AAAL 2015

AAAL2015 in Toronto was fantastic! Kudos to Paul Matsuda, Program Chair, for a job well done. The quality of the presentations, roundtables, and plenaries was outstanding. It was so good to catch up with dear friends and colleagues–and to make new ones. I now have lots of energy for pushing ahead with my books, articles, and various other projects.

My presentation with Steven Talmy critiquing “Small Stories and Positioning Analysis” was well received and attracted some buzz.

small stories

The panel with Kasper & Ross also attracted attention and received some citations, so we must be doing something right!

Kasper & Ross panel

Keith Richards (the qualitative research superstar, not the musician) even gave me a shout-out in his talk. Woo-hoo!  I’m a big fan of his work, so it’s an honor to have him even say my name.

Re-Examining Alignment in a “Failed” L2 Autobiographic Research Interview

Prior, Matthew T. (2014). Re-examining alignment in a ‘failed’ L2 autobiographic research interview. Qualitative Inquiry, 20(4), 495-508.


Contributing to a “social studies of interview studies,” this article addresses the treatment of “failed” autobiographic interviews. Taking a discursive constructionist approach, the author re-examines a problematic second language (L2) English interview with an immigrant man from Cambodia. Analysis focuses on the interactional management of (mis)alignment and how it contributed to the shape and outcome of the activity. By turning away from failure to accomplishment, and attending to the ways in which interviewee and interviewer use their differential linguistic and cultural expertise as topic and resource, the multi-layered activity takes on a new light that allows recognition of what was understood, shared, and ultimately achieved. The application of these insights for interview practice and analysis are discussed.

Analyzing Storytelling In TESOL Interview Research

Kasper, G., & Matthew T. Prior (published online, May, 2014). Analyzing storytelling in TESOL interview research. TESOL Quarterly.


Autobiographic research interviews have become an accepted and valued method of qualitative inquiry in TESOL and applied linguistics more broadly. In recent discussions surrounding the epistemological treatment of autobiographic stories, TESOL researchers have increasingly called for more attention to the ways in which stories are embedded in interaction and thus are bound up with the social contexts of their production. This paper advances these efforts by demonstrating an empirically grounded approach to storytelling as interaction. Drawing on the research tradition on storytelling in conversation analysis, the article offers a sample analysis of a story produced in an L2 English interview with an adult immigrant in the United States. By engaging sequential conversation analysis, membership categorization analysis, and occasioned semantics, it examines the interactional practices through which the storyteller and story recipient launch, produce, and end the telling of a story that furthers the purpose of the autobiographic interview. By following closely the participants’ coordinated actions as they unfold in time, we trace how the parties accomplish the storytelling as an intelligible and meaningful activity through sequence organization and turn design. We conclude with recommendations for extending storytelling research in TESOL to meet the evolving needs and interests of the field.

You want vocal “fry” with that?


In June, 2014, I was invited to say a few words about vocal fry on the local NPR affiliate, KJZZ. That was a lot of fun. Here’s the link to the broadcast:

Vocal fry (aka glottal fry, creaky voice, froggy voice, glottalization) has been all over the news in recent years:

Although vocal fry tends to be negatively evaluated and associated with young women (e.g., the Kardashians, Britney Spears), it really has a much longer history. Look at any old Hollywood film, and you’ll see vocal fry is rampant in the speech of “tough” female roles (think Bette Davis, Mae West, or Joan Crawford) or evil characters such as the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. Of course, vocal fry isn’t always associated with women. Often the male villains (e.g., Vincent Price) in old movies used vocal fry to convey their sinister character. Another interesting fact is that vocal fry if found often in the speech of British men. It is so prevalent now that it can be heard by both men and women on almost any radio or TV broadcast.

There is no single cause or purpose for vocal fry, but research does point out several interesting and conflicting facts:

  • Up to two-thirds of American women use it.
  • It conveys a sense of confidence and and represents an image of an upwardly mobile, sophisticated woman.
  • It lowers the female pitch, bringing it closer to male range (and thereby conveys more power and authority).
  • It is associated with muscle tension–but this often due to an underlying pathology, which is NOT the same vocal fry that people are talking about in popular culture.
  • It can be used for comedic effect.
  • It can be used to represent sexuality and desirability.
  • It can make the speaker sound laid-back.
  • Women listeners tend to rate vocal fry more harshly.
  • It is used when expressing complaints.
  • It is not random but often occurs at the end of an utterance, signaling completion and even inviting the listener to empathize with the speaker’s perspective.
  • Because it tends to be negatively evaluated by employers, there is concern that it can influence hiring decisions.

New Volume

Language, Body, and Health

Ed. by Paul McPherron & Vaidehi Ramanathan, 
Hardcover | RRP Euro [D] 54.95 / for USA, Canada, Mexico US$ 82.00. *
ISBN 978-1-934078-19-8
Series: Language and Social Processes 2
to be published October 2011

Also available as an eBook

About this Title

  • Introduces discourses around bodies per se into language-related research, a realm that previous research has not directly engaged
  • Initiates discussions about bodies by critically addressing the language by which experiences around bodily breakdowns and ailments occur
  • Seeks to bring in perspectives from a range of disciplines including disability studies, comparative literature, anthropology, gerontology, and occupational therapy

This edited book addresses ways in which ‘bodies’ conceived broadly – get languaged, and ways in which ideas of ‘normalcy’ and ‘normal’ bodies are held in place and reproduced. The articles show how it is through this medium that people with ailments or ‘unusual’ bodies get positioned and slotted in certain ways. The present volume represents a departure from other works in at least two ways. First, it brings in discourses around bodies per se into language-related research, a realm that previous research has not directly engaged. Second, it ushers in discussions about bodies by critically addressing the language by which experiences around bodily breakdowns and ailments occur. Calling attention to a host of discourses – biomedical, societal, poststructuralist – and drawing on a variety of disciplinary perspectives, critical theories, ethnographically gathered materials, and extant data, the chapters pierce the general veil of silence that we have collectively drawn regarding how some of our most intimate body (dis)functions impact our everyday living and sense of “normalcy”.

SLS Brownbag: Demystifying the PhD Job Search

Well, we had another SLS (Second Language Studies) Thursday Lecture Series “Brownbag” on April 28 at UH Manoa. I’m trying to remember, was that my fifth or sixth Brownbag presentation? What a great turnout! That was a lot of fun. I really enjoy organizing professional development sessions.  I shared my experiences in the PhD program and the job market.  Three SLS faculty members, Christina Higgins, Dongping Zheng, and Luca Onnis, also generously offered their time and words of advice. We wanted this to be a good opportunity for students to learn more about the academic job search and have a place to raise various questions and concerns. The discussion could have gone on for a couple more hours! It was great to see so many SLS MA students take part. It shows they’re thinking ahead.

Some of the highlights:

Barbary Cooney (SLS Dept. Graduate Academic Advisor) gave a wonderful introduction! It makes me want to live up to those kind words.

• Not really a “highlight,” but I mispoke and referred to the talk as a “Brownbrag” presentation (cue laughter). Oops!

Graham Crookes encouraged MA students to try to publish their Thesis or Scholarly Paper as a way to get into publishing. It’s great to have professors who encourage students like that! I urge UH students to take his classes on Critical Pedagogy (“Radical Pedagogy” may be more appropriate) and the Philosophy of Education. I wish they were required courses. Stay tuned for his upcoming book.

Christina Higgins, a professor known for her sociolinguistic work on identity, hybridity, and multilingualism, urged students to actively seek out opportunities for growth. She also raised an important concern about junior scholars doing book reviews. Although many cite book reviews as a way for students to get into the academic publishing biz, it is an incredible task for a novice scholar to try to summarize and critique the work of senior scholars. The breadth and depth of knowledge required to provide a professional and well-balanced review is often beyond that of most novice MA and PhD students.

Luca Onnis, professor and director of the Center for Second Language Research, said that when he was a PhD student he got his first taste of grant writing while working with a senior scholar. I hope he and some of the other faculty will offer a workshop for students on grant writing. He also emphasized the importance of having questions prepared for the job search committee. If you’re interested in learning more about how to link cognitive science with language learning and teaching, check out his website.

Dongping Zheng, a professor with expertise in educational technology, made an observation about the importance of young scholars finding a “voice.” She suggested that the Internet can be a powerful platform to become visible and audible–particularly for those who may face challenges due to gender, age, ethnicity, education, and linguistic background. She also reminded us how important it is for students to have good role models (!) and a good online portfolio.

Overall, everyone emphasized the need for students to be proactive in pursuing their career goals and creating opportunities for professional development, to seek out apprenticeship and mentorship, and to get away from the “student” mentality by actively working toward becoming language professionals.

A big thank you to everyone that attended! The PDF is up in the RESOURCES section of this website. I revised it (April 30) a bit by adding some of the comments that came out of Thursday’s Brownbag. I will update it periodically, so suggestions are most welcome.

Which Matthew Prior?

Matt Prior (no relation)

It’s strange. I’ve never met anyone with the same last name as me (other than family), but I know they’re out there! In fact, if I Google myself (don’t pretend you don’t do it) I always run into a whole slew of other Matt or Matthew Priors. For example, there’s Matt Prior,  the UK cricket player. I don’t really know anything about him, but it seems there are a lot of people online that have some pretty strong opinions about his playing skills. His name is also briefly mentioned in Vai Ramanathan’s book, Bodies and language: Health, ailments, disabilities

There’s also Matthew Prior (1664-1721), the English author and poet. His name comes up ALL the time. I even have a book of his poetry.  Here are some of his famous quotes:

Matthew Prior (no relation)

• It takes two to quarrel, but only one to end it.

• The ends must justify the means.

• They never taste who always drink: They always talk, who never think.

• They talk most who have the least to say.

• Cured yesterday of my disease, I died last night of my physician.

Actually, a few of those quotes sound like something I would say. Hmm…maybe we are related.

I also see a large number of Matt and Matthew Prior’s on Facebook, but none of them are related, as far as I know. Maybe I should start a Facebook page for people with the same name. Hmm…now there’s an idea for a Facebook movement. Maybe everyone should start a group for others with the same name.

William Matthew Prior (self portrait)

There’s also a famous American folk artist named William Matthew Prior (1806-1873). His father was also named Matthew Prior. It’s nice to know talent runs with the name.

The other day I came across an actor named Matthew Prior that played minor movie roles, including a 1998 made-for-TV movie called “The Circle of Deceipt.” I haven’t been able to find out much about him.

I’ve also noticed that there are some novels out there with characters named Matt or Matthew Prior. There’s one called “The Financial Lives of Poets” by Jess Walter. Here’s a review from Deborah Clarke, a Literature Professor at Arizona State University:

“The Financial Lives of the Poets is one of the first novels to come out on the current economic situation. The main character, Matthew Prior, quits his job as a journalist to set up a website offering financial advice in poetic form. Of course it fails, and he returns to journalism, having lost all his seniority, and then loses his job in the downturn. As the novel opens, he’s about to lose his house, his wife is contemplating an affair, and he decides to try dealing pot as a way to stave off financial ruin and thus save his marriage. The book is a hoot, interspersed with bits of poetry—or, at least, verse—and follows the pathetic attempts of a rather comical loser. Both funny and moving.”

Hmm…”the pathetic attempts of a rather comical loser”? Let’s hope reality doesn’t mirror fiction. My least favorite title of a review of Walter’s book appeared in the Pacific Northwest Inlander: Matt Prior’s Life is in the Toilet … Jess Walter Put Him There. Now doesn’t that do wonders for one’s self-esteem. I know it’s not really me, but I don’t enjoy reading a title linking my name with a toilet.

There’s also a series of mystery novels by Anthony Quogan, a Canadian author. A reviewer of “The Fine Art of Murder” writes:

“Matthew Prior, a fortyish English playwright whose successes have been modest and whose love life is stalled, decides to accept an offer of a visiting professorship at Wacousta University in Mapleville, Ontario.”

Okay, so far so good. Slightly depressing, but at least not nearly as “pathetic” as the other novel.  The reviewer then continues:

“But his cast soon begins to dwindle alarmingly; the weapons here all have some bizarre sexual link (one student, for example, is bludgeoned to death with a petrified elephant penis), and a bit of a photograph of the victim is always left at the scene.”

I’m not sure I like my name being used in a novel about crimes by a murderer with a weird fetish; however, at least Professor Prior solves the mystery in the end, so I guess I should be grateful for that. There are also some other people named Prior in other mystery novels. Pat Dobie wrote a Chris Prior Mystery, Bob Garland has a series of Humboldt Prior mysteries, and Eve Houston has a detective series about a place called Prior’s Ford.

As for other Priors, there’s a Mark Prior that pitches for the Yankees. In my professional academic field, there is a Paul Prior  in the Department of English at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I’ve heard many good things about him but I’ve never met him. There’s a folk singer in the UK named Maddy Prior. Stargate SG-1, the TV series, had a storyline involving a group of evil aliens called the Priors. I hope we’re not related.

Strangely, people ask if I’m related to Richard Pryor. Sorry folks, but that’s a different spelling. Arkansas senator Mark Pryor  also uses the “y” spelling. Of course, I can’t forget Leokāne Pryor, the Hawaiian falsetto singer (yes, I do have one of his CDs).

Evil Prior in SG-1 (no relation)

Richard Pryor (no relation)

Leokane Pryor (no relation)

The oddest thing is that whenever I give people my name, they always spell it as “P-r-y-o-r.” or pronounce it as “pree-or.” That’s why I always have to tell people that  it’s “Prior” as in “priority mail.”  I would think that the word “prior” (e.g., prior to, prior engagement, priority) is a pretty frequent word in the English language. Go figure.

By the way, the family name “Prior” comes from a religious title. A prior is the head of a priory (the head of a house of friars, under the abbot). That reminds me, St. Andrew’s Priory is in Honolulu, HI. Minnesota has a city/town (?) named Prior Lake, and there’s a Prior Street in Vancouver, BC (I’ve been there).

It seems that there are a lot of Priors and Pryors out there. Maybe I’ll have to see if I can meet some of them. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find out we’re related.