Linguistic Stereotypes in Academic Discourse

This month we published a new edition of Understanding Language Use in the Classroom by Susan J. Behrens, which now includes teaching materials for college educators. In this post Susan reveals what we can expect from the new edition.

My latest project with the wonderful team at Multilingual Matters is an updated and expanded edition of my 2014 book Understanding Language Use in the Classroom: A Linguistic Guide for College Educators. The original text was my way of offering teachers in higher education accessible lessons in the ways language works, a kind of Linguistics 101 in question and answer format about all aspects of language, especially academic discourse. I think a lot about the intersection of linguistics and pedagogy because I am a linguist, and I direct the teaching and learning center at Marymount Manhattan College. Long ago I saw how linguistics and pedagogy fit together, and most of my work involves making connections between the two.

Feedback I received from many readers of the original text asked me how they could use the material directly with their students, as lessons and assignments. With this new edition, Understanding Language Use in the Classroom: Including Teaching Materials for College Educators, I take on linguistic stereotypes often found in the media. We are all rather susceptible to the many ubiquitous but unchallenged images about language and language users in the media and popular culture (for a taste of language snarkiness and snobbery, check out “Word Crimes” by Weird Al Yankovic). In 2016, I worked with students to examine how Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites depict accents and dialects. We also found in popular culture plenty of statements that men and women “speak different languages.” My students found numerous examples of young women being criticized for using vocal fry and up talk. We considered what goes into the perception of a “gay voice.” And we tackled the assumptions that our very hometown, New York City, is the center of linguistic rudeness.

Why study stereotypes? Public perception and popular impressions of language – whether or not accurate, and often magnified by media – can set into motion, as well as reinforce, bias against groups of people. Nuances and complexities, not a stereotype’s strengths, are lost when we make grand claims about language use and language users, their grammar, accents, and dialects.

The additional material in this book – which takes it into the digital realm with PowerPoint slides, images, and URL links – offers lesson plans and instructor guidance material. Each lesson is connected to a chapter in the original book and extends that chapter, encouraging more exploration, more hands-on linguistic investigation. The pedagogical material is not just for linguistics classes. I wanted to make it adaptable to various audiences and class schedules, and I have included suggestions for customizing the lessons, including assignments that can be both in-class activities and research projects.

The original material is still there: a discussion of academic discourse and its role in higher education, the “conversations” about all levels of language, as well as sample worksheets, references and other resources. Since my work on linguistics for educators is ongoing, I have also updated the book with discussions about research conducted since 2014.

Every step of the process (for both editions) has been made exciting and smooth thanks to the Multilingual Matters team: Tommi, Anna, Sarah, Laura, Elinor, and Flo. Since the first book came out, I also got to meet some of these folks when they traveled to the US for conferences. Thanks for all the good chats, especially about Moomins.

Susan J. Behrens, Marymount Manhattan College

sbehrens@mmm.edu

http://susanjbehrens.wordpress.com

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Developing Intercultural Perspectives on Language Use by Troy McConachy.

Our day out in Oxford

Blackwell'sLast week, Tommi, Ellie and I travelled up to Blackwell’s headquarters in Oxford.  We started the day with a visit to the library services offices and a tour of their warehouse and then we spent the afternoon visiting Blackwell’s flagship shop in Oxford city centre.

Those of you who regularly read our blog may have read my post about Tommi and my trip to YBP last spring (you can read it here if you missed it!).  Like YBP (who supply our North American customers), one of Blackwell’s main jobs is to supply university libraries around the world with the books they want as seamlessly as possible.  First we met with Anne Davies and Sarah Saunders. Anne is our main contact at Blackwell’s and she makes sure that everything is running smoothly between us and them (which thankfully it is!), while Sarah is the buyer for all our titles. Sarah receives title information from us and decides which and how many of our books she thinks libraries will order from Blackwell’s.

Once the books have been ordered and published, they then arrive in their warehouse where Blackwell’s team of 4 profilers are busy at work.  They use exactly the same system as YBP (which I described in the post mentioned earlier) and between the 4 of them they catalogue 20,000 titles a year – that works out at approximately 20 minutes per book.  This demonstrates just how important it is that the blurbs, the contents page and introduction etc set out clearly what the book is about and who might be interested in it, as not long is spent cataloguing each book.  The categorisation of the book by the profilers then determines which libraries automatically purchase the book, and which receive a slip informing them that they might be interested in buying it.

Tommi and Ellie outside Blackwell's bookshop
Tommi and Ellie outside Blackwell’s bookshop

After the introduction to the work of the profilers we then moved into the main warehouse, from which books are shipped all around the world.  One of Blackwell’s main aims is to ensure that the processing of orders is done as quickly as possible and they have several processes which help them to achieve this.  Firstly, the system is fully automated and so books are scanned and checked at many steps along the way.  This minimises errors and means that they know exactly where every book is at any given time.  Last year they processed over 1 million books, and only 13 went missing, which is quite an achievement!  Secondly, they have a good relationship with the bookshop in Oxford, and a van whizzes between the shop and warehouse 4 times a day.  As the bookshop is so well-stocked the likelihood is that either the warehouse or bookshop will have a copy of the books that a library wants, so they can get hold of the book quicker than the warehouse alone would manage.

One of the really interesting areas of the warehouse was the section in which books are packed and processed according to each individual library’s specification.  So, for example, a library might ask for the books to be covered, stamped with their logo, stickered on the spine, or any number of usual or unusual requests be carried out.  The team of workers have a folder in which each university library has given its specifications and they must ensure that all books are adapted to the precise requirements demanded by the university, as once the books are stamped they are, of course, only suitable for that one library.

Bilingualism and Language Education books - how many Multilingual Matters books can you spot?
Bilingualism and Language Teaching books – how many Multilingual Matters books can you spot?

Once we’d finished our tour and enjoyed lunch at Blackwell’s canteen we headed into Oxford city centre to the bookshop.  Blackwell’s boasts one of the largest collections of books available for purchase in the UK and so the bookshop is quite impressive, and is one of a very few shops where you can walk in and find many of our titles on the shelves.  Here’s a photo of the bilingualism and language teaching section, I wonder how many of our books you can spot (there are quite a few!).

We met with the buyers of the linguistics and tourism departments and discussed how they choose which of our titles to stock and how best to send them information about our forthcoming titles.  It was lovely to see the wide array of titles on their shelves and it was really quite difficult to tear ourselves away!

As you’ll gather from the length of this post, we really enjoyed our day and found many aspects of the way in which Blackwell’s work fascinating.

Laura