The Embroidered Wug

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#research-methods posts


Musing about methods of language description

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about research methods. The next step of my PhD program is writing a dissertation proposal — so in a nut shell, I need to decide what questions I’m asking and what methods I’ll use to answer them.

In general, people usually talk about two data sources for language description: elicitation and texts. Elicitation includes asking for translations of words or sentences — “How do you say X in your language?”. Sometimes the researcher will construct a sentence and ask if it’s grammatical, and sometimes people elicit words and sentences using pictures rather than a verbal prompt, but elicitation always means you’re directly asking for a piece of linguistic information. When we say text, on the other hand, we mean a more natural type of speech — for example someone telling a story, or explaining how to do a particular task. A text could be written or spoken; regardless, linguists then search the text for examples of a particular phenomenon and analyze it’s use.

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