Interview with Carmen Ebner

Carmen was interviewed on her PhD study on the eve of the defence itself. Read all about it in Kennislink and wish her luck for tomorrow!

(Thanks for the translation, Adrian!)

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One Response to Interview with Carmen Ebner

  1. adrianstenton says:

    If you don’t mind a machine translation of the Dutch-language interview, courtesy of Easy Translator 12:

    Queen’s English is the norm, but for how long?
    Author: Mathilde Jansen

    Theme: Spoken language

    English have a high standard of understanding when it comes to language: in formal situations, you speak English-speaking English and avoid certain sentence constructions. Nevertheless, most of them are a bit milder in their judgment during the daily language. This is evidenced by a study by linguist Carmen Ebner. She graduates from Leiden University on September 5th.

    Just as there are some language concerns in the Netherlands – about using or knowing instead of being able to – English engages in all kinds of language variants. “One of the most famous is split infinitive”, explains Ebner, “in which a verb cluster is interrupted by an adverb: ‘He refused to even think about it’!” The word here is in a very unusual place. Other examples are: the use of I instead of me in ‘Between you and I’, or the modern word like in ‘The restaurant is like two minutes up the road’ (that’s two minutes’ walk) .

    Queen’s English, Oxford English, RP (Received Pronunciation) or BBC English. These are all names for Britain’s default language, where the south of England is normative.

    There are many complaints about this type of language on internet forums, or in sent letters in the newspaper. But often the debate is dominated by so-called prescriptivists – people who want to write certain standards. On the other hand, linguists call themselves descriptivists: they only describe how people use language, but do not care about right or wrong. The opinion of the great majority is often ignored. Hence Ebner now to chart the value benefits of this group.

    Socially desirable

    In order to measure the attitudes of the general public so accurately, the PhD student used different research techniques. Ebner: “In earlier studies of language attitudes, researchers directly asked people what they found acceptable in language and what not. But usually you answer social questions like that kind of question. To puncture through it, I used direct and indirect tests side by side. That way, I was able to get both conscious and unconscious judgment of people over water.”

    This happened, for example, in the personal interviews with 63 subjects from Cambridge, London and Oxford. In addition, they had to read an application letter first and indicate which words or sentences they found acceptable and not acceptable. “Some people did not correct anything, others literally the whole letter. Afterwards I confronted them with the rules behind them and I asked them for their judgment. In addition, it was very common for people, for example, to find split infinitive unacceptable while they had not corrected it in the letter.”

    Social stigma

    In the interviews, another form of indirect testing was used: the subjects were heard from a speaker using unaccepted language variants and a speaker who only accepted accepted language variants. The last speaker was judged by all informants to work harder, better literate, nights and more powerful.

    Ebner: “For example, people who use double denial are typed as lower educated or dialect speakers. This kind of language phenomena clearly clings to a social stigma. But less known ‘language errors’ are less affected by this.”

    Gorge young and old

    The PhD student also used an online questionnaire that sent them under over a hundred English. They had to give their opinion about a large number of known language gaps. A very direct way of asking so. The data analyzed them based on age, gender (male / female) and mother tongue. These factors were found to influence the way in which judgments were made. “Especially the older participants found less sense constructions acceptable,” said Ebner. Women in a single case were even more strict in the doctrine, like non-native speakers. “But they have had other education.”

    The elderly associate unacceptable language variants especially with low educators or young people, says Ebner. “They also criticized current language education, which would not be up-to-date. Some people indicated that young people should learn better what forms are acceptable in what situations. But other studies show that students know very well that they should not use abbreviations during an exam, such as in a whatsappie. Of course, there is a lot of change in that regard. Young people now write a lot more on social media, that’s for sure.”

    Grammar education

    The English situation similar to that in the Netherlands? According to the PhD student, not entirely. “In the Netherlands you get very good grammar education at the Dutch course. But in England you only got literature literally for the English lesson. You were highlighted on the most important books and literary streams. Language is only a very short component, since a year or seven.”

    And in the United States, the situation is very different according to Ebner. “There, ethnicity plays a greater role in the variation of the default language. In England, social class is much more important. In public, RP or BBC English is still the norm. Although there are more and more accents today, they are on the BBC. So that norm is definitely changing, and I want to do research there too.”

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