Home sweet home

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

I’m migratory. I can’t spend long in one spot; all too soon I get ants in my pants and I need a change of scenery. So every day, I pack my bag, make my lunch, and head off somewhere to study. First stop: the university library. I arrange all my things just so and settle down to work. But then I get cold – where’s that breeze coming from? – so I have to leave. I head for the department library, but before long a sniffer joins my table (I cannot stand sniffing). I try the college library but by then my favourite spot is taken, and the last resort – the coffee shop – has been overrun by undergrads. Finally, by late afternoon, I find the perfect place at last. I can’t believe I haven’t thought of it before. It’s comfortable and quiet. It’s … my room.

Wat vind jíj van het Engels?

As part of my research I’m doing a questionnaire among Dutch people, mainly focused on their attitudes towards English. To date this has only been done to a limited extent among small segments of the population. This questionnaire is aimed at Dutch people of all ages and walks of life.

The questionnaire is in Dutch and is divided into three sections.

  • Section I asks for some personal information – age, sex and the like.
  • Section II revolves around Dutch people’s uses of and attitudes towards English.
  • Section III involves a grammaticality judgement task, in which respondents are asked to correct a number of English sentences.

The questionnaire takes about 15 minutes and responses are anonymous. We will be collecting responses until 1 June 2013.

Calling all Dutch people: please help us by filling in the questionnaire, and passing it on to your family, friends and colleagues! You can also spread the link via Facebook or Twitter. Your help is much appreciated.

For more information, feel free to contact me.

When cats become croissants

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

We all have our favourite forms of procrastination. But I am irritated when people post links on Facebook to artsy-fartsy, New Age-style fluff. Like those pictures urging you to repost them if you support nurses or love your dog. Less still do I condone films of bear cubs cuddling up to pandas, or that man catching a string of ducklings as they fell from a balcony in downtown Washington and then safely leading them to water. No: my preferred form of procrastination is eating. Very occasionally, however, the two – food and short films – come together in seamless fashion. Just now, I was dazzled by a YouTube video in which sleeping cats morphed into croissants. I think it’s safe to say: I won’t be working any more tonight.

‘Christ fucking shit merde!’

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

You know how in high school there was always someone cooler than you? Unfortunately, in graduate school the tradition lives on: someone, somewhere, will always have a cooler research project than you. The thorn in my side is a London researcher with the alarmingly titled paper ‘“Christ fucking shit merde!” Language preferences for swearing among maximally proficient multilinguals’. Jean-Marc Dewaele studied several hundred bilingual adults and found that, despite their proficiency in their second language, they used their first language significantly more for swearing, and they perceived swearwords in their first language to have a stronger emotional effect. So when it comes to swearing, your mother tongue is your best bet. Shame, really – because the Dutch preference for curses involving animals and infectious diseases is so much more appealing.

But it’s good for us, right?

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

Last week the late-night talk show Pauw & Witteman had a segment on language policy. Usually I can’t watch things like this. Watching journalists (or worse, politicians) try to talk linguistics makes me throw things at the TV. After all, it’s thanks to journalists that I’m known – among a niche crowd, admittedly – as the researcher according to whom ‘a new variety of English has emerged, het Nederengels’ (don’t get me started). The P&W debate featured the Amsterdam lawyer Nazmi Türkkol calling for the children of immigrants to receive language classes in their mother tongue. Rightly, he said that this has demonstrable benefits. Unfortunately, he claimed the government is therefore obliged to provide – and pay – for it. If only it were true that the government is obliged to pay for everything it knows is good for us…

The misfit: Placing the Netherlands on the map of World Englishes

I’m giving a talk next week at the University of Sheffield. The title is above and the abstract is below.

Kachru’s (1985, 1988) Three Circles model was supposed to be subversive, challenging the established dichotomy between native and non-native speakers of English. Similarly, the spirit of the field of World Englishes is supposed to be inclusive. However, research in recent decades has served not to break down barriers altogether, but simply to shift the barrier from between Kachru’s inner and outer circles to between the outer and expanding circles, leaving traditional and New Englishes as legitimate varieties, but expanding circle varieties out in the cold. A strict divide is maintained between second-language (ESL) and foreign-language (EFL) varieties based on their different acquisitional settings, where ESL users — given the legacy of colonialism — acquire and use English in wider society, whereas in EFL societies it is confined within the wall of the classroom. I emphasise that ESL varieties can arise not just through a colonial legacy but through new factors like globalisation and the internet age. Based on a criteria catalogue for ESL status that focuses on widespread competence in English, expansion of function, identity formation, norm orientation and nativisation of linguistic structures, I argue that the Netherlands is starting to show signs of meeting, or having already met, these criteria. Reassessment of its continued relegation to the expanding circle is therefore long overdue.

Call it research

Alison in Wonderland, Observant, Maastricht

Here’s something I’ve failed to mention in this column so far: doing a PhD is fun. At least, mine is. And at least, at the moment. This week’s task: looking for uses of English words and phrases in Dutch pop songs. It’s the opposite of looking for a needle in a haystack; you may as well ask what Dutch artist doesn’t use English words. I’m particularly enjoying such lyrical gems as the girl-group Kus managing to make geweest rhyme with ge-erased in ‘Ik heb je nummer gedelete, ik heb je naam ge-erased, ik heb je foto geremoved, wat tussen ons was is geweest’. And the fun just doesn’t stop. Next week’s project: English in Dutch TV shows. Can’t wait to get into the new season of Flikken Maastricht and call it research.