C is for Creativity

26 11 2017

I’ve just come back from a conference, the theme of which was creativity – a conference for teachers of Arabic, as it happens. I’m not a speaker of Arabic, much less a teacher. But I have a long association with the Arab world – I calculate I’ve done work in 14 of the 22 states that belong to the Arab League. Moreover, irrespective of the language they are teaching, language teachers share many of the same challenges and experience many of the same successes. For me it is both salutary and enlightening to be able to exchange stories about these challenges and successes. It was appropriate, therefore, that the organization that hosted the conference – in conjunction with the University of Westminster – is an Arabic language school whose mission statement is “We believe language & culture are better shared than taught.”

sharek conference Mahammed Bouabdallah

Sharek Centre Conference at the University of Westminster (photo courtesy Mahammed Bouabdallah)


What, then, of creativity? For me, a constant challenge has been trying to balance the twin poles of conformity and creativity. My initial training erred on the side of the former, where language learning was all about conforming to existing patterns and models and where creativity, if it was encouraged at all, seemed seriously constrained.

first things firstSuch a view was enshrined in the first coursebook I ever used, Louis Alexander’s aptly titled First Things First (1967), whose philosophy is laid out in no uncertain terms: ‘The student should be trained to learn by making as few mistakes as possible. He should never be required to do anything which is beyond his capacity… If the student is to make the most of his abilities he must be trained to adopt correct learning habits right from the start’ (Alexander 1967: xii).

This ‘late-stage’ behaviourist credo sat uncomfortably with the Chomskyan view that creativity is the essence of language use: ‘Ordinary linguistic behaviour characteristically involves innovation, formation of new sentences and new patterns in accordance with rules of great abstractness and intricacy’ (1966, quoted in Stern, 1983, p. 300).  And he added, for good measure, that ‘repetition of fixed phrases is a rarity….’ (ibid.)

Corpus linguistics has, of course, shown him to be wildly wrong: a great deal of real language use does in fact consist of fixed phrases – more than 50%, according to some estimates. The Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin had long since anticipated this: ‘Our speech, that is, all our utterances (including our creative works), is filled with others’ words, varying degrees of otherness or varying degrees of “our-own-ness”’ (1986: 89).

Language use, it seems, involves an equal measure of conformity and creativity, a tension that finds expression in John Sinclair’s distinction between the ‘idiom principle’ and the ‘open choice principle’. With regard to the former, ‘a language user has available to him or her a large number of semi-preconstructed phrases that constitute single choices, even though they might appear to be analysable into segments’ (Sinclair 1991:110). This contrasts with the ‘open choice principle’, whereby ‘words are treated as independent items of meaning. Each of them represents a separate choice’ (op. cit.: 175).

For Bakhtin, this tension between conformity and creativity was construed as a tug-of-war between centripetal and centrifugal forces.  As Braxley (2013: 15) describes it: ‘On the one hand, centripetal forces play a normative role, ensuring that speakers of the language will be able to understand one another. On the other hand, centrifugal forces keep the language alive and allow for the creation of new genres’. In fact, Bakhtin theorized that these opposing forces could be reconciled, and that conformity, far from being antithetical to creativity, might indeed be a precondition for it. As he put it, ‘The better our command of genres, the more freely we employ them… The more flexibly and precisely we reflect the unrepeatable situation of communication – in a word, the more perfectly we implement our free-speech plan’ (1986:80).

‘The unrepeatable situation of communication’ reminds us that even imitation is a form of creativity, since a copy is never the same as the original. This is well exemplified by the hip-hop practice of sampling, i.e. the re-using of a segment of a recording in the creation of a new composition. Pennycook (2007: 149), writing about ‘transcultural flows’, quotes the musician DJ Spooky who describes sampling as ‘”a new way of doing something that’s been with us for a long time: creating with found objects…”. As he goes on to argue, “creativity rests in how you re-contextualise the previous expressions of others…”’ Pennycook comments that ‘this argument challenges notions of authorship, originality and creativity’ (ibid.)

lost-in-translation-hoffman-eva-paperback-cover-artIndeed, ‘re-contextualising the previous expressions of others’ might serve as a definition of language acquisition. As Eva Hoffman memorably put it, in her memoir of learning English: ‘Since I lack a voice of my own, the voices of others invade me is if I were a silent ventriloquist. They ricochet within me, carrying on conversations, lending me their modulations, intonations, rhythms. I do not yet possess them; they possess me… Eventually, the voices enter me; by assuming them, I gradually make them mine. I am being remade, fragment by fragment, like a patchwork quilt’ (Hoffman 1998: 220).

Sampling and patchwork: two images that neatly capture the intersection between conformity and creativity, and remind us that language learning is a process frequently involving – not just production – but RE-production. As Pennycook (2010) points out, ‘language learning also profoundly involves mimicry, and once we are open to a view of mimicry as an act that changes the original, then the concern that language imitation is stultifying is no longer credible… Language repetitions, imitations and re-localisations as creative acts may be at least as significant for language learning as acts of creative construction or individual difference’ (Pennycook 2010: 139).

All this makes me wonder if I had underestimated the creative potential of the tightly constrained methodology I was initially trained in. And it reminds me of Nora (see N is for Nora) and the way she created her own ‘substitution tables’ as she riffed on newly acquired phrases:

She said me that it wa’ not too raining by she house. She said it wa’ not too raining by she house. She said she not raining by she house.

This is not a million miles from the highly repetitive but undeniably creative word play of a writer like Gertrude Stein (1923):

No sense in no sense innocence of what of not and what of delight. In no sense innocence in no sense and what in delight and not, in no sense innocence in no sense no sense what, in no sense and delight, and in no sense and delight and not in no sense and delight and not, no sense in no sense innocence and delight.

In the end, as Rod Ellis (2016, p. 45) argues, ‘we need to conceive of L2 learners as striving for a balance between creativity and conformity… The task facing the language teacher, then, is to facilitate this process by allowing room for the natural process of creative construction while also facilitating conformity to target-language norms.’

The question, as always, is: How?


Alexander, L. G. (1967) New Concept English: First Things First (Teacher’s Book), Harlow: Longman.

Bakhtin,  M. (1986) Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Translated by Vern W. McGee. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Braxley, K. (2013) ‘Mastering academic English: international graduate students’ use of dialogue and speech genres to meet the writing demands of graduate school’ in J.K. Hall, G. Vitanova, and L. Marchenkova (eds) Dialogue with Bakhtin on Second and Foreign Language Learning: New Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 11-32.

Ellis, R. (2016) ‘Creativity and language learning.’ In Jones, R.H. & Richards, J.C. (eds) Creativity in language teaching: perspectives from research and practice. London: Routledge.

Pennycook, A. (2007) Global Englishes and transcultural flows. London: Routledge.

Pennycook, A. (2010) Language As a Local Practice. London: Routledge.

Sinclair, J. (1991) Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stein, G. (1923) ‘Are there Arithmetics?’ in Kostelanetz, R. (ed.) (2002) The Gertrude Stein Reader. New York: Cooper Square Press.

Stern, H.H. (1983) Fundamental concepts of language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Consistent with the principles of sampling and patchwork, some of this post borrows from my preface to Creativity in English Language Teaching, edited by D. Xerri and O. Vassallo ( ElT Council, Malta, 2016).




39 responses

26 11 2017

I saw a few more photos of you giving your talk at the conference and was horrified to see what they’d done to the room.

Chomsky obviously hadn’t had the pleasure of talking to Hugh Dellar when he said that about repetition of fixed phrases being a rarity.

I suppose it’s a compliment when I say that you sound more and more like Widdowson, who would of course insist on having the 2 terms you discuss in the title.

26 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Apropos Widdowson, this is one quote I cut from the post because of lack of space: “[Communicative competence] is much more a matter of knowing a stock of partially pre-assembled patterns, formulaic frameworks, and a kit of rules, so to speak, and being able to apply these rules to make whatever adjustments are necessary according to contextual demands.”

Widdowson, H. (1989), Knowledge of language and ability for use, Applied Linguistics, 10, p. 135.

Not aware of what the rooom used to be like, but did take note of some stunning deco fittings in one of the lecture rooms.

26 11 2017

Hi Scott, Thank you so much for coming to the Sharek conference and delivering a key note speech. Unfortunately I only caught a few snippets of your talk as I was panicking over a connection to Gaza that we were trying to establish. By all accounts it was a brilliant lead in to our conference though, and something that many speakers referred back to over the two days.

I don’t know if you mentioned this area in your talk but I’m interested in the role that creativity plays in helping learners to remember the ‘stock of partially pre-assembled patterns, formulaic frameworks’ etc. The keyword technique is one obvious example but I’m also thinking of things like physicalisation, personalisation and the many creative ways in which learners link new language to existing knowledge.

I guess that native speakers of a language use these processes less, (or at least they are less aware of them) because they’ve generally had infinitely more opportunities for exposure and output in their own L1 development. I wonder whether this is another example of an advantage that a non-native speaker teacher may have over a native speaker teacher ie. that they have experienced and are aware of creative techniques involved in language storage that they have used themselves in achieving proficiency, and can therefore share them more easily with their students. What do you think?

27 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Nick. No, I didn’t touch on memory techniques, but it is certainly an area where originality and personalization (hence creativity) would seem to be hugely important. One reason why in even the most ‘conformist’ methodologies learners were still encouraged to use the structure-of-the-day (to use Peter Skehan’s expression) to create an original sentence and/or one that was true of them personally was that such a sentence might be more memorabe than, say, ‘My tailor is rich’.

26 11 2017
Justin Willoughby

Thanks Scott. I like to set up a speaking activity (eg, a discussion) and note down language gaps during with a view to focusing on them afterwards with a formal presentation and practice. Later the learners do the same discussion again and the teacher provides immediate feedback during on the language recently focused on. I also like to record learners and play their performance back together looking to identify language gaps. I get the learners to perform the same task again with the improvements. What do you think?

26 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Justin – the value of task repetition after receiving feedback (or even without explicit feedback) is well documented in the literature, especially on task-based learning. Thanks for pointing this out.

26 11 2017

2 phrases struck me in this post. 1. “the unrepeatable situation of communication” and 2. “re-contextualizing the experience of others” Both made me think of the role of ambiguity tolerance and the role it might play in the ability and efficacy of learning new language. Are learners with high ambiguity tolerance more creative or does it just seems so? Can creativity ever be measured?

I do agree that creativity is crucial in fitting the square peg the world offers you, into your own specially created roundish hole.

26 11 2017

hi all

an interesting post spoiled here by a mis-characterisation of Chomsky’s writings on linguistic creativity and the wider notion of creativity;

creativity +arises+ from limits or “conformity” as Scott as labelled it; Chomsky calls this essential feature of the language system “the infinite use of finite means” or “discrete infinity” also known as digital infinity [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_infinity]

on this account there are no “twin poles of conformity and creativity”, or “tension between conformity and creativity” or a need to “conceive of L2 learners as striving for a balance between creativity and conformity”

that “a great deal of real language use does in fact consist of fixed phrases” does not mean that any particular “fixed phrase” is not novel for a particular language user;

further what has been called the “Limits thesis” would say that someone who uses fixed phrases that are not novel to them is following the notion that creativity “takes place within – presupposes, in fact – a system of constraints and governing principles” [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00485363%5Dta

26 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Mura – I’ll follow up on those links, but I’m not sure I follow the argument. The fact that a language user has the means to produce an infinitude of sentences doesn’t explain why he or she doesn’t do so – i.e. why, for example, as Pawley and Syder long ago pointed out, we say ‘twenty past five’ in English and not ‘five and a third’, which is grammatically and semantically acceptable – and, as it happens, a direct translation of what they say in Egyptian Arabic. Hence, from a teaching point of view, it is not enough to teach the rules by which this infinitude of sentences can be created: we also have to teach the way that language users conform to a much narrower range of wordings – those that have become conventionalized within a speech community. This, of course, doesn’t deny that language users can be as original as they want to be – even to the extent that Gertrude Stein was – but that such productivity will be stylistically marked and will run the risk of being unintelligible, as James Joyce – in the end – was.

And surely Chomsky was simply wrong in claiming that very little language use consists of the repetition of fixed phrases. But I’ll read those articles you linked to and see if I am indeed guilty of mis-characterization, as you say.

26 11 2017

hi Scott
Chomsky is/was not interested in teaching issues : )

i felt the inclusion of Chomsky here was a throwaway rhetoric and not a serious representation of his actual writings on creativity (both linguistic and more general)

in fact i believe he has said that we may have made progress on the “finite means” question but as to the “infinite use” that is a deep mystery that science may never answer

regarding “Repetition of fixed phrases is a rarity” i believe the key word here is +repetition + rather than fixed phrases? since he was critiquing the stimulus-response concepts of behaviorism as applied to language?

27 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, again, Mura. No, of course Chomsky was not concerned with teaching, but many who subscribe to his theoretical position are, and have suggested ways in which it might be applied. One application of his notion of ‘rule-based creativity’ was to encourage the teaching of the rules, with the assumption that creativity would follow, as the night the day.

As for the ‘deep mystery’ of infinite use, ‘Mysteries, to Chomsky, are questions in the investigation of which no progress seems to be made. And he is of the opinion that the “creative aspect of language use” is just as much of a mystery today as it was in the heyday of the Cartesians some three centuries ago. In short, “How do people succeed in acting appropriately and creatively in linguistic behaviour or performance?” is a question which Chomsky expressly excludes from the set of fundamental questions… to be solved by his approach to linguistic enquiry… Chomsky’s study of mind, in sum, is restricted in scope: it seeks to identify only a subset of the mechanisms of mind and, moreover, it does not attempt to answer the question of how those mechanisms are creatively used’ (Botha 1989, Challenging Chomksy, p.51).

The creative use of these mechanisms is less mysterious to sociolinguists, pragmatists, discourse analysts, conversation analysts etc.

And as for Chomsky’s statement about repetition, I don’t have the original source, but in the context that Stern quotes it I am pretty sure he is talking about language use, not language learning.

But, as in all things, I may be wrong.

27 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Here is the extended quote from which the statement about fixed phrases comes: “The most obvious and characteristic property of normal linguistic behaviour is that it is stimulus-free and innovative. Repetition of fixed phrases is a rarity; it is only under exceptional and quite uninteresting circumstances that one can seriously consider how “situational context” determines what is said, even in probabilistic terms.… This property of being innovative and stimulus-free is what I refer to by the term “creative aspect of language use”. (Chomsky, N. 1971/1999. Selected readings on transformational theory p. 156.)

27 11 2017

hi Scott
(apologies if this is taking discussion off track)
i think we need to be clear that Chomsky in this text was using “creative aspect of language use” as a contrast to the then psychological mindest which saw language as a “habit structure” hence the use of “Repetition of fixed phrases is a rarity” claim was used to support;
it is interesting to see another example of what i see as taking a quote out of context to claim something that Chomsky was not claiming;
if you read the full text where these quotes come from it is quite clear e.g. the text you missed out also points to this namely – “…even in probabilistic terms. The notion that linguistic behaviour consists of ‘responses’ to ‘stimuli’ is as much a myth as the idea that it is a matter of habit and generalization. To maintain such assumptions in the face of the actual facts, we must deprive the terms ‘stimulus’ and ‘response’ (similarly ‘habit’ and ‘generalization’) of any technical or precise meaning.”

27 11 2017

also i am in deep awe of those
” sociolinguists, pragmatists, discourse analysts, conversation analysts etc.” for who the infinite use apsect linguistic creativity aspect less mysterious!
got any refs for this?

28 11 2017

excuse my typos! thx

28 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Mura – well, if this is off track, it’s an interesting diversion. I agree that Chomsky was talking about stimulus-response learning, but for me the key word is still ‘fixed phrases’ – in contradistinction to ‘the creative aspect of language use’. For Chomsky there seems to be only the ‘open-choice principle’, and no ‘idiom principle’ – because to admit to the latter would be to concede that ‘situational context’ does determine what is said – as Halliday, Hymes and all the other pragmatists, sociolinguists, usage-based theorists, corpus linguists and discourse analysts (for whom the question as to how people succeed in acting appropriately and creatively is not such a mystery) would claim.

28 11 2017

Hi (taking liberties with your approval to continue this) say we grant your idea that key word is “fixed phrases” are we sure that what you mean by that term is that same as how Chomsky used it in talking about the creativity of (spoken) language?
for example in Cartesian Linguistics (which i think is the Chomsky publication where creative use of language is explored in depth) he writes – “His [Vaugelas] view of language structure, in this respect, seems not very different from that of Saussure, Jespersen, Bloomfield, and many others who regard innovation as possible only “by analogy,” by substitution of lexical items for items of the same category within +fixed frames+.
i believe he used teh term “fixed frames” in his review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior?

28 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Hi Mura, I have combed the Skinner critique but can’t (as yet) find any reference to ‘fixed frames’ although he does characterize Skinner’s idea of grammar as being based on ‘the [traditional] idea that sentences consist of lexical items placed in a grammatical frame’ to which (he says) Skinner adds ‘the very implausible speculation that in the internal process of composition, the nouns, verbs, and adjectives are chosen first and then are arranged, qualified, etc…’

Interestingly, in the same paper, he argues that ‘it is also not easy to find any basis… to the claim that reinforcing contingencies set up by the verbal community are the single factor responsible for maintaining the strength of verbal behaviour. The sources of the “strength” of this behaviour are almost a total mystery at present. Reinforcement undoubtedly plays a significant role, but so do a variety of motivational factors about which nothing serious is known in the case of human beings’.

As I said before, a usage-based perspective sees no ‘mystery’ here, since we know a good deal more about the motivational factors (including socialization, co-adaptation, identity formation and alignment) than was known in 1957. Indeed, ‘reinforcing contingencies set up by the verbal community’ might well be a definition of a usage-based model of language acquisition. As Kemmer & Barlow (2000, p. xii) put it, ‘a usage-based model, which stresses the importance of instances of use and consequent cognitive entrenchment, places learning at the forefront of language acquisition. This type of model re-conceives the nature of the linguistic system, such that it is far easier to see how it could be learnable. If instances of use are the prime input driving the system’s formation, then positing genetically-specified guiding linguistic structures is unnecessary. A well-conceived mechanism for learning, which is also applicable to the learning of other kinds of cognitive patterns besides language, is what is needed for a basic understanding of language acquisition and its relation to general cognition.’ (Usage-based models of language , Stanford: CSLI Publications).

I just had to get that in!

28 11 2017

hi again : ) yes i think in Skinner review Chomsky uses “frames” not “fixed frames”; he gives the following examples as frames
1. Struggling artists can be a nuisance.
2. Marking essays can be a nuisance.
where substituting “are” for “can be” is okay for 1 but not for 2 and vice versa for “is”;
so i would say “fixed phrases” is referring to this?

re usage based or construction grammar (CxG) here’s my quote : ) –
“This means that CxG proponents have to provide a theory of how learning takes place so as to give rise to a constructional hierarchy, but even book length studies on this, such as Tomasello (2003), provide no theory beyond pattern-matching combined with vague pragmatic principles of intention-reading and analogy. Tomasello’s book, in particular, claims to provide a ‘usage-based
theory of language acquistion’ but no theory is ever given, just evidence for truisms such as that children can detect patterns and that they want to communicate.”
Constructions and grammatical explanations, Adger 2012 [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mila.12027/full]

28 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Ah yes, the intractable stand-off between the rationalists and the empiricists, which Chomsky himself (to his credit) recognized as being au fond an ideological one – the triumph of human reason over beastly grovelling in the primeval slime. Universal grammar as a precursor to universal human rights, and ‘a new scientific civilization in which “animal nature” is transcended and human nature can truly flourish’ (Chomsky, 1975, Reflections of language ). Me, I’m a slime man. 😉

27 11 2017

“The fact that a language user has the means to produce an infinitude of sentences doesn’t explain why he or she doesn’t do so.” You’re right Scott, the formalist/UG model cannot answer that question.

However, Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar does.

Actually that question is rendered redundant by SFL, based as it is upon the recognition that our discourse is shaped by the statistical patterns inherent in the lexicogrammar.

I believe Halliday’s initial formulations of SFL pre-dated serious corpus work, but it has has been vindicated over and over again by developments in corpus linguistics.

27 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Indeed, Patrick, and in fact Halliday does draw on corpus and computational studies to argue for a ‘probablistic’ grammar, rather than one constrained by generative rules. E.g. ‘Frequency in text is the instantiation of probability in the system. A linguistic system is inherently probabilistic in nature’ (‘Towards probabilistic interpretations [1991] in Halliday, 2005. Computational and quantitative studies . London: Continuum p.45)

30 11 2017

Hi Scott, in response to your “slime man” comment.

I’m all in favour of the rational scientific approach, but UG is profoundly unscientific, as attested to by numerous commentators. Moreover, its basic premise – PoS – is merely an assertion, and its logic is that of the creationists!

But the real cherry on the top is that it has little to do with language or linguistics – the original formulation was a kind of speculative biology, and more recent reformulations are taken from computer science.

30 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Hi Patrick. Thanks for the comment.

At risk of being shot down, let me stick my head over the parapet again and quote Tomasello (1998): ‘The most fundamental tenet of Generative Grammar is that there is a level of linguistic description, namely, syntax, that is independent of all other levels of linguistic description including semantics – and independent of all other aspects of cognition as well. This Autonomy of Syntax thesis is not an empirical discovery or even a hypothesis that is ever explicitly tested. It is a paradigm-defining definitional postulate that is a direct result of taking a mathematical approach to natural language… The goal of Generative Grammar is to provide the most mathematically elegant account of syntax possible, which is automatically assumed to be the one that underlies human linguistic competence.’ Introduction to The New Psychology of Language: Cognitive and functional approaches to language structure’, pp. ix-x).

26 11 2017

Thanks for this great post.
Sampling and patchwork have been discussed in writing activities of MA students writing theses as well. It is interesting to note that patch writing is regarded as some sort of plagiarism where students copy parts of original sentences from an original source and include them in their own work. However, if viewed as a natural writing activity, patch writing is desirable and improves the writing skill. Therefore, writing is correlated with proficiency. As proficiency increases, patch wiring decreases and writers resort to more creativity. I wonder if this supports the view of Krashen that language develops through receptive skills, namely, reading and listening. That is, writers read, adopt structures and words from the reading materials. Some of these imitated elements show up in the students’ works.

26 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for raising the issue of plagiarism, which, as you say, is a form of sampling or patchwork. Pennycook makes the distinction between transgressive and non-transgressive intertextuality, plagiarism belonging to the former. The latter would include quoting other writers, but taking the trouble to cite them. In the end, the difference between transgressive and non-transgressive intertextuality is simply a matter of quotation marks!

26 11 2017

For some time, the ‘cognitive-receptive’ has gone ‘irrelevant’, looking at the Council of Europe and at some new points in the CEFRL. Conversely, strategies, subskills, multi-tasking, project procedure…seemingly prime now. From this it logically follows that for Learners would just suffice

26 11 2017
Frances Amrani

It was great to see your presentation on Friday and to see how the links from TEFL are equally important for TAFL. I really liked the point you made about how important formulaic phrases can be in language acquisition. Although your didn’t mention him, it reminded me of Micheal Hoey and his work on patterns and chunks of language. It was great to see how it resonated with a slightly different audience. Thanks for sharing.

27 11 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Frances – it was great to see you there, too.

With regard to formulaic language, Carter (2004, Language and creativity , Routledge) notes that, although a lot of naturally-occurring language use is highly original, playful, and creative, ‘running in parallel with these creative extensions and reconfigurations is the existence of a range of non-creative, formulaic expressions which… operate primarily to stabilise and routinise the communicative event… There are distinctly routine and formulaic encounters which language is used transmissively and transactionally, and often necessarily so. Unmodified pre-formulated, formulaic chunks of language allow for this by providing scaffolding from which other language structures can be built, though… such forms can be made creatively active at any moment.’

26 11 2017

Sorry, I meant, SS’ English Language Learning seems to just consist of multitasking and projects…; contradictory, then, as I have to, therefore, sample the Target Language patterns and ‘fixed expressions’, of course, and dedicate myself to, ‘First’, ( as Alexander’s term ), logically implement what they really need to know to be able to create; for sure, adapting, ( there’s no choice ) to this ‘late-stage’ dynamics, otherwise being left-behind. Far from easy, we usually argue about this in the English Department…, they support the ‘unnecessary unsuitable grammar patterns…

Dave Crystal, as recalled, reminds us: ‘Definiteness’ is universal to all languages, (- Digital Finity?-). After ‘sampling’ and assimilation process, children learn the basic pattern of w.o., there we reinforce the correct language, ( as parents do), which shows that flexibility in those ‘new genres’, new grammar + new vocab. to later ‘re-produce’, ‘create’. So, I wouldn’t say creativity is underestimated, they always create in the end, either ways.

Mind you, Nora, ( as my case ) used ‘Substitution tables’, vague inaccurate production …, though, ‘riffing on acquired phrases’, that is, within ‘her own’ ‘Stephen Pinker’s Language Learning phase. But, we’d better not do without what is paramount for linguists…, such as also Henry Widdowson’s rule application, needed for them to know how English works to make those ‘adjustments’ little by little, though taking on their mistake integrating Language stage.

Similarly, Roumjana Slabakova’s ‘bottleneck’ hypothesis (of University of Southampton) insists on the fact that all the Linguistic ‘bits’ must be included.

‘No pain no gain’ simplifies it all…

However, if it’s a student nor even with Primary school studies, or so, (as I have cases in my classroom…), how to proceed in the best way?? May I have kind of tip, please??

Eventually, as for creativity, why do just then Benjamin Bloom’s HOTS, standing for Higher Order Thinking Skills prevail??
As Gertrude Stein (wonderful ), I here recall Richar Dawkins’s:’…if so open-minded, our brains drop out’. So, ‘creation with moderation…’

So grateful for all these articles, a great help. (Me, myself back to study, to ‘pain… and gain’).

( Awaiting your answer ).

Thanks a lot.

27 11 2017

enlightening read. I’d read Hoffman’s book years ago, don’t remember much, but I guess it’s beauty and clarity remains true. Getrude Stein seems like hard work to me and reading shouldn’t be work.

28 11 2017

Forgive the autobiographical nature, but it does seem to be illustrative (for me at least).

I’ve been a jazz musician for most of my adult life. As I got deeper into the music I realised that even the greatest improvisers were recycling, reshaping and recombining motifs from other players, from their earlier work or from the general stock of phrases in the various jazz idioms. I’m sure this is how language development works too. I believe the dialogic nature of jazz makes for a particularly relevant comparison with linguistic development and discourse.

30 11 2017
J.J. Almagro

If I may, I have a suggestion for you for a research piece: “Interjazzity in Foreign Language Learning.”

2 12 2017

There are so many interesting areas for research, but my first choice would be a longitudinal case study on child second language development, or very young bilingualism (both in an EFL context).

For a variety of reasons, 1st world university TEFL departments find it difficult or impossible to support this kind of research, despite the recognition of the importance of such studies.

1 12 2017

Thanks, odonnell.
Thanks. patrick, for the informative comparison. So appealing!
Thank you J.J., for the ‘revolutionary’ unusual provided report, brilliant! May I have the exact resource to read it all?
Thus, in terms of music, it functions likewise… I’d never thought of it…
It seems to me that it could be led to be even transferred to ‘Intertextuality field’, seen as constantly ‘content-engaging’ creative paradigms…; i.e.,it all relates to emotions in SLL, though not taking in LL experience as a neglected element to decipher meanings, considering non-/transgressive; non-/plagiarism viewpoints…
Take also the fact of the stretch from ‘stabilising sound proprioception’ up to the extent of ‘story-telling’; similar to a Learner engaged in a SL Literacy task reaching their ‘Interpretive Communication’ processed by their key ‘creative reconfigurations’ ,being, in the end, sheer creations as musicians’. ‘There’s more to the human temple than meets the eye…’
Thanks for all these reflections.
Thank you always, Scott, for your ‘wisdom-sharing ready insights, extremely bright illuminations.

5 12 2017
Nyr Indictor

Thanks for this post, Scott. It brought up two associations for me:
1. Once I taught a class of about 20 students and gave them a writing assessment, in which students were given a choice of three topics (write about the school system in your country, write a short story using a specific first sentence, write an e-mail to a friend inviting them to visit you). There were five Korean students, and each one chose the first topic, and wrote virtually the same essay, saying that the Korean educational system was too stressful, too demanding, and did not encourage creativity. The essays were original — no one had copied from any of the others, but the ideas, and even the organization, were basically the same; it was, indeed, a stunning indictment of the Korean educational system’s emphasis on conformity. Almost all of the other students chose one of the other topics; the e-mails tended to have personal references to students actual friends and there was a fair amount of similarity between them, and the short stories were the most varied (=creative?).
But, were these students really being uncreative? They used their own words, they wrote in English, and they expressed themselves differently. Perhaps, in some way that is difficult for me to understand, they were being creative within the parameters of their experience.

2. When I was a college student, I was invited to perform, with a group of classmates, Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate, a “sound poem“ written between 1922 and 1932. At the time I was struck by the similarity of his composition to the sentence-building exercises that I was doing in a Chinese language class (Audiolingual method in those days). Here is an excerpt:

böwörötääzääUu pö
fümmsböwötääzääUu pö
böwörötääzääUu pögö
fümmsböwötääzääUu pögö
böwörötääzääUu pögiff
fümmsböwötääzääUu pögiff

I think one of the reasons I enjoy learning language is that I see (hear? perceive?) beauty in these repetitive sound patterns. Is finding beauty in repetition an act of creativity?

One version of the Schwitters’ text may be seen at http://www.costis.org/x/schwitters/ursonate.htm, and an audioclip of Schwitters performing it is on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6X7E2i0KMqM).

In answer to your question (“How?”), I submit the following pedagogical advice:

1. Be open to unexpected forms of creativity.
2. Remember that the student’s creativity is not always detectable by the teacher, or the student.
3. Bear in mind that creativity potentially lurks everywhere, even in the most controlled of controlled practices (and the lack of it does too, even in the freest of freer practice).
4. Ask yourself (from time to time): is the student making an error, or perhaps introducing a novel usage into the language?
5. Creativity is not always fun (though it can be); fun is not always creative (though it can be).
6. Numbered lists are not creative.

Creativity should be encouraged, respected, questioned, responded to, occasionally ignored, and definitely blogged about but I do not think it should be subject to formal assessment.

5 12 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Nyr – a very insightful comment – and your comment about the beauty of repetitive sound patterns made me think of the music of Steve Reich, among others. I’ve been listening to ‘Different trains’ a lot recently, with its repetitive rhythms, phrasings and snippets of recorded voices, as in this first section:

6 12 2017

Crack!! I advice my Ss to chant difficult fixed phrases, paradigms, patterns, lexical chunks…., sounding and wording….,I’d say: ‘go chanting it before going to bed’.

7 12 2017

Imagine my horror when I opened my email a couple of days ago and saw this:

“In the next PISA rankings, countries may be ranked on their ability to cultivate ‘creative’ students – but can we really measure creativity?” (TES – Times Educational Supplement).

The PISA has always been controversial, and according to many it’s also methodologically flawed:

OECD and Pisa tests are damaging education … – The Guardian

The Pisa methodology: do its education claims stack up? – The Guardian

Questions posed by the Pisa international school tests … – The Guardian

From my own experience I know how damaging PISA has been for national education policy in a developing country context, and to add a test for creativity will surely lead to more pain and chaos!

Scott, it seems to me that the OECD PISA agenda is so relevant to your comment in your Dictionary post about the neoliberal turn.

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