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 WrayAUTHOR: Aileen BloomerTITLE: Projects in Linguistics and Language Studies, Third EditionPUBLISHER: Hodder EducationYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Anna Gates Tapia, Northern Arizona University

SUMMARY

“Projects in Linguistics and Language Studies: A Practical Guide toResearching Language” is intended as a complement to the textbooks students ofapplied linguistics, linguistics or language studies may be assigned in theircourses. Primarily geared toward undergraduate students, Wray and Bloomer’sbook is appropriate as a reference manual for students at any level who may beinterested in learning basic procedural information in linguistics andlanguage study research.

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

Divided into four major sections, the book broadly touches on each of themajor sub-disciplines in the field as well as data elicitation techniques,tools for analyzing data, and acceptable means for presenting research. Thefirst section of the book contains 10 themed chapters. This section brieflylooks at the history of English, psycholinguistics, first and second languageacquisition, 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 chaptertouching on the changes in language over the past decade due to the globalprevalence of the Internet.

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

The second part of the book is focused on data collection tools andtechniques. Each chapter contains a segment entitled “Things to think about”which underscores questions a researcher ought to ask while making decisionsabout data elicitation methods and study design. The first chapter in thissection discusses the use of electronic media data collection methods. Theauthors point out the many eventualities that an inexperienced researcher maynot otherwise think about. For example, readers are advised to considerproblems of distinguishing the different participants’ voices if only audioinformation is recorded or how the presence of recording equipment may alterparticipant behavior. Additionally, attention is called to ethical concernsinvolved with recording study participants. The volume next turns to the topicof experiments. A concise overview of the pertinent concepts, such asrepresentative populations, development of a hypothesis, and experiment designis provided. A brief discussion of the advantages and disadvantages ofexperimental research provides the reader with information that may assistthem in making informed decisions as they proceed in the development of theirprojects. The following chapter addresses questionnaires, interviews, andfocus groups. Aid is also provided to the reader for evaluating each methodagainst the research question being asked. In addition to providing readerswith theoretical information about these data collection tools, practicalissues such as instrument design, desired participant characteristics, andethical concerns are also discussed. The focus of the next chapter is on theuse of observation and case studies in language research. Both techniques areconcisely described and advantages and disadvantages for each method arediscussed briefly. The final chapter in section two concentrates on theethical considerations of research. Although each of the previous chaptersbriefly touched upon the ethical concerns to be kept in mind for each type ofelicitation instrument, this chapter speakers to this issue more inclusivelyand in greater depth. Readers are introduced to the concepts ofconfidentiality and anonymity, with the difference between the two beingemphasized. Data protection laws in effect in the UK are also introduced andbriefly explained.

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

Part four of the book serves as essentially a style manual for presentingresearch work. The first chapter presents guidelines for referencing sourcesand answers many commonly asked questions such as “What is the differencebetween a references list and bibliography?” (p. 234) and “What if there ismore than on author with the same surname?” (p. 239). Of course, the answersto these, and the many other questions listed depend on the conventionsadopted by a course instructor or academic journal, therefore the informationprovided in the chapter serves only as a general reference. The second chapterin this section explains plagiarism and gives advice for avoiding it. The nextchapter guides new researchers through the process of writing a researchreport, from brainstorming through polishing the final draft. Suggestions aremade for how to identify writing weaknesses and to develop a personal, yetacademic writing style. The final chapter of the volume provides guidance tostudents preparing to make oral presentations. The chapter moves the potentialpresenter through the process from creation to delivery. This includes generaladvice about time management, presentation content, visual appearance ofslides as well as how to move through them.

EVALUATION

Wray and Bloomer have created an exceptional introductory volume, whichachieves its self attested goals of being inspiring and encouraging tobeginning researchers. Each chapter provides enough information to give aclear overview of the topics being discussed, without bogging down the prosewith overly technical or complex information. This is not to say that the textis an easy read. It is however of an appropriate academic level for advancedundergraduate students. The authors have suggested it may also be used forhigh school students interested in language studies, and while this may betrue for exceptional pupils, it would probably overwhelm most students in thisdemographic group.

Although the authors have not claimed the text to be fully comprehensive, itcovers a very wide range of information in a relatively short volume. Despiteits topic coverage and manageable length, there is nothing superficial aboutthe information provided. Explanations of concepts, terms and advice forhandling 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 haveseen more fully developed, which is vocabulary research. The topic ofvocabulary is by no means neglected in the text, however lines of researchsuch as vocabulary load analysis of texts and measurements of vocabularyknowledge could also be of interest to beginning researchers and projects inthese areas may be appreciated.

This edition expands upon the previous two by both updating information tokeep the volume timely and relevant, and by including two new chapters. Thefirst new chapter deals with computer mediated communication research (Chapter19). Considering the advances in quantitative linguistic research madepossible by corpus methodologies, the inclusion of this chapter providesreaders with an important research perspective not offered in previouseditions. Therefore, it is an important addition to the volume and makes theselection of this edition over the others a must. The other new chapter isabout oral presentation skills (Chapter 24). This chapter is especially usefulto all those who may struggle with mastering spoken presentations,undergraduate and graduate students alike. The authors are cognizant of thedifficulties many people face in public speaking and offer thoughtful advicefor minimizing anxiety. For example, readers are advised to stand firmly ontwo feet as a strategy for both looking and feeling confident. This chapter isalso amazingly thorough of its treatment of presentation details. Using adirect and condensed style that includes mainly the use of bullet-points, theauthors provide as much useful information as one may find in a morevoluminous and expensive text.

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

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

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Anna Gates Tapia is the former director of the English Department at theUniversidad Tecnica Particular de Loja in Ecuador and is currently in hersecond year as a doctoral student in Applied Linguistics at Northern ArizonaUniversity. Her research interests are in the areas of incidental vocabularylearning and corpus based research in vocabulary loads and lexical coverage inboth English and Spanish texts.

Page Updated: 05-Apr-2013