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: Alison Sealey TITLE: Researching English Language SUBTITLE: A Resource Book for Students SERIES TITLE: Routledge English Language Introductions PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2010.
Beatrice Szczepek Reed, Department of Education, University of York, UK.
The book under review is an elementary introduction to English language research, presupposing little prior reader knowledge. The book is divided into four parts of increasing complexity: Introduction, Development, Exploration and Extension. This structure is typical for the Routledge English Language Introductions.
In Part A, Introduction, basic concepts of a student research project are established. The author beings by introducing the initial stages of choosing a research topic, and how to go about finding inspiration for this choice. The chapter also covers the identification of appropriate reading material, with examples of bibliographic databases. Subsequently, initial thoughts regarding research questions are discussed, and a variety of examples are provided; then basic ways of defining various research methods are introduced. The following section covers the details of the research process, such as technical equipment and ethical issues, followed by a presentation of the fundamental issues surrounding the collection of spoken and written data. Two further sections clarify the most basic aspects and types of data analysis, and the style and presentation appropriate for writing up research findings. A final section looks beyond the student research project, on to potential publications and careers.
This underlying structure -- that is, running from Topic, Literature Review, Research Questions, Research Methods, Details, Data Collection, Data Analysis, Writing up and Looking ahead -- is adopted in the remaining three parts of the book, with increasing detail and complexity in each part.
In Part B, Development, each section addresses the 'how and why' of the above-mentioned topics. Each section looks behind potential motivations for the choices to be made. The first section in this part asks what should inform students' choice of topic, such as university benchmark statements, and specific personal interests. The following part explains how the literature review establishes the student as part of a 'community of practice' (p. 51), while the subsequent section asks which research questions are most appropriate for which type of research. The author distinguishes between research questions which ask '(a) what something is like, (b) how much of something occurs in some specified context, (…) (c) why something is the case (…)' and '(d) yes/no questions'. (p. 57). The section on methods distinguishes between method and methodology, and briefly introduces interviews, corpus studies and experimental research. The subsequent section on 'details' explores further the ethical implications of certain types of research by considering a variety of issues, such as collecting child language data, personal relationships with participants, and participants in other countries. In dealing with data collection, various kinds of data are distinguished, and choice of subjects / participants are discussed. Regarding data analysis various levels of language are considered, and forms of analysis are presented. The section on writing discusses appropriate academic style, and the management of the writing process itself. The final section on steps beyond the project discusses transferable skills for writing a CV.
Part C, Exploration, focuses in on organisational detail and criticality. The first section on research topics reflects on the benefits of research skills for future employers; while the following part introduces ways of organizing and structuring the literature review. It is also discussed what it means to read literature with a critical mindset. The subsequent section on research questions asks the student reader to predict some of their research outcomes, in order to decide whether or not to include a hypothesis. Concerning research methods, the pros and cons of experimental research, and some issues surrounding categorization and theory are presented. The section on data collection provides various examples of written and spoken data, and discusses various ways of eliciting data. The following part on data analysis takes a close look at transcription, and the interpretation of transcripts, while the section on the writing up process introduces abstracts and further text components. The final section discusses, amongst other things, the role of language as central to human social interaction.
Part D, Extension, provides a number of published readings by well-known authors, which are used to exemplify all of the topics previously introduced. Three cases are presented in which authors discuss how they came about researching their topic, followed by three literature reviews from different published articles. The section on research questions presents two examples of authors' discussions of appropriate questions. Subsequently, four introductions to the methodological background of different research projects are presented, followed by two cases of authors' discussing problems they came across during their research. In the following section, three authors reflect on the process of data collection, followed by three discussions of analysis and interpretation. Two further readings reflect on student writing, and the final section presents two readings regarding professions in which research skills are of high value (teaching and administration), and one on postgraduate research degrees.
The book under review is a highly engaging and admirably reflective introduction to researching English language. Every aspect of research practice is presented with thoughtful consideration of potential underlying assumptions. The necessity for student researchers to be aware of, and to question, their own motivations is continuously emphasized and demonstrated. Furthermore, the book provides a large number of extremely relevant examples of varying complexity at each level for each of the topics covered.
There are two criticisms that could be made of the book. The first concerns its presentation, the second its strong leaning towards a discourse-informed study of language.
The presentation of the book in four parts of increasing degrees of difficulty makes sense in terms of accessibility. However, as already indicated, this structure results in a certain degree of repetition of content. It also means that the reading experience is not a coherent one, but involves frequent 'circles' of returning to prior topics. However, if the book is not read in order of presentation, the sections can be taken as self-contained chapters.
Regarding the second criticism, the book makes no attempt to make clear its strong affiliation to the field of Discourse and Conversation Analysis. The title may give the impression of a general introduction to research on English language, and the unapologetically sociolinguistic preferences may come as a surprise to the uninitiated reader. For example, in the 'Exploration' part, in the section on Research Methods, the author presents experimental research under the heading 'Experimental studies in second language acquisition: advocates and critics' (p. 116), without presenting any other research method, thus giving the impression that discursive methods are the norm, while experimental research has advantages and disadvantages. On p. 67, the author writes 'experiments are sometimes used in language research'. The word 'sometimes' here again suggests that discourse-based investigations are the default case, while experimental work requires justification.
This presentation gives the impression of a preference of one type of research over another -- also reflected in the comparatively small amount of text dedicated to experimental methods, and the comparatively large amount written about discourse based research. It could be argued that students should have access to a more balanced view of existing research practices and perspectives.
In spite of these aspects, the book provides an excellent introduction to research for any student or beginning researcher to discourse and conversation analysis in English. Important issues and complex concepts are formulated accessibly, critically and with a high degree of reflection. I highly recommend this book to any student about to embark on an undergraduate or postgraduate research project.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Beatrice Szczepek Reed is Lecturer in Language Education in the Department
of Education at the University of York, UK. Her main areas of interest are
Conversation Analysis, Phonetics and Phonology, Applied Linguistics, TESOL
and cross-cultural interaction. She has published the monograph 'Prosodic
Orientation in English Conversation' (2006, Palgrave Macmillan) and the
textbook 'Analysing Conversation: An Introduction to Prosody' (2010,
Palgrave Macmillan), as well as numerous articles on prosody in
conversation, teaching English pronunciation, and cross-cultural