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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

Three TESOL Spoofs

Michael Swan

Michael Swan is a writer specialising in English Language teaching and reference materials. He has had extensive teaching experience with adult learners, and has worked with teachers in many countries These and other humorous articles by Michael Swan are included in his book 'Thinking about language teaching: selected articles 1982–2011', Oxford University Press 2012. E-mail:


Brief abstracts (supplied by the BAAL Abstract-Abstracting Service)
If you only read five papers
The Banbury Road Corpus revisited

Brief abstracts (supplied by the BAAL Abstract-Abstracting Service)

(BAAL Newsletter Summer 1991)

450-11 Aligote, Carlos and Colophon, Eulalia. Interlanguage in MA students. South Shields Journal of Prophylactic Linguistics, 22.3 (2004). Utterances of Applied Linguistics students can be sited along a continuum running from pure L1 forms (e.g. We have to teach them to understand English) to pure TL forms (e.g. Our prime pedagogic task is to foster strategies which will enhance learners’ capacity to attend to the pragmatic communicative semiotic macro-content). The paper offers a choice of five models to account for non-systematic variability in the data, treating L1, IL and TL as hierarchically independent semipermeable systems in each case.

489.6 Smith, Mohammed K., Jones, Jeff and Bangalore-Torpedo, Lieut-Col Alison C. A taxonomy of bibliographies. Zeitschrift für Grundsatzfragen (Munich), 111.1 (2003). Bibliographies can be classified into epistemic (designed to show what the writer has read) and deontic (aimed at telling the reader what to read). These categories correlate to some extent with defensive and aggressive approaches to bibliography. Special cases studied include the cannibal bibliography, which swallows up smaller bibliographies, the onanistic bibliography, which lists only works by the authors of the article to which it is appended, and the autonomous bibliography, whose accompanying paper has atrophied or completely disappeared. The paper is accompanied by a comprehensive bibliography.

502.3 Carruthers, Norbert St-C Foulkes. Phonetician’s palate. Colorado Review of Articulatory Phonetics, 12.2 (2005). Phonetician’s palate has attracted some attention in medical circles recently, since the much-publicised case of Professor Solomon Andrex of Knokke, who suffered a spectacular breakdown while researching into nasal plosion. It is now becoming clear that PP is a widespread condition, analogous to the degeneration of the meniscus in ‘Runner’s Knee’. The palate, weakened by years of cushioning tiny but repeated percussive strikes, loses its resilience and begins to transmit shocks directly to the brain, with the unfortunate results that we see all around us.

550-14 Brisket, Gladys P. Coming clean on cohesion. Reading Research as a Cottage Industry (South Molton), 432.12 (2005). If you refer more than once to a person, thing or event, the second mention can be made either by using the same words as before (iteration), other content words (synonymy), grammatical substitutes (anaphora) or no words at all (ellipsis). All of these are cohesive devices. This has led some critics of the theory to ask what would not count as a cohesive device. The answer is: nothing. Everything is cohesive. Life itself is a cohesive device.

579.8 Sackbottle, Caliban Q. Does instruction work? An in-depth study. Occasional Papers from the Seville Colloquium, 16 (2003). A group of four Spanish-speaking nuns from Tierra del Fuego was exposed to comprehensible input containing numerous instances of English quantifiers over a period of six hours. At the same time, they were given explicit instruction in the semantics of English attitudinal disjuncts. A test to determine whether their command of quantifiers had improved more or less than their command of disjuncts was inconclusive: x2 (1, N = 4) = .68, p > .25.

644.1 Dzhugashvili, J. V. An ice-breaker for that first session. The Humane Practitioner (Jackson Hole) 1, 1 (1991). Get all the students to write out name badges for themselves. Then collect up the name badges, shuffle them and redistribute. Tell students that they have to find and interview ‘themselves’; they must elicit three new pieces of information about ‘themselves’ that they didn’t know before. Having done this, they must find someone in the class who doesn’t like repairing bicycles, and tell him/her how they feel about what they have just experienced. Identity-transfer of this kind helps students bridge the gap between autocentric and allocentric modes of communication, and prepares the ground for classroom parameter-setting activities.

If you only read five papers

(BAAL News Summer 2010)

Here, for the benefit of BAAL members, are informal summaries of some recent papers which they may have overlooked, and which should not be missed.

Narmean, E. and F. X. Wosnaim. (2009) 'Is English On The Way Down?' Chichester Studies in Speculative Phonology 18.6: 81–89. The recent surprising discovery that many varieties of English are making increasing use of lexical tone has led to an upsurge of interest in the interaction between tone and intonation. As is well known, languages which combine lexical tone with intonation deploy a necessarily more reduced set of intonational options than non-tone languages, so as to obviate the ambiguity which would otherwise be generated by cross-talk between the two systems. In broad terms, it is possible to divide languages which use lexical tone into three major groups:

  1. Those which make no significant use of intonational contours (pure tone languages)
  2. Those which restrict intonation mainly to rising patterns (anatonic languages)
  3. Those which restrict intonation mainly to falling patterns (catatonic languages).

The authors' research suggests that standard British English, despite some recent fluctuations, is moving towards membership of the third group, and that it is currently best classified as a crypto-catatonic language.

Knoblauch, W. (2010) 'Acquiring The Discourse Of Car Boot Sales: A Developmental Study.' University College of Watford Gap Occasional Papers 6: 344–402. 'Edgar', an Eastern European entrepreneur recently settled in the UK, was recorded over a period of six weeks during his attendances at the car boot sales (CBS) which were his principal source of income at the time. The main research focus was on the development of Edgar's command of the formulaic opening and closing routines which typify transactions in this community of practice. During the course of the study, Edgar became demonstrably more skilled in the dynamic co-construction of participant frameworks, showing increasing awareness of the importance of engaging and maintaining rapport with customers, and displaying a growing mastery of appropriate openings and closures. From an early phase (CBS1) characterised by mainly monosyllabic utterances ('Vot?', 'Yeah?' 'Nyet', 'Bugger off'), Edgar progressed to a relatively sophisticated command of a wide range of more elaborate genre-specific formulae, including for instance (CBS12) 'Morning, squire', 'This your lucky day, lady', 'Over 'ere, mate', 'Give us kiss, darlink', 'Cheers' and 'Why you no bugger off?'

Remora, O. and P. (2009) 'The Barnstaple Project: Preliminary Findings.' Home Office Annual Register of Current Research 2009: 1–6. In this ongoing study, begun in 2004 and jointly funded by Defence Contracts International and the Home Office, the researchers investigate adult second language acquisition in a group of Karelian immigrants in North Devon. While detailed findings are classified, it can be revealed that adult second language (L2) learners typically do not become native-like in their production of the L2.

Hendriksen-Higgins, W. (2010) 'Lexical Acquisition In MA Students.' International Journal of Experimental Paradigmatics 14/1: 1–18. British MA students were exposed over a 36-hour period to articles from the journal Applied Linguistics, and were then tested for their processing of, retention of and ability to paraphrase previously experienced or non-experienced lexical items.

Three groups of items were presented:

  1. words which occurred in the articles to which they had been exposed (e.g. interdiscursivity)
  2. words of similar structure and frequency which did not occur in these particular articles (e.g. interstitiality)
  3. non-words of similar structure to those in the other two groups (e.g. interbestiality).

There was no significant difference in the test results for the three groups of words.

Vederci, H. (2010) Where Are They Now? Didcot: Didcot Academic Press.

This study follows up the subsequent careers of a number of scholars whose academic posts were abolished during a recent round of budgetary cuts. Vederci's findings are interesting, positive and in some cases heart-warming. One prominent discourse analyst, for instance, is now prompter to the Royal Ballet; in his new-found spare time he has published monographs with titles as diverse as Ritual Boomerangs of Arnhem Land and Les Déchetteries du Val D'Aoste. Another well-known scholar, whose work in computational pragmatics had gained her a considerable reputation before the axe fell, was recently appointed High Elector of Nüremberg, the first woman to accede to the post since Joan the Mad in 1208. A distinguished Professor whose department was merged from under him, and who had attracted international recognition by his investigation of the parallels between the growth patterns of mollusc shells and the development of second-language grammatical knowledge, has adapted perfectly happily to his new role as a shelf-stacker in a supermarket. 'For the first time in my life,' he says, 'I know what I'm doing.'

The Banbury Road Corpus revisited

(BAAL News Spring 2007) The Banbury Road Corpus [BRC] comprises six exchanges between a student (‘Marc’) and his teacher (‘Robert’), recorded during a course at Cool English Ltd, Oxford, in June 2003. The BRC’s importance for forensic linguists has somewhat overshadowed its relevance for post-neo-Vygotskian [PNV] accounts of SLA. Before considering the corpus itself in this light, it is convenient to summarise some key PNV constructs.

Joint utterance-building

Utterances are created by dialogic partners, not individuals. The following dialogic exchanges [DEs] are therefore functionally identical:

  1. A: That ref needs a bloody guide –
    B: – dog.
  2. A: That ref needs –
    B: – a bloody guide dog.
  3. A: That –
    B: – ref needs a bloody guide dog.
  4. A:
    B: That ref needs a bloody guide dog.

Silence, as in 4), cannot be interpreted as non-participation: in a congruent dialogue (Dente 2004), each participant contributes equally, by definition, to utterance building. The issue of whether this principle holds where one partner is absent, dead or a figment of the other’s imagination (Sassi 2005) need not concern us here.

Non-congruent exchanges

PNV theory rejects Sackbottle’s (1998) asymmetry: contributions to non-congruent DEs cannot be judged for coherence on the basis of the topic choice of one or other speaker. According to the directionally unbiased meaning-making principle [DUMM], DE structure is commutative (Carambo & Spelczek 2004). Every utterance is both ground on which the interlocutor’s contribution is figure, and figure on that contribution’s ground. Silence and problems of referential indeterminacy in non-congruent DEs (di Sosta 2005) are outside our present scope.

Directionally unbiased restructuring

PNV analyses of interlanguage [IL] also reject target-language [TL] hegenomy. Restructuring is atelic, and can involve anti-TL movement, as in the case of ‘Zeke’ (Tarbaby & Cooch 1994), who remodelled his French-English IL into something structurally close to Laotian.

The BRC: A PNV Analysis


ROBERT (holding up a shoe): Marc, what’s this?
MARC: Is Tuesday.

A non-congruent DE. In DUMM terms, Marc does not necessarily ‘give the wrong answer’; we can equally well say that Robert asks the wrong question.


ROBERT: Marc, what are you wearing?
MARC: I am wearing to the pub.

We must not be hoodwinked by mere syntactic ‘progress’. Though much richer than DE1, this exchange is still non-congruent.


ROBERT: Morning, Marc. How are you?
MARC: [74 seconds’ silence]

Marc’s response has been interpreted elsewhere as a case of prodrop followed by a VP with no surface realisation. We analyse it as a move towards establishing an uncluttered Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).


(Students are exchanging assembly instructions for a cardboard pyramid. Marc and his partner are speculating in Spanish on the availability of the French girl in the front row.)

ROBERT: Marc, speak English.
MARC: No quiero hablar ingles.

The first congruent DE – a great step forward. The ZPD is now established.


ROBERT: Marc, you take the part of the hotel receptionist and give Helmut the information on the blue card.
MARC: Yo no work bloody Helmut.

A rich and complex DE: a triumph for task-based interactive scaffolding.


ROBERT: Marc, you’ll drive me insane.
MARC: Bagarov.

Presumably a reference to a fellow-student. A brief return to non-congruent mode, and a timely reminder that restructuring is directionally unbiased.


Clearly, with congruence and scaffolding now established, further satisfactory progress could normally have been expected. Unfortunately, Robert became unwell after DE6 and was replaced by a colleague, Paul. During a game of Lingobingo™, Paul made an insensitive remark regarding a subcategorisation rule for which Marc had evidently not yet established a ZPD. Infuriated, Marc burnt down the school, and there were no further additions to the corpus.


Carambo, A. and T. Spelczek (2004) Figure and Ground in the Lyrics of Maria Theotocopouli and the Souvlaki Babes. Didcot Academic Press.

Dente, A. (2004) La Congruenza: Otto Condizioni di Felicità. Naples, Edizioni Alla Spina.

di Sosta, D. (2005) ‘Can Schrödinger’s Cat Purr?’. Journal of Experimental Epistemology 3/2.

Pickelhaube, J. and D. Dessourds (2003) Das Kamel als Erlösungssymbol in Klopstocks Dichtung. Berlin: Heuschreck.

Sackbottle, C. (1998) Who’s Talking? Peebles, Scotland: Ranunculus Press.

Sassi, C. (2005) Hamlet and the Ghost: a Congruence Theory Reading. Barking: Monkey’s Paw Publishers.

Tarbaby, K. and X. Cooch (1994) Un Belge Pas Comme les Autres. Louvain: Pigepas & Quedalle.


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