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Review of  Data Collection in Sociolinguistics

Reviewer: Raquel Meister Ko Freitag
Book Title: Data Collection in Sociolinguistics
Book Author: Christine Mallinson Becky Childs Gerard Van Herk
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Discipline of Linguistics
Issue Number: 25.1263

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Sociolinguistics has evolved in the last fifty years to become an important subfield of linguistics. This time has also seen the development of powerful methods for data collection, central to sociolinguistic work. Data collection methods, however, tend to be described in only a few lines, often in the passive voice (“data are collected…”), which obscures the efforts and the fieldworkers involved. People, after all, collect sociolinguistic data, and they often face challenges during fieldwork.

“Data collection in Sociolinguistics -- methods and application” is an edited collection that seeks to rescue the “social” in sociolinguistic research. The book is composed of 19 chapters and 34 vignettes -- short descriptions of specific aspects of a chapter -- that show the “how to” in the active voice. It is a recollection of the field researchers’ experiences and it encompasses recent trends regarding ethical aspects of data collection practices. Both beginners and advanced readers will benefit from the pertinent and up-to-date reflections in this book. Although there are other recent books related to this topic, such as Tagliamonte 2006 and 2012, those do not focus on the personal experiences and achievements that characterize sociolinguistic research.

The book is organized into four parts and starts with a foreword by J.K. Chambers. Part I -- Research design – provides guidelines for designing a sociolinguistic study. This part also deals with ethics, an important aspect in sociolinguistic research today. Christine Mallinson introduces this part, with contributions by Barbara Horvath, Marcia Farr, Walt Wolfram, James Stanford, Rania Habib, Sara Trechter, Niko Besnier, Stephen Mann, Susan Ehrlich, and Randal Sadler. In particular, the vignettes in this part offer an overview of ethical situations which are frequently found in sociolinguistics, for instance, the relationship between researchers and ethics boards, and the sociolinguistic representation of the participants (both in the real world and on the world wide web).

Part II -- Generating new data -- focuses on new methodologies for data collection. Becky Childs introduces this part, and Erez Levon, James Walker & Michol Hoffman, Rajend Mesthrie, Patricia Nichols, Kara Becker, Victoria Rau, Ceil Lucas, Joseph Hill, Boyd Davis, Paul de Decker & Jennifer Nycz, and Lauren Hall-Lew & Bartolomiej Plichta share their experiences with data collection, mainly ethnographic approaches and sociolinguistic interview protocols. Charles Boberg presents a balanced perspective on the advantages and disadvantages in adopting written questionnaires for gathering sociolinguistic data. In their vignettes, Kathryn Campbell-Kibler details aspects of perceptual sociolinguistics data collection, with focus on speaker evaluation of language, and Naomi S. Baron outlines essential steps for controlling online survey data collection, including age and cultural questions. Cynthia G. Clopper discusses experimental approaches in sociolinguistics, which can complement ethnographic observation and sociolinguistic interviews to provide additional evidence.

Minority communities receive particular attention, with fieldwork reports covering different contexts, including immigrant, indigenous, diasporic and deaf communities. Sociolinguistic interview protocols are also dealt with in this part, especially attitudinal surveys and other interview techniques to generate sociolinguistic data. Gerard Van Herk opens part III -- Working with and preserving existing data -- with five questions about “data” in sociolinguistic research: what are “data”? What are data “for”? What are “natural” data? What are the advantages and disadvantages of particular types of data? And what do we lose by using sociolinguistic interview data? Edgar Schneider, France Martineau, Philipp Angermeyer, Alexandra D’Arcy, Cécile Vigouroux, Tyler Kendall, William Kretzschmar Jr., Mark Davies, Joan Beal & Karen Corrigan, Robin Queen, Tracey Weldon, Michael Adams and Jannis Androutsopoulos propose responses to the questions raised using data from various sources: spoken, written (both in paper and online) and different media.

Finally, part IV explores what happens after data collection. Christine Mallinson discusses sharing data and findings. The main focus falls on education and the media: Arapera Ngaha, Anne Charity Hudley, Lisa Green, Robert Serpell, Donna Starks, Jennifer Sclafani, Scott Kiesling, Clive Upton and Andrew Wong suggest that sociolinguistic work can contribute to society if there is public engagement. In other words, sociolinguists should disseminate their results and share their findings.

The editors conclude with a summary of the primary goal of the book, to create and refine methods for data collection that reflect spoken and written language in use. They highlight the key themes in the book, and, because research is a process, they invite readers to “continue the conversation” on their website, where there are additional resources.

The book is a valuable resource for contemporary sociolinguistic research. The diversity of experiences shared in the book covers the new ways of undertaking sociolinguistic research and analysis, with special attention to deeper understanding of the field. The narrative structure of vignettes makes the reading more casual. It is a positive aspect, but it makes cross-reference difficult.

The shared field experiences presented in “Data collection in Sociolinguistics -- methods and application” give us an excellent tutorial on how to meet the challenges of collecting data ethically and it is useful for the whole sociolinguistics research community.

Tagliamonte, Sali A. (2006). Analysing sociolinguistic variation. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Tagliamonte, Sali A. (2012). Variationist sociolinguistics: change, observation, interpretation. London, Wiley-Blackwell Publishers.
I am an Adjunct Professor at the Universidade Federal de Sergipe, Brazil. My research interest focuses on sociolinguistic approaches to sex/gender effects; style, attitudes and linguistic change; and methodological aspects of sociolinguistic interviews.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780415898560
Pages: 352
Prices: U.K. £ 105.00
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9780415898577
Pages: 352
Prices: U.K. £ 29.99