are adapting their speech and probably never aware of it. This leaves me wondering then what might be the case with other expat Turks living in other countries? Do you use ‘Lira’ as well?


1 Comment

Filed under Topics in Sociolinguistics

Chomsky vs. Everett!

Angry Words

Will one researcher’s discovery deep in the Amazon destroy the foundation of modern linguistics?

By Tom Bartlett

A Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself. In a plot twist, instead of converting them he loses his faith, morphing from an evangelist trying to translate the Bible into an academic determined to understand the people he’s come to respect and love.

Along the way, the former missionary discovers that the language these people speak doesn’t follow one of the fundamental tenets of linguistics, a finding that would seem to turn the field on its head, undermine basic assumptions about how children learn to communicate, and dethrone the discipline’s long-reigning king, who also happens to be among the most well-known and influential intellectuals of the 20th century.

It feels like a movie, and it may in fact turn into one—there’s a script and producers on board. It’s already a documentary that will air in May on the Smithsonian Channel. A play is in the works in London. And the man who lived the story, Daniel Everett, has written two books about it. His 2008 memoir Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, is filled with Joseph Conrad-esque drama. The new book, Language: The Cultural Tool, which is lighter on jungle anecdotes, instead takes square aim at Noam Chomsky, who has remained the pre-eminent figure in linguistics since the 1960s, thanks to the brilliance of his ideas and the force of his personality.

Please refer to the direct link to continue reading the full article:

Leave a comment

Filed under Topics in Sociolinguistics

British Language and Culture

I strongly recommend this reader friendly pocket size reference book for students studying sociolinguistics. The book not only provides ample examples on colloquial British English, but also once more stresses the fact that descriptive grammar is as equally important as prescriptive grammar. The book is published by Lonely Planet and the details can be accessed directly from the following link:



Filed under Topics in Sociolinguistics

The Fractal Approach to Teaching English as a Foreign Language

The article below once more emphasizes the importance in maintaining a balance between ‘descriptive’ and ‘prescriptive’ grammar in ELT.

Bring chaos theory to English language teaching

By relying on grammar rules in class, learners are in danger of becoming detached from the dynamism of spoken language

Maurice Claypole

fractal language teaching

Fractal inspiration … by using language we change it. Photograph:   Stocktrek/Corbis

A van pulls into a UK service area sporting in foot-high letters the query, “Does my broadband look big in this?” Nearby, McDonald’s announces to the world: “I’m lovin’ it.” To the learner of English, often brought up on a diet of grammar rules and comfortably defined meanings, such instances of language use, while commonplace, often seem to defy analysis.

In particular, it is pointless to debate whether the hamburger slogan represents correct use of a stative verb. If the rule does not match such widespread usage, it is the rule, not the example, that has to go.

But why are grammar rules so elusive? Why do so many items of vocabulary seem to defy the attempts of lexicographers to tie them down to anything other than a vaguely defined core meaning? Why does the socio-cultural context of today exert such a powerful influence on the received meaning of tomorrow?

The answer lies in the dynamic nature of language itself and in the complex network of ever-changing patterns that are constantly being expanded and reformed through an ongoing process of interaction, iteration and feedback.

Sometimes a simple phrase can, through a process of quasi-repetition, spread from its initial roots to spark off a new generation of inferences. Thus, the example cited above is being used by a British telecoms provider to capitalise on a popular catch-phrase from a 1990s comedy series in which the question, “Does my bum look big in this?” is repeated in a variety of humorous situations.

Learners and teachers generally favour practical solutions to language problems in the form of easy-to-follow guidelines and clear categories that serve to package language structures and utterances for easy consumption. But there are times when we can benefit from taking a broader view by considering the language we use in the context of other, more rigorous, scientific disciplines.

One view of the world in particular embraces a wealth of perceptions that extend from the beauty of a rose to the violence of lightning, from the magnificence of the fjords to the mysteries of the macrocosm; science, nature and art coalesce in the fantastic world of fractal forms.

A fractal is essentially a mathematical construct – a formula, if you like – but unlike the Euclidean geometry of perfect circles and triangles, fractals are forms that are present in nature and that embody the key features of self-organisation, self-similarity and dynamism.

Human language shares these traits; like the weather, it changes in a dynamic way as seemingly insignificant factors are fed back into a loop of cause and effect in which the magnitude of the outcome bears no relation to that of the input values, a phenomenon which frequently produces unexpected results, the so-called butterfly effect of chaos theory.

For this reason the dynamic nature of the English language does not properly lend itself to static analysis; it is not governed by simple rules but driven by an ongoing, iterative process of self-referential contextualisation. In other words, English usage obeys a set of “laws”, but these are complex in nature and often defy prediction.

The paradigm used in the fractal approach to ELT concentrates on creative output rather than on a fixed initial state of the language. Since the model is rooted outside any notion of formal language structure, it may be counterintuitive to many language teachers, but also opens up new possibilities by placing more emphasis on non-verbal contributors to meaning, acknowledging more grey areas of acceptability, stressing the fleeting nature of the spoken language and allowing the teacher to use material that may previously have been disregarded since it did not conform to a previously perceived pattern.

Each time a word or expression is used, it acquires a new valence as a result of external factors such as the context in which it was uttered, the intention of the speaker and the medium in which it occurred. By declaring “war on terror”, George W Bush had already redefined the notion of “war”, and by similarly declaring a cyber attack to be an “act of war”, the Obama administration has recently extended this notion still further – or more accurately, has provided an additional instance variable within the mathematical boundaries of the set of meanings attributable to the term “war”.

This phenomenon applies to every use of the language and is the generating force behind all forms of peer group discourse, from rhyming slang and Hinglish to financial jargon, political obfuscation and Twitterese. The dynamic model recognises that by using the language we change it. Once you have used or encountered a word or a phrase in a new context, it takes on associations and meanings it did not have before. Such instances of linguistic iteration frequently fall outside the scope of regular language lessons and yet the patterns they reveal are as commonplace as they are complex.

For teachers, it is important to resist the temptation to dumb down or sanitise the language in order to teach it. If a received grammar rule or text-book explanation fails a harsh reality check, then it is time to throw it out, but by contrast, educators should be wary of discarding real-life material by characterising it as “slang”, “regional”, “jargon”, or similar and instead seek to emphasise the effect that context has on meaning and introduce new material from a wide range of sources, even if they appear to conflict with one another.

Above all, the fractal approach favours a goal-oriented method of teaching combined with a holistic view of language acquisition. It encourages students to explore new paths and expand their language skills by discovering new aspects of English through pattern recognition rather than static language acquisition. The objective is not to tame the chaos of language but to encourage learners to appreciate the dynamic qualities inherent in its use.

Rather than being alienated by new instances of self-referential language in practice, students, too, should be lovin’ it.


Maurice Claypole is pedagogical director of LinguaServe and author of The Fractal Approach to Teaching English as a Foreign Language


Leave a comment

Filed under Topics in Sociolinguistics

American vs. British English slang

Leave a comment

Filed under Topics in Sociolinguistics

Grosjean’s writings on bilingualism

Dormant bilinguals and President Obama

The vagaries of life may lead to dormant bilingualism.
Published on November 19, 2010 by Francois Grosjean, Ph.D. in Life as a Bilingual

I have often been asked the following question: If bilinguals are those who use two or more languages (or dialects) in their everyday lives, what do you call people who now live their lives with just one language, even though they know several other languages and used them before? My reply is that they are dormant bilinguals.

It is not rare for bilinguals to go from being active, regular bilinguals, interacting with the world around them using their different languages, to being single language users. This can happen at any time and is usually due to a major life change such as immigration, the loss of a close family member, a separation, a change of jobs, or simply growing up and leaving one’s language community. If this situation extends over time, then the language no longer being used on a regular basis will start to be forgotten. (I will cover language loss in a future post).

President Barack Obama is a fine example of a dormant bilingual. He spent four years in Indonesia between the ages of six and ten. He attended local schools and spoke Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) quite fluently. He stopped using it with others though when he moved to Hawaii with the exception of his half sister and when on trips back to Indonesia.

This said, he can still hold a general conversation in Indonesian and it was interesting to hear him say a few words in his other language when he addressed students at the University of Indonesia on November 10 of this year.

Each time he switched over to Indonesian – “Selamat pagi” (Good morning), “Pulang kampung nih” (Back to/in my hometown) and so on – his audience applauded loudly. He also made them laugh mimicking the calls of street vendors. He finished with a much longer sentence in Indonesian, clearly showing that he retained a lot of the language.

Even though one may feel shy speaking a language one no longer uses (this is my case when I say a few words in Italian), it can be a real pleasure to realize that people understand you nevertheless. Clearly President Obama was relishing such moments when he switched over to Indonesian. And when he stated, “Indonesia bagian dari didi saya” (Indonesia is part of me), he was clearly touched as was his audience.

By living those four years in a country, “made up of thousands of islands, and hundreds of languages, and people from scores of regions and ethnic groups”, as he states in his speech, President Obama experienced bi- and multilingualism first hand. This was reinforced later by his years in Hawaii with its two state languages (English and Hawaiian) and its many other languages.

It is no surprise therefore that President Obama defends bilingualism. When he was a candidate, in the summer of 2008, he stated at a rally, “You should be thinking about …. how can your child become bilingual. We should have every child speaking more than one language”.

When uttering those words, he may have been thinking of himself when he was a bilingual child in Indonesia. He shared some of those happy memories with his audience during his November 10 speech, “I learned to love Indonesia while flying kites and running along the paddy fields and catching dragonflies…..I remember the people, the old men and women who welcomed us with smiles; the children who made a foreign child feel like a neighbor and a friend; and the teachers who helped me learn about this country.”

For further background reading the following link is also useful:

Leave a comment

Filed under Topics in Sociolinguistics

Protected: Week 11

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Enter your password to view comments.

Filed under Topics in Sociolinguistics