Theory, Model, Method


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Observing native speakersí actual linguistic behaviour and individual verbal performance is the method commonly applied in collecting linguistic data in social or situational contexts, that is studying language variation with all its phenomena. In some cases observation might include the method of introspection and is seen as a valid support for unclear or unreliable data.

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The most common technique is the observation of recordings of utterances, conversations, etc. produced by native speakers (via tape, written protocols, linguistic diary, etc.) by external observers (usually linguists). Usually, the speakers observed should not know that they are being observed and that their behaviour is under scrutiny. The external observer should be an inconspicuous part of the situation and, at the same time, show some (emotional) distance to the situation (Labovís "observerís paradox"). This technique suits the purpose of gathering primary data (actual utterances). Another technique is the interview where speakers are asked questions about linguistic phenomena, which resembles the use of introspection (See Introspection and Native Speakersí Intuitions). The data is once again tape-recorded. Its status corresponds to that of individually gained intuitions.

The method of observation can be used in an inductive and a deductive way depending on whether, how or to what extent knowledge about the linguistic objects of study is accumulated.

The situations where this data is observed may be a) artificial or experimental or b) natural. Therefore we may gather linguistic data in the field (See Naturalistic data collection: field work) or in experiments. And we may look for quantitative-statistical studies or more qualitative projects (neglecting the factor of statistical significance).

In all cases, the result is a data sample or corpus of data, which the linguist now proceeds to analyse. The data is always authentic, because its empirical existence derives from the way it is gathered (actual spoken or written language forms).