English Language Seminar on Illness Writing, Glasgow

Location: Boyd Orr Lecture Theatre B (Rm 412), Glasgow
Date: 4.15pm, Thursday 2nd March 2017

You are cordially invited to attend an English Language Seminar at the University of Glasgow,  by two of our postgraduates nearing completion. The first of the presentations focuses on illness writing.

1. Ross Deans Mclachlan, ‘Sentiment analysis and “affective texture” in illness writing’
In a series of recent articles on his personal website, the digital literary scholar Matthew Jockers published Syuzhet, a new package written for the programming language R. At root, the syuzhet package is built around a method drawn from text mining known as Sentiment Analysis. Jockers claims that syuzhet can be used to reveal the ‘emotional trajectory’ and the ‘plot arcs’ of literary texts. This claim has been met with a reasonable degree of suspicion and hesitation. However, in this talk, I argue that syuzhet does in fact show something of interest for the study of discourse, rhetoric, and style. To illustrate this, I use a number of examples taken from non-fiction writing dealing with the experience of illness. I aim to show how a sentiment-based approach may highlight potentially ‘foregrounded’ discourse and tentatively propose the idea of ‘affective texture’. This talk will be of interest to anyone interested in digital and cognitive approaches to written text analysis, as well as those with an interest in medical humanities.

Ross Deans McLachlan is a 3rd year PhD student in the English Language and Linguistics working under the supervision of Professor Marc Alexander and Dr. Catherine Emmott.  His thesis combines digital and cognitive approaches to text analysis. In particular, he is interested in the rhetorical and argumentative uses of narrative discourse, especially in the area of medical ‘life writing’.

2. Robert Lennon: ‘Fussed, second, thud: Mouse tracking reveals implicit perception of ambiguous /r/ in Glasgow’
In Glasgow, speakers are stereotypically rhotic, pronouncing /r/ in words like ‘car’ and ‘hurt’ (Wells 1982). However, although rhoticity is increasing in middle class Glaswegian (Lawson et al. 2011; Lennon 2012), there is a trend towards the loss of postvocalic /r/ in working class speech (Stuart-Smith 2007). Misperception occurs when listeners hear minimal pairs such as ‘hut/hurt’ spoken by working class speakers, due to the perceptual and acoustic similarity of the /r/ with the preceding vowel (Lennon 2014; 2015). Increased long-term experience decreases this difficulty, and short-term exposure promotes changes in perception (ibid. 2016). The present experiment investigated the timecourse of this perception, using the mouse tracking paradigm (Spivey et al. 2005). Words (e.g. ‘hut’, ‘hurt’, ‘fussed’, ‘first’, ‘thud’, ‘third’; produced by one working class and one middle class speaker) were played over headphones, and Glaswegian listeners clicked on the onscreen options displaying the words they thought they heard – as they moved the mouse towards their chosen response the cursor trajectories were recorded. A suite of analysis methods revealed that listeners found it significantly harder to distinguish working class minimal pairs than middle class minimal pairs, following predictions. Additionally, middle class pairs were easier to distinguish when they were heard in isolation, than when they were heard alongside working class words. This appears to demonstrate the difficulty of perceptually switching between two speakers (Mullenix & Pisoni 1990), even though all speakers and listeners in the experiment were native to Glasgow. 

Robert Lennon is in the final year of his PhD in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Glasgow. He is working under the supervision of Professor Jane Stuart Smith and Dr. Rachel Smith.

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