Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Quantitative Approach to Speech Communities: Fieldwork Strategies

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Quantitative Approach to Speech Communities: Fieldwork Strategies

Article excerpt


There are various quantitative approaches that a sociolinguist may use while undertaking a research study. This paper aims at enabling researchers to identify and understand these quantitative approaches for effective data collection. These approaches which are simply referred to as fieldwork strategies are meant to give headway into the research. Fieldwork strategies help a researcher in data collection and eliciting of the right information from the sample population. Action research, surveys, case studies and experiments are used by sociolinguist researchers in research studies. The importance of these approaches in fieldwork studies differs from one another hence a researcher must choose the most appropriate approach, one which will result in the best results possible. It is undeniable that while undertaking a research work, a researcher will face several problems which may affect the valid and reliability of the research results. Some of these problems are inaccessible information resources, cost constraints, ethical, and theoretical challenges. Therefore a researcher needs to find ways of mitigating these problems, for instance properly constructed budgetary planning, or looking for funding of research work is one way of dealing with cost constraints. The quantitative approaches are however deemed central in the successful completion of research study, and hence the fieldwork strategy chosen by the researcher will be helpful in mitigating these problems.

Keywords: Speech community, Quantitative approach, Research methods, Fieldwork

1. Defining Speech Community

The human aggregate of any kind that is characterized by regular and frequent interactions through a means of a body of shared verbal signs and set offfrom aggregates that are similar by significant differences in the usage of language is a speech community. Most groups of any permanence whether they are small bands that is bound by face to face contact, modern nations that are divisible into smaller sub-regions, occupational associations or even neighborhood gangs may be viewed as speech communities as long as they depict peculiarities that warrant a special study (Ahearn, 2011).

The definitions of what a speech community is are many and diverse. The concept of speech community has been central in the development of empirical linguistics and has often been used as a theoretical tool by several authors. Peter Patrick in the article "Speech Community" for instance analyses the history of the speech community concept and its diverse use in linguistics, and identifying the origin of many of the problems of the concept at the linguistic intersection with social history as the communities of speech framing often stresses or hides ideologies behind certain models of societies. Historically Leonard Bloomfield is considered as the father of the concept of speech community from his concept of utterance as an act of speech and the assumption that utterances within communities are partly alike. Other authors such as Gumperz, Duranti, Labov have expanded on this concept within the sociolinguistics field. If caution is exercised, the idea of a group of people sharing the way they speak can be useful even though these definitions may defer. When there is a strict normative position implying too much rigidity in a social structure then looser definitions should be preferred. Romaine for instance has one such definition where a speech community is defined as a group of people not necessarily sharing the same language yet sharing a set of rules and norms for the use of language. Here speech communities have boundaries between them that are more social rather than linguistic. What this definition shows is that a speech community may be diverse socially and it is not mandatory that its members share a main language but communication with each is for special purposes (Tosca, 2002)

The concept of speech community therefore implies that the significance of local knowledge and communicative competence is bound in discursive activities in that members can easily identify outsiders from insiders, those living in borderlands and contact zone, and those passing as members. …

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