Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

Chill out, said the New York Times this week. Under a headline that shouted ‘Relax! You’ll be more productive’, the article said two things that made me happy. The first is that naps really do work. The second? More than a few hours of serious brain work per day is too much. In the 1950s, researchers discovered that we sleep in ninety minute cycles, going from light to deep sleep and back again. As it turns out, we go through the same cycle during the day, moving from a state of alertness into a state of physiological fatigue every ninety minutes. So to maximise productivity, we should work in ninety minute sessions – ideally, three of them. That’s a grand total of four and half hours. How many hours will you be working today?


New and learner Englishes: re-evaluating the norm orientation continuum

Good news. Together with Sam Laporte from Louvain, I’ll be presenting the following paper in May at the 34th ICAME conference in at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Yay for excellent conference locations.

New and learner Englishes: re-evaluating the norm orientation continuum


The divide long believed to exist between outer and expanding circle Englishes has recently been called into question. Gilquin and Granger (2011) point out that the exposure to and use of English varies substantially within EFL countries, and Hilbert and Krug (2012) and Edwards (forthcoming) demonstrate that, within varieties, characteristics of EFL and ESL can coexist. As Hundt and Vogel (2011: 161) write, ‘increasing globalization might eventually blur the distinction between ENL, ESL and EFL varieties’. However, although studies comparing inner, outer and expanding circle countries are indeed emerging (e.g. Hundt & Vogel 2011, Wulff & Römer 2009), due to the nature of the corpus data available from the expanding circle (e.g. ICLE), such studies tend to focus on student writing only. Against this backdrop, we expand this scope of genres and take a first step in answering Davydova’s (2012) call for indigenised and learner varieties to be investigated on the same grounds, with the potential for variation of a similar nature depending on their variable extra-linguistic backgrounds.

Research questions, data and methods

We seek to shed further light on the nature of the continuum across EFL, ESL and ENL. Our data come from the written components of the International Corpus of English (ICE) for Great Britain and the USA (ENL) and Hong Kong, India and Singapore (ESL), as well as from a comparable corpus of Dutch English (EFL). The latter, to our knowledge, is the first expanding circle corpus encompassing all ICE text categories, thus allowing for comparisons across a range of genres. Inspired by Gilquin and Granger’s (2011) work with ICLE, we take the preposition into as a case study, conducting a quantitative and qualitative analysis of its syntactic patterns, semantic distribution, lexical variation, phraseological uses and non-standard uses. We aim to test recent claims that the cline to be found in terms of norm orientation is ENL > EFL > ESL (Hundt & Vogel 2011, Van Rooy 2006) and, within ESL, that the more advanced varieties in Schneider’s (2003) dynamic model will be the most dissimilar to ENL (Mukherjee & Gries 2009). In light of these claims, we hypothesise that Dutch English will be closest to the native norm, and Singapore English most distant.

Results and discussion

Hierarchical cluster analyses in fact reveal Singapore English to be the most norm oriented, thus supporting Hundt and Vogel’s (2011) assertion that such ESL varieties can show lingering exonormative trends. Moreover, Dutch English is not markedly distinct from the New Englishes, but clusters with them in different ways depending on the focus of the analysis, e.g. like Indian English, it shows a relatively higher proportion of intransitive patterning with into than the other corpora. These results support Davydova’s (2012) claim that learner and New Englishes should be approached in an integrated fashion. In our view, they should be seen as existing on a continuum along which individuals and groups can move depending on their norm orientation as well as their levels of proficiency in and exposure to English.


Davydova, J. 2012. Englishes in the Outer and Expanding Circles: A comparative study. World Englishes 31(3): 366-385.

Edwards, A. (forthcoming). The nativisation of English in the Netherlands: A sociolinguistic and corpus-linguistic study. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge.

Gilquin, G. & S. Granger. 2011. From EFL to ESL: Evidence from the International Corpus of Learner English. In Mukherjee J. & M. Hundt (eds.) Exploring Second-Language Varieties of English and Learner Englishes: Bridging a Paradigm Gap. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 55-78.

Hilbert, M. & M. G. Krug. 2012. Progressives in Maltese English. In Hundt M. & U. Gut (eds.) Mapping Unity and Diversity World-Wide: Corpus-Based Studies of New Englishes. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 103-136.

Hundt, M. & K. Vogel. 2011. Overuse of the progressive in ESL and learner Englishes – fact or fiction? In Mukherjee J. & M. Hundt (eds.) Exploring Second-Language Varieties of English and Learner Englishes: Bridging a Paradigm Gap. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 145-166.

Schneider, E. W. 2003. The dynamics of New Englishes: From identity construction to dialect birth. Language 79(2), 233-281.

Van Rooy, B.  2006.  The extension of the progressive aspect in Black South African English.  World Englishes 25(1): 37-64.

Wulff, S. & U. Römer. 2009. Becoming a proficient academic writer: Shifting lexical preferences in the use of the progressive. Corpora 4(2): 115-133.

Miniaturised weapons

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

Last night I was two metres away from a man worth $7.5 billion. I was at a talk by Eric Schmidt, former CEO and now executive chairman of Google. And unlike your typical academic, he was happy to take questions. So what did go wrong for Google in China? “I negotiated. We lost”, he said. “Can I be more blunt than that?” The focus of his talk was on digital connectivity – ‘Life in our new connected age’ – and he was optimistic. Genocide is a thing of the past, he said. Committing large-scale atrocities is becoming harder because we can now send images and video around the world instantly, making “evil people” – his words – a lot more concerned about accountability. “This is the power of individuals with miniaturised weapons.”

I am the Brain

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

PhDs are full of ups and downs. Some days, it goes like this: Oh. Dear. God. I am the stupidest person alive. This is the worst PhD *ever*. The next day, it’s all: OMG. This PhD is amazing. I am AWESOME. Happily, today is one of the latter. I met with my supervisor, having handed in a chapter draft. I thought it was good work, and that is worrying. Because if you hand in work you know is rubbish, and your supervisor says it’s rubbish – well, no surprises there. But if you think your work is stellar, and your supervisor begs to differ … then not only is your work rubbish, but your judgement is too. Thankfully, my supervisor was pleased. You know the two mice in the cartoon Pinky and the Brain? I am totally the Brain.

At least, until Pinky shows up again.