Author: billylinguist

Mesh: a new journal for student work

There’s lots going on at Middlesex as we prepare for the new academic year and the arrival of the second group of students to join our new BA English programme.

One thing we’re excited about is the launch of the journal Mesh, which we expect some of our current students to submit to at some point in the future.

Here below is part of an email about it which members of its editorial board (including me, Billy Clark) have been circulating:

. . .
The first issue of Mesh, the online journal for undergraduate work across English studies, is now live at following its formal launch in July at the English: Shared Futures conference (Newcastle, UK)

We are now open for submissions for the journal’s forthcoming issues.

The journal offers a great opportunity to showcase excellent undergraduate research which brings together or explores ideas relevant to two or more areas of English studies, and to illustrate the rich variety of working going on across the discipline. For example, the first issue includes:

  • an essay combining book publishing history and author studies on the not very well known writer Rose Blaze de Bury
  • a video and article on the literature, architecture and hyperreality of Hollywood
  • a co-authored project (by two students) presenting two innovative and challenging course designs, with accompanying rationales, which draw together language and literature, focusing on news and social media

Please recommend the journal to students and encourage submission, and please pass on details of the journal to colleagues to do the same.

All submissions are reviewed by the academic editorial board and all receive feedback.

Full guidance on submissions is provided on the journal’s website at:

Best wishes,

Dr. Andrea Macrae, Dr Billy Clark and Dr. Marcello Giovanelli
The Mesh Editorial team


Last date to register for free teachers conference


Our free conference for English teachers (mentioned in our previous post) is just under three weeks away. The last date to register is next Monday, 31st October.

This will be a really fun and useful event. Teachers always respond positively to the opportunity to step outside the classroom to exchange ideas,  to hear about current research, and to consider how to apply some of these ideas in class. Some of the sessions will focus on developing specific resources and activities for class.

This year, the conference takes place the day before the NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English) post-16 conference, New Directions in Post-16 English, which is also being hosted at Middlesex.

If you can spare two days, why not come to both? If you’re already coming to one, maybe you could take an extra day to attend the other event.

You can find out more and book for the Integrating English conference here:

Fourth Integrating English Conference for Teachers

and for New Directions in Post-16 English here:

New Directions in Post-16 English

There is also a blog for the Post-16 conference here:

Post-16 conference blog

Hope some more teachers out there can join us.

Contact me if you have any questions about this.

Thinking About English


Our BA English programme at Middlesex takes a broad and inclusive view of English, encompassing all of the very wide range of activities which have been thoughts of as part of the subject and not assuming sharp boundaries within or at the edge of English.

There are several different things which helped to encourage us in this direction. For me, it began in discussion with students who seemed more open to this inclusive approach. Some of them approached me and asked why our programme didn’t seem to have much ‘lang-lit’ work (‘like we did at school’).

Thinking about this led to work exploring the current situation at school and at university with Andrea Macrae and Marcello Giovanelli. We worked on two research projects funded by the Higher Education Academy. These involved discussion with staff and students at schools and in universities, a workshop at Middlesex exploring these topics, and we produced two reports based on this (available via the Integrating English site).

Andrea, Marcello and I then set up the Integrating English project, which aims to promote this broad, inclusive view of English, and to help teachers and students at school by providing access to research ideas and other resources. We organise conferences for teachers (the fourth conference takes place at Middlesex on the 11th of November, the day before we host the National Association for the Teaching of English post-16 conference). We also run a website for the AQA awarding body called The Definite Article, where we publish digests of research papers and other resources.

This academic year is a very exciting one for us as we have launched our new degree which reflects this thinking about English. It’s very early to judge things but we have had a great time working with our new students so far and we’re looking forward to exploring ideas about English with them.

We’ll post more thoughts and resources on our thinking about English here, including some from events where we discuss this (Andrea, Marcello and I have been invited to give three presentations on our view of English this year). To start with, here are the slides from the presentation I gave at the Futures for English Studies seminar at the Open University in September:

Billy’s presentation at Futures for English Studies, Open University, September 2016

We’d love to carry on the discussion here so please comment or get in touch if you’d like to join in.




Marlowe, Shakespeare, Authors and Speech Recognition


The news that Marlowe is to be credited as a co-author for some of Shakespeare’s plays is big news, of course. It’s fascinating to think about how long debates have been going on about authorship of Shakespeare’s and other plays (e.g. Arden of Faversham, which is now being credited partly to Shakespeare). It seems we really do care about who produced the plays and not just about the plays themselves, even though there are, of course, lots of different views about the relative importance of texts, authors, contexts, readers, etc.

I’m also a bit amazed that linguistic evidence has been used to determine this, as there was a time when it seemed to be largely overlooked, despite what looked to me like some fairly clear evidence it provided, e.g. in the work of Jonathan Hope

Meanwhile, linguists are most excited about the news that an automated speech recognition system has achieved parity with human transcribers. I find this far more amazing. I remember John Wells explaining some of the difficulties which made it seem very unlikely that machines could ever come close to humans in this. It is amazing that they can now perform so well. Here’s Geoff Pullum commenting on it in response to the Language Log post:


I think my favourite speculation on who wrote Shakespeare’s plays was a story in 2000AD in which the plays were written by a time-travelling scholar from the future who travelled back in time to find out who wrote them, panicked when there was no sign of Shakespeare in Elizabethan England, and wrote them himself to make sure future generations wouldn’t miss out





Integrating English Conference 2016


We are very excited about our forthcoming (FREE!) Integrating English conference for English teachers which be taking place at Middlesex University on the 11th of November. It will be immediately followed on the 12th by the NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English) post-16 conference which we are also hosting at Middlesex.

This will be our fourth annual Integrating English conference. It will be a one-day event with a mix of talks and interactive workshops, led by HE academics and teachers, designed to offer support for teachers and provide new tools and techniques for studying English.

These events have been very successful with teachers in the past and we have received very positive feedback on previous events. You can see some feedback from last year’s conference in Oxford on the Integrating English events page 

You can find more information on this year’s conference, and a booking form, at the Integrating English Conference 2016 page

Meanwhile, here are some of our speakers:

(Andrea Macrae, Marcello Giovanelli, Billy Clark, Nigel McLoughlin, Marina Lambrou)

We are very grateful for support from our sponsors which makes it possible to offer this event for free:

Middlesex University School of Media and Performing Arts

Poetics and Linguistics Association

Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press have kindly donated copies of their A/AS Level English Language and Literature for AQA Student Book (Cambridge University Press, 2015) for us to offer to early bookers (just two or three left at time of writing)

If you’re an English teacher, fill in the booking form on the Integrating English Conference 2016 page and come along.

If you know any English teachers, spread the word!

We’re looking forward to  another fun and productive day exploring ideas for teaching English


Writing, Speaking, Acting, Smiling, . . .

We had a great time with new students at our Welcome events last week.

As ever, we explained that classroom work often begins with examples or questions and we encouraged students to look for their own questions and examples to discuss.

One thing we looked at was Lydia Davis’s short story Example of the Continuing Past Tense in a Hotel Room which, in its entirety, reads ‘Your housekeeper has been Shelly’. At first, we presented it without telling the students what it was or where it came from and then we revealed that this was a complete short story and who wrote it. This led to a wide range of questions about writing, authors, interpretation and value, among other things.

Here is an interesting piece on Lydia Davis which discusses some of her writing practices:

Long Story Short — Lydia Davis’s radical fiction — New Yorker

At today’s open day, we looked at a different example: Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing. I have been doing some work on this recently and have been referring to it to illustrate the connectedness of a wide range of questions and approaches within English.

Here is Eimear McBride talking about how she came to write the novel:

Eimear McBride — How I Wrote A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing — Guardian

There are some fascinating ideas here about how she found her way to the book, including the role that her experience in drama school played:

‘What I did know, as a result of three years’ drama school, was how to make people.’

On a different topic, here is some excellent linguistic analysis from Ye Tian, analysing disfluency, smiling and laughter in the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump:

Ye Tian on disfluency and smiling in the first debate between Clinton and Trump


Ye showed great stamina in going through this and analysing it so carefully. Again, it raises lots of interesting questions, including about how ‘disfluencies’ work and are interpreted, about the nature and functions of smiles and laughter, and about degrees of self-awareness in communicative interaction

Finally, here’s a piece by me for The Definite Article which summarises a research paper by Adrian Pilkington and suggests ways of applying ideas from pragmatics in exploring literary and other texts:

Billy Clark on implicature and poetic effects

We’re looking forward to discussing these and other questions and examples in class.