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Fieldwork “at home”: Urban sociolinguistic fieldwork. Devyani Sharma Queen Mary, University of London. Overview. Introduction why sociolinguistics? why sociolinguistic fieldwork? why sociolinguistic fieldwork in urban environments? Theoretical question  choice of methodology

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fieldwork at home urban sociolinguistic fieldwork

Fieldwork “at home”:Urban sociolinguistic fieldwork

Devyani Sharma

Queen Mary, University of London

overview
Overview
  • Introduction
    • why sociolinguistics?
    • why sociolinguistic fieldwork?
    • why sociolinguistic fieldwork in urban environments?
  • Theoretical question  choice of methodology
  • Challenges of local, urban fieldwork
    • sampling and entering the community
    • interviewing and recording
    • classifying individuals
    • ethics and community feedback
  • Examples from current project interspersed
why sociolinguistics
Why sociolinguistics?

Sociolinguistics tries to answer questions such as:

  • What does language variation tell us about social structure?
    • class/ethnic relations, gender roles, friendship hierarchies
  • How does a person develop and signal a particular identity?
    • network position, variable usage
  • How do we create meaning in interaction?
    • styles of interaction, inter-cultural miscommunication
  • What ideologies do we hold about language and why?
    • standardisation, overt/covert prestige, linguistic profiling
  • How should we design language policies?
    • bilingualism/dialects in schools, linguistic minority groups
why fieldwork
Why fieldwork?

Different data are needed to answer each question:

  • Macro social structure
    • recordings of how different groups speak (quantitative)
  • Individual behaviour
    • understanding of social networks (qualitative)
    • recordings of conversational interactions (quan/qual)
  • Ideologies
    • individual commentaries (qualitative)
    • cultural representations, e.g. in media (qualitative)
  • Minority communities
    • stages of acquisition or loss (quan/qual)
why in urban environments
Why in urban environments?

(Traditional dialect studies vs. urban dialect studies)

  • Urban contact situations help us understand:
    • who leads linguistic change (e.g. women, teenagers)
    • ‘critical age’ for plasticity in language learning
    • whether social motivations can ‘trump’ cognitive constraints
  • London:
    • diverse languages and cultures experiencing similar contact situations
    • different language and literacy trajectories
    • new ethnicities and identities
    • extensive misrepresentation of minority groups in public discourse
    • need for informed planning and policy
questions methods
Questions  methods

Current project: ‘Dialect development and style in a diasporic community’ ESRC 2008-2010

(co-investigators: Ben Rampton & Roxy Harris, KCL; RAs: Lavanya Sankaran, Pam Knight)

  • Hyp 1: Adult dialects are fixed. (Chambers 1995)
    • Method: Quantitative data from India-born Gen1.
  • Hyp 2: Children acquire the local, not parents’, dialect. (Chambers 1995)
    • Method: Quantitative data from British-born Gen2-3.
  • RQ 3: Why do exceptions arise – choice or unconscious exposure?
    • Method: Compare individuals according to networks, class, situation etc.
  • RQ 4: Do members of the community (incl. L2 speakers) develop multiple proficiencies simultaenously?
    • Method: Recordings from individuals in different speaking situations
  • RQ 5: What attitudes accompany dialect variation?
    • Method: Interview commentaries, media/public discourse
challenges of local urban fieldwork
Challenges of local, urban fieldwork
  • Sampling: How to select participants
  • Entering the community: Locating participants
  • Interviewing and recording
  • Measuring and classifying social factors
challenges selecting participants
Challenges: selecting participants
  • Sampling: How to select participants
    • who? (random, stratified, judgement, network, CoP, individual)
    • how many? (Labov 1966: 88, Trudgill 1974: 60)
    • driven by research questions
  • Our project
    • initial focus on families  demographic samples (feasibility)
    • initial focus on Sikh  shift to Punjabi (emic/etic)
    • friend-of-a-friend method, with focus on family clusters
challenges locating participants
Challenges: locating participants
  • Entering the community
    • self-presentation (too casual? too formal?)
    • suspicion of researchers (clarify not government/journalist; emphasise benefits of sociolingusitic research for the community)
    • explore the community (radio station, restaurants, shopping; avoid officials as first contact)
  • Working with participants
    • how much should the participant know about your goals?
    • how much time can a researcher expect with a participant?
    • be prepared with interview modules and charged recorders!
    • be prepared for rejections, cancellations, indefinite postponements… (a particular danger of local research where you are perceived as always available)
challenges recording people
Challenges: recording people
  • The Observer’s Paradox

“the aim of linguistic research in the community must be to find out how people talk when they are not being systematically observed; yet we can only obtain these data by systematic observation.” (Labov 1972: 209)

    • no surreptitious recording
    • special case: L2 and minority language speakers
  • Types of recorded data
    • uses and limitations of survey questionnaires
    • semi-structured sociolinguistic interviews
    • bilingualism, biographical, and network information interviews
    • individual vs. pair recordings
    • interactional data (researcher present vs. absent)
    • field notes
example pair recording
Example: pair recording

Lavanya: (what language did you speak in nursery?)

Rita: in nursery

did i used to talk in nursery

i used to chew on my brush in nursery

Friend: boys used to talk to you

Rita: oy shut your face=

Friend: =(xxx)

Rita: = tu shut up ho ja right tu shut up ho ja hhhehhehe

you shut up become

Friend: (xxx)

Rita: is that why you’re my best friend innit

Friend: yeah

Rita: sali

bitch

Lavanya : hheh so she was there in nursery with you

Rita: no psh: thank the lord

i’d have been pretty psychologically disturbed

challenges classifying individuals
Challenges: Classifying individuals
  • Networks
  • Class in situations of migration
    • failure of standard govt measures (Goldthorpe 2000)
    • ambiguity of simultaneous, distinct class statuses – UK and India
    • intra-Gen1 drop in class status
    • Gen1-Gen2 rise in class status
  • Bilingualism
    • frequency (individual’s estimation + checked in self-recordings)
    • contexts (have to be adapted to particular community)
ethics and community feedback
Ethics and community feedback
  • Ethics
    • sensitivity to community norms
    • revelations in interviews
  • Community feedback
    • offering help, e.g. tutoring, advice on written material
    • radio and TV
    • focus on useful linguistic issues, e.g. raising children bilingual
    • non-linguistic issues, e.g. women’s problems discussed in interviews
advantages of fieldwork at home
Advantages of fieldwork “at home”
  • Long-term researcher experience of broader community
    • familiarity with public discourses, policies, local practices
    • need for very local historical knowledge, e.g. schools, migration
    • danger of inattention to sub-community (emic) practices/beliefs/norms
  • Comparative analysis of different sub-communities
  • Longer term data collection
  • Follow-up with participants is straightforward
    • checking details or re-recording
    • subsequent data gathering that derives from initial research
    • potential for longitudinal panel (same participants) data
references
References
  • Cited
    • Chambers, Jack. 1995. Sociolinguistic Theory. Blackwell.
    • Goldthorpe, J. H. 2000. On Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Labov, William. 1972. Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
    • Trudgill, Peter. 1974. The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • General texts on sociolinguistic fieldwork
    • Bayley, Robert and Ceil Lucas, eds. 2007. Sociolinguistic Variation: Theories, Methods and Applications. Cambridge University Press.
    • Johnstone, Barbara. 2000. Qualitative Methods in Sociolinguistics. Sage Publications.
    • Milroy, Lesley, and Matt Gordon. 2003. Sociolinguistics: Method and Interpretation. Blackwell.
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