Projects in linguistics and language studies

Projects in linguistics and language studies: A practical guide to researching language. 3rd edn. By Alison Wray and Aileen Bloomer. London: Hodder Education, 2012. Pp. 336. ISBN 9781444145366  $37.95.

Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, University of Nizwa

This updated edition of a popular reference book is an eminently useful guide for bachelor’s and master’s students of language and linguistics throughout their studies. While the description of subject areas and the project ideas are geared towards the study of English linguistics in a native-speaker context, the text could feasibly be used for other languages, particularly the later sections dealing with the practical considerations of undertaking research. The book comprises four sections: areas of study in linguistics, techniques for collecting data, tools for data analysis, and presenting research.

The book begins with an introduction to conducting research for a university course consisting of brief paragraph-long overviews of practical issues involved in conceptualizing and undertaking a data-based research project of dissertation length. Part 1 provides an overview of ten fields of research in linguistics, from psycholinguistics to computer-mediated communication. Each chapter in this section begins with a list of the type of questions or concerns that the literature typically engages with, thus serving to orient the student in the subject area. This is followed by a list of reputable journals that publish research related to the respective field and, in some cases, an overview of introductory terms. The main body of each chapter contains a description of the central themes that comprise each field of research, interspersed with lists of project ideas. While many of these could doubtlessly be lifted from the book and undertaken, others serve to stimulate further thinking.

Part 2 is dedicated to the logistics of undertaking research and explains the various methods that may be employed to compile data. This is followed by a section on how data may be analyzed, focusing on transcribing speech, using corpora, and doing basic statistical analyses. Part 4, the final section, looks at the mechanics of presenting one’s research either in written form or orally. The most general in focus, this section is not specific to language majors, but could be used by students of any discipline.

One of this book’s central objectives is to help students arrive at viable topics for small-scale research, and this is certainly achieved. A second goal is to provide the stimulus and support to language majors to undertake empirical studies involving a basic level of statistical analysis. This is achieved in a gentle, unintimidating manner to coax those wary of numerical or statistical data into action.

Seldom are reference works viewed as complete; this book omits translation and interpreting from the subject areas. Inclusion of these topics would have been welcome, as they are often components of undergraduate degree programs in contexts where English is taught as a second language. Further, considering the utility of this book outside the context of the United Kingdom, a greater number of project ideas for world English dialects would be welcome.

While this book serves the immediate needs and interests of bachelor’s or master’s students, its highly practical orientation and user-friendly organization makes it also a useful source of materials and ideas for instructors of introductory research courses.