Monthly Archives: February 2013

Scientific methods for the humanities

Scientific methods for the humanities. By Willie van Peer, Frank Hakemulder, and Sonia Zyngier. (Linguistic approaches to literature 13.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. xxii, 328. ISBN 9789027233479. $149 (Hb).

Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, University of Nizwa

This monograph is directed at graduate students in the humanities who are considering undertaking empirical research or those who, while possessing some experience, wish to develop their use of empirical research methods. While some coverage of qualitative research is provided, the main focus is on quantitative studies. Throughout the book, the authors argue for a more rigorous approach to research on cultural phenomena in the humanities through the collection and examination of empirical data.

The book comprises twelve chapters. The first chapter provides a general introduction to the place of empirical research in the humanities, demonstrating how data collection can be relevant to our reception and understanding of literary texts. This chapter closes with an afterword in which the authors present and critically discuss common beliefs held in the humanities regarding the intrinsic difference between research in the sciences and humanities. This section serves to interact with the reader by questioning assumptions and entrenched positions on the nature of research in the humanities.

Ch. 2 offers an overview of basic scientific concepts, followed by an introduction to the conceptualization of a research project and compilation of background literature. Ch. 4 looks at data collection from a qualitative research perspective, while the subsequent two chapters focus on designing and implementing questionnaires and experiments for the purpose of quantitative data collection. Chs. 7–11 focus on the analysis of data using SPSS software, beginning with entering data and proceeding to analyzing data using descriptive and inferential statistics.

To assist the reader with the abstract nature of quantitative research methods, most chapters close with a reference to exercises available on the publisher’s website. The final chapter provides the reader with instruction for preparing a paper for a conference presentation and journal submission. The text ends with an epilogue in which the authors counter lingering scepticism regarding the suitability of empirical research in the humanities; the reader may wonder whether a glossary of key terms employed throughout the text might be more useful at this point.

This is an outstanding book and one that will likely prompt many scholars from the humanities to consider how an empirical approach to research may contribute new insights to their particular fields. It takes the reader from a basic introductory level to a level of understanding the fundamentals of using scientific software for data analysis. Although there are many texts on the market offering an introduction to research, few are directed specifically towards students from the humanities or are written in an easily comprehensible, though still scholarly, style.

This book is very accessible to an international readership on account of the absence of unnecessarily idiomatic language and cultural references that assume in-depth understanding of sociocultural phenomena common in Western Anglophone countries. This book is highly recommended as a reference text or course text for both graduate students and teachers of research methodology.

Academic writing in a second or foreign language

Academic writing in a second or foreign language: Issues and challenges facing ESL/EFL academic writers in higher education contexts. By Ramona Tang. New York: Continuum, 2012. Pp. 272. ISBN 9781441112163. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, University of Nizwa

This recent publication on second-language writing in academic contexts brings together three strands of research: acquiring academic writing skills, characteristics of second-language writing, and themes relating to writer identity.

In the first section, themes related to the status of English as an international language of academia and research are explored. The first contribution describes the implementation of a program to train mid-career Chinese scientists to write up research in English at a standard appropriate for publication. By making writing and publication practices explicit, the program appears to bolster the participants’ confidence in their ability to publish internationally. The second contribution describes the use of electronic corpus analysis in training second-language writers to perceive semantic and discursive characteristics of reporting verbs as they appear in different sections of an article. The topic of reporting verbs is taken up later in the text in an examination of how reader presence or stance may be expressed through the choice of a reporting verb.

Chinese student feedback preferences comprise the subject of the following study. Despite previous positive experience with peer feedback, the undergraduate students included in the study express preferences for teacher feedback, the reasons for which may be partly cultural. The final contribution in this section examines the social context in which doctoral students undertake the writing of their dissertation; rather predictably, time management and motivational issues are highlighted, but also supervisory concerns owing to the potentially conflicting expectations held by many (particularly international) students regarding the role of their supervisor.

The second section opens with an analysis of conclusions to PhD theses, which identifies the heterogeneity of how a concluding section is structured and formulated across various disciplines. A study that follows addresses shell nouns, pointing to the narrower range of functions of this type of noun in writing produced by highly proficient undergraduate second-language writers when compared to their peers writing in their first language. This section closes with a study of the use of graphs and other visuals in the work of non-native speaking students at British universities, which, as the author demonstrates, constitute an important channel to convey key information among this group of students in particular.

The final section, ‘identity work’, opens with a descriptive, reflective study of graduate-level students with highly proficient language skills in multiple languages, and how such bi- or multilingual speakers label themselves and respond to labels imposed upon them. The final chapter (from the editor) explores the many benefits that scholars bring to international research communities through insider knowledge of different cultural practices and academic traditions.

This is a professionally produced compendium of different voices and topics, which provides graduate students and scholars with an overview of current themes in second-language writing research.

Structural ambiguity in English

Structural ambiguity in English: An applied grammatical inventory. By Dallin D. Oaks. Vol. 2. New York: Continuum, 2010. Pp. x, 274. ISBN 9781847064158.

Reviewed by Anish Koshy, The EFL University

This second volume of a two-volume set is divided into four parts and consists of Parts 3–6. Part 3 provides a detailed inventory of the structural possibilities with closed-class items. Parts 4 and 5 take up syntactic factors like scope, modification, and ellipsis, which contribute to ambiguity, and Part 6 concludes the discussion with formulas that can be exploited for such uses as jokes, advertisements, business logos, greeting cards, bumper stickers, and headline captions.

Ch. 10 deals with the role of pronouns in creating structural ambiguity. Ambiguity results when pronouns refer to different referents, are interpreted in idiomatic expressions, assume the same forms in different grammatical roles, and involve varying degrees of inclusivity in plural forms. Ch. 11 explores the role of prepositions in creating ambiguity. Prepositions can have multiple meanings, which may be metaphorically and idiomatically extended, may be homophonous with other grammatical elements, or may be confused with particles in phrasal verbs. Ch. 12 explores coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. Conjunctions cause ambiguity by way of their multiple interpretations, their conjunctive vs. disjunctive uses, the omission of information in coordinated structures, and their variable scope and modification potential.

Ch. 13, the first in Part 4, deals with nominal modifiers, which include other nouns, adjectives, determiners, post- and pre-determiners, and restrictors. Their optionality, ability to hide distinctions between different subtypes of nouns, and membership in and ability to modify members of multiple word-classes can all lead to ambiguity. Ch. 14 deals with post-modification ambiguity in nouns and verbs found in prepositional phrases and clauses, apart from ‘dangling’, ‘squinting’, and ‘sentential’ modifiers. Negation leads to focus and scope ambiguity.

Ch. 15, the first in Part 5, discusses structural ambiguity due to ellipsis, even when one is only assumed. Elliptical structures involving auxiliaries, gapping, imperative verbs, infinitive clauses, and verbless clauses are discussed. Ch. 16 explores ambiguity involving questions and reported speech. Questions can be elliptical, and involve movement, while reported speech inverts questions into statements and changes tense and deictic references. Ch. 17, the last in Part 5, discusses the potential of idioms, exclamations, and multiword verbs (phrasal verbs) in creating ambiguity, largely due to the possibility of their being literally interpreted apart from their fixed meanings.

Ch. 18, constituting Part 6, forms the conclusion of the two volumes. It provides illustrative formulas to help consciously construct structural ambiguity in order to facilitate word-play. The book ends with useful appendices, including a list of consonant and vowel substitutions, formulas for words with competing word classes, formulas for multiword verbs, formulas for participles, formulas for compound nouns, and concord problems.

This book provides useful insights into the conscious manipulation of language for multiple purposes. Though reducing human creativity to a list of formulas might appear too simplistic, this book can be used as a starting point. Linguists will find the examples and discussions useful, though they may not approve of the author’s propensity to use the same examples as instances of structural ambiguity of different word-classes.

Structural ambiguity in English

Structural ambiguity in English: An applied grammatical inventory. By Dallin D. Oaks. Vol. 1. New York: Continuum, 2010. Pp. x, 264. ISBN 9781847064158.

Reviewed by Anish Koshy, The EFL University

This book, the first volume in a two-volume set, is divided into two parts. It contains Part 1, which sets the background by concentrating on theoretical and structural factors, and Part 2, which provides a detailed inventory of the structural possibilities of open-class items.

Ch. 1 discusses the deliberate creation of structural word-play by way of an inventory of formulas that exploit homonyms, gaps, and vulnerability in the grammatical system. What is and is not an instance of structural ambiguity is also laid out here. Ch. 2 focuses on the role of contextual information in clarifying and creating structural ambiguity. Contextual information includes world knowledge and assumptions about the intention of a speaker, ambiguity in telegraphic speech and other registers, age of a text, and expected/assumed competence of speakers, among other features.

Ch. 3 deals with phonological factors that lead to multiple structural interpretations, exploiting phonological processes that erase or smudge distinctions by creating homophones or near-homophones by way of assimilation, epenthesis, or deletion. Uncertainty about word-boundaries in speech and indeterminacy of vowels in unstressed syllables can also be exploited. Ch. 4 focuses on structural ambiguity in various clause types, mostly due to the misanalysis of auxiliaries as main verbs and of main verbs as participial/adjectival complements, or by the masking of subject-verb concord in passives and with modals. Ch. 5, which concludes Part 1, explores morphological features resulting in ambiguity. This includes homophonous affixes like –s and affixes with multiple meanings, and also the potential for incorrect analysis of a linguistic element as an affix that is actually part of the root or base of a word.

Part 2 begins with Ch. 6, which explores the contribution of nouns to structural ambiguity. Nouns can lead to ambiguity by way of the homophonous plural marker –s, optional determiners with some nouns, and the homophony of proper nouns and titles with common nouns. The interpretation of compounds as modifier+noun can also contribute to ambiguity, and there is inherent ambiguity in interpreting compounds. Chs. 7 and 8 explore structural ambiguity in terms of the structural capabilities of transitive and linking/intransitive verbs, respectively, to build multiple sentence/clause types. These depend on the reinterpretation of objects/complements as the other, or in interpreting what follows the verb as a clause/phrase/phrase+complement. Ch. 9 explores structural ambiguities involving adjectives and adverbs by addressing homophony between the two, the ability of adverbs to modify words belonging to more than one word class, inherent and non-inherent meanings, and the transitive/intransitive use of adjectives.

The expected audience being diverse, this book deliberately avoids using much linguistic terminology and, where it does, it provides useful explanations. This book is a positive addition to work on humor and word-play in the linguistic literature. Many examples have been provided to support the arguments presented. Linguists will find the book useful in their classrooms, although at times they may find the repetition of the same examples under different grammatical categories to be superfluous or even unjustified.

Quantitative methods in corpus-based translation studies

Quantitative methods in corpus-based translation studies: A practical guide to descriptive translation research. Ed. by Michael P. Oakes and Meng Ji. (Studies in corpus linguistics 51.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. x, 361. ISBN 9789027203564. $149 (Hb).

Reviewed by Taras Shmiher, Ivan Franko National University

This book explores the essential quantitative methods in corpus-based translation studies. It is divided into four sections and accompanied by a preface, a list of contributors, eight appendices, and a subject index.

Part 1 looks at theoretical explorations, focusing on the interplay between qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (3–34) applies cognitive linguistic methods and investigates explicit corpus-based data with a more tacit semantic enquiry. Stefan Th. Gries and Stefanie Wulff (35–52) report on how to compute simple binary logistic regressions and linear regressions with an open-source programming language. Analytical frameworks proposed by Meng Ji (53–72) integrate quantitative and qualitative analyses of textual and contextual events and facts of translation.

Part 2 contains more technical detail and case studies. Lidun Hareide and Knut Hofland (75–113) present the compilation process of the Norwegian Spanish Parallel Corpus at the University of Bergen along with some preliminary findings of this research. Michael P. Oakes (115–47) concentrates on descriptive statistics, verifying the use of terms and phenomena like ‘average’ occurrence, ‘bell curve’, vocabulary richness, and collocations. Various clustering techniques as well as methods for document processing, discussed in the article by Shih-Wen Ke (149–74), can reveal information about linguistic similarities from translational corpora.

Part 3 is devoted to the quantitative exploration of literary translation. Investigating the stylistic profiles of the early English translations of Cao Xueqin’s masterpiece Dream of the Red Chamber, Meng Ji and Michael P. Oakes (177–208) incorporate a set of bivariate statistics, commonly used in the comparison of corpora. A comparative stylometric analysis of James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ in Turkish translation is the object of study in the article by Jon M. Patton and Fazli Can (209–29). In addition, Jan Rybicki (231–48) contributes to machine-learning stylometric distance methodology by applying Burrow’s delta method to translations and evaluating the empirical results.

Part 4 acquaints the reader with quantitative exploration of translation lexis. In his article, Meng Ji (251–73) presents how the development of a working scientific language impacted the establishment of China’s early modern scientific identity, which also is the result of its increasing engagement with Occidental concepts and idea sets. Alexandre Sotov (275–99) explores tools of corpus linguistics and game theory applied to an aligned parallel corpus of the ancient Indian religious poetry ‘Rigveda’ and its translations in German and Russian, where such techniques as transcription and explicitation are used. Multivariate techniques as factor analysis, principal component analysis, and correspondence analysis are exemplified in the Gard B. Jenset and Barbara McGillivray’s study (301–23) of the productivity and usage of derivational affixes in English-language translations. Gert De Sutter, Isabelle Delaere, and Koen Plevoets (325–45) report on the long-standing issue in translation studies regarding why translated texts differ from the non-translated texts in the same language. The findings show significant differences between the two categories of texts, and how linguistic behavior varies with text type and source language.

This book will contribute to the need for a systematic description of various statistical tests adapted for translation research purposes.