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LINGUIST List 24.1532

Fri Apr 05 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics: Wray and Bloomer (2012)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <anjalinguistlist.org>

Date: 21-Jan-2013
From: Anna Gates Tapia <amg544nau.edu>
Subject: Projects in Linguistics and Language Studies, Third Edition
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-2901.html

AUTHOR: Alison Wray
AUTHOR: Aileen Bloomer
TITLE: Projects in Linguistics and Language Studies, Third Edition
PUBLISHER: Hodder Education
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Anna Gates Tapia, Northern Arizona University

SUMMARY

“Projects in Linguistics and Language Studies: A Practical Guide to
Researching Language” is intended as a complement to the textbooks students of
applied linguistics, linguistics or language studies may be assigned in their
courses. Primarily geared toward undergraduate students, Wray and Bloomer’s
book is appropriate as a reference manual for students at any level who may be
interested in learning basic procedural information in linguistics and
language study research.

The volume opens with an overview of what is required to embark on an
empirical research project. Information in this chapter includes an invitation
for readers to reflect on their own interests, information about the broad
areas to be researched, where to find support and resources, how to organize a
project, and how to approach research in general. In essence, readers receive
in just a few pages, a comprehensive orientation to conducting research in the
fields of language and linguistics.

Divided into four major sections, the book broadly touches on each of the
major sub-disciplines in the field as well as data elicitation techniques,
tools for analyzing data, and acceptable means for presenting research. The
first section of the book contains 10 themed chapters. This section briefly
looks at the history of English, psycholinguistics, first and second language
acquisition, structure and meaning (which encompasses the areas of syntax,
semantics, morphology and pragmatics), text and discourse analysis,
sociolinguistics, and phonology. Also new to this third edition is a chapter
touching on the changes in language over the past decade due to the global
prevalence of the Internet.

Each chapter in this section follows a similar format and the reader is
presented with information regarding the major themes, terminology, and
debates in each subfield. Included also is information about the most
respected scholarly journals and prominent textbooks in each area. Perhaps one
of the most unique features of this section is the attention given to
presenting research project ideas. Every chapter provides a minimum of 20
project suggestions. Some examples include the study of linguistic features of
family members, and conducting interviews with second language learners. Most
of these projects are not necessarily intended to make an original
contribution to the field, but, as the authors state, to generate “ideas that
students will find inspiring and encouraging” (p. x).

The second part of the book is focused on data collection tools and
techniques. Each chapter contains a segment entitled “Things to think about”
which underscores questions a researcher ought to ask while making decisions
about data elicitation methods and study design. The first chapter in this
section discusses the use of electronic media data collection methods. The
authors point out the many eventualities that an inexperienced researcher may
not otherwise think about. For example, readers are advised to consider
problems of distinguishing the different participants’ voices if only audio
information is recorded or how the presence of recording equipment may alter
participant behavior. Additionally, attention is called to ethical concerns
involved with recording study participants. The volume next turns to the topic
of experiments. A concise overview of the pertinent concepts, such as
representative populations, development of a hypothesis, and experiment design
is provided. A brief discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of
experimental research provides the reader with information that may assist
them in making informed decisions as they proceed in the development of their
projects. The following chapter addresses questionnaires, interviews, and
focus groups. Aid is also provided to the reader for evaluating each method
against the research question being asked. In addition to providing readers
with theoretical information about these data collection tools, practical
issues such as instrument design, desired participant characteristics, and
ethical concerns are also discussed. The focus of the next chapter is on the
use of observation and case studies in language research. Both techniques are
concisely described and advantages and disadvantages for each method are
discussed briefly. The final chapter in section two concentrates on the
ethical considerations of research. Although each of the previous chapters
briefly touched upon the ethical concerns to be kept in mind for each type of
elicitation instrument, this chapter speakers to this issue more inclusively
and in greater depth. Readers are introduced to the concepts of
confidentiality and anonymity, with the difference between the two being
emphasized. Data protection laws in effect in the UK are also introduced and
briefly explained.

The third section of the book is concerned with the tools and methods for
analyzing language data. The first two chapters deal with issues and
techniques in transcription of oral data. Transcribing speech is notoriously
difficult and time consuming therefore many decisions need to be made to
ensure the written account of spoken language is as faithful a representation
of what was said as possible. The first chapter introduces phonetic and
phonemic transcription by first explaining the difference between the two
concepts underlying each techniques. Phonetic transcription is described as
somewhat analogous to “an infinite palette of paints” (pg. 190) for which a
symbol could be potentially developed for each sound difference detectible by
the human ear. Due to this conceivable level of detail, decisions need to be
made about which sounds are significantly different enough to warrant their
own symbols. Beginning researchers are advised to only transcribe the level of
detail they need. Phonemic transcription, on the other hand, requires the
transcriber to know to which category of sounds any particular sound belongs.
A phoneme symbols list, with illustrative examples, is provided in the
chapter. The next chapter deals with orthographic transcription and provides a
brief explanation of the concept and a variety of examples to introduce the
reader to the conventions in the field. The following chapter is a primer in
corpus linguistics. The definition of a corpus and some of the benefits of
using one are explained briefly. Additionally, information about corpus
analysis software and examples of the types of patterns that can be found is
furnished. The reader is provided with resources for locating a corpus that
may be of interest and limitations of using corpus data are discussed. The
final chapter of section three is devoted to statistical representation of
data. Many of the simpler concepts in statistics are introduced in this
chapter. While certainly not designed to replace other resources, it provides
an appropriate introduction to those readers who may have not yet taken a
statistics course. Themes such as descriptive statistics, as well as simple
statistical analysis are presented, as is advice for graphically representing
statistical data results.

Part four of the book serves as essentially a style manual for presenting
research work. The first chapter presents guidelines for referencing sources
and answers many commonly asked questions such as “What is the difference
between a references list and bibliography?” (p. 234) and “What if there is
more than on author with the same surname?” (p. 239). Of course, the answers
to these, and the many other questions listed depend on the conventions
adopted by a course instructor or academic journal, therefore the information
provided in the chapter serves only as a general reference. The second chapter
in this section explains plagiarism and gives advice for avoiding it. The next
chapter guides new researchers through the process of writing a research
report, from brainstorming through polishing the final draft. Suggestions are
made for how to identify writing weaknesses and to develop a personal, yet
academic writing style. The final chapter of the volume provides guidance to
students preparing to make oral presentations. The chapter moves the potential
presenter through the process from creation to delivery. This includes general
advice about time management, presentation content, visual appearance of
slides as well as how to move through them.

EVALUATION

Wray and Bloomer have created an exceptional introductory volume, which
achieves its self attested goals of being inspiring and encouraging to
beginning researchers. Each chapter provides enough information to give a
clear overview of the topics being discussed, without bogging down the prose
with overly technical or complex information. This is not to say that the text
is an easy read. It is however of an appropriate academic level for advanced
undergraduate students. The authors have suggested it may also be used for
high school students interested in language studies, and while this may be
true for exceptional pupils, it would probably overwhelm most students in this
demographic group.

Although the authors have not claimed the text to be fully comprehensive, it
covers a very wide range of information in a relatively short volume. Despite
its topic coverage and manageable length, there is nothing superficial about
the information provided. Explanations of concepts, terms and advice for
handling the plethora of situations likely to come up in research are concise,
yet detailed enough to serve as a truly useful and informative resource.

There is one area of language research however that I would have like to have
seen more fully developed, which is vocabulary research. The topic of
vocabulary is by no means neglected in the text, however lines of research
such as vocabulary load analysis of texts and measurements of vocabulary
knowledge could also be of interest to beginning researchers and projects in
these areas may be appreciated.

This edition expands upon the previous two by both updating information to
keep the volume timely and relevant, and by including two new chapters. The
first new chapter deals with computer mediated communication research (Chapter
19). Considering the advances in quantitative linguistic research made
possible by corpus methodologies, the inclusion of this chapter provides
readers with an important research perspective not offered in previous
editions. Therefore, it is an important addition to the volume and makes the
selection of this edition over the others a must. The other new chapter is
about oral presentation skills (Chapter 24). This chapter is especially useful
to all those who may struggle with mastering spoken presentations,
undergraduate and graduate students alike. The authors are cognizant of the
difficulties many people face in public speaking and offer thoughtful advice
for minimizing anxiety. For example, readers are advised to stand firmly on
two feet as a strategy for both looking and feeling confident. This chapter is
also amazingly thorough of its treatment of presentation details. Using a
direct and condensed style that includes mainly the use of bullet-points, the
authors provide as much useful information as one may find in a more
voluminous and expensive text.

This text seems to have been written primarily for an audience residing in the
UK, with several references to the academic and legal system there being made.
Nevertheless, these are so few that readers in other countries should not be
discouraged by this orientation.

Overall, this book is quite distinctive both in its breadth of information and
its accessibility to the fields’ newcomers, thus making it an essential
handbook for university students who wish to be oriented in the fields of
language studies and linguistics. Instructors who would like to complement
their course books with a research-oriented volume that will be broad enough
to appeal several different interests, yet supply enough depth to allow
students to gain meaningful knowledge, will also find promise in this uniquely
conceived volume.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Anna Gates Tapia is the former director of the English Department at the
Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja in Ecuador and is currently in her
second year as a doctoral student in Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona
University. Her research interests are in the areas of incidental vocabulary
learning and corpus based research in vocabulary loads and lexical coverage in
both English and Spanish texts.
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