Appraisal of an existing sociolinguistic study

Assignment Details:


You should write an appraisal of an existing sociolinguistic study (either one looked at on the module – e.g. Labov’s Vineyard study; Labov’s New York Department Store study;  the Milroys’ Social Network study of Belfast Communities; Eckert’s Belten High study; Watt’s Tyneside Dialect Levelling study; Buchstaller’s Attitude analysis of Quotatives-  or one independently sourced) which focuses on the methodological approach and research design adopted (e.g. methods of data collection, analytical approach, presentation of results, ethical considerations) and which evaluates the appropriateness of the methodology, its advantages and disadvantages, for the study’s aims.


Your answer should initially summarise the findings of the study, then go on to adopt a critically reflective perspective, which analyses the methods and procedures of the study in an analytical and scholarly way. You should discuss the study from its original source or sources (so avoid secondary accounts of studies), and for large studies whose findings are published across more than one source, you might look at more than one publication, or conversely, focus in on one aspect of the study published in one source. You could engage with other critical sources that have also appraised these studies and consider studies that have attempted to replicate their findings where appropriate.


Possible Structure

As the description above suggests, you should initially summarise your chosen study. This involves first describing the study’s aims (what was it attempting to do? what research questions was it asking? what hypothesis did it present?), research design (what sort of data did it collect (e.g. interviews, naturally occurring)? how did it sample the data (e.g. random stratified?) how were the informants approached? (e.g. friend of a friend). What were the linguistic and social variables? (e.g. vowel centralisation; social class and gender) and research findings (what were the results?). This section should be approximately a quarter to a third of your answer (circa 400-500 words).

The second, and longer part of your essay (circa 1,000-1,100 words) should constitute an evaluation of the study’s methods and procedures and engage more critically with the study’s research design and its ability to respond to the research questions and aims it originally set out. This might involve focusing on the study’s research questions and/or hypothesis/hypotheses and considering in turn the effectiveness of the choice of a) data collection b) sampling technique and c) choice of social and linguistic variables, in their ability to answer or support these. Did they convincingly answer the research questions posed or support the research hypothesis? Were there any obvious limitations to the study and its design? What were the criteria for identifying social groups? You might consider detailing the advantages of the study’s methods and design followed by its disadvantages. What might a follow up study looking at the same sociolinguistic focus do differently? Were there any ethical issues that the study perhaps did not fully take into account? You should conclude with a summarising paragraph that sets out the main points of your critical analysis.

As stated above, you could engage with other critical sources that have also evaluated these studies and consider studies that have attempted to replicate their findings where appropriate (e.g. Patrick-André Mather (2012) The social stratification of /r/ in New York City: Labov’s department store study revisited. Journal of English Linguistics 40 (4): 338-365.)

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