My first year at UWE – English Language and Linguistics

By Hector Jessop

A year ago, as I counted down the days until I would move to Bristol and become a student, I felt both excited and nervous in the face of what would be an entirely different experience. I was a 23 year old who had been out of education for almost half a decade, who after finishing college with mediocre results and no real plan had found work and settled into a routine. It felt like a big risk to give up that stability and return to studying, and being an older first-year student and not naturally outgoing, I worried that I might struggle to find friends here or to keep up with other students who had come straight from A-levels. I took a step out of my comfort zone to even put an application together though, and that turned out to be an excellent decision! So in preparing to come to UWE I promised myself I wouldn’t turn down any opportunity because of a lack of confidence.

Looking back at this year, that’s turned out to be a pretty good approach, both in and out of the classroom. It felt strange for me to be back in education after so long away, but definitely in a good way! Everyone has been really friendly, and lecturers have been so supportive not just in those first few weeks, but throughout the year as well. Of course there’s been ups and downs and different people enjoy different modules, and that’s part of the appeal of first year – being introduced to many different aspects of Linguistics that maybe you haven’t heard of before, and finding where your interests are.

Even beyond the set modules and lectures though, there are other opportunities offered and these are where it’s important to go for it. In each module, for a start, a course-rep will be chosen to communicate the thoughts of the class to lecturers and vice-versa. It’s a really good opportunity to get to know your lecturers and other students better, and to make a difference to the way lectures are delivered (I actually didn’t take this one as I had other projects lined up, but in hindsight I wish I had).

We were also introduced to several opportunities to help with research projects run either by staff or older students; one of these, which involved working with children to collect data for a PhD student, appealed to me so I registered my interest and ended up being selected. This I would say was the first test of my promise to not shy away from opportunity! I really wasn’t sure I was up to the expectations of the project but I went ahead with it anyway and it turned out to be great fun. Being involved in this project taught me a huge amount about real-world applications of linguistic research methods and I gained another experience to add to my CV.

Fast forward to the end of the year, and an opportunity was advertised for a ‘linguistics internship’ which would involve working with the UWE Linguistics team over the summer, on various projects according to their needs. This one definitely got my attention, and I asked for more information. I was told that it would usually go to a 3rd or maybe 2nd year student, but I should apply anyway as it would demonstrate enthusiasm and give me a better chance next year. Then, when I applied and was given an interview. I was told that I’d done well to get through as a first year and I should definitely go ahead with it as practise for applying again next year. On that basis I took a deep breath, did the interview fully expecting to be rejected – and now, here I am writing a blog as part of the internship I never expected to get.

Even that though, is just a taste of what my time at UWE has offered. Outside of the course itself, I challenged myself to join the climbing society, despite having almost no experience, and I’ve now found a new hobby, made a bunch of great friends and had loads of fun nights out in Bristol. It also gave me the opportunity to go climbing on a Welsh mountain in November, which mainly taught me climbing is harder with numb fingers! But it was great fun anyway. During my first year I’ve also managed to find time to fly around Europe from Bristol Airport. I’ve had great fun and have also been able to immerse myself in other languages, having spent a week in Germany, a week in France and two weeks in Spain this year, which of course ties in nicely with a linguistics degree.

My hope in writing this piece then, is that it will perhaps strike a chord with people preparing to come to university this September, who may not be the most confident, the most outgoing, but who want to make the best of their time here. To those people, I would say this: each time an opportunity to try something new comes up at university – and there will be plenty – ask yourself if it’s something you’d enjoy, and if it will benefit you, but don’t let nervousness hold you back. Take the leap, and the confidence will come later.

“To-foo are you calling inanimate?” 

Veganuary, linguistics, and the words we use when discussing animals. 

By Taryn McDonnell 

UWE English Language and Linguistics (2018-2021)

After a month of Christmas inspired decadence, many of us will be turning our palates – and our wallets – towards the ever-growing variety of plant-based alternatives within our supermarkets, all in the name of the 30-day annual change, ‘Veganuary’. As such, it seems like a fitting time to discuss the perhaps inconspicuous links between linguistics and veganism, and to explore how even seemingly small things, such as the language that we use when discussing animals, may in fact influence how they are treated by human society (Stibbe, 2001). 

To begin to understand these links, we must venture back to 1975, the year in which Peter Singer released his bestseller and definitive classic of the animal rights movement, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals. Viewed as a radical departure from the anthropocentric philosophies that had dominated human thinking for millennia, Singer critically analysed modern farming practices, the media, and our role as humans in perpetuating unnecessary animal suffering. Singer centred his thinking around a core principle that it is unjust to cause suffering to any being which has an interest in – at the bare minimum – not suffering. Singer’s book sparked an animal liberation movement and created a compelling argument which has stood the test of time against numerous moral philosophers wishing to challenge it (Villanueva, 2017). 

This is all very interesting, I hear you say, but what does any of this have to do with language and linguistics?  

Singer was in fact, one of the first philosophers to explicitly note how our vocabulary serves to conceal our food’s origins. He explained how we eat pork not pig, beef not cow, and how even the noun ‘meat’, which once meant any solid food, is now used to disguise the fact that we are eating the flesh of an animal. Subsequent research within the fields of journalism studies, eco-linguistics (see Stibbe, 2001), and critical animal studies have further explored how language can be used by institutions such as the government, the animal industries, and the media, to sustain and perpetuate animal suffering. 

As a life-long animal advocate and final-year linguistics student desperately searching for a dissertation topic which would not drive me to despair, I chose to critically analyse all farmed animal articles appearing in UK National Newspapers for the year 2020, with an aim of discovering how and to what extent they reinforced speciesism. 

“Speciesism – a prejudice characterized by morally favouring one species – usually homo sapiens – over others.” 

Inspired by the following quote from Jepson – ‘the killing of animals is the most extreme and significant expression of human power over them’ (2008, p.127) – I chose to critically analyse the verbs that we as humans use to denote the act of killing an animal. In doing so, I made some striking discoveries. A small excerpt regarding the killing verb ‘destroy’ and how it’s use reflects a speciesist ideology is given below… 

“The killing verb ‘destroy’ appears in 3 articles, all of which also feature the verb ‘culling’. Destroy, as noted by Jepson (2008, p.141) is derived from ‘a basic meaning that refers not to human beings but to inanimate objects’. It is symbolic, therefore, of the ways in which we classify varying levels of animacy. We can destroy sandcastles, but we cannot kill them, and as humans we can be emotionally or even physiologically destroyed, but we cannot be destroyed in the literal sense of killed. The use of destroy as a killing verb therefore not only refers to the murder of animals, but simultaneously conspires to relegate their classification from living, sentient beings, to that of emotionless, inanimate objects.” (McDonnell, 2021). 

I also found similar instances for other killing verbs such as, ‘cull’, ‘harvest’ and ‘depopulate’. Even the word ‘slaughter’ (frequently used to describe the killing of animals) can be viewed as evidence of a speciesist ideology when we realise that ‘animals are slaughtered, humans are murdered’ (Stibbe, 2001, p.07). 

I am afraid that this blog post has taken somewhat of a dark turn, but I truly believe that it is important for us to question why we use the words that we do to discuss animals. Who serves to benefit from concealing our foods origins from us? Why would institutions use words that reduce an animal’s sentience to that of an inanimate object?  

Perhaps now, whilst our fridges our full of tofu and our bellies with broccoli, we may take some time to question how justified our dominion over animals really is, and how even our everyday vocabulary may be concealing something more sinister. 

Volunteering – Speech and Language Therapy

Here at UWE we are committed to ensuring that our students are equipped for the world of work once they’ve graduated. In English Language and Linguistics we pride ourselves on embedding a focus on careers and employability into our modules so that students can develop, recognise and articulate their skills, knowledge and attributes as well as learn to apply their learning to real world contexts.

It always gives me great pleasure to hear about the achievements of our students. Here is an account of volunteering as a Speech and Language Therapist from one of our third year students, Eleanor Grandchamp.

“It all began when I was turned down for my placement year. 

I had the perfect set up: work alongside speech and language therapists in an acute stroke ward hospital setting in Bath, gain an overwhelming amount of data for my dissertation and have the best year of my life doing what I aspired to do when I was going to graduate. 

Nope. Thanks Covid.  

The day I got that phone call saying the paperwork couldn’t go through clearance because of Covid – I felt my world shatter. I didn’t know where to turn. I’m not from Bristol. I don’t know anyone in the sector. I’m only 19 and have no ‘real’ social links or means to reach anyone. I’m not overwhelmingly smart or impressive in any way. 

In desperation, I spent my two months endlessly spamming all speech and language therapists in Bristol. I tried public, private, anyone who identified as an SLT. When no one replied, I tried Bath and Somerset. Eventually, I started trying to talk to every SLT in the UK who had a public email address. 

I heard nothing back. Ever. (Even now). 

At first, it was really hard dealing with the rejection. I began regretting my degree, thinking I should’ve taken another one. Taking the radio silence as a personal attack to my lack of experiences coming from an underprivileged area rather than reflecting on the unfortunate time of trying to join the sector (mid lockdown 2021). 

However, I did not give up. 

It was 12.04am one rainy Wednesday night. I joined a Facebook SLT group for graduates trying to find work placements in the sector. By chance, I private messaged someone who made a post on there. 

Turns out it was the head of a private SLT practice! 

They messaged me back instantly after my rambly explanation in their DMs. They were interested in my background as an immigrant and as an undergrad in linguistics, and my future ambition as an SLT. They decided to invite me along to a session in London as a one-off favour. 

There, I watched this amazing SLT deliver a session to a child. They played with Lego, pretended to be dinosaurs, caught bubbles. All so much fun yet subliminally educational. 

After the session I asked the SLT so many questions, I made a lot of notes ( 4 pages!!) of particular instruments used to deliver the session, the ways of encouraging the child to speak, how to deal with behavioural difficulties. We sat there for an hour in their car analysing every little bit of the child’s linguistic behaviour. 

They asked me after if I wanted to come to every one of the child’s sessions and see the linguistic growth for myself in a developing three-year-old with a lisp, nasality and ASD. 

Of course, I said yes!! 

To begin with, I applied to the RCSLT. You must have a license with the RCSLT before beginning practise but this is only achieved through employment or the appropriate education. Initially, I had neither but because of the SLT, I was able to become an officially recognised Speech and Language Therapy Assistant at 19! (I did cry a bit when I got my card in the mail I was so proud of myself!!). 

Now that I was qualified, I was able to observe a few more sessions, sitting in the corner. This was to let the child grow comfortable with having me in their space. Next, I was asked to plan a few activities for them to do and to provide linguistic reasoning behind it. I was taught how to diagnose different types of lisps, gliding, aphasia and more. They provided me with legal forms that I would use in my own career to professionally and scientifically record linguistic progress. 

Eventually, I was invited to join in on the sessions – leading two or three activities. I was super nervous but the SLT was on hand for support if I needed it. 

Now I run the sessions by myself every week! 

I am now on my 23rd week with the child. I have also been seeing another child with selective mutism and another with a very strong lateral lisp. Every case is so different from the other, and even my own cases adapt so much every week. Speech and language therapy never ceases to amaze me. 

The SLT who brought me on has an office now. When I went to visit, they said I would have my own set of keys (big woah). They said I can come shadow other SLT sessions and watch scientific speech assessments being done on a wide variety of children.  I’m so excited! 

While it took me two months of day in day out hard work and constant rejection to be able to pursue my dream, it does show that you shouldn’t give up. Don’t let the pandemic stop you, or anything else in life. 

Some days were really hard to pick myself up and carry on. I felt discouraged, I thought maybe it wasn’t working out for a ‘reason’ – like how people say when you fail something. But I didn’t want to fail. I wanted to prove everyone and my inner saboteur wrong. 

I really want this and I know I can do it.” 

Who ‘spared’ the mass killer? Investigating word choice in the media

by Craig Evans

When news outlets reported on the sentencing of James Holmes at the weekend, I was struck by the incongruity between the events described and the repeated use of the word ‘spared’. In July, Holmes was found guilty of the murders of 12 people in a cinema in 2012. Prosecutors in the case sought the death penalty, but the jury needed to be unanimous in their decision to pass this sentence. At least one juror opposed the death penalty, and Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The consensus in the media was that James Holmes had been ‘spared’. Here are some quotes from publications across the political spectrum:

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Caesar was ‘ere: name etchings at the Colosseum

by Craig Evans


Here is a photo of names etched into an interior wall of the Colosseum. I was there the other day while visiting Rome. Inside that ancient arena it is hard not to be drawn into musings about universal human truths. My own thoughts fixed on the idea of the spectacle and how societies, ancient and modern, are organised around staged performances. This is somewhat aided by the design of a circular, tiered structure which encourages a sense of belonging to a mass group with a common purpose while also marking social status differences. The presence of a ‘Royal Box’ for distinguished guests at Wimbledon suggests that this social function of the arena has survived into today’s world.

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Some thoughts on ‘impact’, the theme at iMean 2015

by Craig Evans

It was the fourth meeting for iMean, a biennial linguistics conference first held at UWE in 2009. Jointly organised by staff and students from UWE and the University of Warwick, this year’s event took place at Warwick. Here are some of my thoughts on the main theme of the conference…

‘Impact’ was the theme at this year’s iMean conference. I was there as a student volunteer helping out for four days in April. ‘Impact’ emanates from a source, and I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the source in question at iMean 2015, that is: the linguistics research community. Or at least, I should say, a variety of academics from across the world whose research focus is language. This seems to be an important distinction to make now that the onus falls increasingly on the individual researcher – rather than research community – to justify their work in terms of its ‘impact’.

It was fascinating, as an English Language and Linguistics undergraduate still fairly new to the world of language research, to observe seasoned academics as they grappled with this buzzword ‘impact’.

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Rhetoricitus: Why Politicians Need Our Sympathy

by Craig Evans

The accusation often levelled against politicians is that they are not straight with people, but I’m inclined to believe that it’s not entirely their fault. After all, they do have an affliction, a language condition (let’s call it rhetoricitus) which prevents them from saying exactly what they think.

The BBC has been campaigning for years to raise awareness of the plight of rhetoricitus sufferers, and every Thursday their in-house specialist, Mr David Dimbleby, runs a workshop. At the workshop, the brave men and women of Westminster are invited along to demonstrate the crippling effects of their affliction on their ability to give straight answers to questions posed by members of the public. With the workshops being broadcast on both television and radio, the hope is that such exposure will take away the stigma associated with rhetoricitus whilst encouraging people to be more accepting of sufferers’ use of language.

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Top 10 Secret Languages

by Craig Evans


The glaring question that faces anyone researching secret languages is: do ‘secret languages’ actually exist? The description seems to present something of a paradox, in that language facilitates communication whereas a secret is about resisting communication. How would a ‘secret language’ survive in a time when open, well-documented languages are continuously dying out? Furthermore, how would it come into being in the first place? The world’s languages have evolved over time and consist of a set of internal rules that native speakers learn from a very early age. In contrast, the need for secrecy is a cultural phenomenon that occurs after language has already been acquired.

The fact is, a truly secret language probably doesn’t exist. When we use the term ‘secret language’, we actually mean the secret adaptation of known languages. Alternatively, the expression might be applied to new mixed languages or unfamiliar slangs or jargons, when they are used or perceived to be used for purposes of concealment. Continue reading

Fleshing Out the Theorists – Uriel Weinreich

by Craig Evans

In anticipation of one of my third-year module options, Bilingualism and Language Contact, I thought I’d investigate one of the more prominent theorists in the field. Here’s a short portrait of the individual behind the theory…

A time of war: of mass population displacement, of destruction and upheaval, of new beginnings in the midst of chaos. It was also the time of Uriel Weinreich’s formative teenage years. Weinreich was 13 when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. When it happened, the young Weinreich, who came from Wilno in the east of the country, was with his parents in Copenhagen. Weinreich’s father, Max, a renowned linguist specialising in the Yiddish language, was travelling with his family to the International Congress of Linguists in Brussels when they heard the news. Soon after, the Soviet Union advanced into east Poland, and the long-disputed territory of Weinreich’s birthplace, Wilno, was handed over to Lithuania, readopting its old name Vilnius. Europe was in the grip of war, the future seemed bleak and uncertain, and the best option left for the Weinreichs was to seek a new life in America. Continue reading