A new research project awarded to the LVTC group


On 26 August it was announced that Nuria Yáñez-Bouza has received generous funding (88,000 Euros) from the Xunta de Galicia, Consellería de Educación e Ordenación Universitaria (Axudas para proxectos de investigación desenvolvidos por investigadores emerxentes), to carry out the three-year research project ‘The art of writing English’: A corpus of schoolchildren’s writings. The members of this project are: Nuria Yáñez-Bouza (PI, LVTC, Vigo), Victorina González-Díaz (Co-investigator, LVTC, Liverpool), Dolores González-Álvarez (LVTC, Uvigo) and the LVTC research assistants Evelyn Gandón-Chapela, Sofía Bemposta-Rivas and Yolanda Pena-Fernández.

An ongoing debate within the field of Educational Linguistics in the UK is how to maintain and/or improve standards in writing performance in primary and secondary schoolchildren. Previous scholars have attempted to address the issue, generally from a synchronic perspective and with limited data based on few and/or small corpora. However, the results so far have not been homogeneous, and scholars are aware of the need for new methodologies.

The aim of the proposed project is to contribute to this field in two ways: (a) by developing a large-scale corpus of schoolchildren’s writings that will provide solid, empirical data; and (b) by carrying out two case studies on children’s writing performance from both a synchronic and a diachronic perspective. (a) The data will be based on the Assessment of Performance Unit archive of language surveys carried out from 1979 to 1988 by the UK National Foundation for Educational Research and currently safeguarded at the University of Liverpool (UK) under the supervision of Victorina González Díaz. The APU Writing Corpus 1979-1988 will consist of writings by children aged 11, taking Year-6 level in primary school, and writings for children of this same age group / school level. The corpus will be morphologically and semantically tagged, and will be available online, licence-free; the online interface will display the XML, tagged version parallel to the digital images of the original scripts. (b) One of the case studies will investigate the complexity of Noun Phrases, and the other will trace the legacy of eighteenth-century ‘standards’ in the APU archive with regard to a selection of morpho-syntactic features.

The main output of the project will be the electronic corpus, which will be accompanied by a user manual. We will deliver conference presentations to disseminate the corpus make-up and the findings of the case studies. Our research will likewise be prepared for publication as articles for international journals. We will also prepare a learning pack with the project’s materials, and we will deliver a series of open lectures to illustrate the use of the corpus.

The materials and findings of this project will be of interest to corpus linguists, educationalists and psycholinguists interested in writing development. Besides, due to metadata coding of the corpus, it will be useful to text-linguists and sociolinguists interested in language variation and change. Crucially, it will have important implications for policy makers, practitioners and curriculum material developers.