Milroy, Lesley and Matthew Gordon (2003) Sociolinguistics: Method and Interpretation, Blackwell Publishing, Language in Society 34.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-907.html
Marcial Terrádez Gurrea, University of Valencia, Spain
In the first chapter, Sociolinguistics: Models and Methods, the authors outline the purpose of their book, which is to focus on methods and theories underlying the quantitative paradigm of sociolinguistic research. Next, they relate variationist theory to other adjacent fields, such as linguistic anthropology and conversational analysis, and point out the features that variationism shares with other kinds of sociolinguistics. They talk about earlier approaches to empirical linguistic description, focusing on American descriptivists and traditional dialectology, and finally present some of the adaptations of the traditional model, reviewing the work of early urban studies.
In the second chapter, Locating and Selecting Subjects, Milroy and Gordon discuss different issues related to speaker selection. In order to outline the issues involved in selecting sampling procedures, they follow Sankoff (1980), who discusses three decisions: defining the sampling universe, stratification and sample size. The authors outline the difference between random sampling and quota sampling, arguing that the latter procedure selects subjects in accordance with their research objectives. Finally, Milroy and Gordon relate the sampling methods to the social class scholars wish to study, and conclude that theory and method are closely interconnected.
In the following chapter, Data Collection, the authors outline the different approaches researchers use for data collection, presenting the pros and cons of each of them. Firstly, they talk about written questionnaires; the main advantage of this technique is that it can provide good amounts of data in a short time, but the disadvantage is that these kinds of questionnaires do not allow for in- depth examination of language nor a good insight into intraspeaker variation. Secondly, the use of sociolinguistic interviews is reviewed, and some of the conclusions are that certain speech phenomena are impossible to study with interviews and that, sometimes, the interview's formality can limit the variables that can be researched. Thirdly, the authors focus on the participant observation method, and they think it is a fruitful method, but inefficient as a data collection procedure, due to the amount of time needed. One of their conclusions is that scholars can combine different approaches. At the end of the chapter, the authors discuss some principles related to research ethics, such as informed consent, preservation of anonymity, surreptitious recording or the researcher's responsibilities to the community.
In the fourth chapter, Language Variation and the Social World: Issues in Analysis and Interpretation, the authors study the relationship between language variation and the social world, pointing out that it is problematic to consider categories such as class, gender and ethnicity as predetermined and, according to them ''an alternative conceptualization of social categories as constructed by members' everyday practices challenges researchers to show their specifically local relevance, and to consider how an individual's category affiliations are related to everyday linguistic practices'' (94). They discuss three typical social categories:
a)Social class: the authors use the concept of the linguistic market, and they follow Sankoff and Laberge (1978) in saying that according to this concept, linguistic differences between speakers are analyzed in terms of ''the importance of the legitimized language in the socioeconomic life of the speaker'' (97).
b)Sex and gender: Milroy and Gordon argue that the relationship between gender and social class need to be examined more closely, because gender variation is often explained as dependent on social class, and sometimes it seems to be that we find the opposite influence.
c)Ethnicity and Race: The authors note that these are related to social class, and that the relationship has to be understood with reference to local conditions and local social practices.
In chapter 5, Social Relationship and Social Practices, the authors talk about concepts such as ''social network'' and ''community of practice'', in order to check how local practices give rise to global sociolinguistic patterns. The concept of social network is defined as ''the aggregate of relationships contracted with others, a boundless web of ties which reaches out through social and geographical space linking many individuals, sometimes remotely'' (p.117), and they make a distinction, within social networks, between first order ties (direct contact) and second-order ties (where the link is indirect). They follow Eckert (2000) in defining a community of practice as ''an aggregate of people coming together around a particular enterprise''. They end the chapter pointing out that these two concepts are related, and showing several examples of their behaviour in real social contexts.
In the following chapter, Investigating Phonological Variation, the authors explain how the theories and methods explained in the former chapters are applied to the study of linguistic variation. They say that normally, the steps that investigators follow when researching about linguistic variables are: a) identify relevant linguistic variables, b) search patterns and c) place the linguistic results in the context of their social distribution. Afterwards, the authors explain some of the measurement techniques used to study variation, and do an evaluation of these techniques.
Later in the chapter, Milroy and Gordon focus on the analysis of phonological variables, explaining that, to achieve a good survey, the scholar must first define the range of variation of the variable, then, study the phonetic context as a conditioning factor of the phonological variable. The chapter closes with a review of some methods of phonological variation quantification, and the conclusion is that they are a powerful aid, but they do not answer all questions, so must be used critically by the researcher.
In the seventh chapter, Beyond Phonology: Analyzing and Interpreting Higher Level Variation, the authors talk about linguistic variation at a level other than the phonological. They argue that the most important difference between phonological and morpho-syntactic variation is that speakers make use of a limited inventory of phonological contrasts, but they can make considerable choices within the morpho-syntactic level. In the chapter, the authors do a review of work on grammatical and syntactic analysis, and try to outline some of the problems involved in studying morpho-syntactic variation such as:
-It is not clear how the concept of sociolinguistic variable might be applied.
-It is not easy to specify what elements might be said to constitute variants of an underlying variable.
-It is also unclear to what extent syntax and discourse variants might be said to be semantically equivalent.
In chapter 8, Style-Shifting and Code-Switching, the authors focus on style-shifting and code-switching phenomena, but they treat them separately because ''these phenomena have been studied in different frameworks''. Milroy and Gordon, while talking about style, point out that recent scholars consider style not only as a response to situation, but also as strategic, proactive use of linguistic resources to construct social meaning. So, within this framework, linguistic choices are interpreted as strategies whereby speakers not only associate themselves with particular social groups, but also construct social categories such as ''whiteness'' or ''masculinity''. The authors discuss these two approaches to style: regarding style as a response to situation, they argue that researchers have not attempted to follow Labov in distinguishing careful and casual speech, and talk about the difficulties in using instruments such as reading passages and word lists. On the other hand, style can be considered, according to the authors, as a initiative and strategical phenomena if we are aware that particular linguistic practices are associated with other social practices (choices of dress, adornment and demeanor) and, by means of these practices, social actors construct and define mutually distinctive social categories.
The second part of the chapter is devoted to the code-switching concept, defined as follows: ''the term code-switching can describe a range of language (or dialect) alternation and mixing phenomena whether within the same conversation, the same turn, or the same sentence-utterance''(209). To better understand this phenomenon, they use the Myers-Scotton's (1993)distinction between allocational paradigm vs. interactional paradigm. The allocational paradigm treats social structure as broadly determining language behaviors. The interactional paradigm treats individuals as making rational, intersubjectively understood language choices to achieve specifiable interactional goals.
Finally, chapter 9 serves as a brief epilogue or conclusion of the main issues treated in the book. The authors explain some important ways in which the field has changed and expanded and also identify issues that are currently attracting the attention of researchers.
This book is, first, a very good resource for students and scholars who wish to acquaint themselves with theoretical and methodological issues related to variationism and sociolinguistics in general. Consequently, the book can be highly recommended for anyone interested in acquiring or reviewing the sociolinguistic framework. Second, this book is very well-structured, providing different real-world examples of every concept and method discussed. Third, the authors explain concepts not always discussed in sociolinguistic works, despite their importance, such as ethical concerns, style-shifting and community of practice.
However, I would like to mention several points:
-Since the main interest of the book is theoretical, it is not the best resource for anyone interested in undertaking practical research.
-The distinction between ''social network'' and ''community of practice'' is not clear, even after reading the chapter devoted to these issues, and this suggests to me that scholars probably don't make this distinction in their sociolinguistic research.
-There is an imbalance between the chapter devoted to phonological variation and the part of the book that covers non phonological variation, suggesting to the reader the idea that only the former one can be considered as a real variation.
-There is also an imbalance between the references to works in English and the rest of sociolinguistic research.
Eckert, P. (2000) Linguistic Variation as Social Practice, Oxford: Blackwell.
Myers-Scotton, C. (1993) Social Motivation for Code- Switching, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sankoff, G. (1980) ''A quantitative paradigm for the study of communicative competence''. In G. Sankoff (ed.), The Social Life of Language, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 47-49.
Sankoff, D. and Laberge, S. (1978) ''The linguistic market and the statistical explanation of variability''. In D. Sankoff (ed.), Linguistic Variation: Models and Methods, New York: Academic Press, pp. 239-50.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marcial Terrádez Gurrea is a lecturer of Spanish Language at the University of Valencia (Spain), and currently teaches courses on Sociolinguistics and Spoken Language. His research interests include sociolinguistics, spoken language and computational linguistics.