classic case of chicken and the egg?

So tell me, which came first: gender or purpose? what, you ask well, let me explain. last night i spent a long, lovely time in the bathtub reading Jennifer Coates introductory book, Women Men and Language. In the chapter discussing quantitative studies, Coates exemplified the classic sociolinguistic gender pattern: i.e., that men tend to speak in regional dialects, while women tend to strive for the standard dialect (due to reasons such as prestige and covert prestige). All the studies shown in this book were separated by *both* gender and socioeconomic patterns. Which makes me wonder it the emphasis on the socioeconomic does not skew the findingsat least making it difficult to say that it is only gender at work. What makes me question this mix are the findings I have read in the last two days by Herring, as well as by Huffaker and Calvert. Both studies (and I will look more at the Huffaker/Calvery article later), showed non-significant relationship with gender and variables traditionally associated with gender. There was a much stronger correlation with genre. And this makes me start to think if gender can be more easily disguised online, and patterns hereto associated with gender are not present in any significant way, then maybe gender was not the defining characteristic after all. Maybe features traditionally associated with gender (hedging, pronoun usage, etc.) have much more to do with the communicative purpose and the audience than the speaker/writer’s gender.

Comparing these off-line and online patterns is helping me focus my next hypotheses (article forthcoming). One aspect I want to examine is each posts communicative purpose and intended audience to determine if patterns traditionally associated with the bloggers gender could actually be originating from the purpose.

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?

new (to me) theorist

I found a new name today and really like her take on discourse markers:

Deborah Schiffrin on discourse markers (somewhat paraphrased from The Handbook of Discourse Analysis):

  • Discourse as not only a unit of language, but as a process of social interaction
  • Discourse markers as sequentially dependent elements that bracket units of talk, i.e. nonobligatory utterance – initial items that function in relation to ongoing talk and text
  • a set of linguistic expressions such as conjunctions, interjections, adverb and lexicalized phrases.
  • A discourse model with different planes: participation framework, information state, ideational structure, action structure, and exchange structure
  • can work across 1 or several
  • markers have both global and local functions

this little bit in The Handbook has intrigued me, not least the bits about working on several planes and the global and local functions, and I would like to get my hands on more of her work.

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.