Reflections from the CASS student challenge panel member, part 3

Pamela Irwin, this year’s CASS student challenge panel member, is looking back on her past year of research. This is part 3 of her reflections — need to catch up on the others? Click here to read part 1, or here to read part 2


Lately, I have been examining sociolinguistics and its related sub-disciplines as part of my exploration of the synergy between the social sciences (sociology/social gerontology) and language (corpus linguistics) in relation to my research.

My first task was to compare sociolinguistics with the sociology of language. According to the literature, in brief, the focus of sociolinguistics is to ascertain the effect of society on language, whereas the sociology of language is oriented around the influence of language on society.

Even with this conceptual clarification, I still found it quite difficult to assimilate the vertical (layers) and horizontal (scope) dimensions of sociolinguistics and then to differentiate within and between the sociolinguistic sub-specialities. At this stage, it was a relief to discover that some of these social/linguistic links had already been mapped, including sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics (Baker, 2010), critical discourse analysis and corpus linguistics (Baker, Gabrielatos, Knosravinik, Krzyzanowski, McEnery & Wodak, 2008), realism and corpus linguistics (Sealey, 2010) and linguistics and ethnography (Rampton, Maybin & Tusting, 2007).

Linguistic ethnography has particular relevance my study’s ethnographic methodology. During my ethnographic fieldwork in rural Australia, I obtained data from multiple sources: historical records, contemporary materials such as local newspapers and community notices, participant interviews and journals, and field notes. As I had naively assumed that all types of data are equally valid, Creese’s (2011) advocacy of a non-hierarchial balance between researcher fieldnotes and interactional data (interviews, conversations) was reassuring.

According to Rampton (2007), a distinctive linguistic ethnography is still evolving and as such, it remains open to wider interpretative approaches. Here, Sealey’s (2007) juxtaposition of linguistic ethnography and realism to address ‘what kinds of language in what circumstances and with what outcome?” (p. 641) makes a valuable contribution to my analytical repertoire. For instance, my findings suggest that the older and late middle-aged women’s life history narratives vary significantly in terms of their depth (reflective/instrumental) and breadth (expansive/constrained). While these differences do not seem to be related to the type of data (written versus spoken accounts), the influence of temporal (age, period, cohort) and situational (rural/urban, ‘local’/newcomer) circumstances on the women’s accounts is less clear. Corpus linguistics provides an objective analytical method of unravelling these complex inter-relationships.

References:

Baker, P. (2010). Sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C., Khosravinik, M., McEnery, T., & Wodak, R. (2008). A useful synergy? Combining critical discourse analysis and corpus linguistics to examine discourses of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK press. Discourse & Society, 19(3), 273-306. doi: 10.1177/0957926508088962

Creese, A. (2011). Making local practices globally relevant in researching multilingual education. In F.M. Hult and K.A. King (Eds.). Educational linguistics in practice: Applying the local globally and the global locally. Chapter 3. pp. 41-59 Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Rampton, B. (2007). Neo-Hymesian linguistic ethnography in the United Kingdom. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 11(5), 584-607. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2007.00341.x

Sealey, A. (2007). Linguistic ethnography in realist perspective. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 11(5), 641-660. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2007.00341.x

Sealey, A. (2010). Probabilities and surprises: A realist approach to identifying linguistic and social patterns, with reference to an oral history corpus. Applied linguistics, 31(2), 215-235. doi: 10.1093/applin/amp023


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