Survey Seminar Series Spring 2021

The Survey of English Usage organises a number of seminars each year for staff and students from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and beyond. They are generously sponsored by the English Department.

The following research seminars took place during the Spring term.

Both seminars will be conducted online on Zoom.

Tuesday 2 February, 12 noon

  Nele Pöldvere (Lund University)

The London-Lund Corpus 2: A new resource for spoken English

In this talk, I will present the London–Lund Corpus 2 (LLC–2) — a new half-a-million-word corpus of contemporary spoken British English, collected 2014–2019. The aim is to describe and critically examine the methodological decisions made in the compilation process, from collecting the data to eventually making the resource available for public use. The size and design of LLC–2 are comparable to those of the world’s first machine-readable spoken corpus, the London–Lund Corpus (LLC–1) with data from the 1950s–1980s. Not only do we now have a new spoken corpus, but also a corpus that gives researchers the opportunity to make principled diachronic comparisons of speech over the past 50 years and detect change in communicative behaviour among speakers. Examples of past and current research on the corpus will be given in the talk.

Tuesday 9 March, 12 noon

Anna Cermakova (University of Cambridge)

Discussing wordless films: Provisionality language in children’s talk

In the context of education research, specific types of talk that are typical in educational settings have been identified (e.g., Sinclair & Coulthard 1975, Mercer & Littleton 2007). It is especially ‘exploratory talk’ (e.g., Mercer & Wegerif 1999) that is valued as educationally productive. Central to this type of talk is the creation of a dialogic space for possibility and provisional thinking.

Maine (2015) links this provisionality language primarily to the use of modals but also phrases such as I think. This, in turn, closely relates to research on vague language, i.e., language that is intentionally (but also unintentionally) strategically imprecise. Since the publication of the seminal work Vague Language by Channell (1994), vague language has been recognised not only as very common in speech but also as a central aspect of speakers’ communicative competence, and a number of reasons why speakers use vague language have been put forward, for example, Rowland (2007) in his research in the context of mathematics class explores how students through talk structure their knowledge and highlights linguistic vagueness as a beneficial ingredient as they talk their way “towards mutual understanding and agreement”.

This talk, based on data from the DIALLS project, DIalogue and Argumentation for cultural Literacy Learning in Schools, builds on Cook et al. (forthcoming) who argue that provisionality language may help to create a safe and supportive dialogic space for exploration and elaboration of multiple perspectives, cultivating thus values of tolerance, empathy and inclusion. Drawing on data from thirty classrooms in England across three age groups, I explore how children, by using provisional and vague language, create and co-construct meaning from wordless films and seek mutual understanding.


Channell, J. (1994). Vague Language. Oxford University Press.

Cook, V., Maine, F. & Cermakova, A. (forthcoming). Enabling children to tolerate ambiguity in dialogue: the role of provisionality in language.

Maine, F. (2015). Dialogic Readers. Children Talking and Thinking Together About Visual Texts. Routledge.

Mercer, N. & Littleton, K. (2007). Dialogue and the Development of Children’s Thinking: A Socio-Cultural Approach. Routledge.

Mercer, N. & Wegerif, R. (1999). Is ‘exploratory talk’ productive talk? In K. Littleton & P. Light (Eds), Learning with Computers. Analysing Productive Interaction, pp. 79-101. Routledge.

Rowland, T. (2007). “Well Maybe Not Exactly but It’s Around Fifty Basically?”. Vague Language in Mathematics Classrooms. In J. Cutting (Ed.), Vague Language Explored. Palgrave Macmillan.

Sinclair, J. & Coulthard, R. (1975). Towards an Analysis of Discourse: The English Used by Teachers and Pupils. Oxford University Press.

Past events

This page last modified 8 October, 2020 by Survey Web Administrator.