Linguistic Ethnography…in Practice

By Piotr Wegorowski, doctoral researcher, Cardiff University 

@piotrwegorowski

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On the 14th and 15th January 2016, the first Linguistic Ethnography In Practice (LEIP) workshop took place at the University of Leeds. Cardiff-based TLANG doctoral researcher Piotr Wegorowski, together with Robert Sharples from the University of Leeds and Sarah Lund from the University of Sheffield, had taken it upon themselves to create a space where people who are relatively new to the field – PhD students and early career researchers – can bring some of their data and discuss the ways in which they approach them. Instead of showcasing polished end results of the work, we wanted to look at the process of analysing linguistic materials. This initiative proved much needed with a great interest from PhD students and early career researchers all across the UK and beyond.

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The range of speakers showed a great variety and demonstrated that linguistic ethnography is not limited to research in any specific settings. There was a strong presence of research carried out in the context of education. And so Inge van Lancker from the University of Ghent shared some short but very rich pieces of data looking at the lives of adolescents within a secondary school in Belgium. Anne Preston from Newcastle University introduced us to the concept of self-organised learning environments showing how young people can make use of novel learning spaces. Sarah Lund from the University of Sheffield, one of the organisers, shared some data from her project exploring the experiences of adult first generation migrants learning English at a community centre.

However, as the workshop aptly demonstrated, education is not the only context where ethnographic approaches can make valuable contribution to research in other settings. This was exemplified by Lukasz Daniluk form the University of Roehampton, who talked about Polish hip-hop culture based on the examples of Polish hip-hop artists living in Poland and in the UK. We listened to (and watched) some interviews with two different artists. Coming from a completely different perspective, Sue Grief, from the Institute of Education, introduced us to writing practices in a small business.

Her contribution showed the importance of studying written materials and offered an exciting glimpse into the short-lived life of a pro-forma document. And finally, Golden Ekpo, from SOAS, let us into the multilingual world of the Oro community in Nigeria, where code-switching is the norm. Golden’s session sparked an interesting discussion on how to decide where one dialect finishes and another starts and how to embrace this problem in the research process.

The workshop proved a great opportunity for us to exchange views and talk about our own research projects but also allowed for a more general discussion. The roundtable discussion at the end raised some important questions, such as the understanding of what linguistic ethnography is. With some people seeing it as a toolkit and others suggesting that it is an epistemology, allowing researchers to learn about the world from the perspective of people who live in it, we enjoyed a lively debate around this topic. Rejection of disciplinarity and a move towards methods were also suggested. It was great to see such interest in linguistic ethnography among people who are at early stages of carrying out research. The type of questions that the TLANG project raises and the methodology it adopts clearly have gained a lot of currency.

The event would have not been possible without generous support from the Linguistic Ethnography Forum as well as the Centre for Language Education Research in the School of Education at the University of Leeds, and we would like to express our gratitude to both organisations. Two more workshops are coming up in the next twelve months, one at Cardiff University and one at the University of Sheffield, so watch this space!

For more information please get in touch – leip-meetings@outlook.com

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