Introduction: design of the study, research questions and hypotheses
This chapter will give an overview of different approaches used in current linguistic research, with a focus on the design of questionnaires and (sociolinguistic) interviews. Theoretical considerations will be illustrated by examples from questionnaire-based studies on regional contact varieties of English (cf. Krug and Rosen 2012; Hilbert and Krug 2012; Krug, Hilbert and Fabri in press for methodological and descriptive detail).
The design of an empirical study obviously varies depending on the research questions one attempts to answer and also on the type of data one intends to analyse. Thus, formulating research questions or precise hypotheses serves as an important guideline both in designing the study and in analysing the data.
If one wants to apply a sociolinguistic approach, i.e. investigate the influence of social factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, etc. on people’s speech, the following issues have to be considered prior to the collection of data. Which variables might be of interest? Which speakers are needed for the analysis, e.g. children, speakers of different age-groups (i.e. cohorts), older people, only males or females, a gender balance, only working-class or highly educated speakers, migrants, native locals? In which circumstances should the data be collected? For example, for an analysis of spoken language, one can conduct interviews. For an acoustic analysis, one should ensure that interfering background noise is kept to a minimum. For sociolinguistic interviews, a relaxed and familiar setting can be an advantage (cf. Tagliamonte 2006: 45). Another important early step is to identify the linguistic variables and their variants in the database. The figures have to be carefully processed and the results cautiously interpreted. Without an interpretation of the data, an important part of the linguist’s work would be missing. These individual steps are crucial for linguistic studies and they tend to form cycles, although their order may vary (cf. Hudson 1996: 150–151). It seems evident that both stereotypes of die-hard ‘number-crunchers’ and ‘armchair linguists’ portrayed in the introductory chapter of this book fail to complete the empirical cycle detailed in Figures 1 and 2 in Krug, Schlüter and Rosenbach (Introduction, this volume).