This Blog began as a Professional Portfolio for a Proseminar course that I took in 2012 as part of the Georgetown MLC program (which I describe elsewhere on the blog), but it soon developed a life of its own! I found that between work, school, and various media sources my head was about to explode from too much information. So this blog developed as a place for me to synthesize it all.
As you poke around, you will learn more about sociolinguistics, about research methodology, and about the fast changing world of social science research. My goal is to explore, to keep current, to act as an ambassador to events and readings, and to keep grounded in the quality controls built into high quality research models. I aim to explore a world of research that is deeply conscious of its strengths and weaknesses and not stymied by the artificial walls that disciplinarity creates. Thank you for visiting!
Please feel free to linger and discuss.
Welcome to my blog!
My name is Casey Langer Tesfaye. I am the Lead Project Manager at Research Support Services, Inc. Before that, I was a Manager and Lead Data Scientist in the behavioral methods group within Nielsen’s Audience Measurement Data Science organization. Before I joined Nielsen, I worked in Neuropsychology and Public Health and then spent over 15 years as a professional survey researcher. In 2013 I completed the Masters in Language and Communication program at Georgetown University.
That seems like a strange combination…
I enjoy staying at the forefront of the changing world of survey research. Survey researchers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. I believe that sociolinguistic methodology will be an increasingly integral aspect of survey research, and the wider field of social science research, as technology continues to evolve. Both fields of study are focused on research methodology, flexible, and applicable to a wide variety of fields. I have worked in the fields of neuropsychology, fMRI research, and education and employment research in a variety of contexts, all while developing methodological expertise.
Can you give an example?
Sure! I wrote an article, which is available on my research page, about the potential of grammar based programming strategies to unlock linguistic patterns in textual data. These same strategies can be used for any body of text, including responses to open ended survey questions, conversational transcripts and social media content. Some organizations, such as Pew Charitable Trusts, are already beginning to use these strategies. In the world of survey research, a sociolinguist can investigate the success or failure of survey questions and offer advice about the construction of simple, effective questions that successfully elicit responses that are conceptually and functionally in line with the goals of the researcher. A sociolinguist could apply an understanding or analysis of the role of native terms to survey development to look critically at individual items for potential gaps in understanding or differences in usage or meaning, making sure that all of the respondents see and respond to survey items in comparable ways. Also some sociolinguists focus on the dynamics of research interviews.
Sociolinguistics could be used to better inform the work of a survey researcher, or to employ complementary research strategies to enhance research reports.
What is Linguistics?
Linguistics is the multi-leveled study of language. As language users, we tend to think about language in terms of its content, but linguists focus on the patterns that result from the wide array of conscious and unconscious decisions we make when we communicate. These decisions are much deeper and more systematic than the language that we choose to express ourselves in or the topics we chose to talk about. The patterns in language can range from the sounds we make and words we form to the ideational context of the thoughts we express. There is so much encoded in our communication, that linguists have quite a bit to study in even the simplest encounters.
Sociolinguistics is simply linguistic study that is focused on the sociocultural.
So you speak a lot of languages?
A polyglot speaks a lot of languages. People who study linguistics are often polyglots, but not vice versa. I dabble in a few languages, but I’m certainly no polyglot. While language choice is interesting, it is definitely not my focus. My focus is on research methodology and the many research strategies that sociolinguists have access to.
What are some of the research strategies sociolinguists may use?
- Visual Semiotic analysis
- Ethnography of communication
- Corpus linguistics
- Conversation analysis
- Narrative analysis
- Mediated discourse analysis
What kind of data do sociolinguists use?
A sociolinguist can use any kind of linguistic or paralinguistic element as data. Our emphasis is on natural vs experimental data, meaning that we aim to analyze the ways that people naturally communicate instead of the ways in which people communicate in experimental settings. Data can include: gestures, actions, accents, social media content, transcripts, audio recordings, video recordings, formal or informal writing, signs, language policies, classroom interactions, …
What do linguists use these data sources to study?
Linguists may study the effects of language policy, the effectiveness of communicative strategies, problem points within interactions, medical miscommunication, potential linguistic structuring, cognitive representations, narratives, the ways in which people communicate effectively in an online environment, problems with elements in a questionnaire, … Linguists can also isolate and then use patterns in textual data to extract information or themes, like in natural language processing or text analysis.
I’m intrigued. I’d like to hear more!
Great! You are welcome to explore the content of my portfolio further, and leave comments or e-mail me with any questions. Enjoy!