Observer's Paradox In Sociolinguistics Studies

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Observer’s paradox has been regarded as one of the obstacles present in gaining a valid account of variation among the subjects of sociolinguistics studies. It is a condition where informants’ behaviour or speech style is affected by the presence or intervention of the observer conducting the interview. For the first half of the essay, I’ll discuss the reasons why Observer’s Paradox might be present during the observation of field works which includes main theories by Labov (1972), Bell (1984) and . As for the second part I’ll indulge into efforts that have been taken to minimise the effects and their limitations. Labov claims that ‘the aim of linguistic research in the community must be to find out how people talk when they are not being…show more content…
This can be achieved by creating a familiar environment or routine to the informant. The researcher should include the informant’s close friends or family members as this would alleviate the tension and encourage a more natural environment. With the presence of familiar people, the informant will be unlikely to change his speech, assuming they had established forms of talking to each other beforehand. Apart from that, researchers would also collect information in between the interview where interruptions occurs & then compare the findings to formal interview occurs. ‘This can be done in various intervals and breaks which are so defined that the subject unconsciously assumes that he is not at the moment being interviewed’ (Labov 1972: 92). Informants usually use casual speech when they interact with 3rd person from their family members, or in between breaks of the formal interview. For example, Dolly R. (Labov, p. 67) received a phone call from her cousin during an interview. She discussed her latest news with her cousin in a very informal way on the telephone. Once she finished the phone call, they continued the interview with formal questions of what makes a ‘successful man’ and ‘common sense’. There is evident style-shifting where the speech orientation changes to a more…show more content…
By identifying themselves to personal emotion, it is believed they would produce the most natural form of speech. The informants would want to convince the interviewer with the story that their attention to their speech might be diverted away. However, the limitation of this method is the practicality to different groups. Mendoza-Denton (2008, pp.225-5) claims that the method is ‘highly suspicious to gang members…very personal, and only to be told to trusted friends’. Taking on another note, rapid and anonymous surveys pioneered by Labov in his famous study in New York department store can be taken as one brilliant example that eliminates the Observer’s Paradox. He went to three different department stores and elicited the phrase ‘Fourth Floor’ from the store assistants to study the usage of post-vocalic (r) of different social classes, without them knowing they are being observed. This method is convenient and can cover a wide range of subjects. Apart from that, there is also participant observation method where the researcher uses networking to gain the in-depth experience with their subjects. A famous example is the study in Belfast by Milroy & Milroy (1977-1980) in which they gain access to three close-knit working class communities in Clonard, Hammer and Ballymacarrett. Observer’s Paradox is reduced when the

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