Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Litosseliti, Lia TITLE: Research Methods in Linguistics SERIES TITLE: Research Methods in Linguistics PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group YEAR: 2010
Anish Koshy, Department of Linguistics & Phonetics, The English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India
The book is organized in three parts, consisting of 10 papers by different scholars. Part I deals with ''Issues'' in linguistic research and has 2 chapters; Part II, dealing with ''Quantitative and Corpus Research Methods'', has 3 chapters; and Part III, dealing with ''Qualitative Research Methods'', has 5 chapters. The editor also introduces the book in a separate unit in the beginning.
In her introductory remarks, Lia Litosseliti details the aims and objectives of the book, one of them being that the book act as ''an essential up-to-date one-stop resource for researchers and graduate students'' (01). She goes on to provide a brief summary of all the papers that follow in the collection.
The first two chapters are intended to make the reader aware of the various issues and debates that have been shaping research methodologies in Linguistics today and the practical solutions provided are intended to act as guiding principles in the formulation of research questions and the choice of research methods for young researchers.
In the first paper, Jane Sunderland takes up the issue of 'Research Questions in Linguistics'. For the sake of young researchers, she differentiates the use of research questions as the starting point of research in Linguistics from the use of hypotheses in other disciplines. One important and interesting distinction between the two is that hypotheses are more precise, whereas research questions raise issues which are brought to light only by further research (and hence cannot form part of a hypothesis statement). Research questions usually come from existing research and the unanswered/unaddressed components of it. There is also a discussion on the types of research questions (e.g. primary/secondary, empirical/speculative, etc.). As a rule of thumb, she notes that research questions must be formulated in a clear, intellectually challenging, and most importantly, researchable/operationalizable manner. It is in this context that she discusses what happens when research questions begin with 'why' and aim to provide explanations. The answers to such questions in the social sciences and humanities are hardly going to be universally satisfying to all.
In the second paper in this part on issues in linguistic research, Jo Angouri explores the qualitative-quantitative dimension of research methods and the possibility of an integrated approach to overcome the drawbacks of each of these models when one works to the exclusion of the other. She is also aware of the conceptual and epistemological barriers to such an integrated approach. When the author talks of an integrated approach, better known as triangulation (convergence of findings and corroboration of research results), she advocates this not only in methodology, but also in terms of data, and issues related to the researcher/ investigator and theories. She illustrates the advantages of a triangulated approach by exploring studies on workplace discourse. Researchers from multiple disciplines (linguistics, sociology, management, etc.) have found the 'workplace' to be an important site for research. When language use is the focus of study, it can be approached from an applied pedagogical perspective or from sociolinguistic perspectives on communities of practice. Regardless, it is best studied using multiple methodologies of investigation like questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, corpus-study of written documents and participant observation. Hence, in light of advantages that they provide, like overcoming limitations imposed by disciplinary boundaries and having greater relevance for a wider audience, she advocates the use of integrated approaches.
Having advocated an integrated approach, the next two parts of the book detail the theories, practices and issues involved with the two methods in question. In Part II, qualitative methods are addressed and in Part III quantitative methods get taken up.
In the first paper in Part II, Sebastian M. Rasinger introduces the basic concepts, frameworks and issues in quantitative research, beginning with a brief distinction between quantitative and qualitative methods. Among the major issues confronting quantitative methods are the issues of reliability and validity of measurement, the measurability of certain objects, and the means of measurement (e.g. questionnaire, recordings, etc.). It is noted that while qualitative methods are inductive (from data to theory), quantitative methods are deductive (theory to testing of theory through data). Also explored are various research designs in quantitative methods, like cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, and the issue of sample retention with the latter. Another pertinent issue with the cross-sectional and longitudinal research designs is the difficulty in manipulating variables, which may be overcome by using experimental designs. The paper also reviews the questionnaire method in quantitative research and discusses its design, advantages and drawbacks.
In the second paper in this section, Erez Levon focuses on the organizing and processing of data in quantitative methods. He adds that for something to be subjected to a quantitative analysis, it must be quantifiable and must have the potential for variability. The paper then goes on to discuss, with illustrations, the various statistical methods available for such analyses. The author talks of the use of descriptive statistics to design inferential statistics in terms of experimental and null hypothesis testing. He also discusses the importance of choosing an appropriate statistical test based on the use of categorical and continuous variables. He discusses in detail, with illustrations from linguistic studies, two widely-used tests: chi-square (used if the dependent variable is categorical); and t-tests (used if the dependent variable is continuous), both of which are used if there is only one dependent and one independent variable (more variables need more sophisticated tests like ANOVA, Linear Mixed Models, etc., which are not discussed in the paper).
In the final paper in this section, Paul Baker discusses how techniques of corpus linguistics can be used for linguistic analysis. Important methodological approaches in corpus linguistics like corpus-based and corpus-driven approaches are introduced. Various issues that get discussed in this paper include the issues of sampling, balance and representativeness of a corpus, and annotation of the corpus. The author also briefly touches upon types of corpora like general/specialized, spoken/written, multilingual, parallel, etc. The use of appropriate software to analyze corpora is also taken up. Disadvantages of a corpus approach, like the fact that it is time-consuming, expensive, difficult to build, etc., are outweighed by advantages, such as reliability and validity of statements on patterns of linguistic usage.
In the final part of the book, which contains 5 papers, the authors discuss various linguistic studies requiring a qualitative approach.
In the first paper in this section, Judith Baxter explores how discourse-analytic approaches understand/explain text and talk. Language is seen as a social practice that acts to constitute as much as to reflect social realities. The orderliness and meaningfulness of linguistic performance is stressed. The paper discusses in detail four major approaches to discourse analysis, namely, Conversational Analysis (CA), Discourse Analysis (DA), Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), and Feminist Post-Structuralist Discourse Analysis (FPDA). CA focuses on negotiations of turn-taking and is data-centered. DA recognizes that participants' discourse is both variable and context-dependent and hence specific forms of language can be used to construct different versions of reality. CDA takes discourse as both social and ideological practice and uses language to explore covert inequalities in social relationships. Exploring language as social practice, FPDA explores the relationship between language and power and the role of deconstruction in conducting discourse analysis. Chomsky's views on studying linguistic performance for analysis as being less useful compared to the study of the innate linguistic competence of a speaker are critiqued through each of these approaches. The paper also discusses problems at the micro and macro levels of analysis in each of these approaches.
In the next paper, Angela Creese, explores linguistic ethnography's contribution to interactional studies. Two key issues are discussed in detail: the interdisciplinarity of linguistic ethnography; and the social constructivist (the use of language to structure a context and to create social realities) and post-modernist (through the redefining of culture, community, identity and language) orientation of linguistic ethnography and their challenges. It is shown how linguistic ethnography does not view different approaches to be in conflict with each other, but rather tries to make them complement each other. Also discussed are methods of linguistic ethnography, with adequate illustrations, and why it is better to have multiple observers with multiple voices (which may at times be contradictory) than single authors with non-contradictory accounts.
In the next paper, Nigel Edley and Lia Litosseliti take up the use of interviews and focus groups in linguistic research (and also in social sciences) by reviewing and questioning some of the basic assumptions concerning them. It is argued that it is better to talk to people to understand what they mean and why they do certain things rather than quantitatively experiment and merely speculate. The authors also review some of the standard criticisms against structured interviews (which came into being in the first place to ensure neutrality of the interviewer). Interviews are looked upon as a kind of social interaction. The authors are aware of the criticism against interviews and focus group data as being manufactured, but defend these approaches as legitimate research tools in certain domains and discuss how to conduct them to maintain their credibility and objectivity. The biggest advantage of interviews and focus groups, as the authors argue, is that they provide multiple views and allow exploration of the participants' own experiences. They often result in ideas emerging beyond the interviewer's control, contrary to what is expected in a structured interview. They also sometimes create open-ended conclusions, quite contrary to the interviewer's expected goal of reaching definite conclusions based on the interview.
In the next paper, Jeff Bezemer and Carey Jewitt describe how linguistic studies approach multimodality (that is, the use of speech, writing, gaze, gestures, images, etc.) in the construction of meaning. They discuss the social semiotic approach to multimodality, that is, the extension of social interpretation of language and its meanings to multiple modes of communication and representation employed in a culture, assuming that meaning-making resources are always socially shaped. They argue that modes represent a shared cultural sense of a set of resources within a community before going on to an in-depth discussion of ways of collecting and analyzing multimodal data with two brief illustrations: one of the use of multiple modes in classroom interaction; and the other of the use of multiple modes in the presentation of learning resources. While in a classroom situation, it is important to focus on not only what the teacher/students say, but also the gazes, postures, movements, gestures, etc., involved in teaching. In terms of learning resources, the designing of a webpage in terms of the arrangement of items, the graphics used, etc., are analyzed. The chapter also cautions against including too many modes for analysis, as attention to multiple modes may sacrifice necessary details.
In the last paper in this section, Julio C. Gimenez discusses narrative analysis in linguistic research, especially highlighting the correlation between personal narratives and the social issues they evoke. The author provides a useful overview of the study of narratives. Techniques of analyzing narratives in terms of componential and functional analysis are discussed briefly. While the former deals with the structure of a narrative, the latter deals with the construction of different meanings in the narrative. The notion of narrative networks is discussed to explain how a group of texts and stories exist around a core narrative highlighting the link between the local and social functions that narratives represent. Narrative networks are then further explored using the methodology of Critical Discourse Analysis. Also discussed are the designing of narrative networks for research, including data collection, analysis, interpretation and explanation.
The papers are very well presented and the topics chosen are very relevant. The overall architecture of the arguments presented in most chapters favors a methodology of triangulation. Examples are provided in great detail and problems are worked out with detailed explanations, which go a long way in making many of the discussions quite lively and informative. Every chapter begins with a chapter outline that tells us what to expect and ends with suggestions for 'further reading'. This is particularly useful, as each chapter deals with a different issue/area of linguistic research and does not assume that every reader is familiar with the issue at hand, and as such, may find additional resources useful. Also, since most of what is discussed in the papers is either based on these additional readings, or take them as their starting point, the compilation is good background reading as well.
Even though the title of the book paints a more generalized approach to linguistic research, in reality, the book is useful mostly to those undertaking research in sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. Linguistic researchers from other formal areas of investigation may not find the book useful or comprehensive enough. The book largely focuses on research on functional aspects of language, construction of social meanings, society and culture's influence on speakers, etc. The generic title and the subsequent contents could be accused of giving a false impression that all research in linguistics today is only about discourse and conversational analysis. However, for those undertaking research in sociolinguistics and discourse-related phenomenon, the book is not only comprehensive, but also a detailed, step-by-step guide.
Even though the book is organized largely as though it deals with qualitative and quantitative methods separately, as acknowledged by the editor, there are many areas where such strict distinctions are neither followed, nor recommended, and this becomes clear to the readers as well. Every paper is honest about the pros and cons of the theories involved, and even while recommending eclectic, integrated methods, the authors acknowledge the problems that remain. Even if there are no methods without their fair share of problems, the emphasis on greater credibility, validity and reliability of results become the core, guiding principles.
The organization of the chapters, in which each one begins with a brief discussion of major concepts, and then moves on to current theoretical debates in the field, before finally providing practical demonstrations of techniques analyzed and/or advocated, make each paper very resourceful to both new and advanced researchers. The debates and controversies are presented in a very balanced manner, and make the papers very informative. While practical advice is provided, the researcher is still left with enough options to choose from, after analyzing the pros and cons of each of the methods discussed, the issues involved, and the solutions provided. The book is definitely going to be a useful tool to many researchers.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Anish Koshy is an Assistant Professor in Linguistics in the Department of
Linguistics & Phonetics, The English & Foreign Languages University,
Hyderabad, India. His research interests lie in working on the
lesser-studied languages of India, and working on South Asian languages
from a typological perspective. He is currently working on the typological
nature of clitics in the Austroasiatic languages of India, namely the Munda
and the Khasian branches.