Dr Mark Sebba


Research Interests

The 2011 census in England was the first to ask a question about language: but the questions raised there (and in Scotland, where the census also included new language questions) actually raised more questions than they answered. I have recently been working on papers on this topic, including "‘English a foreign tongue’: The 2011 Census in England and the misunderstanding of multilingualism". You can read a preprint version here.

Much of my current research concerns written bilingual and multilingual texts - magazines, websites, emails and other texts which contain a mixture of languages. I have edited a book,Language Mixing and Code-Switching in Writing: Approaches to Mixed-Language Written Discourse on the topic together with Shahrzad Mahootian and Carla Jonsson. My approach includes what has traditionally been called code-switching (i.e. the use of two languages within one text) but goes beyond that, to explore multilingual texts as literacy practices which draw on different repertoires of languages, visual images, spatial arrangements etc.

Another main interest of mine is in the Sociolinguistics of Orthography, a relatively unexplored field which examines the cultural and social aspects of spelling and writing systems. My book Spelling and Society: The culture and politics of orthography around the world was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007and has now published in paperback as well. You can read a review by Harriet Ottenheimer in Language Documentation and Conservation 3:2 (2009), here . At least one other person has read the book too, according to the THES.

I am on the editorial board of the journal Writing Systems Research and have written an article on "Sociolinguistic approaches to writing systems research" which appears in the first issue. You can read a postprint version here.

My other main interests have been in pidgin and creole languages and in the analysis of conversational code switching in bilingual communities - interests which come together in my (1993) book, London Jamaican (Longman), which is about the use of English and Creole among Caribbeans in London.

I am also interested in corpus linguistics - especially problems of bilingual spoken corpora - and have set up a corpus of written British Creole. I am a member of the Steering Committee of the LIPPS group, which is developing standards for the transcription and encoding of multilingual data, and aims to set up an international database of code-switching data. Our publication, the LIDES Coding Manual: A Document for Preparing and Analysing Language Interaction Data contains advice, guidelines and recommended transcription standards for researchers with bilingual data.

Prior to coming to Lancaster I did research in the field of syntax, and wrote The Syntax of Serial Verbs (Benjamins, 1987), a book which deals with a construction type found in creole languages, West African languages and Chinese. I have previously done freelance film and video work. My book Contact Languages: pidgins and creoles was published by Macmillan in 1997.

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