2018 events

How Does Acoustic Variability Affect Vocabulary Learning and Speech Processing?

  • Joe Barcroft, Washington University in St. Louis
  • 2 February
Acoustic variability refers to variations in spoken language that do not alter the linguistic content.

This seminar focuses on the effects of five different types of acoustic variability—talker, speaking-style, speaking-rate, amplitude, and fundamental-frequency (F0) variability—on vocabulary learning and speech processing. We begin with research on how each source of variability affects the performance of native English speakers attempting to identify words presented in English. We then review research on the effects of each source of variability on vocabulary learning. We then discuss how this overall pattern of effects can be accounted for by the extended phonetic relevance hypothesis and review very supportive findings of a study on how F0 variability affected L2 vocabulary learning. The seminar concludes with the presentation of a visual model of how acoustic variability increases vocabulary learning and poses costs during speech processing.

The music of every day speech: Description and application in language learning

  • Dolors Font-Rotches, University of Barcelona
  • 7 February
An acoustic method for analysing intonation will be presented and its relevance describing languages and interlanguages in order to be applied in language learning.

In order to describe the intonation -the music of speech- of different languages, we used the Melodic Analysis of Speech method (MAS), a formal and objective method that encompasses the most relevant aspects to be considered when analysing intonation. It provides criteria for establishing a corpus, the identification of melodic units, the extraction and relevance of acoustic data, its standardisation and the representation and interpretation of graphs, as well as the execution of perception tests and validation of the results obtained. After presenting the method, we will demonstrate examples of its applications for description and language learning. This paper focuses on melodic patterns of Catalan and Spanish and also the interlanguages, Spanish and Catalan spoken by foreigners, and some features which can cause misunderstandings between the learners and natives.

Usage-based SLA

  • Nick Ellis, University of Michigan
  • 12 February
I report Corpus Linguistic, Cognitive Linguistic, and Psycholinguistic research showing the effects of language usage upon language acquisition and processing.

Usage-based approaches hold that we learn language through our experience of language. Corpus Linguistics provides relevant evidence of the latent structure of usage. Cognitive Linguistics and Psycholinguistics are concerned with how people acquire, represent, and process this knowledge. Using these techniques, I show the effects of usage upon first and second language acquisition and processing.

What are they really up to?

  • LALS Staff
  • 16 March
Could it be that they really do know what they’re talking about in lectures?

You will get to hear what academics do on their research days and during their non-teaching trimester - and all neatly packaged in just one PowerPoint slide.

Come and see the breadth and depth of research currently underway in LALS.

Translanguaging in Yucatec Maya signing communities

  • Josefina Safar, Stockholm University
  • 23 March
How do deaf people in Yucatec Maya villages in Mexico communicate with each other and with their hearing environment?

Yucatec Maya Sign Languages are indigenous sign languages that spontaneously emerged in Yucatec Maya communities with a high incidence of deafness and without access to any institutionalised sign language. In their interactions, deaf and hearing community members draw from a broad spectrum of semiotic resources: they sign with different degrees of fluency, speak Yucatec Maya and/or Spanish,gesture, draw, point and incorporate objects in their physical surroundings. In addition to a general human “translanguaging instinct”, I will argue that sociolinguistic and cultural features of Yucatec Maya communities facilitate interactions between and beyond different languages and modalities.

Do language learners walk the walk and talk the talk?

  • Kevin Parent, Korea Maritime University
  • 6 April
When Nouns are Verbs and Verbs are Nouns

In this presentation, we will examine the phenomenon of conversion and its effects on the language learner, focusing on words well-established as both noun and verb such as work, need, change, help, etc. This surprisingly overlooked area raises many questions: is a word with frequent nominal and verbal realisations easier or harder for a learner to acquire? How many such words are there, and how are they distributed? How do learners process words they only know as a noun when they encounter it as a verb?

Facilitating feedback on L2 learners’ writing

  • Rachael Ruegg, LALS Lecturer
  • 13 April
What works and what doesn’t?

This presentation will give an overview of different aspects of the process of L2 learners providing and receiving feedback on writing.  The information is drawn from 8 different studies of feedback on L2 learners’ writing.  How can learners be encouraged to lead the feedback process?  What effects do peer and teacher feedback have?  What effect do different assessment practices have?

Linguistics and speech language therapy

  • Bianca Vowell, LALS PhD student
  • 20 April
What exactly do Speech-Language Therapists do? And what do they need to know about Linguistics?

In this presentation, these questions will be answered and the relationship between these two disciplines will be explored. The Speech-Language Therapy training programme options in New Zealand will be outlined and some of the research involving collaborations between practitioners from both fields will be introduced.

Comparing formality of conversations from different social groups

  • Robert Sigley, Daito Bunka University
  • 4 May
When we collect samples of "casual conversation", what are we actually collecting? Do we get "the same thing" from all social groups? If not, how much does it matter?

504 speakers representing "conversation" in the Wellington Corpus of Spoken NZ English are compared using a formality index score, to determine how "matched" social comparisons can be in naturally occurring data.

Second language learners’ intuitions about word combinations

  • Irene Fioravanti, University for Foreigners of Siena
  • 11 May
To what extent are learners sensitive to lexical fixedness?

This presentation focuses on the acquisition of word combinations by second language learners of Italian. Free combinations, collocations and idioms are distinguished in terms of lexical fixedness. Overall, research suggests that idioms and free combinations are less problematic for learners compared to collocations. Might this to be due to their nature? Does the degree of restriction play a role in learners’ vocabulary use? Do learners perceive the three types of word combinations differently? Two studies have been carried out to answer these questions.

Comparing the grammars of understudied languages:  Implications for big-picture Austronesian syntax

  • Victoria Chen, LALS Lecturer
  • 18 May
Why is studying the grammar of minority languages important? How can it contribute to the refinement of syntactic theories?

Our current understanding of language has been shaped primarily by the investigation of a small number of languages with large numbers of speakers, such as English, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese. In this talk, I discuss why linguistic fieldwork in minority languages is important and how it can inform our understanding of the syntactic rules of human language in general. Using my own experience of working on several endangered Austronesian languages, I will discuss how similarities and differences in the grammars of these closely related languages shed new light on both the synchronic and diachronic aspects of Austronesian syntax.

Tutorials and laboratories at university: A vocabulary perspective

  • Averil Coxhead, LALS Associate Professor
  • 25 May
What vocabulary do learners need to cope with speaking in tutorials and laboratory sessions and can textbooks, word lists and corpus-based studies help?

This talk looks at vocabulary in tutorials and laboratories in five ways. It begins with a report on interviews with lecturers and students about speaking in small group academic interactions. Results from an analysis of EAP/ESP textbooks in relation to tutorials and laboratories follows, along with a comparison between phrases suggested in the textbooks and a corpus-based study. The next part looks at a corpus-based analysis of both single and multi-word unit academic word lists for academic purposes. The talk will conclude with a discussion of possible suggestions for pedagogy, textbook writers and future research.

Validating the Listening Component of the Vietnamese Standardized Test of English Proficiency (VSTEP): A Quantitative Approach

  • Diep Tran, LALS PhD Candidate
  • 1 June
How can item statistics be used to analyze and improve different aspects of a test’s validity?

This study takes a quantitative approach to validating the VSTEP’s listening test in light of both Classical Test Theory and Item Response Theory. In-depth item analysis and reliability analysis were carried out to elicit evidence of the test’s validity. This presentation will discuss how the statistics obtained from those analyses can be useful for the revision of the test. It will also demonstrate how Classical Test Theory and Item Response Theory complement each other in validating a language test.

Scaling up – Modelling the relationship between micro-variation and macro-variation in language

  • Miriam Meyerhoff & Richard Arnold, LALS & MSOR Victoria University of Wellington
  • 8 June
We assume that the variation between languages started out as variation between speakers. We demonstrate the extent to which this is plausible.

Two aspects of language variation and change interest us. A speech community is composed of individuals who share the same constraints on linguistic variables – lots of previous work has shown this is a meaningful way to define a speech community. This being the case, variation at the level of the individual becomes another way of defining varieties, and variation between varieties gives rise to differences between languages. Hence, the differences between languages have their roots in individual variation at some point in the past. Or so the thinking goes. No-one has ever shown this. In our talk, we try to engage in this exercise of scaling up. We draw on data from a number of variables differentiating the speech of individual speakers of Bequia Creole English and map these onto variables that differentiate varieties of English, and then onto variables that differentiate languages. We use novel statistical tools to undertake this exercise of scale.

Commemorative spectacles: The performativity of monumentalized bodies

  • Maida Bilkic, University of Bern
  • 22 June
There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument.

Robert Musil, 1987

In this talk, I address commemorative atmospheres showing how space is controlled, rejected, appropriated and experienced. Combining the social semiotics and multimodality approaches, I offer a transdisciplinary reading (Halliday, 2001) of a range of semiotic resources and modalities of performance (Van Leeuwen, 2005; Bell & Gibons, 2011). When the denial of violence endures for too long, commemoration manifests itself through performative bodies filling the space with the loudest spectacles – louder than a static monument could ever produce. Such “living memorials” ultimately point to the dynamic entanglement of people and semiotic landscapes, achieved through an affective, monolithic, massive body and its experiences.

Unpacking Language Assessment Literacy: What different groups should know about language testing

  • Benjamin Kremmel, University of Innsbruck
  • Tuesday 26 June
Language tests are everywhere, and important well beyond language research and education. So what and how much should we all know about how they work?

We could hypothesize that language teachers probably have to know different things about language assessment than people developing tests like IELTS or people deciding on language policies. Or we can check the hypothesis and ask these groups themselves what they think they need to know about language assessment. This talk discusses why Language Assessment Literacy (LAL) is important and should be fostered and presents results from a large-scale study (N=1086) that has aimed to construct a model of LAL based on surveying different stakeholder groups.

Managing linguistic repertoire 

  • Kyoko Motobayashi, Ochanomizu University
  • Monday 2 July

Indexical aspirations, dissonances, and consensuses in the sociolinguistic trajectories of becoming Japanese language teachers

This presentation reports on part of an ethnographic study that examines sociolinguistic trajectories of a group of Japanese language teacher volunteers in a government-sponsored international volunteer program in Japan. The study focuses on the 20 participants’ trajectories to the program, by tracing the evolution of their linguistic repertoire in their sociolinguistic trajectories. The study aims to illustrate the evolving and dynamic ways in which one’s mobility and subjectivity are mediated through various metapragmatic discourses regarding language.  Data collected from in-depth life history interviews and participant observation showed that the volunteers’ choices prior to joining the program were mediated by metapragmatic discourses that links English to cosmopolitanism, as well as discourses on native speaker status linked to linguistic ownership and competence.

Rethinking Language Policy

  • Bernard Spolsky, Bar Ilan University
  • 5 July
An expanded model of language policy includes practices, beliefs, management, and non-linguistic forces like wars and corruption.

The difficulty in the implementation of state language policy has been explained by its complexity and by the competition of language management at various levels and domains, starting with the individual and the family and including the workplace and religion. In recent studies of language policy in Portuguese and French colonies and successor states, I have learned that this earlier model omits the non-linguistic conditions (like wars, ethnic strife and cleansing, corruption and natural disasters) that lead to changes in language demography and repertoire or that interfere with the formation or implementation of language policies. Further, I have found it appropriate both to modify the analysis of language practices to take into account the fuzziness in definition of named languages and the need to deal with diverse multilingual repertoires. The expanded model permits a better understanding of complexity of language policy and management.

Teachers’ and students’ beliefs about corrective feedback on pronunciation in Vietnamese tertiary EFL classes

  • Loc Nguyen, LALS PhD candidate
  • 20 July
What do Vietnamese tertiary EFL teachers and students say about error correction as an approach to pronunciation teaching?

Recent studies have found that many teachers’ pronunciation teaching mainly involved error corrections through listen-and-repeat activities but limited research has been done to investigate if corrective feedback is beneficial to pronunciation learning. This study seeks to examine teachers’ and students’ perceptions and attitudes towards corrective feedback in pronunciation teaching and learning in an EFL context where it has not hitherto been researched: Vietnamese tertiary EFL education.

Learning from Exam hell

  • Robert Sigley, Daito Bunka University, Japan
  • 27 July
How we made a Japanese university's English entrance exams less stressful — for the writers.

The results of 93 English entrance exams from Daito Bunka University are analysed to show the effects of changes to the exam-writing process over the past 15 years. The exam sets have been made more consistent in level, and more reliable for their purpose of sorting candidates by English level, despite an increase in required workload, and a decrease in personnel and time available.

The effect of level of grammatical gender in a language on social perception

  • Jonathan Kim, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • 3 August
Grammatical gender significantly affects the level to which speakers of different languages rely on gender stereotypes to guide social perception​.

The level to which grammatical gender impacts upon gender stereotyped perception was investigated through a two-alternative forced choice design across a fully gendered (French), a semi-gendered (Norwegian), and a non-gendered (Finnish) language. Our results indicated that semi-gendered language speakers are the least susceptible to activating gender stereotypes, whereas fully gendered language speakers are the most susceptible to activating them. Importantly, in French, grammatical gender modulated speakers’ gender stereotypical perceptions.

Accent Change: What’s So Special About Third Culture Kids?

  • Bianca Vowell, LALS PhD Candidate
  • 10 August
Third Culture Kids are people who have grown up outside their parents’ home country/ies, often in expatriate communities.

In my study of a sample of Third Culture Kids from Hong Kong and Singapore, I look at features of their accents in those countries and at two intervals after they move/return to New Zealand. I will be sharing my findings to see if there really is anything special about Third Culture Kids.

Developing productive knowledge & use of multi-word expressions in conversation

  • Haidee Thomson, LALS PhD Candidate
  • 17 August
Multi-word expressions are often associated with fluency, but how can we develop knowledge and ability to use such expressions in L2 learner conversation?

This experimental study investigated the effectiveness of a set of classroom activities to develop knowledge and promote use of multi-word expressions in conversation. University EFL learners in Japan participated in pre and posttest measures including 1) a cloze test of target four word expressions and 2) a spoken role-play which was later analysed for use of target expressions. Preliminary results suggest the use of multi-word expressions in the activities were effective for improving productive knowledge (d=2.22) and use of target multi-word expressions in conversation (r=.45).

What are English Language Institute teachers working on in their language programmes?

  • ELI Staff
  • 24 August

The English Language Institute (ELI) offers a diverse range of English language programmes for academic or professional purposes, as well as pre-service teacher education courses.  In this presentation, ELI teachers will talk for two minutes each about what they are working on in their programme to promote better learning or teaching.

Have I got your attention? Stress and focus perception in English and Samoan

  • Sasha Calhoun, LALS Senior Lecturer
  • 21 September
When listening to speech, we focus on the important parts. We compare stress and focus perception in English and Samoan, which use different means to mark focus.

Across languages, there are certain common focus markers. English primarily uses stress: in response to “What did the cow kick?” we would say “the cow kicked the HORSE”; but in response to “What kicked the horse?” we would say “the COW kicked the horse”. Focus is also commonly marked by syntactic constructions such as clefts, e.g. “It was the cow that kicked the horse”. This talk reports studies looking at the perception of prominence and focus in Samoan and English, which differ in the relative importance of stress and syntactic cues to focus.

Discipline-specific word lists: From the development to learners’ knowledge

  • Cailing Lu, PhD Celebration
  • 28 September
What effect does different linguistic and cultural backgrounds have on learners’ knowledge of technical vocabulary?

Vocabulary learning is challenging to learners in different ESP contexts, particularly in medical disciplines. To address some of these challenges, my PhD research investigates vocabulary in the discipline of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a field which attracts thousands of Chinese and non-Chinese learners. In this talk, I will briefly outline the development of single and multiword unit discipline-specific word lists based on a comprehensive corpus-based lexical profile analysis. I will also explore learners’ understanding of some technical lexical items to see what items are especially difficult for Chinese and non-Chinese learners. Pedagogical implications will be drawn as to what items to prioritize in valuable classroom time.

Recent Research

  • Elaine Vine, Janet Holmes & Paul Nation, Former LALS Academic staff
  • 5 October
Three former academic staff of LALS will give us insight into some of their recent research projects.

Elaine Vine

Will discuss the question:  How do professional rugby union referees use language on the field to manage interpersonal relationships with players?

Janet Holmes

Will share evidence of socio-cultural constraints in everyday workplace talk.

Paul Nation

Will discuss what matters in vocabulary learning.

Dwangs, wing-backs and joists: The Language in Trades Education Project (LATTE)

  • Jean Parkinson & Averil Coxhead, LALS Academic staff
  • 12 October
From 2014-2017, we found out more about discourse and language in trades education than we ever thought possible.

The Language in Trades Education (LATTE) project is possibly the first time that Applied Linguists, polytechnic academic support staff, physicists, plumbers, carpenters, automotive engineers, and welders collaborated on a language-based project. In this talk, we will briefly outline the LATTE project, present some of our key findings in discourse and vocabulary, and discuss some of the challenges and lessons from this project. We will also suggest some implications and possible avenues for future research.

Vocabulary development from reading under error-free and trial-and-error treatments

  • Irina Elgort, Center for Academic Development
  • 19 October
What’s better for learning new words from reading, presenting definitions before or after the text?

In two treatment conditions, undergraduate students encountered 90 novel vocabulary items in a reading task with their definitions presented either prior to reading (errorless learning) or after reading (trial-and-error learning). In the control condition, no definitions were presented. In all three conditions, the readers were instructed to infer the meanings of the novel words from context. Three measures were used to evaluate word learning on immediate and delayed post-tests: meaning generation (explicit knowledge), self-paced reading (procedural knowledge) and semantic priming (quality of meaning representations).

Dialogue management and intonation in autism and second-language speech

  • Simon Wehrle, University of Cologne
  • 23 November
Non-natives and non-neurotypicals are often perceived as “sounding different”. But how can these differences be quantified? And how individual is atypical?

We add to the limited literature on speech in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by investigating turn-taking strategies in adults diagnosed with ASD. In comparing these results with a parallel corpus of second language speech, we point out a number of similarities in the communicative styles of both groups. On this basis, we set out to question simplistic conceptions of atypicality by shifting the focus to individual variability. Our approach is exemplified with the demonstration of a novel method for quantifying intonation styles.


  • LALS PhD Students, PhD Students' Social Event Organized by FGR & Hosted by LALS
  • 7 December
Have you ever wondered what the PhD students in the School of Language and Applied Linguistics are working on? Come along to our social event for a chance to mingle with us, and learn more about the wide range of research topics we are currently working on!

Following the success of the social events hosted by the School of Architecture, we are excited to hold our very first PhD social event. The event will kick off with four 5-minute presentations, with a chance for the audience to ask a couple of questions after each presentation. Here’s a sneak peek of the exciting topics we have lined up for the event:

  • A Foray into the Field: The Documentation of the Oroha Language for the Creation of a Formal Grammar by Darren Flavelle
  • Fostering learner autonomy in acquiring multiword expressions through text-chunking activities with the aid of online dictionaries and corpora by Thuy Bui.
  • The assessment of listening comprehension in the Vietnamese Standardized Test of English Proficiency (VSTEP): Does a localized test meet international standards? by Diep Tran.
  • Applying cognitive linguistics to second language idiom learning by Aileen Wang

The presentations will be followed by some drinks and nibbles, which will be a fantastic opportunity for everyone to socialise with a glass of wine in hand.