by Jess Freathy
Since June, I have been remote working as an intern for Bristol Centre for Linguistics. As the lockdown brought a rather anticlimactic end to my undergraduate degree in English Language and Linguistics, I was pleased to delay “adult life” by essentially extending my time in academia for another 10 weeks. I have (virtually) moved around the department, assisting the BCL academics with their summer research. Their range of specialities gave me a wide scope of activities and some juicy research areas to delve into. For those interested, I have written a little summary of my internship experience.
My fellow linguistics graduates will, no doubt, continue to find themselves pondering over a particular turn of phrase from time to time, and the “lingo” of the COVID-19 pandemic was no exception for me. Luckily, I could put this mildly annoying habit to good use as I joined Prof. Jonathan Charteris-Black in his analysis of the Coronavirus discourse; it will come as no surprise that he is considering the use of metaphor in the recent media coverage. Together, we developed an online survey to examine how different frames of metaphor affect public reactions to the pandemic. This process has made me more aware of the manipulation of metaphors in the news, and it has been interesting to see this evolve with the ebb and flow of the pandemic. It was exciting to collaborate with a true CDA expert and see his work on this unprecedented era take shape. Discussing the term ‘Quentin Quarantino’ with Jonathan over Zoom while under national lockdown is a rather surreal highlight of my internship.
Zooming out from the specific figurative language, I began to construct corpora of “crisis communication”. Reporting to Dr. James Murphy, I looked back on the year’s newspaper headlines to take a macro perspective of the language applied to the pandemic. It was very telling to see how the different ideologies of the publications were embedded in just a few words of headline. However, I do admit to my frustration as I revisited the government’s steps that basically led the country right off the edge of a cliff (the metaphors are endless!). I suppose hindsight is 20/20. Nevertheless, I was glad to be a small part of the academic study of this historic situation.
At week 4, I was handed over to Dr. Charlotte Selleck, whose specialism in the Welsh language was a relatively unfamiliar topic, so the next three weeks were full of new discoveries. I scoured academic journals for all things “minority language” and was particularly intrigued by the intrinsic intersections with policy, social status, and perceptions of cultural capital. These were particularly relevant to Charlotte’s work on attitudes towards Welsh in the private education sector. This is a sphere I have no experience of and, while conducting CDA of curricula and prospectuses, I was surprised by the intense discourse surrounding the prospects of young children.
Using my shiny new survey-making skills that I had practised with Jonathan, I worked with Charlotte to construct a survey for Welsh private school parents, to find the value they place not only on Welsh, but also on more “cosmopolitan” foreign languages. Throughout this process, I gained better awareness of the necessary rigour to accommodate various demographics, specifically same-sex, or single parents. Shamelessly, I think my work with Charlotte made me check my own cultural capital, which has motivated me to get back to language learning now I have finished uni. Italian lessons await…?
My final three weeks of this internship was much more familiar territory. I was reporting to Dr. Grant Howie as he embarks on a new project on Perceptual Dialectology, the topic of my final year dissertation. Even though I vowed to never set my eyes on these articles again, in a way, this literature (re)review was a blessing in disguise. I could use the “could’ve would’ve should’ve” attitude towards my own work to help Grant plan his study.
I am looking forward to this project on accents in the South West of England, it deserves some more scholarly attention!
All in, this internship has been a welcome bridge from student life into the more professional side of academia. Working from home has hardly felt like work. I am grateful to UWE’s lovely Linguistics department for their guidance over the last 3 years and for placing their confidence in me this summer. I have changed from an unambitious first year into an inspired linguist! I look forward to whatever comes next but, for now, I intend to make the most of sunny Bristol 🙂