- Experimental Research Methods in Sociolinguistics by Katie Drager
Getting started in the world of sociolinguistics can be an arduous task due to the wide range of options when it comes to methodologies. The so-called experimental method resorts to controlled experiments to which different participants are subjected. In one of the best manuals dedicated to sociolinguistics, Katie Drager—Associate Professor at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa—manages to compact this method from the first and essential phases through the publication of results. "What is covered is a range of different experimental paradigms as well as descriptions of what are currently considered to be the best practices when employing them" (2). Indeed, the first chapters deliver fundamental concepts: from the definition of an experiment to how to carry it out in detail, including necessary equipment, recruitment of participants, and ethical considerations. Through a conversational and informal style, the author balances basic and more advanced aspects [End Page 205] that allow us to develop complete experiments. Drager's innovative manual will surely define some of the most popular trends in the coming years. It fills a gap by applying and extrapolating widely used psychological methods to sociolinguistics.
Of particular relevance are the structure and content of chapters 3 and 4 that treat perception and production respectively. Among the perception experiments, chapter 3 discusses "experimental paradigms that are especially well suited to investigate the more socially focused research questions … and those that are used to examine the cognitive aspects of linguistic structure" (57–58). Methods are proposed for both perception—such as rating, open response, and implicit association tests—and for production with identification, discrimination or matching tasks. In chapter 4, the author details methods that can address a variety of different research questions related to production, including interviews, conversation and corpora, semantic differential questions, map and tangram tasks. Constant examples and two illustrative sample experiments accompany both chapters, along with a wide range of references for learners to become experts in the field.
The following chapter includes methods and theories from other disciplines adapted to sociolinguistics, resulting in an innovative, but challenging, approach since Drager recommends working with additional experts. "I present this chapter merely as a guide to give you enough knowledge to think up some cool research ideas" (118). She certainly succeeds. Eye-tracking, experiments with children or ultrasound provide infinite possibilities to extend sociolinguistic study. As in previous chapters, numerous examples and references to real research are included. To conclude the development of experimental methods, chapter 6 presents "some of the most commonly used statistical methods, stepping through how to pick the right one for your data and how to use R to run the different tests" (134). Both basic qualitative methods—the creation of plots and graphs—and complex quantitative statistical methods—regression models with random effects—are discussed, along with how to interpret and report the results of these analyses. This is an accessible chapter for those readers with limited statistical knowledge since it incorporates a helpful spreadsheet and additional resources in the companion website.
Although I highly endorse the work of Katie Drager, the audience of this manual does not seem to be entirely clear. From the [End Page 206] beginning, it is emphasized that "this book is intended for readers who are unfamiliar with experimental methods but who are at least vaguely interested in using them" (1). However, we soon discover that, in reality, the intended audience is sociolinguists (2) since common concepts in the field such as priming (13), accommodation (23), false-positives (28) or phonetic-reduction (95) are taken for granted without any explanation, while extremely basic concepts like "dependent variable" or "independent variable" (6) are detailed. Due to that, accessibility is partially limited; even though there is a balance between basic and more complex concepts, sometimes the criterion for selecting the elements defined is not clear. Nonetheless, the choice of not emphasizing some terms that every sociolinguist should know is understandable, since defining each one of these would require a much greater length, and her work would cease to be...