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Conducting sociolinguistic research on Englishes near and far


March 27-29

Responsable de l'activité

David Britain


Sue Fox, University of Bern; Dominique Buerki, University of Bern; Tobias Leonhardt, University of Bern


Prof Dr Kazuko Matsumoto, University of Tokyo; Dr. Andrea Sudbury, University of London; Prof Dr David Britain, University of Bern


The aim of this workshop is to consider the practical, methodological and ethical problems of conducting sociolinguistic and dialectological fieldwork on varieties of English. Such fieldwork is time-consuming, expensive, exhausting, fraught with difficulty, ultimately immensely rewarding, yet, it has to be said, an underexposed part of the research process in the sociolinguistic literature. Actual published accounts of the ups and downs of fieldwork experiences are few, and it is difficult to fully appreciate what may lay ahead from simply reading the often brief descriptions in published empirical works based on fieldwork data. One aim is to expose doctoral students to this reality with accounts from the fieldwork ’frontline’. As English becomes a community (if not necessarily a first) language in an ever increasing number of countries, and as linguistic interest in the genesis and nativisation processes of ‘new’ Englishes in these countries becomes greater (witness, for example, a recent flurry of publications on ‘new’ or ‘world’ Englishes (e.g. Filppula et al forthcoming; Kirkpatrick 2007, 2012; Mesthrie and Bhatt 2009; Schneider 2007, 2011), so the study of dialects of English has expanded from a focus on traditional (mostly rural) dialects of the British Isles, to, later, a concentration on the (mostly) urban dialects of all major Anglophone countries, and, further, now, to an interest in the ‘lesser-known’ native-speaker Englishes (such as those of the Falkland Islands and of St Helena), the new Englishes that have developed in second language contexts of (post)colonialism, and those Englishes that have emerged in dominantly Anglophone countries as a result of diasporic migrations to, for example, the UK, the US and Australia (such as the recently studied ’Multicultural London English’). This expansion of interest has a number of methodological consequences for the collection of dialectological data. Firstly there are very practical issues rarely faced when collecting data in major (Westernised) English speaking countries: how does one collect data (or prepare to collect data) in communities where there is no electricity, no back-up supply of equipment, no IT support, no regular transport access? Secondly, there is a need to consider in advance the sociocultural interactional differences that may hinder or facilitate the collection of appropriate linguistic data in communities that are almost certainly entirely unfamiliar to the researcher. Thirdly, ethical issues arise in collecting sociolinguistic data in such communities. What local ethical expectations exist? How well do established ‘Western’ ethical approaches transport to these societies? Presenting how one collects data in such ’extreme’ conditions can expose, as fully as possible, the full range of potential issues a fieldworker might face when collecting dialectological data. The workshop will take the rather polished presentations of spoken data collection techniques that are presented in the published academic literature and subject them to critical scrutiny. How realistic are these accounts of the data gathering process? There will be presentations from leading fieldworkers who will talk about the practical difficulties of such fieldwork and about the trials and tribulations of collecting data that rarely see print. As we have seen, these difficulties are all the more extreme when collecting data in remote and hard to access communities, and so some of the speakers at the workshop, with experience of fieldwork in the Pacific and South Atlantic, will lead sessions exploring the added complications of data collection in such circumstances. The workshop aims, therefore, to raise awareness among young scholars preparing to engage in sociolinguistic research, to help ensure that what is undoubtedly time-consuming, expensive and emotionally intensive fieldwork is as productive, successful and fruitful as possible. It will combine formal lectures with discussion-based seminars and exercises given by scholars with first-hand experience of collecting sociolinguistic data. It will appeal to young scholars of linguistic variation in English, in other languages, as well as to advanced postgraduate students of sociolinguistics and dialectology in general. Invited workshop teachers will be Prof Kazuko Matsumoto (Tokyo University), with wide experience of fieldwork in a number of islands of Micronesia in the Pacific, and Dr Andrea Sudbury (King’s College London), who collected dialectological data in the Falkland Islands. Funds from my own budget will be used to invite two further relevant local speakers to give guest lectures at the workshop.


Gruppenhaus Schloss Muenchenwiler, CH-1797 Muenchenwiler.



Deadline for registration 21.03.2015
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