Methodology for Research Papers

Handout for Language and Popular Culture

In the papers you have written and will be writing for this course, you need to pay attention to the question of

  1. WHICH METHODOLOGY to use in your analysis of things, and therefore

  2. How to provide evidence for the claims you make that are competent claims in the discipline whose methodology you are using.

    Given the scope of the course (Popular Conceptions of Language), there are only a few approaches that have *already* been used in this area, and if you are going to provide sources, and not try to do "original" research (which is impossible, anyway), you have to use an established methodology (from an established scholarly discipline) and refer to work done in it for support of your various claims.

    Those are:

    1. Marketing and Advertising Research.

      I am not an expert on this, but I have provided you with the one article in the courspak (LeClerc, Schmidt and Dubé), which you can use to some extent to back up your own findings. I have also given you a bibliography on foreign branding or, if you don't find these sources adequate, consult some of the journals cited in the bibliographies given by the various authors of these articles, i.e. journals of marketing research, psychology, etc.

    2. Psychosocial Attitude Studies

      For attitudes about language, you can consult the literature on this that has been carried out since the 1960's beginning in French Canada, known as matched guise research. I mentioned this in class, and can provide some bibliography on it: consult the page on "attitude" research on my webpage. The most useful of these may be Susan Erwin-Tripp's bibliography on the subject.

    3. Linguistic Register

      There is some work done in Linguistics per se on the concept of register and I have given you several handouts on this already:

      What would be interesting I think would be to look at the mixing of registers, or register shift in the material you are examining. If they use some kind of "scientific" register, how do they use (or misuse, or manipulate) it? Do they follow the rules of scientific word-formation (see my note on Pruziner and the prion in the Register handout) or is it "scientistic" or fake-scientific, or what? Within linguistics there has been some attention paid to the advertising register, especially register development in languages that didn't have an advertising register in the past. Look in Linguistics journals (especially applied Linguistics) for some leads. Or do an ERIC search on CD-ROM for the topic of "advertising language".

    4. Film Study resources

      and background are given at this site.

    5. Gender Differences

      If you are looking at gender/sex differences in language and the depiction of this in film, try this bibliography for some resources, or these bibliographies.

    6. Vocal Variables

      If you are also looking at how voice quality is important in the depiction of certain characters, you should look at the following:

      • This table.

      • The book by Scherer and Giles, Social Markers in Speech (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) on reserve in Rosengarten Reserve.

      • Especially useful should be the article by Giles, 'Ethnicity Markers in Speech' provided on-line in the 'Bulkpack Readings' under 'Course Documents' through Blackboard.

    7. My

      bibliographic Resources Page

      has many other bibliographies that you may have missed, that may be relevant to issues you're dealing with.

    8. Sociolinguistic Paradigms.

      The book by Lippi- Green entitled English with an Accent is available for purchase, and is also on reserve in Rosengarten; it deals with many different sociolinguistic approaches to language and accent, etc. Xerox copies of her Chapter 5 which focuses on Disney movies, are in your coursepak.

    9. Film studies

      There is little work done on a language in film within the film studies paradigm, but the focus on *metaphor* is a strong one in film studies, and I put a book with this title on reserve also ( Film and Metaphor Trevor Whittock, Cambridge U. Press, 1990). I've given you a handout on the web on this topic, and I would consider this a strong and useful methodology to use; it's a more "literary" approach but it's important in the study and understanding of meaning especially meaning in film. I also have a bibliography on this site, linked here which should be useful to you.

      I am stressing this business because there is a tendency among many students to not back up claims with evidence from other sources. Or, people do their thinking/writing, and afterwards they cite sources; but often the citation doesn't back up what they claim, or it looks "tacked on". This isn't the point of this kind of research (make claim first, find evidence for it later); you are supposed to have an idea, investigate it, test it, read what others have said, compare your work to theirs, present your results, and do it convincingly .

    10. Other problems

      1. Dealing with Accents.

        I have tried to discuss in class how we need to have a way that you can refer to accents, even stereotypical perceptions of accents, in a 'scientific' way in your papers. The problem is that you haven't had enough linguistic methodology to be able to do this very well.

        Here's a possible solution:

        1. Identify the variables (phonological, vocal, grammatical etc.) that are present in the speech samples you're dealing with.

        2. Check them out in a reliable source. For example, for American speech, go to the phonological atlas page linked on the website here and check out what the variables are for the 'dialect' you're dealing with. For British accents, consult something like Dialectology by J.K. Chambers and Peter Trudgill ( Cambridge, U.K. : New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998, Van Pelt Call Number: P367 .C47 1998), or almost anything written by Peter Trudgill. Chambers and Trudgill's bibliography is also useful, and Lippi-Greene's bibliography is also full of useful sources; and there are other bibliographies and sources listed on the course website.

        3. Take the variables you've identified as stereotypical, and make a scale of 1 to 5 (or 10 or whatever). Low on the scale would be use of a small number of variables (such as no auxiliary verbs, no plural markers, no 3rd person verb markers, confusion of r and l, etc.) while higher on the scale would be occurrence of most or all of these features.

        4. In your study, you could then call the High end "H" (i.e. an "H" scale "accent") and the other end L. If a person is in the middle, use "M" for them. Or use the numbers: 5 vs. 3 vs. 1, etc. Then you can refer to different stereotypes, or different characters who use the variables differently, by their position on the scale, and avoid vague terms like "heavy, strong, broad, broken" etc.

        5. As an example of a kind of ranking of different usages, see the table I have on the web for another course that illustrates different variants of the sentence "He's a man that likes his beer." (Ignore the other tables in that document.) The ranking here is from high usage of "standard" features down to low usage of standard, and more non-standard.)

      2. Review of Literature

        Another general "lack" is that of what is called the Review of the Literature. In the RofLit you tell us which sources you consulted, and are going to use for evidence. (You do not list here the films and/or ads you use as the objects of your study.) You can state this in a very concise and economical way, before you begin to tell us what you have done, and I have given a model for this on the webpage, one that I did for a chapter on language in Alsace (France). This review tells the reader that you have not reinvented the wheel, you have consulted established sources, and are not embarking on some unorthodox idea that is unrelated to anything known to the rest of the world. Most people aren't interested in lone-scientist working 20 hour days in isolated lab to find miracle solutions ignored by the rest of the world-type research. (Depictions of mad scientists working alone in their attics are Hollywood conceptions of science, and occur commonly in popular culture. But they're not accurate depictions of what science is or does.) What people want to know is that your ideas are related to evidence and assumptions and warrants they already share or are willing to accept if your arguments are well-grounded. If you are going to depart from these, you have to show why everybody else is wrong and you are right. (The Unabomber got caught because his ideas were so far-out they could be identified only by his brother; nobody else was interested in them. And the Anthrax bioterrorists will be eventually unmasked by their unusual isolationist behavior as well.)

        Totally out-of-left-field "research" is usually whacko and pseudoscientific (known in some circles as "junk science"); no useful scientific work is ever done that doesn't rest on the work of others, and we want to know how what you are doing is related to what is already known or already assumed. What others have done doesn't have to be the only "truth" but we have to be able to get from the current known truth to a new one.

      3. Summary

        On the question of your summarization, it has to tell us how you have demonstrated the claims that you make in the first paragraph; many of your papers make claims on pg. 1, then we never hear about them again, or you give us totally subjective "evidence". This won't wash.

        Please come to see me or the writing tutor when you get your papers if you don't understand what I am saying, and let's see what can be done to salvage the situation. All of the papers have some merit, and are salvageable, but they all need more work., last modified 10/27/05