Methods in contemporary linguistics

Methods in contemporary linguistics. Ed. by Andrea Ender, Adrian Leemann, and Bernhard Wälchli. (Trends in linguistics: studies and monographs 247.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2012. Pp. xiii, 536. ISBN 9783110284669. $168 (Hb). Reviewed by Natalia Levshina, Université catholique de Louvain

This book is a festschrift in honor of Iwar Werlen, whose impressive multifaceted research agenda spans from Swiss dialectology and multilingualism to linguistic relativity, onomastics, and the theory of ritual. The diversity of Werlen’s methodological tools matches the breadth of his theoretical interests. This book presents a panorama of methodological issues in variational linguistics and typology, psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics, and functionally oriented and historical linguistics. One of the central aims of the book is to increase methodological awareness and make the methodological discourse in linguistics more explicit. Rather than focusing on specific methods, the contributions raise the discussion to a more general epistemological level, considering such topics as the relationships between linguistic-specific and universal scientific methods, the empirical cycle of linguistic research, relationships between qualitative and quantitative methods, hermeneutic issues of text interpretation, multi-methods approaches and triangulation, and many others.

The book contains a collection of twenty high-quality articles on diverse methodological issues in crosslinguistic and language-internal variation, language processing, production and acquisition, and other topics. Many articles present innovative methodologies, such as in Bernhard Wälchli’s contribution on indirect measurements in morphological typology or in Ruprecht von Waldenfels’ article on the use of parallel corpora in linguistic research. Some offer an overview of the state of the art in a specific research domain, discussing, for example, different methods in research on modality (Johan van der Auwera and Gabriele Diewald’s article) or the experimental paradigm in psycholinguistics (Constanze Vorwerg’s contribution). Yet another type is represented by the articles that identify a methodologically problematic area in a linguistic subdomain and offer a solution: for example, Raphael Berthele’s multi-method approach to multilingualism, Penny Boyes Braem’s proposals regarding the annotation of signed languages, and Daniel Perrin’s use of dynamic systems theory in research on ‘real-world’ writing.

As the editors write in the introduction, the book as a whole follows a bottom-up approach. This means that the book provides a mosaic of methods, rather than one universal framework. However, this collection of articles gives a good idea of the methodological diversity in contemporary linguistics, and the critical and innovative approach of most papers is definitely though-provoking. Although many case studies deal with the complex linguistic landscape of Switzerland, which is not surprising in a book dedicated to Iwar Werlen, the book will be of interest to any linguist who works or is planning to work with empirical data.