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Fieldwork “at home”: Urban sociolinguistic fieldwork

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

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  1. Fieldwork “at home”:Urban sociolinguistic fieldwork Devyani Sharma Queen Mary, University of London

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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)

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. Challenges of local, urban fieldwork • Sampling: How to select participants • Entering the community: Locating participants • Interviewing and recording • Measuring and classifying social factors

  8. 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

  9. 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)

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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)

  13. Example of bilingualism

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. 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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