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Review of  Research Methods in Linguistics

Reviewer: Anish Koshy
Book Title: Research Methods in Linguistics
Book Author: Lia Litosseliti
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.2994

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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.

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.

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