Blog

My blog is updated periodically and covers a wide range of topics. I blog about research, academic life, and some personal interests.

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On the passing of Dr. Michael Halliday

Dr. Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday passed away peacefully in his sleep last night. His work was very influential for me, and I thought I might share a few words on what he meant.

In 2016, Halliday moved to a care facility and letters were requested for him via an SFL listserv I follow. Because of the great impact he made on my life, I decided to write him a letter. Below is the text. It sums up what he meant to me.

Dear Dr. Halliday,

My name is Michael Maune, and I recently completed my doctorate in English Education at Purdue University in the U.S.A. under the tutelage of Dr. Luciana de Oliveira and Dr. Christian Knoeller. I read recently on the sys-fling listserv about your recent move to this facility. An address was provided to which correspondence could be sent. As I used Systemic Functional Linguistics in my dissertation, I thought I might write you to express my gratitude and best wishes.

In 2010, I came upon your research and theory through the work of Dr. Frances Christie, who was recommended to me by an anthropological linguist at Purdue. I dove into the SFL rabbit hole full speed and have not looked back. In the U.S., as I’m sure you know, most of us graduate students were trained in Chomsky’s work, to whom I also owe a debt. But it was your work that inspired me as a way to unlock the ways language worked to create cultures.

I am the son of a factory worker, the grandson of a farmer. My time learning to write in college was challenging, and as I pursued my career in writing instruction, I became dissatisfied with the ways I could talk about language with my students. Traditional grammar did not seem to help the students I taught from the outskirts of Indianapolis, nor the college freshmen I taught at Purdue. Your theories not only helped me understand how my own writing worked, but also how to explain to my students how to make linguistic choices to make their own writing more powerful.

Through my studies of Dr. Jim Martin’s work on genre and the mentorship of Dr. de Oliveira, I’ve developed as a teacher of writing, now serving students, many poor and disadvantaged, in the Southern United States. They are improving their writing and gaining access to language that can empower them because of you and your research. I cannot thank you enough for you and your late wife’s work, for your service to educational linguistics, and for your challenging writings that I continue to wrestle with and learn from.

I want to extend my best wishes to you on your recent move. I hope your time there is restful but nonetheless productive.

Cheers,

Michael Maune, Ph.D.

Magnolia, Arkansas, U.S.A.

Why do I use SFL in my teaching?

The first #SFLchat has begun, and it has had a good start. The first question is, “Why do you use SFL for teaching?” I can’t really answer this question in a Tweet, so I decided, following the general advice of my colleague Angus Grieve-Smith, that I blog rather than thread.

After my first semester in graduate school linguistics, I was frustrated. My introduction to linguistics proper had taught me a great deal of new theory. It was one of the most exciting and interesting times of my life. But I was struggling to understand how I could apply this new knowledge–and especially in my classroom. As part of my graduate study, I had a teaching assistantship in first-year composition. And since language was a central topic in the curriculum, I was eager to incorporate what I was learning in my linguistics courses. But that was easier said than done. (more…)

Top 5 Reasons Why I Do Twitter Chats

I am co-moderating and co-organizing three academic Twitter chats this semester–#Lingchat, #FYCchat, and the newly minted #SFLchat. It’s a lot to do in terms of social media engagement and planning. But I enjoy it–I told a colleague it’s my way to “productively procrastinate.”

Kidding aside, there are some good reasons why I do academic Twitter chats and have been doing them since I joined Twitter in 2013. And I think those reasons might resonate with some people who already participate in them–and they might encourage others to join in.

  1. They are convenient. Any academic who wants to contribute to their field or wants to keep up with developments in their field has several options. They can read or publish in journals in their field. They can attend conferences. They can join professional organizations. They can participate in webinars. But each of these has limitations. Journals are periodic and only allow delayed communication. Conferences are annual.  Professional organizations might offer listservs or newsletters, but most forms of communication will be  asynchronous. Webinars are great, but might cost money and sometimes are just a presentation. Twitter chats are weekly or bi-weekly, mostly synchronous, and free.
  2.  They help me understand my field of study. I’m early in my career–just two years out from my dissertation. Even then, I only know my subfield–genre theory in Systemic Functional Linguistics–fairly well. But the larger field of linguistics, or even the larger field of Systemic Functional Linguistics or genre studies, are still something of a mystery. Sure, I know our general disciplinary narratives. I know big names. But I still have big questions: Where are we going? What are we doing? Why are we doing it?  What I have always loved about the academy was the ability to think and speak freely in order to better understand the world. And while the halls of the academy–or the local watering hole–are good venues for this kind of informal academic discourse, Twitter chats enable it on a broader scale, exposing their participants to the unconventional view or the new idea. It is what I value most about academic Twitter chats.
  3. They improve my teaching. Obviously chats like #FYCchat are expressly designed to support professional development of teachers. And they do a great job of doing that–it’s why Trent M. Kays and I revived #FYCchat after it went on hiatus. We share resources on these chats and discuss important issues in our practice. I have used some of the ideas I’ve gotten from those chats. So there’s the explicit aspect of the chat that promotes the sharing of pedagogy. But on another level, even the more theoretical chats like #Lingchat and #SFLchat are spaces for me to practice my teaching–because sometimes mine is the unconventional view or the new idea. And I have to explain it to people who haven’t heard of it. In 140 characters. It forces recontextualization in a way that mirrors, in some ways, the classroom. Any time you get to practice teaching, like any craft, you get a little better. And Twitter chats give you a space to do that.
  4. They provide me with a community of colleagues, mentors, and mentees. We meet around a hashtag. That hashtag is our common idea, our focal point. That’s why we are there, initially. But then, as you participate more, you build what Karl Maton calls “sociality.” The community forms through the sharing of ideas and practices, through the support of each other, and through the resolution of disagreements (more later). As we learn more about each other, we develop relationships of different kinds. I have many colleagues on these chats, but I’ve also been mentored by people and mentored people myself through these chats. And those relationships have extended beyond the Twitter timeline, to long emails, conversations, and presentations at conferences. That community matters to me. And I’m personally and professionally grateful to have them in my life.
  5. They are challenging. I’m argumentative on Twitter. Sometimes too much so, and that gets me in trouble. But even if you’re not, Twitter chats will challenge you because they attract voices and views from literally all around the world. Most chats develop as supportive communities, but sometimes there are disagreements. And like any community, those disagreements can only be resolved by the members themselves. Fortunately, most (if not all) of my disagreements have been resolved well, and I learned something, and I like to think the other person did as well. But for me, what has mattered is that those debates have continued to influence my own thinking and research. I regularly think about how so-and-so from the chat would respond to some idea I’ve had. And sometimes that has changed my view or practice. I am–at least I like to think–more open-minded towards views because of the challenge that Twitter chats offer to my own views.

Like many things in life, Twitter chats are what you make of them–so your experience may vary. But these are the reasons why I spend some time every week on Twitter talking to people around the world about linguistics and teaching writing. If you haven’t participated in a Twitter chat, I encourage you to try one out. Here’s a good list to start from–or ask someone who participates about dates and times. Hope to see you there!

The New Star Trek Series: Hermeneutics and Ferengi Trek

Star Trek is back, baby.

CBS announced that a new TV series of Star Trek will premiere in 2017. I simply cannot wait for this. It was personally some of the best news I’ve gotten in a long time. I teared up some.

There’s a lot to say about all of this. And I’ve read a lot of think pieces–some which I’ll try to link to here. But pretty much everything that can be said so far about the topic has been said. So a lot of this post is a synthesis of what I’ve read (if any of my students are reading–I’m trying to cite via hyperlinks, as is the custom for blogs). But I do want to focus on the distribution model for the new series, which is perhaps the most controversial.

What will the new series be about?

The announcement says that it will not be related to the new movie coming out, Star Trek Beyond. What does this mean? It probably won’t feature the new Kirk/Spock/McCoy etc. That’s all I get from that. Some have speculated that it will take place in the Prime timeline (Michael Dorn’s negotiations for a Captain Worf show seem to suggest this is possible). Others have expressed a preference for the Romulan War storyline we didn’t get to see in Enterprise.

This is all wrong and won’t happen.

The 2009 reboot was necessary to clear up the continuity so that future Star Trek could tell new stories without being bound by the extensive history of the Prime timeline. Paramount invested a lot of money in this new storyline. The new series is most definitely going to happen in the new timeline. We should stop calling it the Abramsverse or NuTrek. Fans use those terms to express the fact that they’re upset with the new direction of Star Trek. I’m among them. I’m not a fan with the plot technicalities introduced by transporters that can move people across thousands of lightyears, as shown in the new timeline. But I have to accept it. The new timeline is Star Trek now.

And that’s the way it’s always been.

Next Generation upset fans by screwing up the ideal of the Starfleet captain. Deep Space Nine upset the Rodenberry anti-war focus by telling a serialized war story (that, still true to Trek, was anti-war). Voyager upset TV tropes by portraying a competent woman in command. Enterprise upset fans by reinterpreting continuity and providing a cultural arc for the Vulcans.

Star Trek isn’t static. Star Trek is defined by the culture and the time that is written and produced. It is a response to that culture and time. As my hermeneutics professor, Dr. Strege, would say: Star Trek “forms and is informed by” the community that it exists in. It is always already a cultural artifact.

Star Trek always changes in each iteration. This one will be different. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Accept it. The new series is in the new timeline. Enjoy it. We’re all going boldly where no Trek fans have gone before.

Along with the next generation of fans, who know Trek because of J.J. Abrams. And God bless him for it.

How will people watch the Star Trek series?

They will have to pay 6 bucks a month to CBS to watch it via their streaming service. This I have one philosophical issue with.

As a practical matter, it makes sense. CBS has been trying to get into the future of TV via their own streaming service. I almost signed up for it when I was watching Madam Secretary. I most definitely be signing up now that Star Trek is on it. They got my money. It’s 6 bucks. I can afford it. And I want to watch it. Plus, now they have Supergirl. And I find CBS to have some of the better news programs on network news, from Scott Pelley to CBS This Morning to CBS Sunday Morning. So it’s fine. Whatever. I like CBS. I don’t mind spending some money.

But Star Trek is about a future where money doesn’t exist. Primarily because money leads to greed, and greed is something that humanity needs to grow out of. In Star Trek’s future, we grow out of it. We abandon greed. We become better.

But we’re not there yet. And that’s the philosophical issue.

On the one hand, it’s philosophically contradictory. It’s like Walmart selling Che t-shirts. It’s capitalism promoting socialism. It’s one philosophy supporting another philosophy that seeks to undermine it.

On the other hand, Star Trek has always been paid for. In the past, it’s been via ads. So there’s always been money involved. But there is something that feels especially perverse about asking viewers for 6 bucks to watch Star Trek, rather than viewing ads. Not everyone can afford the extra 6 bucks. I’ve been there. And Star Trek is about our future as humanity. It should be for everyone. It is essentially egalitarian. And now it is not. It’s Ferengi Trek. Quark would be proud of this move by CBS. I am not. I’ll watch, but I have misgivings, and I’m hoping they’ll relent in some way.

As Spock would say, “There are always… possibilities.”

Final Word

I’m excited. I’m happy.

And I think it’s important there will be a new series. Star Trek comments on our culture not only by offering dystopian warnings, but by offering us a positive outlook on the future that we can strive for.

We need this. This is a terrifying time to be alive, sometimes. And it’s going to be nice for once to have a voice in the culture that says we can go into the future… boldly.

In Defense of Academic Writing: A Response to @sapinker (Part 1)

In Steven Pinker’s recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Academics Stink at Writing,” Pinker argues that academic writing suffers from a number maladies, including self-conscious stylistics, a “curse of knowledge,” and a lack of “incentives to write well.” I want to address each of Pinker’s points in detail. This first post will focus on the “self-conscious style” argument.

“Self-Conscious Style” Features Serve Functions Other Than Indexing The Author’s Membership in Academe

Pinker, drawing from Thomas and Turner’s style typology, asserts that academic writing is “self-conscious.” Academic writers, Pinker argues, are marked by a goal of “not so much communication as self-presentation—an overriding defensiveness against any impression that they may be slacker than their peers in hewing to the norms of the guild.” Pinker favors an alternative style, which Thomas & Turner call the “classic style.” In describing this style, Pinker says, though not explicitly, that the style has as its underlying ideology a correspondence theory of truth: a statement is true if it ‘corresponds’ to or matches something in reality. This theory of truth is not consistent with  many schools of thought in the humanities, such as Reader-Response theory, or the philosophical paradigms informing some social sciences, such as Social Constructivism or Critical theory. It’s not even consistent, as Pinker later notes, with post-positivism, which many physical and biological scientists espouse. But, according to Pinker, it doesn’t matter: classic style is clearer than the self-conscious, and that is why academic writing stinks. (more…)