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.


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

Are you interested in becoming the next student challenge panel member? Apply to attend our free summer school to learn more.

Introducing Challenge Panel Member: Michael Hoey

We are extraordinarily pleased to announce Michael Hoey’s membership to the CASS Challenge Panel. Below, Professor Hoey shares a bit about his personal and professional successes. 

I am a funny kind of corpus linguist in that all my publications for the first twenty years of my career were devoted to the study of written discourse analysis. However I had co-authored (with Sue Atkins), under John Sinclair’s direction, the proposal to Collins Publishers that led to the development of the Collins COBUILD dictionary at the University of Birmingham and I inevitably become heavily involved with the running of the project, working closely both with Antoinette Renouf and Patrick Hanks as they wrestled the first-ever corpus-driven dictionary into shape. Without realising it, I was slowly mutating into a corpus linguist, and when near the end of my time at the University of Birmingham I was asked whether I would like to write one of their little COBUILD handbooks on lexical signalling, I leapt at the opportunity. The handbook, though, never appeared – the more I investigated the ways the words were used, the more radical my thoughts on the way language is organised became, and when I was appointed to a Chair at the University of Liverpool, my inaugural lecture was on corpus linguistics.

The second 20 years of my career have seen few discourse analytical publications but more and more corpus linguistic, and particularly lexical priming, papers and books. My corpus linguistic perspective, though still heavily influenced by John Sinclair, one of three giant figures in my development (the others being Randolph Quirk and Eugene Winter), has become ever more eclectic but I am convinced that the current findings of corpus linguists of every tradition not only torpedo most of the major models of linguistics of the past 100 years but point to a quite different way in which language should be conceived, as having a complex lexicon and a very simple grammar. I also believe that we urgently need to link up corpus thinking with psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic thinking that has been done by psychologists and sociologists, rather than tame adherents of existing linguistic models.

The ‘Who’s Who’ facts about me are that I am currently Pro-Vice Chancellor for Internationalisation, Director of the Liverpool Confucius Institute and Baines Professor of English Language at the University of Liverpool. I am an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences and a member of Council of the University of Chester. I am also a proud grandfather, an inveterate traveller (even when not on University business), a Christian and the former editor of a magazine on beer ‘Ale & Hearty’. Indeed my book on the real ale pubs in the area around Southport has, I regret, been my only best-seller.

Did you miss our previous introductions? Click through to read about Challenge Panel members Alan PartingtonMark Davies and Stefan Th. Gries