Crow Arizona

Shelley Flies South; Wildcats turn Wildcrows

Shelley Staples has moved from Purdue to the University of Arizona to head up our little flock of AZ Crowbirds. She is joined by four Wildcats who turned Wildcrow to start up the Arizona branch of the corpus project. Samantha Kirby and Olga Chumakova are graduate students in the University of Arizona’s English Applied Linguistics program. Kati Juhlin and Justin Squires are undergraduate students in the Linguistics department.  

Teaming Up

This is the first blog post from the Arizona team, and we’re excited to share what we’ve been working on.

Samantha Kirby’s interests have always been with digital technology and linguistics, and in the CROW lab she found quite a few venues to apply her talents. Olga Chumakova had some past experience with building a small corpus on paper and in a box for research she did, so the opportunity to participate in a grown-up and serious corpus project felt like an exciting way to learn. Kati Juhlin can’t think of a better way to transition from an undergraduate linguistics degree to a graduate English Applied Linguistics program than the CROW lab, where she can geek out about grammar and get a crash course on corpus linguistics research at the same time. Justin looks to make his way to Japan as an English language teacher after graduation and has found exposure to copious amounts of L2 writing and a language-teaching oriented lab team to be very informative about what the inner-workings of the field may look like.

Corpus Building

Last semester we collected student essays from several sections of English 106 and 108, freshman composition courses for international students. Now we’re working forward to collect content from even more instructors and students at the end of this semester.

Our biggest task has been processing these texts. Right off the bat we ran into some snags. Most notable is the incorporation of multimedia in students’ writing. We love that teachers are encouraging their students to make Weebly pages, Facebook posts, and tweets to demonstrate different registers of writing, but it makes our task harder as we decide how to convert these creative works into .txt files in a consistent way. It has taken some trial and error, but we’re working on establishing guidelines to do it. We are excited to announce that the end of text processing is in sight and we are about to start de-identifying our data!

A recent informal discussion among the Arizona Crow members reminded us that we are not representing all of the multilingual writers at Arizona  because they decide to take writing classes with first language (L1) English/monolingual speakers. Adapting to a new writing environment might encourage multilingual writers to work twice as hard as some L1 English writers with the result being stronger, more grammatically complex writing. Don’t get lazy all you L1 English writers!


Samantha and Olga have also been putting together a workshop for the instructors of the UA Writing Program in April, and another for faculty and grad students who may be interested in using our corpus for research. The idea for the first workshop is to help raise language use awareness among English instructors, and show how corpus linguistics can inform curricula and classroom activities. For the second one we plan to get even more people excited about using PSLW and ASLW for their projects. We think possible research can include not only studies of grammatical structures, and learner’s use of language features and conventions, but also identity research, because our corpus contains reflective essays and narratives.


Modern technologies keep the crow-birds in touch. Olga, Justin, and Kati have been getting familiar with the tag checking process and establishing inter-rater reliability with Ashley and Ji-Young from the Purdue team via Skype. We’re learning all about passive voice, and the complement and relative clauses. The word “that” is now all we hear when someone speaks, or writes. And Skype says no to two calls on two computers from the same account, be warned!

Finally, Samantha will be working with Mark Fullmer on the interface for the online corpus. These two will combine their digital expertise to ensure successful usability and database construction.


Olga, Samantha, and Shelley joined the rest of the Crow team in Seattle for the TESOL conference. Stay tuned for an update on our presentations there!




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