“Projects in Linguistics and Language Studies: A Practical Guide to Researching Language” is intended as a complement to the textbooks students of applied linguistics, linguistics or language studies may be assigned in their courses. Primarily geared toward undergraduate students, Wray and Bloomer’s book is appropriate as a reference manual for students at any level who may be interested in learning basic procedural information in linguistics and language study research.
The volume opens with an overview of what is required to embark on an empirical research project. Information in this chapter includes an invitation for readers to reflect on their own interests, information about the broad areas to be researched, where to find support and resources, how to organize a project, and how to approach research in general. In essence, readers receive in just a few pages, a comprehensive orientation to conducting research in the fields of language and linguistics.
Divided into four major sections, the book broadly touches on each of the major sub-disciplines in the field as well as data elicitation techniques, tools for analyzing data, and acceptable means for presenting research. The first section of the book contains 10 themed chapters. This section briefly looks at the history of English, psycholinguistics, first and second language acquisition, structure and meaning (which encompasses the areas of syntax, semantics, morphology and pragmatics), text and discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, and phonology. Also, new to this third edition, is a chapter touching on the changes in language over the past decade due to the global prevalence of the Internet.
Each chapter in this section follows a similar format and the reader is presented with information regarding the major themes, terminology, and debates in each subfield. Included also is information about the most respected scholarly journals and prominent textbooks in each area. Perhaps one of the most unique features of this section is the attention given to presenting research project ideas. Every chapter provides a minimum of 20 project suggestions. Some examples include the study of linguistic features of family members, and conducting interviews with second language learners. Most of these projects are not necessarily intended to make an original contribution to the field, but, as the authors state, to generate “ideas that students will find inspiring and encouraging” (p. x).
The second part of the book is focused on data collection tools and techniques. Each chapter contains a segment entitled “Things to think about” which underscores questions a researcher ought to ask while making decisions about data elicitation methods and study design. The first chapter in this section discusses the use of electronic media data collection methods. The authors point out the many eventualities that an inexperienced researcher may not otherwise think about. For example, readers are advised to consider problems of distinguishing the different participants’ voices if only audio information is recorded or how the presence of recording equipment may alter participant behavior. Additionally, attention is called to ethical concerns involved with recording study participants. The volume next turns to the topic of experiments. A concise overview of the pertinent concepts, such as representative populations, development of a hypothesis, and experiment design is provided. A brief discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of experimental research provides the reader with information that may assist them in making informed decisions as they proceed in the development of their projects. The following chapter addresses questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups. Aid is also provided to the reader for evaluating each method against the research question being asked. In addition to providing readers with theoretical information about these data collection tools, practical issues such as instrument design, desired participant characteristics, and ethical concerns are also discussed. The focus of the next chapter is on the use of observation and case studies in language research. Both techniques are concisely described and advantages and disadvantages for each method are discussed briefly. The final chapter in section two concentrates on the ethical considerations of research. Although each of the previous chapters briefly touched upon the ethical concerns to be kept in mind for each type of elicitation instrument, this chapter speakers to this issue more inclusively and in greater depth. Readers are introduced to the concepts of confidentiality and anonymity, with the difference between the two being emphasized. Data protection laws in effect in the UK are also introduced and briefly explained.
The third section of the book is concerned with the tools and methods for analyzing language data. The first two chapters deal with issues and techniques in transcription of oral data. Transcribing speech is notoriously difficult and time consuming therefore many decisions need to be made to ensure the written account of spoken language is as faithful a representation of what was said as possible. The first chapter introduces phonetic and phonemic transcription by first explaining the difference between the two concepts underlying each techniques. Phonetic transcription is described as somewhat analogous to “an infinite palette of paints” (pg. 190) for which a symbol could be potentially developed for each sound difference detectible by the human ear. Due to this conceivable level of detail, decisions need to be made about which sounds are significantly different enough to warrant their own symbols. Beginning researchers are advised to only transcribe the level of detail they need. Phonemic transcription, on the other hand, requires the transcriber to know to which category of sounds any particular sound belongs. A phoneme symbols list, with illustrative examples, is provided in the chapter. The next chapter deals with orthographic transcription and provides a brief explanation of the concept and a variety of examples to introduce the reader to the conventions in the field. The following chapter is a primer in corpus linguistics. The definition of a corpus and some of the benefits of using one are explained briefly. Additionally, information about corpus analysis software and examples of the types of patterns that can be found is furnished. The reader is provided with resources for locating a corpus that may be of interest and limitations of using corpus data are discussed. The final chapter of section three is devoted to statistical representation of data. Many of the simpler concepts in statistics are introduced in this chapter. While certainly not designed to replace other resources, it provides an appropriate introduction to those readers who may have not yet taken a statistics course. Themes such as descriptive statistics, as well as simple statistical analysis are presented, as is advice for graphically representing statistical data results.
Part four of the book serves as essentially a style manual for presenting research work. The first chapter presents guidelines for referencing sources and answers many commonly asked questions such as “What is the difference between a references list and bibliography?” (p. 234) and “What if there is more than on author with the same surname?” (p. 239). Of course, the answers to these, and the many other questions listed depend on the conventions adopted by a course instructor or academic journal, therefore the information provided in the chapter serves only as a general reference. The second chapter in this section explains plagiarism and gives advice for avoiding it. The next chapter guides new researchers through the process of writing a research report, from brainstorming through polishing the final draft. Suggestions are made for how to identify writing weaknesses and to develop a personal, yet academic writing style. The final chapter of the volume provides guidance to students preparing to make oral presentations. The chapter moves the potential presenter through the process from creation to delivery. This includes general advice about time management, presentation content, visual appearance of slides as well as how to move through them.
Wray and Bloomer have created an exceptional introductory volume, which achieves its self attested goals of being inspiring and encouraging to beginning researchers. Each chapter provides enough information to give a clear overview of the topics being discussed, without bogging down the prose with overly technical or complex information. This is not to say that the text is an easy read. It is however of an appropriate academic level for advanced undergraduate students. The authors have suggested it may also be used for high school students interested in language studies, and while this may be true for exceptional pupils, it would probably overwhelm most students in this demographic group.
Although the authors have not claimed the text to be fully comprehensive, it covers a very wide range of information in a relatively short volume. Despite its topic coverage and manageable length, there is nothing superficial about the information provided. Explanations of concepts, terms and advice for handling the plethora of situations likely to come up in research are concise, yet detailed enough to serve as a truly useful and informative resource.
There is one area of language research however that I would have like to have seen more fully developed, which is vocabulary research. The topic of vocabulary is by no means neglected in the text, however lines of research such as vocabulary load analysis of texts and measurements of vocabulary knowledge could also be of interest to beginning researchers and projects in these areas may be appreciated.
This edition expands upon the previous two by both updating information to keep the volume timely and relevant, and by including two new chapters. The first new chapter deals with computer mediated communication research (Chapter 19). Considering the advances in quantitative linguistic research made possible by corpus methodologies, the inclusion of this chapter provides readers with an important research perspective not offered in previous editions. Therefore, it is an important addition to the volume and makes the selection of this edition over the others a must. The other new chapter is about oral presentation skills (Chapter 24). This chapter is especially useful to all those who may struggle with mastering spoken presentations, undergraduate and graduate students alike. The authors are cognizant of the difficulties many people face in public speaking and offer thoughtful advice for minimizing anxiety. For example, readers are advised to stand firmly on two feet as a strategy for both looking and feeling confident. This chapter is also amazingly thorough of its treatment of presentation details. Using a direct and condensed style that includes mainly the use of bullet-points, the authors provide as much useful information as one may find in a more voluminous and expensive text.
This text seems to have been written primarily for an audience residing in the UK, with several references to the academic and legal system there being made. Nevertheless, these are so few that readers in other countries should not be discouraged by this orientation.
Overall, this book is quite distinctive both in its breadth of information and its accessibility to the fields’ newcomers, thus making it an essential handbook for university students who wish to be oriented in the fields of language studies and linguistics. Instructors who would like to complement their course books with a research-oriented volume that will be broad enough to appeal several different interests, yet supply enough depth to allow students to gain meaningful knowledge, will also find promise in this uniquely conceived volume.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Anna Gates Tapia is the former director of the English Department at the Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja in Ecuador and is currently in her second year as a doctoral student in Applied Linguistics at Northern Arizona University. Her research interests are in the areas of incidental vocabulary learning and corpus based research in vocabulary loads and lexical coverage in both English and Spanish texts.