Probabilities and Surprises: A Realist Approach to Identifying Linguistic and Social Patterns, with Reference to an Oral History Corpus

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The relationship between language and identity has been explored in a number of ways in applied linguistics, and this article focuses on a particular aspect of it: self-representation in the oral history interview. People from a wide range of backgrounds, currently resident in one large city in England, were asked to reflect on their lives as part of a project to celebrate the millennium, resulting in a corpus of 144 transcribed interviews. The article considers the utility of realist social theory and complexity theory in the analysis of patterns-and deviations from those patterns-in both the linguistic features of these interviews and the social categories to which people are routinely ascribed. Corpus linguistic software was used to identify discourse features of the corpus as a whole, and to compare and contrast features produced by different speakers with reference to the conventional social categories used in quantitative research. These categories, with their homogenizing limitations, are challenged with reference to complex causation. The article uses the category of gender to exemplify the multi-method approach advocated.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-235
Number of pages21
JournalApplied Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2010