Shrill and waffly

Column for the Observant, Maastricht, May

‘Rhetoric for real women’, the event was called and – as both a woman and something of a talker – I’d been excited for weeks. The guest of honour was one Dr Susan Jones, a speechwriter for no fewer than three British prime ministers. On a Wednesday evening, early May, in an ornate room tucked away in a Cambridge college, female graduate students were treated to a dinner of poached quail eggs in the presence of the illustrious Dr Jones and the college provost. (What a provost does remains unclear to me; suffice it to say we’re supposed to be intimidated.) We were there to learn about ‘authentic, influential and successful speech for women today’.

The sorbet plates had barely been cleared when things took a turn for the worse. ‘We’re thrilled to have such an honoured guest with us here tonight’, said the provost. ‘Of course, I won’t actually be coming to the talk, because I’d be terrified.’

Our smiles frozen, we threw panicked looks at one another. What would our honoured guest think? And what exactly so frightened the provost? All those vaginas in the same room?

Jones seemed unperturbed. ‘Oh now, I’m sure he was just busy’, she blustered when the incident was raised during her talk. She then recounted one story after another with the following basic plot: First, man makes sexist remark. Next, Jones laughs it off – ‘It’s no big deal’ – or, alternatively, makes an excuse: ‘A man at a dinner asked me what I do and I said, I’m the speechwriter for so and so. He said, could you pass the salt? But really, I’m sure he was just thinking of what to say.’

In the audience, we thought: well, if she won’t be our feminist hero, at least she’ll have some useful tips about speech writing. Right? Wrong. ‘When women get emotional they turn shrill. And they waffle’, she said. ‘Don’t do that.’ Perpetuating age-old stereotypes and alienating your audience, however – those are fine.

Playing the men’s game and happily ignoring ‘women’s issues’ – is it really still the only way to the top?


A thesis, in short …

How I managed to forget to post this I don’t know; let’s attribute it to the post-submission haze. But below: the summary of my thesis. I’ll post a pdf of the final, final version once my viva is done and corrections are good and over.

English in the Netherlands: Functions, forms and attitudes

This thesis revolves around two main research questions: ‘Should the English used in the Netherlands be considered a second-language variety or should it simply be regarded as learner English?’ and ‘Can Schneider’s Dynamic Model be extended to account for non-postcolonial, Expanding Circle contexts such as the Netherlands?’ Chapter 1 describes the motivations for the project and the theoretical and methodological framework. Chapter 2 explores the relevant models in the field of World Englishes (WEs) and identifies a lack of in-depth research on European settings in general and the Netherlands in particular, despite their dynamism in terms of the spread and development of English.

Chapters 3 to 5 address three criteria established to answer research question 1, concerning the functions of, attitudes towards and forms of English in the Netherlands, respectively. Chapter 3, on the functions of English in the Netherlands, develops a comprehensive sociolinguistic profile covering the history of English contact, the present demographics of English spread, and the domains of education, science, business, advertising, public administration and the media. It reveals a widespread assumption of English competence in daily life in the Netherlands and increasing intranational use of English to construct cosmopolitan, scholarly or subculture identities. On this basis, the chapter concludes that English functions as a second language in Dutch society.

Chapter 4 explores the second criterion for research question 1, attitudes towards English, by way of a large-scale questionnaire. Some results support the notion of English as a second language in the Netherlands; for example, it is acquired in wider society and not just within the confines of the foreign-language classroom. Others, however, are indicative of a foreign or learner language; in particular, BrE remains the main target model and ‘Dutch English’ is rarely viewed in a positive light. The chapter also identifies three groups of people: an instrumental group, whose participants regard English as personally important, but place great value on Dutch as well; and two peripheral groups: an anglophile group and an anti-English group.

Chapter 5 focuses on the third criterion for research question 1, the forms of English in the Netherlands. It first outlines a range of potential morphosyntactic, lexical and pragmatic/discoursal features of Dutch English. Next, it describes the development of the Corpus of Dutch English, the first Expanding Circle corpus based on the design of the written components of the International Corpus of English (ICE). The chapter then presents a case study of the progressive aspect. The first part, a comparative corpus analysis, reveals no strict divide between Dutch English and the second-language varieties under investigation, yet marked differences compared to Dutch learner data. In the second part, a grammaticality judgement survey, some evidence of developing local norms is identified.

The findings from chapters 3 to 5 make clear that, in answer to research question 1, the Netherlands cannot be said unequivocally to be either a second-language or a learner variety. It is acknowledged, however, that this is partly attributable to the categorical nature of the question. Therefore, Chapter 6 turns to research question 2, seeking to determine whether the developments in the Netherlands can better be explained by a developmental approach such as Schneider’s (2003, 2007) Dynamic Model. It identifies a number of developments in the Netherlands, both historical and present-day, that parallel the predictions of the first three phases of the Dynamic Model. However, as Schneider (2014) himself recently noted, these need to be selectively extracted from what is predominantly a colonial framework. The thesis concludes that this and other models need to move away from a colonisation-driven approach and towards a globalisation-driven one to explain the continued spread and evolution of English today.

The progressive aspect in the Netherlands and the ESL/EFL continuum

My article ‘The progressive aspect in the Netherlands and the ESL/EFL continuum‘ is out now in the journal World Englishes. My hat goes off to everyone who had a hand in it, especially the corpus contributors. Here’s the abstract:

This paper responds to calls to (i) approach varieties of English as a native (ENL), second (ESL) and foreign (EFL) language in an integrated fashion, and (ii) widen the scope of world Englishes analyses to the Expanding Circle. It describes the development of the Corpus of ‘Dutch English’, the first Expanding Circle corpus incorporating all text types in the written components of the ICE corpora. This corpus has implications for the description of English in the Netherlands in particular and for the investigation of ESL and EFL varieties in general. The paper then reports on a case study of the progressive aspect in this corpus compared to several ENL and ESL varieties. The results show no strict divide between the ESL varieties and the Corpus of Dutch English, which in fact displayed characteristics of both EFL and ESL. These findings provide further evidence in favour of an ESL–EFL continuum rather than a strict divide between varietal types.

Cambridge English Usage Guides Symposium

This is exciting and everyone should sign up for it:

Cambridge English Usage (Guides) Symposium

On 26 and 27 June 2014, Henriette Hendriks (Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics and co-chair of the Language Sciences Initiative), Robin Straaijer and Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (both from the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics) are organising a symposium at the English Faculty of the University of Cambridge on English usage guides and usage problems. Speakers will include John Allen, Deborah Cameron, David Crystal, Mignon Fogarty, Rebecca Gowers, Robert Ilson, Pam Peters, Geoff Pullum, Caroline Taggart and others, including the members of the Leiden Bridging the Unbridgeable project. In addition, the HUGE database of usage guides and usage problems will be launched, a research tool developed by Robin Straaijer. All those interested will be welcome.

See also the information at Bridging the Unbridgeable.