Biber, Milroy and Bell

reading different articles from the excellent book, style and sociolinguistic variation. the material is somewhat heavy and i think i am in need of a bit of chocolate to keep me going

This is what i have understood so far:

Biber claims that Bells view (that style presupposes the social) is off and that it is actually the communicative functions of language that trump or at the very least, influence social variation. However, Milroy counters that if you delve deeper into communicative functions that you will actually find the classic sociolinguistic finding that if a feature is found to be more common in the lower classes than in the upper classes, it will also be more common in the less formal than the most formal styles. (from Biber/Romaine 1980:228). All seem to agree that differential access by social groups to communicative praxis and to literacy practices are central to an account of differentiated linguistic repertoires (Milroy, this volume:268).

How does this apply?

Well, online you have a strange language contact situation. You do not have one geographical community of practice – although you do have a (depending on the community) fairly strong associations with your community. It would be nice and convenient to say that communication is the clear goal of blogging – but we all know that is not true. As in any other COP, networking (through linking, reference, etc) is nearly (if not as) important as communication.

But I am still trying to figure out what are the best variables to look at when studying blogging COPs. I like Bibers situational parameters: planning, shared context and purpose. I also like Bells concept of audience design. I agree with Milroy that it is not only about the communicative function, but that there are underlying social parameters at work as well so how do you blend these theories? Which variables will help me understand what is going on?

How do we answer the ‘how’?

We will leave here today and our language will have changed by the interaction that has taken place.’ –Nev Shrimpton

This was the closing thought one of our corpus linguists left us with after his very interesting seminar on Friday. And, while it is an exaggeration for emphasis, it is also true. Communication is a constant state of negotiation, and language in continuous flux. Those with whom we come into contact modify our language. We speak a certain way with a certain group, and even with ourselves. And while that thought in itself is interesting, even more so is the ‘how’. How does our language change (variation)? How do we use language to communicate in different situations and with different people? How do we do this when taking into consideration the ‘invisible readers’ of blogs and people outside our real-world sociolects (often limited geographically to a select group of speakers)? I believe that blogs are a exceptional object of research to answer this ‘how’. Blogs are social. We have established that they form social networks. The clustering/small world effects allow us to look for variation in regards to perceived general audience as well as to perceived social network. So again, how do we answer the ‘how’. Several ways, I would say.

Social network analysis:

    Where are people positioned in their network? How fluid are those positions? How often (if at all) do their interact with members of other networks?

Corpus Linguistics:

    1. Are different networks using their blogs in different ways? To begin to find this out, I want to identify the registers of different networks. I believe this is key. Are some more speech like than others? Are some more matter-of-fact, some more questioning? Where do they fall on the continuum of speech and writing? Does this differ between the different types of weblog networks? To find this out, I must tag for parts of speech. I will use grammatical patterns, rather than semantic, to determine register.

There are other important and interesting things to look at when using corpus methods. For example, you can use look at pronouns and nouns to measure referring expressions. I think this can be quite interesting, especially when considering that following discourse over different weblogs is not an easy task. This, of course, cannot be done purely from the corpus. You need to take into account whether or not the noun is new or given information. I think whether or not it is also a link will also be significant.

Semantic patterns are also very interesting and will play an important role in determining the register of a group. While this can be done with keyword lists, I think a much better and more useful way *is* with tOKo. You not only get the unique patterns, but their social relations as well. This makes intuitive guesses much less about intuition and more about measurement.

Sociolinguistic:

    How do their positions relate to language maintenance and variation (is there a relationship between the fluidity of placement and variation?)? What about other social variables? Does ‘real-world position’ (i.e. professor rather than a grad student in an academic network) make a difference? Gender? Geography?

About using XML files: The XML files I have at the moment are already tagged for author and URL, which will make exploring social and linguistic relationships easier. I want to add tags which will allow me to explore on different levels; not least, grammatical and syntactic.