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First foray into the world of blogging


/taps heads thinking of a first witty blog post topic

/fails to think of a first witty blog post topic

/just type and see what happens

/fingers crossed

Ok, so first thing’s first. My name’s Rob and I’m a linguist. And a social one at that. Now, that’s not to say that all linguists are necessarily anti-social and I’m somehow the exception to the rule. Instead, it’s more a (poor) play on words. You see, not only am I a social linguist, but I’m also a sociolinguist. Of course, now you’re probably thinking to yourself ‘what’s a sociolinguist?’ and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s one of the less likely encountered job roles in modern day society, much like chimney-sweeps or candle-stick makers or competent call-centre workers.

Well, a sociolinguist is (generally) interested in the relationship between language and society. This is a bit of a cop-out all-encompassing term which covers a whole bunch of things. To give you a full picture of what sociolinguistics involves would take a lot more typing effort than I’m perhaps capable of in a first post, but I can at least give you a bit of a flavour of what kinds of things the field focuses on. For example, there are sociolinguists who are interested in language and gender (e.g. Deborah Cameron and Jennifer Coates), there are sociolinguists who are interested in political discourse (e.g. Ruth Wodak), there are sociolinguists who are interested in statistical analysis of speech data (e.g. William Labov) and there are sociolinguists who are interested in bilingualism and ethnicity (e.g. Carmen Fought). This is to say nothing about those researchers who focus on particular geographical areas, particular socio-demographic categories, particular levels of language (grammar, lexis, phonology, discourse) and particular types of data (written/spoken/computer mediated). So yeah, sociolinguistics is a pretty large field, but it’s also a relatively new one, especially compared to other fields of linguistics like grammar. Indeed, William Labov was the first researcher to conduct the first ‘proper’ sociolinguistic study out in Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts in the 1960s (I should say that I’m using quote marks here not because the study wasn’t actually a proper one, but mainly that although there are earlier studies which might fall under the term ‘sociolinguistic research’, it’s from Labov’s study that the term ‘sociolinguistic’ enters usage in mainstream linguistics terminology). What Labov found in Martha’s Vineyard was massively important in understanding how language and social issues were inextricably linked, but the whole story will have to wait until a future post.

So yeah, I’m a sociolinguist. As I said, it’s not a particularly common job designation and definitely not the kind of job I thought I’d end up doing when I was 16 years old (I wanted to join the RAF, but that’s also another story).

Well, that’s some of my academic background, but I probably should tell you a little bit more about who I am and what I’m doing infiltrating the blogosphere with my writing.

We’ve covered the fact that I’m a sociolinguist, but I’m also a university lecturer (most linguists are also academics. It’s the curse of the specialised job market we occupy. Linguistics isn’t usually something people take up as a hobby). I lecture at Birmingham City University and I’m not at all scared of putting that out into the public domain (honest!). One of the things I’ve been wrestling with over the past couple of years is the fact that academics are becoming more and more removed from the people and the things we’re supposed to be interested in (cities, people, art, literature, the public etc etc). We go away and we do this (occasionally very interesting) research. But then once the research is done, we seem to have a bad habit of keeping it all to ourselves and not sending it out into the ‘real world’ where it might actually have a demonstrable impact (I’ve been reliably informed the ‘real world’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This might have been one influencing factor on me staying in academia). And this idea of impact is something that the Research Councils UK (RCUK) are having a bit debate about at the moment: how far should research have ‘impact’ (another important question is; ‘what is impact?’).

This is my small attempt at establishing a ‘web presence’ and about trying to engage with those from outside academia (i.e. to do ‘impact’). After all, as academics, we have a responsibility to get our research out there into the public eye and to showcase the kind of cutting edge research that’s happening in universities. Unfortunately, UK academics have only really just started to hop on the blogging bandwagon and perhaps for good reason. It’s time-consuming, it’s an effort, and a blogger perhaps can’t put certain things out into the public domain since they’ve (willingly) divested their right to anonymity (at least if it’s a professional blog). Consequently, this isn’t (and can’t be) a blog about how much I hate my work, how awful the students are, and how much I can’t wait to leave (for the sake of clarity, I love my work, my students are awesome, and I really don’t want to leave). Instead, this blog is a place where I can talk about my research, about being an academic, a lecturer and a scholar, about the random and not-so-random going ons in my life, and really about whatever floats my boat.

I’m sure it will take a while to get a decent readership going (but really, who doesn’t want to read about F1 and F2 measurements of Glaswegian adolescent males??), and I’m sure I’ll learn loads as I go along. I want to do this properly and not ditch it in six months with four blog-posts, so I’m going to update regularly (plans are for every week at the moment) and I’ll try and talk about some of the interesting things I’m working on.

I’ve got a twitter-feed (@Dr_Bob82), so add me 🙂

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  1. July 5, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Awesome first post. I might have easily become a sociolinguist if I hadn’t had my heart set on speech-language pathology when I started my linguistics courses (in both anthropology and psych departments in my undergrad).

    Great foray into the blogging world! You’ve inspired me to finish off those 3 blogs posts I’ve had half written for 2 months – haha.

    I’ve added you to my Google Reader feed 🙂


  2. July 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Tanya, and thanks for the comment. Glad to have inspired you to finish off your posts.

    Shame you never followed the sociolinguistics path though. It’s far more fun than other branches of linguistics 😉

    • July 5, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      I agree that it would have been a fun avenue (for me, although woe to my friends if I were to talk about work in any respect whatsoever!) but what could be more fun than getting paid to play preschool games at work, I ask you? Ok, I don’t get to do that anymore; now I say “point to… the spotted puppy is in the box… point to… she is wearing her new raincoat although she doesn’t need it…” and so on. Kinda boring, I have to admit, although figuring out the puzzle of why kids are making specific errors is great fun sometimes. I’ve become an assessment donkey at work but that’s OK, I’m still happy with speech pathology.

      I *do* get to inflict–er *share* my love of phonetics/IPA with poor, unsuspecting, students every fall. That’s great fun and sates me for now!

  3. July 5, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    I think the biggest thing that I admire about SLP work is that you make an impact on someone’s life and figure out why the speakers are producing particular errors (as you say). In sociolinguistics, there’s perhaps fewer opportunities to make a change in the world and that annoys me quite a bit…

    But well done you on striking fear into students with IPA. I might have to adopt that approach with my own students 😉

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