Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Thesis - done

I finished my PhD thesis today. I'm not submitting until Friday, but I needed to send it off to my super-helpful and kind friend so she can print and bind it for me. It's been a long, hard slog, especially these last few weeks getting it finished, and today I finally did the last read-through.

Until last night I didn't even know if it was any good - I've worked on it too long to get any kind of distance and objectivity. But then I left it few hours and did a last check for typos and I think it's not that bad, in the end.

I don't feel ecstatic or anything, though. I haven't been out celebrating because I don't really know anyone down here in Canterbury, plus I'm teaching at 9am tomorrow so I can't get drunk. I am having a celebratory glass of wine though: my first alcohol in a couple of weeks so it feels like a treat.

I'm submitting on Friday so I head back up north tomorrow afternoon (if the trains are running - the track's flooded) and it'll be great to see everyone and celebrate properly.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Learning and teaching forum

I've been at the faculty Learning and Teaching Forum this afternoon. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting to find it quite so interesting and inspiring.

I'll perhaps write more on these topics another day (you know, when I don't have a thesis to finish) but I  just wanted to mention it now while it's fresh.

We had six interesting sessions. The first dealt with new technology that's being introduced to record lectures. Nothing new there, I thought, but I was wrong. The technology that they're using is so much more advanced than anything I've seen before, and it's really exciting stuff. It can record several things simultaneously, including the speaker in audio and/or video, the powerpoint, anything that's on screen and essentially anything that you can plug into it. Students can make notes, and it's all attached to the relevant module. As some people suggested, we won't need to actually turn up to lectures soon. In fact, some people are apparently recording lectures and posting them and then using the timetabled lecture slot for something else that requires face-to-face time in a way that lecturing actually doesn't.

The second talk was about using digital tools for teaching, including social media, discussion tools and digital resources like databases and Google Ngrams. There were a lot of interesting suggestions made of how to use this stuff to enhance a course, and some advice about how to get the best of it. I felt quite inspired to go away and put it into practice, and I think I probably will do. If I do, I'll try to remember to report on how it goes.

We had a talk about how to use reading week as a force for good, rather than a sort of gap in the timetable. The speaker showed how his school are scheduling all sorts of events that are designed to get the students to re-engage, think about their learning and their university experience and what they can do to get the most out of it. A comment from an audience member was that in some music colleges, they use their equivalent of reading week as a time for the students to work on collaborative projects. That's an idea that's obviously very well-suited to music, as a week is a good length of time to produce something interesting that can be entirely student-led. In other fields, it might be a time to spend on a field trip or some other activity.

A talk I particularly enjoyed was from an architect. He showed us simultaneously some fancy hardware/software they've got and the plans for a space on the campus which is going to look pretty darn awesome when it's done. Although his talk was ostensibly less directly relevant to me, I found it fascinating stuff. Partly I was very engaged with the way he talked about making space work for the people who use it and the plans that they've got. But I spent quite a bit of the time admiring the software. He was using a big touch screen with a nice presentation tool that allowed him to bring up images, video and stuff from a bar at the bottom into a workspace, manipulate the images in the space (for example, with drawing tools) and flick it away again when he'd finished with it. It was very neat and would allow a presentation to be non-linear in nature, which is the biggest restriction that something like Powerpoint makes on the user.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

No posts for a bit

I'm submitting my thesis next Friday. At least, that's the plan. It's going to be a PhD-heavy time until then, so I won't be posting anything till at least Wednesday next week, which is when I hope to have sent it off to be printed by. Then I'll be back to my usual language-based waffle and twaddle.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

I doubt that you would suspect this

A recent Language Log post pointed out a humorously ambiguous headline:

The joke is of course that it sounds like the kebab van drove over and duffed up the hapless teen, with the by phrase expressing the agent of the jaw-breaking incident. The intended meaning is the one in which by is a preposition, and the by phrase locates the teenager at the time of the attack (ie he was by a kebab van). Much lolz ensues.

This wasn't the only humour to be wrung from the language in the headline: commenter Bobbie made the following quip, which was immediately either genuinely or wilfully misunderstood by Victor Mair:

Bobbie is taking advantage of the fact that in English, we can say that you have broken your X (if X is a body part) and it does not mean that you did the breaking. There's a term for that which I can't remember just now. Anyway, so Bobbie says what (s)he says, implying that it is unlikely to be the case that the teenager did it himself. Victor Mair's comment was initially baffling to me, because of course American English speakers wouldn't use suspect instead - that would mean the exact opposite! Other commenters said much the same lower down the comment thread.

Some of those commenters also noted that doubt used to mean roughly what suspect means. It's sense 6d in the OED, marked as archaic, and from the examples there, you can see how the semantic shift could have happened. Just add it to the long list of English verbs whose meaning has completely reversed over time.

Monday, 10 September 2012

LAGB 2012

LAGB 2012 was just about the most well-organised LAGB I've ever attended. Everything ran smoothly, the venue was nice (if uncomfortably hot/cold depending on which room you were in) and the papers were good. Well done to the organisers, who must have done a heck of a lot of work to make it work so well. This is the Lady Hale building at Salford, where the conference was held. That weird white thing lights up pretty colours at night:

There was this sign, and another one the same at the other end, on this path on the campus:

'This land is private and there is no intention to create a public right of way across it'

We were all baffled by this. As a friend remarked, it's cancelling an implicature that was never there in the first place. Do they get a lot of people asking if there is any intention to create a right of way across the land? No one stopped us walking along that path. Did we have permission to do so? What does it even mean?

They seem to go in for overly explanatory signage in Salford - there was another sign which I didn't get a picture of, which said 'Cyclists dismount. This is not a cycle way.' The first part of that is surely enough to achieve the desired effect, but in Salford they like to explain why you must dismount.

Anyway, now I've moved down to Canterbury to start properly at my new job at Kent. First meeting is this morning.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

LAGB 2012, and random observations

I'm at the annual LAGB meeting, held in Salford this year. Yesterday we had a workshop on Case, and indeed case (there's a difference). 

I really enjoyed the plenary talk, by Mark Baker. He had used what's called The Middle Way, which is a good methodology if you can do it. It means that you find a middle ground between your typical theoretical generative linguist (who looks at just one or two languages, often their own) and your typical functional or typological linguist (who looks at a lot of languages but not in great detail, and maybe only from published grammars) and you take a sample of unrelated languages and you look at them in as much detail as you can, ideally from primary data. It's what I wanted to do with my thesis but in practice, it's really really hard to do because you need to find native speakers of all these obscure languages. And that's before you even get to interpreting all the data. I won't summarise his talk here because it was excellent and I won't do it justice, and because you can get the slides here: [link]

On a completely unrelated note, he used this sentence, which I consider to be slightly ungrammatical (that's what the ? means - linguists, at least those who don't do quantitative stuff, use a scale of ungrammaticality. * means it's ungrammatical, ? means a bit iffy, and then ?* in between for a totally subjective and non-quantifiable scale of badness. Grammatical sentences are just presented as sentences):

(1) ? You do nothing in the transitive one either.

'Either' (in this sense) is a sort of NPI, which means it's allowed if you have a negative which 'scopes' over it, but not if you don't. So (2) is not at all grammatical:

(2) *I like hornpipes either.

The 'nothing' in the sentence Baker used should be enough to license 'either', and evidently for him it is. And for me, it's totally OK to say something like (3):

(3) There's nothing in here either.

That's completely parallel, on the face of it. There's no reason that I can see that one should be OK and the other not. And yet, for mysterious reasons, for me it's a heck of a lot better to say (4) than (1), but (5) is no better, and probably a bit less natural, than (3):

(4) You don't do anything in the transitive one either.

(5) There isn't anything in here either. 

Answers on a postcard please.