Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trinocular perspective

"In terms of stratification, the book deals with lexicogrammar, the stratum of working. If we use the familiar metaphor of vertical space, as implied in the word 'stratum', the startum 'above' is the semantics, that 'below' is the phonology. We cannot expect to understand the grammar just by looking at i[t] from its own level; we also look into it 'from above' and 'from below', taking a trinocular perspective. But since the view from these different angles is often conflicting, the description will inevitably be a form of compromise. All lingusitic description involves such compromise; the difference between a systemic description and one in terms of traditional school grammar is that in the school grammars the compromise was random and unprincipled, whereas in a systemic grammar it is systematic and theoretically motivated. Being a 'functional grammar' means that priority is given to the view 'from above'; that is, grammar is seen as a resource for making meaning - it is a 'semanticky' kind of grammar. But the focus of attention is still on the grammar itself."
Halliday & Matthiessen 2004 An Introduction to Functional Grammar (3rd edition) p. 31

I choose to think of the trinocular perspective described above with this picture:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'm writing a blogpost. This is quite clearly not redoing the analysis that I had already done on paper but can't find now. But sometimes you just need to write about something and put your head in order.

Thesiswhisperer asked on twitter recently for comebacks when people question the point of doing a PhD (and subsequently blogged about it). My mind was a little fuzzy and could only think of lengthy and thus un-tweetable responses until finally I replied:

"Until space travel is viable, a PhD is how we explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no one has gone before"

When you're doing a PhD it doesn't hurt to tap into geek culture once in a while.

However one thing I am very thankful for is that people don't often question the validity of my research. I used to get nervous that performance-focussed jazz musicians would find it completely pointless, but every student I've spoken to is aware of the difficulty they face in writing. Even more broadly, students of other faculties and disciplines also understand the challenge of writing, that writing is important at university and so can respect my decision to research it. How they respond to my findings may be another thing; I had trouble once when a non-linguist audience was very content-focussed and felt I was missing aspects which I felt were unimportant for me as musicians are well able to recognise vocabulary differences between jazz and classical music without me pointing them out.

The question I find more difficult, partly because I'm still not confident of the answer myself, is what I will do after the PhD, and therefore what is the point in ME doing a PhD. Not having ever planned to do a research degree before I found myself accepted to one can lead to a few insecurities. Sometimes the question is "what does it get you", suggesting an almost materialistic view of education - only valued if you "get" some qualification or license to label yourself a profession, ignoring the skills and perspectives you gain. My dad is fond of saying that no education is ever wasted, though admittedly once in a while someone really puts that to the test. Once I found myself arguing more strongly than usual after being dismissed by an older, much distant relative (who I'd never met before) as an eternal student, as if it was merely an enthusiastic yet irrelevant interest to be good-humouredly indulged and which, to my disbelieving indignation, required a rich husband to support. Clearly I have to be earning lots of money before I'm considered independent. And even then...

Anyway, that was a forgotten, yet clearly bottled-up, detour.

There are many possibilities of what I theoretically could do after my PhD. I'm hoping and praying (while usually trying to avoid thinking about it) that an appropriate opportunity pops up at a suitable time and doesn't leave me penniless for too long after my scholarship runs out. I am resassured that my friend recently got a job which will hopefully give her the opportunity to apply her research. I wonder sometimes if my topic is too niche and doubt my abilities to be able to move beyond my little corner, but then smart people say nice things about me and I let myself relax a little.

But next time someone socially asks me what I'm going to do after my PhD I might respond with "join Starfleet", because it seems if nothing else, I must be qualified to "explore new worlds, seek out new life forms and new civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before"!

And in the meantime I'm going to make badges with "ASK ME IN JUNE". I'll make a whole range of them with every month to choose from then sell them to PhD, Masters students and pregnant women.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Research at Adelaide

In honour of Research Week at the University of Adelaide, I thought I would blog about the research happening in the Discipline of Linguistics. Without the strong research focus here, I would never have ended up doing a PhD or discovered how fascinating and exciting it can be, so in a way this is my tribute to those that have inspired me.

Dr Celine Chu's recent thesis is fascinating for combining multimodal analysis of children's picture books with classroom discourse analysis of an ESL classroom. She identified issues in the meanings constructed multimodally in the picture books which lead to confusion in the children's reading. She then looked at how the teacher talk scaffolds an understanding of these meanings. I really hope she gets the opportunity to introduce this information to pre-service teachers.

Dr Hiromi Teramoto examined classroom discourse in a New Arrivals Program classroom, and how the identity of a 'new arrival' is constructed.

Johanna Motteram is looking at IELTS - International English Language Testing System. Specifically she is focussing on what "appropriate tone" means in the high band descriptors for the writing task, as there doesn't seem to be any clear definition. Assessment is a very important area of research and IELTS is a very high status manifestation of this - a good score in IELTS changes lives through admission to universities as well as Australian citizenship. Identifying exactly what are the qualities of these valued texts are will help not only with helping people to pass the test and write better, but will inform how language acquisition is measured and assessed.

Dr John Walsh and Nayia Cominos are working on an ARC linkage grant sponsored project looking at the language of handover in the mental health system. Having worked in health care, and particularly having been involved in administrative tasks of creating more or less detailed handover sheets to facilitate fast but comprehensive handover between nursing staff at an aged care facility, I find this research fascinating and immensely important.

Margareta Rebelos is completing her thesis on raising her daughter bilingually in Slovak and English, continuing the proud tradition of linguists conducting research on their children.

Kateryna Katsman will be documenting Barossa German - the variety of German spoken by descendants of German settlers in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, a region well known for its wine production.

Naptsinee Vichaidit will be looking at the language spoken between Thai police officers and tourists in resort areas in Thailand.

I am less familiar with the research of Dr Rob Amery, Professor Peter Muhlhausler and Professor Gh'ilad Zuckerman who are focussed on endangered languages, language reclamation and aboriginal languages, but their work is tremendously important in preserving and restoring these languages. Prof Zuckerman can be seen here and here talking to Stephen Fry about modern Hebrew, or Israeli.

Other interesting research occurs in the Masters of Applied Linguistics coursework program. Some of my favourite topics include:
Meng Sun's work on Martian Language in China - a net-speak version of Chinese with alternative uses of characters used by youth and online communities to exclude outside understanding;
Napatsinee Vichaidit's examination of Thai subtitles of The Simpsons;
Tomoko Ikeda's explorations of the genre of ReadMes for video game mods;
Toshikazu Okawa's study of an international student learning the academic literacies associated with nursing during their studies;
Kumari Revindran's analysis of the representation of the population 'crisis' in Singapore;
Vanessa Tan's critical discourse analysis of National Day songs in Singapore.

There are far more people who have done interesting, thorough and fascinating research than I could include in a blogpost, but I wanted to mention just a few that I know about. If you would like to know more about any of these topics, let me know and I can put you in touch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What's in a thesis?

80 000 words
= 80 days x 1000 words
= 11.5 weeks x 7000 words
= 3 months x 27 000 words
= 16 weeks x 5000 words
= 4 months x 20 000 words
= 8 ((2 weeks x 5000 words) + (1 week editing/review)) = 6 months
 This is my plan, anyway.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jazz Research?

I have spent the last hour* or more looking for an academic article on jazz improvisation. My intension is to find an "expert" text I can compare my student texts to, but I'm struggling to find anything appropriate and so let me vent a little.

It seems that writing about jazz improvisation creates one of five text types:
  1. Reviews - Reviews of live performance, reviews of recordings, but reviews nonetheless.
  2. Biographies and Player profiles - whether old and established, or young and up-and-coming, there are stories recounting who the player is, how they were influenced and why they are amazing.
  3. Philosophical treatises - I say philosophical but they may also be psychological, neuropsychological, behavioural or influenced by a plethora of disciplines. To be completely honest, none of them really interest me. The level of technicality is high and the specificity is narrow. 
  4. Applications - whether it be using improvisation to interest low socio-economic highschool students in literature, or in treatment of attention deficit disorders, or pedagogies for teaching jazz improvisation, it's all interesting and worthwhile, but not what I'm looking for, not analysing improvisation itself.
  5. Poems - I don't know why. I ticked "peer-reviewed publications only", I selected "not newspapers" and still I ended up with poems.
The missing number 6 is what I'm looking for - somebody sitting down with some music, and analysing it for interesting characteristics, innovative techniques and various structures. That research may be based on a single musician - as in the corpus I'm looking at - or it may focus on a particular characteristics across a number of musicians. But as yet, I can't find it.

This, I'm sure, will have a knock-on effect in my research. I can see it now - several pages dedicated to this issue in the context, or maybe in justifying my research. All of which will basically say: actually it's amazing these students can write as they do given there are no expert texts.

The caveat to that is, of course, that there are model texts - but model texts from other students. Where is the expert text? If academic writing merges into journalism, what effect does this have? It may explain some of the characteristics of the students texts. It certainly explains their not-so-academic references. But why should they try to write academically if it will not be useful?

I understand the purpose of the research project for the students. I understand that they build on previous assignments and previous analyses to create something larger. I understand that one ambition of the curriculum designers is to add to the body of research on jazz out there.

But then, is journalism the academia of music, with a larger, more popular and less specialised readership?

UPDATE: I found an article. Just one, but an article nonetheless. Maybe one day someone out there should do a corpus analysis of the type of documents that appear in response to a search of "jazz improvisation". 

*I wrote this a month or two ago and am only now publishing it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why I made a twitter account for my thesis

I made a twitter account for my thesis. I can now have conversations with it, hurl abuse at it or coax it along. Those of you who aren't on twitter probably think I'm mad and have probably stopped reading already. But for those of you still following (no twitter-pun intended), here's the basic justification:


Some people treat their thesis like a job - they go to their office 9-5, they depersonalise the work as if they're on a contract. I've heard some people compare their thesis to a pregnancy - starting at the point where they're metaphorically rubbing their tummy and sighing and drawing attention to it, til they're heavy with knowledge and ready to burst. Some treat it like five (or three or seven) articles rather than one large text. I've heard the thesis compared to a bad relationship, to a constant companion, to many things... so, whatever gets me through. It's a little dissociative, giving the thesis its own personality so I can tweet it, but it makes me laugh. And I think it will help to conceptualise it, to externalise it, to insult it and from time to time say, "Today, thesis, you are going down!" Melodrama is a vastly underestimated coping mechanism. And nobody need know about me talking to my thesis... except I'm telling you about it now. But I had to share.

And anyway, it's fun.
Some of the most entertaining twitter accounts are spoofs (The Queen, Emma Thompson), pop culture mashups (Hipster Dalek, GRAMMARHULK) or various fictional characters (the entire cast of West Wing). So creating a twitter account for my thesis was entertaining. It's not just the concept, but the details. What avatar should it have? What bio? Who would it follow? As I currently envisage my thesis as somewhat evil and megalomaniac, it follows Darth Vader, Voldemort and Death Star PR. As it is sarcastic, it follows Speculative Grammarian. As it is linguistic it follows linguistics publishers. As it is academic, it follows the university, the library and QIkipedia. As it is a little geeky, it follows Thinkgeek. As it is still a little juvenile, it follows DontSayNoSayYes. As it loves data and infographics, it follows Information is Beautiful. And of course it follows ThesisWhisperer because what sort of ThesisWhisperer would ThesisWhisperer be if my thesis did not follow her. And lastly it's following UrDissertation because someone else had this idea before me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Indefinite Article

I have just submitted my first article for publication. (yay! woo! cue fireworks!)

As I am therefore absolutely useless for doing any real work for the next couple of hours due to the adrenaline rush, I thought I should blog about it.

At some point during your PhD, you should try to publish an article. Ideally, the best time to do this is somwhere around the start of your third year as you presumably know enough to publish on it, but you're not yet in panic-stations-thesis-writing-mode. If you want to continue in academia at all, publishing is one of the most important things you'll do so it's good to develop those skills while someone's willing to read over and correct your work. The problem is getting to the point where you feel confident enough to a) start writing and b) submit.

I have friends who, for one reason or another, didn't publish during their PhD and instead planned to write up articles from their dissertations in the months following. It hasn't happened yet, as far as I know - it seems it takes at least a month to recover from the PhD process and be willing to even glance at your work again. And if you launch into a job straight away then that takes priority. But sometimes you get to the point where you can't worry about anything except your thesis and you just have to concentrate on that, no matter how good a journal publication would look on your résumé.

The trick (and the tricky bit) is to know which of the following pieces of advice to follow:
1. Do what you gotta do to finish your PhD.
2. Get as much experience teaching and publishing as you can because that's what you'll spend most of your time doing if you get a job as an academic.

Both these pieces of advice were given to friends by experienced academics and although somewhat contradictory, are both equally true.

Back to me:
I started writing my article after presenting at 5ICOM (5th International Conference on Multimodality) in December last year. My plan was to finish it by the end of January and I quite enjoyed the initial write, churning out 1000 words a day for a while there. When it reached an immense length, with absolutely everything I could think of on the topic in it, I submitted it to my supervisor for shaping and direction. So it went on the back burner for a while and in the mean time I submitted abstracts for conferences (most of which I've had to withdraw from), as well as the usual cycle of reading literature and doing analysis. The feedback, when it arrived, was to turn it into two articles.

So I did. And I've been sitting on them for a few months for one reason or another: getting feedback from my music supervisor (checking I haven't made any ridiculous musical gaffes); finalising those bits I couldn't quite get right. One of the best moments was when I sent the second article to an external expert. When he gave me good feedback, I started to believe it might be true. I sat on it further as I tried to wrestle it into adherence to the journal style guide and boggled at how to treat music notation: As a picture? Labelled figure or example? What about in a table? What about text and music together in an example from a student text? How do I handle copyright? It was like banging my head against a brick wall at times.

In the end I cut all the music notation out of one article, and limited the other to one music example which should be acceptable for copyright. It kinda sucks to talk about multimodality monomodally, but you do what you gotta do. I'll leave the second article on the backburner a while longer - at least until I have something else I want to procrastinate by working on it. It needs to be wrestled into adherence with the style guide and all my pretty colour-coded analysis needs to be turned monochrome.

What next for the one I did submit? I don't know. Probably a lengthy wait from what I hear. Either which way, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In defense (and parody) of PowerPoint

Recently the story on the Swiss political anti-powerpoint party has been brought to my attention by 4 different people via 3 different mediums.

In response, I wish to direct your attention to three parody links:

I am the Orson Welles of PowerPoint
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately PowerPoint decree
Critique of your PowerPoint presentation titled "Sales Forecast Third Quarter"

And lastly, the remedial slides:
You Suck At PowerPoint!
View more presentations from @JESSEDEE

View more presentations from @JESSEDEE

May this make your PowerPoint presentations less sucky, your audience less sleepy and your life more fulfilling.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

20 uses for a giant novelty cheque

Despite the title I'm not going to write about 20 Uses for a Giant Novelty Cheque - partly because I can only think of one: wall decor. Though it does look quite impressive looming over my desk.

This year, once again, I participated in the Three Minute Thesis competition*. For those of you who don't know, the rules are simple, if challenging: one static slide (no transitions, no animation, no music), three minutes and three minutes only to communicate your thesis in language an intelligent but non-specialist audience is able to understand. The prizes: a t-shirt with a PhD comics design on the front for all, $100 book voucher for each of the two representatives from each faculty, $2000 for the winner of the University final as chosen by judges, $1000 for the people's choice winner as selected by the audience at the University final. The prize money is for "professional development" such as travel to a conference.

I won the People's choice! The most exciting part of which is, undoubtedly, the giant novelty cheque.

To tell the truth when I was considering entering the competition again this year I was a little reluctant. It seemed less important than other things I needed to do, and coming to the business end of the degree, I'm starting to drop everything I can ready to focus on the thesis. But the bottom line was that there was money on offer for travelling to a conference and without that money, I wouldn't be going to any of the three overseas conferences I had been accepted to present at, and I had already had to drop one conference in Australia because I couldn't afford to go.

Here's my slide by itself, for those who don't want to read the whole presentation (it'll only take 3 minutes, I promise!):

(click to see larger version)

This is my presentation turned into a slideshow:

In the end, it really, honestly, truly was an enjoyable experience with a number of unexpected take-away messages, both socially and directly in regards to my research.

1. Research students are research students
It was nice chatting to science students and business students and engineering students and law students and health sciences students. We share more in common than I had unconsciously assumed: the pressure of study, the looming deadline, rationalisation of our research in general and our degree in particular. We just never, ever cross paths, which is a pity. Outside of the university I have friends doing PhDs in Electrical Engineering, Psychology, Art, Developmental Studies, Environmental Engineering and other disciplines I keep forgetting. I just forgot that was the case and don't get to meet these people through university. I figure if the science and health science students don't find the humanities students irrelevant, if the humanities students don't find the engineering and science students boring and tedious, and if nobody hates the law and business students, then we must be one small step closer to world peace.

2. Writing is hard for everyone
I think I've spent so much time trying to explain why writing is particularly hard for music/jazz/performance students that I forgot that all students can relate to the fact that writing can be challenging for everyone in all degrees, particularly those in the majority which do not focus on writing as an object of study. Next time I'm talking to an interdisciplinary audience, I have to remember to put that fact front and centre. I know that I, as a BA graduate with a barely controlled addiction to reading, struggle to write well, to find the best structure and to string together the best words, juggling humility with assertiveness, and the words and opinions of others with my own. I've realised that basically the underlying assumption and message of my research is: write well and people will believe (almost) anything. I don't mean that it's all scheme and spin, but it's easier to adopt someone's ideas when they've written not just clearly but convincingly. And students will be more successful - at university and in the workforce - if they can write well.

3. Our individual research is merely one link in a chain
Listening to health science students talk about the restricted nature of their research - how they are examining one small application within a strictly controlled setting - and hearing them asked about the final public application of their research - which they may not have any part, let alone say, in - reminded me how all our research is one link in a chain. Personally my ultimate aim is to be able to say something useful for future music students about how to write about music. One line in my presentation is, "we need to explore the different ways of writing at university, first analytically, which is what I'm doing, and then pedagogically." Maybe it's not for me to apply my research to a pedagogical setting; afterall I am neither teacher nor musician. But what I do provides resources and information and structure for what other researchers, linguists, musicians, music educators and pedagogues might do later. If that isn't too hubristic to say.

4. Science as legitimation
One thing that this competition has reminded me is that science, in one form or another, is everywhere at university. Before the competition I didn't actually know the names of all the faculties. For the record they are: Sciences; Health Sciences; Engineering Computer and Mathematical Sciences; Humanities and Social Sciences; and Professions. Four out of five have "science" in their name although I won't go into the significance of pluralising. There was mention at one point, most probably unconsciously, of there being no "scientific" jargon allowed in our presentations. I immediately bristled and whispered to my (science faculty) neighbour that that meant linguistic jargon was acceptable - I could've thrown in "heteroglossia" and "nominalisation" and "ergative case" without violating the rules. Nevertheless we realise that while science is everywhere, university research involves more than science, and that is also valid.

I know the people organising the competitions are trying their hardest to encourage more competitors. I know for many grad students it's easy to say "I don't have time" and "it's not important". But at the end of the day I would encourage people to go in the competition. Being able to step back from being nose deep in my topic and remember why my research is relevant to its context and why it is interesting for anybody is good for my perspective, not to mention my self-esteem! And as one competitor pointed out last year, it helps you figure out what to say at a dinner party when someone says "So what do you do?" without making them glaze over at the word "linguistics".

*I will update this story with links as they become available.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Travel Grant App Slideshow

I prepared this slideshow to support my application for a travel grant but ended up not being able to use it. I enjoyed it so much though that I thought I would share. First and last slides are, perhaps, a little less-than-subtle, but it's very hard to beg for money subtly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How a PhD is like Alice in Wonderland

1. We’re all mad here
You know it's true. You have to be a little mad to delve into one tiny corner of a topic that nobody else has looked at for three to seven years.

2. We’re late! We’re late! For a very important (submission) date!
The biggest date is the final thesis submission and sometimes it seems like the story of the student who submitted on time is an urban myth.

3. Eat me! Drink me! Read me!
We all struggle with our research being too big, too small, with who we are as PhD students being too big, too small. And obeying labels.
It seems every text screams “READ ME!” and we at least print, photocopy, scan, download and/or save, even if we never end up reading it.

4. Curiouser and curiouser (HT to @frindley)
Because it is the nature of the research - the deeper you get the stranger it gets and the stranger you get. Soon enough you find yourself believing several impossible things before breakfast.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I've been thinking of changing my twitter handle, because people think I'm a jazz-playing linguist rather than studying the linguistics of jazz, and thus only jazzing vicariously. Nevertheless I do like a bit of jazz and through my jazz-studied/playing brother and CD-buying dad, I've discovered a few favourites. Lately, I've gone back to listening to my jazzstudycool playlist and thought I'd share. I've included links to their websites as well for your convenience and edification.


Avishai Cohen
Instrument: bass
Trio & solo
Fav albums: "Continuo", "Aurora"
Fav songs: "Calm", "Remembering" etc. etc.
Why: I don't necessarily like modern jazz but I love a lot of Avishai Cohen's stuff. 'Calm' and 'Remembering' are the most appropriately named songs I've ever heard. There's sweetly melancholic songs, non-standard rhythms, complex musical development or simple repetition, on Aurora he sings in English, Hebrew, Spanish, but the other albums are instrumental with middle eastern, african and jazz influences.
Clip: Remembering

Brian Bromberg*
Instrument: bass
Fav album: "Wood"
Fav songs: "Star-spangled banner" "Come together"
Why: Great album with the upright bass as a lead melodic instrument. Only got the one album at the moment, may have to find more. I'm not american but I love his version of "Star-spangled banner".
Clip: Come together
*website temporarily unavailable at time of publishing

Oscar Peterson Trio
Instrument: piano
Album: "We get requests"
Why: jazz piano great playing jazz standards. Cool enough to be calm, jazz enough to keep you moving and occasionally make you smile involuntarily. Not as much for those who don't like a 'traditional' jazz sound.
Clip: Corcovado (Quiet nights of quiet stars)

Jacques Loussier Trio
Instrument: piano
Fav album: "Air on a 'G' string"
Why: Bach played by a jazz trio. Pure classical music doesn't work for me but this has a nice jazz kick to it.
Clip: Air on a 'G' string (Bach)

Jazz vocal

 Michael Buble
Instrument: vocal
Why: I've winnowed out the songs that are too cheesy for me. Sometimes you need some of that pop-jazz-swing-big band to make the study less dreary. In fact, nothing like some hugely dramatic music like the clip below to make everything seem significant, or insignificant as the mood may take you.
Clip: Cry me a river

Jamie Cullum
Instrument: vocal/piano
Fav songs: too many, but lately "If I ruled the world"
Why: His voice is less smooth than Buble's, he chooses more obscure jazz standards to reinterpret as well as pop songs to cover and writes originals too. Again, sometimes that pop-cool is great for a bit of cheer, but the sweetly-melancholic or ironically-upbeat or pensive music also provide a great study vibe.
Clip: I'm all over it

Non-jazz vocal

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu

Album: "Gurrumul"
Why: I go through phases when I skip the tracks from this CD, but I always respect it. His voice is unlike many others, most of his songs are sung in Gumatj and emote a non-urban, non-office environment.
Clip: Wiyathul

Album: "Beautiful imperfection"
Fav song: "Be my man"
Why: One of those artists I have trouble identifying the genre. Lovely voice, singing in English and another language. A bit of vocal joy to wake you up.
Clip: Be my man

Lisa Mitchell
Album: "Wonder"
Fav song: "Oh! Hark!" "Neopolitan Dreams"
Why: Although originally an Australian Idol contestant, her songs have that indie-sound, not all sugar-sweet, not all pop-cliche, not all romantic love.
Clip: Oh! Hark!

Cara Dillon
Album: self-titled
Why: She sings Irish folk as it's meant to be sung. Sweet or sad, always strong.
Clip: Black is the color

Album: "Le fil"
Fav song: "Ta douleur"
Why: Quirky yet quality vocals, "Ta douleur" is a fun song extending the use of the voice as an instrument, looping and beatboxing.
Clip: Ta douleur

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I've been thinking a bit about unplugging lately. In fact it's been a bit of a meme lately: first this story reports withdrawal symptoms in young people who give up electronic media for 24 hours; then this webcomic suggested things to do when the internet won't connect. Then, via @maryam_bakht, a story in the NY times about the digital revolution "making it fashionable to be rude" and people who "treat their phones like a Tamagotchi". And lastly, today, via @emckean, a tumblr blog post about renaming "airplane mode" on the mobile phone as "interesting persion mode" - using it to take yourself off the grid for a while to give your full attention to the person you're with.

I'm sure the fact that I used the word "meme" in the opening sentences there says something about my own need to unplug.

I had a bit of an overdose of the computer the other day and so extracted myself from the office to sit by the river and enjoy, for lack of a more poetic way to say it, the outdoors. It was lovely. I do encourage people to get outside in the fine weather and enjoy it. Remind yourself about fresh air and noise and RL*!

At the same time, sometimes we can't get away. We have to use a number of electronic media simultaneously and they can encourage productivity. Without Facebook and Twitter I wouldn't have got half of those links above. I am typing this, while listening to my "jazzstudycool" playlist on my ipod. And yesterday I had a productive stint study-buddying with a friend in NZ who was online at the same time. Although we couldn't hear or see each other, we assumed the other was studying and so felt the peer pressure to knuckle down, but at the same time had someone to throw the occasional comment to rather than detour onto social media.

So what's the point of this? Basically just to compile all the links above. Read them - they are interesting! And then force yourself from the computer for fifteen minutes, if only to make you appreciate it more when you get back on.

PS. And this is why working in a cafe works for me (via @lynneguist)

*Real Life to those of you who live so much less of your life online that you have no need for an acronym for the alternative.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I referred someone to my blog today and when I looked at it, it seemed a little unloved. Pretty, but unloved. So I thought I should write an update. The news of the week is that I finished my work so am now solely a PhD student. It feels great - being able to study for more than 2 full days in a row almost seems like a luxury! So advice point 1 to other PhD students: work, but know when to say no more! My supervisor (who was also my boss) has been very supportive. Last week was also the 2 year anniversary of starting my studies and therefore also marked exactly a year until I submit my thesis. I might not submit right on 3 years but the plan is to knuckle down and do everything I can to at least get close. I have too many friends who've ended up out of candidature, out of money (not necessarily their fault), and I don't want to be there.

Study-wise at the moment, I'm bouncing between reading up on Appraisal and Genre, submitting abstracts to conferences, and trying to finish two articles. Not sure that I'll be able to afford to go to the conferences, but gotta put the abstracts in first before I find out. They're also a useful deadline - there's a certain amount of reading and analysis you have to do before you can propose what to write a paper about. So advice point 2: submit abstracts to conferences, even if you end up unable to go.

Which brings me to the articles. I'm writing based on my presentation at 5ICOM (5th International Conference on Multimodality). It as supposed to be one article, but it went too long so I'm trying to turn them into two articles. The writing was surprisingly enjoyable, the refining is a bit of struggle at times. We'll get there in the end. I'm trying to get them into a good enough condition to send them to others for feedback. Again I have friends who have submitted their thesis or are planning to and then write a few articles to get a few publications out on their thesis to improve their chances of getting a job. Or if they have a job lined up, they're trying to juggle writing articles with settling into a new job or even move cities. Advice point 3: write early, if possible!

So that's where I'm at. I've also started a (old-fashioned, handwritten) journal to keep myself accountable to myself. I got a lovely journal for Christmas and momentarily considered writing my thesis in it, but who's going to write a thesis by hand these days? I used to write journals, but stopped when I came back from France as day-to-day life seemed comparatively boring and not worthy of journalling. If there's any time that's worthy of recording, this should be it! And who knows, maybe one day I can do some sort of linguistic analysis on my journalling over the years, or reflect on the thesis-writing process.

That's the beautiful thing about studying linguistics - EVERYTHING is potential data. As I tweeted today - Ouroboros! The self perpetuating, self eating snake. Not sure that analogy is as good as all that, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Slideshow: 6 things I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my PhD

Here's a presentation I gave on Friday to new Humanities research students based on my own experience of Masters/PhD based on a blog I wrote about 6 months ago.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Word of the Week

I periodically have a word of the week. It is often valid for longer than a week, and I don't have one at all times, but "Word of the Week" is catchier than "Word of an Indeterminate Period of Time". I also have a whiteboard next to my desk. So I write my word of the week on the whiteboard and leave it there until it soaks into my brain. Previous words of the week (or word of the weeks) include epistemology, ontology, hyponomy, and methodological framework. My current word of the week is 'prosody'. I think I've got my head around it, but I haven't quite totally digested the meaning - it still feels forced and unnatural. So on my whiteboard it shall stay a while longer.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Musemes and layers of signification

Permit me an idle musing. I need to think something out and sometimes that works better in text. Oh, and that's musemes not museums.

I have a stack of books on my desk relating to semiotics, music and musical discourse. I don't expect them to be of any use other than to establish how my approach differs from the majority of semiotic approach to music. At least that's what I'm hoping and it should (should) be fairly straight forward: they all seem interested in explaining how the sound of music has meaning like a language. My baseline (bassline? forgive the pun) response to this is that music is analogous to language, but only analogous, but I won't go into that right now. Bohlman and Cook have discussed this better than I shall. But before we even get to that, my approach differs in what mode (in the linguistic not musical sense) of music I'm looking at, because I'm interested in the semiotics of music as it relates to written music. (That's the problem with the word 'music' - it is at once an audio experience, a participatory experience, a recording, written directions for playing music and a whole host of other things.) For the purposes of my study into academic student writing, I'm trying to relate the meaning in the words to the meaning of the music notation incorporated in the texts.

The reading that has prompted this blog mentions a term used by Seeger and Tagg: musemes - musical morphemes. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning; so 'hat' is one morpheme, but 'hats' has two morphemes - one for 'hat' and 's' to indicate plurality. So a museme is the smallest unit of musical sense. Now I haven't read much further to understand just what they mean by this, though I understand it to involve intonations, intervals and so on. However it made me think - my problem with thinking about the semiotics of music from a traditional saussurian sense is that it's very difficult to identify the smallest unit of musical sense.

One might suggest the smallest unit of musical sense is a single note. Take for example the following note:
Let us assume there is a treble clef preceding this note at some point. The note would therefore be an F. Or more precisely, its pitch would be F. This is not the only meaning realised in this representation. By its colour and shape, we also identify it as a crotchet, or quarter-note, which means that it should be played for the duration of a single beat. Just as 'hats' had two morphemes, so this single note has two meanings - pitch and note value.* So far so simple.

Within a real context however, these notes do not occur in isolation, just as words in a language do not occur in isolation. I come from a school of linguistics which insists that language be studied in real world contexts, or more specifically, texts. And so if we put the note in a context we might find something like this:

Let us specify our F to be on the first beat in bar 6. Our friendly F which in isolation had two layers of meaning - pitch and note value - now has several other layers of meaning that an analyst may comment on. It has intervallic relation with the notes which precede and follow it: it is the same note as the four preceding it, and is then followed by a B natural. When I tried to clarify this interval with my brother without giving him the context he wrote '"Tritone" augmented 4th or diminished 5th'.  Despite this sequentiality, it would not be played in isolation and thus has a scale degree of a flat 7 to the chord played by other parts and indicated in the notation by the G7 written over the stave. I introduced this note as being on the first beat of bar 6 - thus we find added rhythmic, intonation and contextual information. Rhythmic, as it is the first beat of four-beat bar; intonation, as the first beat in four-four rhythm is habitually emphasised; and contextual as we note where it comes within the context of the whole piece. I haven't even mentioned yet that this piece is a broadway tune and also a jazz standard, or on what instrument it is played.

And so we find layers of signification occuring with a single note. What is the smallest unit of meaning? And how are some of these qualities indicated? An educated musician would be able to identify all of these qualities and even more just by looking at the piece of music and yet how precisely can we pinpoint how this information is conveyed? By spatial layout as well as contextual generic knowledge?

And that's why I feel the approach of multimodal, or multisemiotic, analysis, stemming as it does from Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), is useful. SFL takes a multifunctional, stratified approach to language, understanding the same text to have experiential (relating to the world of experience, content), interpersonal (relating to the relations between reader and writer, or speaker and listener, or composer and performer and analyst) and textual (relating to the construction of the text as a whole) meanings simultaneously.

Now I just have to write a dissertation about it and explain it more academically.

*Disclaimer: I should check all my music terminology with a musicologist/musician before I publish them, but for the purpose of the blog just go with me and let me know if I've severely misrepresented.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unofficial milestone

I had one of those moments the other day which really made me feel
like a PhD student; I got feedback from my supervisor on an article
I'm writing. Somehow in the middle of going through his handwritten
notes and clarifying the odd illegible word, I felt like I know what I
know and now I really know it and I'm okay with what I don't know. Now
that I write it down it sounds far less significant. But there's
something about writing something down which makes it real in a
different way - just like I'm writing this blog now. I'm probably
biased because this is part of my topic, but written knowledge is
different from other types of knowledge. I've worked in a nursing home where if something isn't documented, it didn't happen, or can't happen. The written word says it is so, it was so and it shall be so. So just as the jazz students I studied attained different knowledge writing about music than when
they're playing it, so I reach different conclusions about their
writing when I write about it than when I talk or think about it, or
read it or present on it or analyse it. So now that I've written about what I know, I now know it more than I did before. Next milestone: getting it published and thereby getting other people to know it.
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