Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2004 01:27:26 -0700 From: Terese Thonus Subject: The Ethnography of Communication
AUTHOR: Saville-Troike, Muriel TITLE: The Ethnography of Communication SUBTITLE: An Introduction (3rd edition) SERIES: Language in Society 3 YEAR: 2003 PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
Terese Thonus, California State University, Fresno
SYNOPSIS As the third volume in the Blackwell series Language in Society, edited by Peter Trudgill, the third edition of The Ethnography of Communication (henceforth TEC) joins an expanding collection of well- regarded books in the field, including Romaine's Bilingualism and Labov's Principles of Linguistic Change. Like the first and second editions, it elaborates on the theory and concepts introduced by anthropologist Dell Hymes, whom Saville-Troike names ''truly the father of the field'' (p. viii). The third edition, according to the back- cover blurb, ''has been thoroughly revised to reflect the substantial contributions made in recent years to the development and application of the subject.'' Saville-Troike claims to have redefined communicative competence and speech community ''to emphasize their dynamic nature and to give more consideration to multilingual individuals and groups'' (p. viii). Added are two new chapters, ''Contrasts in Patterns of Communication'' and ''Politeness, Power, and Politics.'' References have been updated by the addition of 250 titles, and a greater number of languages (40 more) referenced for illustrative purposes.
The introduction (chapter 1) describes the scope and focus of the text, including Saville-Troike's definition of the ethnography of communication as an ''approach'' and ''a mode of inquiry'' (p. 2). It also explains the history of ethnographic study of language as rooted in ''the convergent interest in sociology and linguistics'' in opposition to the Chomskyan themes of the ideal speaker-hearer and the homogenous speech community.
Chapter 2, ''Basic Terms, Concepts, and Issues,'' is notable for its additional material on the definition and development of the notion speech community. Saville-Troike's careful distinctions among speech community, discourse community, and community of practice are essential reading. In addition, the construct communicative competence is expanded to include arguments regarding multilingual speakers and second-language learners. The author also includes a recent quote from Hymes defining competence not as ''ideal knowledge'' but as ''actual ability'' (p. 40).
''Varieties of Language,'' chapter 3, cites Gumperz, Fishman, Ferguson, Trudgill, and Labov (among others) in discussions of diglossia, code-switching, and the intersection of varieties with typical social features such as region, class, and ethnicity, as well as features such as personality state and non-native speaker status.
As the longest chapter and the centerpiece of the volume, ''The Analysis of Communicative Events'' (chapter 4) takes the reader through the relationship of the ethnographer and speech community, types of data, data collection and analytic procedures, and the best discussion and exemplification of Hymes' SPEAKING rubric available in print.
Chapter 5, ''Contrasts in Patterns of Communication,'' begins with a section on comparative (not contrastive!) rhetoric, and then illustrates situated even analysis with recent studies of Chinese, Korean, Kazakh, and Lao. In the section ''Constructing an Unseen Face,'' Saville-Troike reports on her own cross-cultural analysis of prospective graduate-student statements of purpose. Concludes the author, ''While participants in an intercultural event must (as in all ethnographic research) be viewed from the internal perspective of their respective communities, the dynamic interaction across communities requires additional dimensions of analysis'' (p. 182).
Covering a broad range of topics beginning with stereotyping and moving through appropriateness and language maintenance, shift, and spread, ''Attitudes Toward Communicative Performance'' (chapter 6), Saville-Troike argues for an integration between qualitative and quantitative research approaches.
In chapter 7, ''Acquisition of Communicative Competence,'' the author is in her element as a language acquisition specialist, describing the application of the ethnography of communication to both first and second language learning. Languages used to illustrate principles include Javanese, Farsi, and Navaho.
Chapter 8, a new addition in this edition, covers ''Politeness, Power, and Politics.'' Topics covered include social control, institutional discrimination, and language planning.
The brief conclusion ends with ''a note of warning,'' Saville- Troike's call for the social responsibility of the researcher: ''Even as ethnographers of language seek for a deeper understanding of the human condition, they bear a heavy responsibility to guard against the misuse of their research, and the exploitation of the communities in which they work'' (p. 284).
EVALUATION The Ethnography of Communication (first edition) was required reading for my master's exams in 1984. I had also read Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach (1974). I later heard Hymes lecture on Native American ethnopoetics (''In Vain I Tried to Tell You''). As an applied linguist, I was captivated by its methodology and objects of study. Yet one question has always troubled me. Is the ethnography of communication a field of study or a research methodology, or both? In the introduction, Saville-Troike argues that the ethnography of communication is significant not only to anthropology, but to psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, and theoretical linguistics. To this argument, she adds: ''Its contribution to the description and understanding of culturally constituted patterns of communication will be limited if its methods and findings are not integrated with other descriptive and analytical approaches. It is the nature of ethnography to be holistic in nature, and this should also characterize the disciplinary orientation of its practitioners'' (p. 8). How, then, can a linguist define him/herself as an ethnographer of communication?
On the book jacket is a positive review of the newest edition of TEC by Ron Scollon: ''Its coverage of what has been a major area of study for scholars in sociolinguistics, communication, and linguistic anthropology for the past three decades is comprehensive, insightful, and, in this third edition, completely brought up to currency with developments in the field.'' I agree with Scollon that TEC is the one book to read on the ethnography of communication. However, as the representative volume of a field of study, I fear that TEC has outgrown its parameters and become so syncretistic that it is no longer part of a series on sociolinguistics but a précis of it. I use the term ''syncretism'' deliberately, realizing that in its most frequent connotation it refers to the absorption, over time, of the rites and practices of other, often indigenous, belief systems into organized religions. If the first edition represented the organized, bounded, ''orthodox'' version of the ethnography of communication, it has since absorbed not only sociolinguistic and anthropological content, but also philosophical and psychological.
Although language varieties, speech acts, bilingual identity, and language planning are all of interest in the study of communicative competence, are they rightly the purview of the ethnography of communication? If the field embraces them all, how will it be defined and differentiated from related fields of study? Was this, I wonder, the intent of Hymes? In a 1972 monograph, Hymes argued that all linguistic study, not just sociolinguistics, should incorporate a social perspective. During its development, however, the ethnography of communication has not been embraced as the ''default'' approach to linguistics or, for that matter, to sociolinguistics. Rather than advocating syncretism, Hymes appears now to support clearer disciplinary boundaries. In a 2000 dialogue with William Samarin in the Journal of Sociolinguistics, Hymes argued that sociolinguistics and (linguistic) anthropology should not and will not converge, that their very divergence facilitates a multi-pronged approach to the exploration of language and society. In this respect, Saville-Troike's boundary- erasing work appears to have diverged from Hymes' current, if not original, intent.
Although TEC references a wide variety of world languages, specific language examples to support the concepts and analyses are always provided. For instance, on pp. 58-59, in the section on code- switching, Saville-Troike quotes Woolard (1999) on Castilian-Catalan bivalency, defined as ''the use by a bilingual of words or segments that could 'belong' equally to both codes.'' One would have a much clearer understanding of this concept if a relevant example were provided. Later in the same paragraph, the author refers to alternating English and German lines in T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland. Claire Kramsch's analysis of this literary code-switching is referenced, but not the lines of the poem. It is as if Saville-Troike either assumes that readers are so well-versed in Castilian, Catalan, and German that examples would prove redundant, or are so inexpert in language(s) that exemplification would be pointless. My suspicion is that it is the latter, but this only makes the text less accessible to the novice reader. For an introductory text, I would prefer fewer analyses with detailed examples than more analyses lacking them.
Where does the ethnography of communication, and Saville-Troike's interpretation of it in TEC, fit into the linguistics curriculum? Having read the third edition, I contemplated it as a possible text for an undergraduate general education course in language and culture (combining anthropological linguistics and sociolinguistics). However, as TEC presupposes some familiarity with linguistics, I decided it would be inappropriate. For sociolinguistics students, again at the undergraduate level, certain chapters (e.g., ''Varieties of Language'') would have been exceptional, but I viewed the text as a whole as unsuitable given the current variationist bias of that field. I eventually found a use for it as a reference text in a graduate discourse analysis course, encouraging students to read with particular care chapter 5, ''Contrasts in Patterns of Communication.'' Because of the scope and breadth of TEC, I can only envision it as the core text in a course of the same name -- and in most universities, such a class would most probably be offered not through the linguistics department, but through anthropology, possibly education, or at the University of Arizona, the Department of English.
REFERENCES Hymes, Dell (1972) The scope of sociolinguistics. Georgetown University Monograph Series on Languages and Linguistics, 25, 313-333.
Hymes, Dell (2000) The emergence of sociolinguistics: A response to Samarin. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4, 312-315.
Samarin, William J. (2000) Sociolinguistics as I see it. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4, 303-311.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Terese Thonus is Associate Professor of Linguistics at California State University, Fresno. Her research interests include oral discourse analysis (particularly writing tutorial conversations), second-language writing, and teacher education.