15.2375, Review: Disc Analysis/Socioling: Saville-Troike (2003)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-15-2375. Tue Aug 24 2004. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 15.2375, Review: Disc Analysis/Socioling: Saville-Troike (2003)

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Date:  Tue, 24 Aug 2004 12:09:41 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Terese Thonus <tthonus at csufresno.edu>
Subject:   The Ethnography of Communication

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Tue, 24 Aug 2004 12:09:41 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Terese Thonus <tthonus at csufresno.edu>
Subject:   The Ethnography of Communication

AUTHOR: Saville-Troike, Muriel
TITLE: The Ethnography of Communication
SUBTITLE: An Introduction (3rd edition)
SERIES: Language in Society 3
YEAR: 2003
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-917.html

Terese Thonus, California State University, Fresno


As the third volume in the Blackwell series Language in Society,
edited by Peter Trudgill, the third edition of The Ethnography of
Communication (henceforth TEC) joins an expanding collection of well-
regarded books in the field, including Romaine's Bilingualism and
Labov's Principles of Linguistic Change.  Like the first and second
editions, it elaborates on the theory and concepts introduced by
anthropologist Dell Hymes, whom Saville-Troike names ''truly the
father of the field'' (p. viii).  The third edition, according to the
back- cover blurb, ''has been thoroughly revised to reflect the
substantial contributions made in recent years to the development and
application of the subject.'' Saville-Troike claims to have redefined
communicative competence and speech community ''to emphasize their
dynamic nature and to give more consideration to multilingual
individuals and groups'' (p.  viii). Added are two new chapters,
''Contrasts in Patterns of Communication'' and ''Politeness, Power,
and Politics.''  References have been updated by the addition of 250
titles, and a greater number of languages (40 more) referenced for
illustrative purposes.

The introduction (chapter 1) describes the scope and focus of the
text, including Saville-Troike's definition of the ethnography of
communication as an ''approach'' and ''a mode of inquiry'' (p. 2).  It
also explains the history of ethnographic study of language as rooted
in ''the convergent interest in sociology and linguistics'' in
opposition to the Chomskyan themes of the ideal speaker-hearer and the
homogenous speech community.

Chapter 2, ''Basic Terms, Concepts, and Issues,'' is notable for its
additional material on the definition and development of the notion
speech community. Saville-Troike's careful distinctions among speech
community, discourse community, and community of practice are
essential reading. In addition, the construct communicative competence
is expanded to include arguments regarding multilingual speakers and
second-language learners.  The author also includes a recent quote
from Hymes defining competence not as ''ideal knowledge'' but as
''actual ability'' (p. 40).

''Varieties of Language,'' chapter 3, cites Gumperz, Fishman,
Ferguson, Trudgill, and Labov (among others) in discussions of
diglossia, code-switching, and the intersection of varieties with
typical social features such as region, class, and ethnicity, as well
as features such as personality state and non-native speaker status.

As the longest chapter and the centerpiece of the volume, ''The
Analysis of Communicative Events'' (chapter 4) takes the reader
through the relationship of the ethnographer and speech community,
types of data, data collection and analytic procedures, and the best
discussion and exemplification of Hymes' SPEAKING rubric available in

Chapter 5, ''Contrasts in Patterns of Communication,'' begins with a
section on comparative (not contrastive!) rhetoric, and then
illustrates situated even analysis with recent studies of Chinese,
Korean, Kazakh, and Lao. In the section ''Constructing an Unseen
Face,'' Saville-Troike reports on her own cross-cultural analysis of
prospective graduate-student statements of purpose. Concludes the
author, ''While participants in an intercultural event must (as in all
ethnographic research) be viewed from the internal perspective of
their respective communities, the dynamic interaction across
communities requires additional dimensions of analysis'' (p. 182).

Covering a broad range of topics beginning with stereotyping and
moving through appropriateness and language maintenance, shift, and
spread, ''Attitudes Toward Communicative Performance'' (chapter 6),
Saville-Troike argues for an integration between qualitative and
quantitative research approaches.

In chapter 7, ''Acquisition of Communicative Competence,'' the author
is in her element as a language acquisition specialist, describing the
application of the ethnography of communication to both first and
second language learning. Languages used to illustrate principles
include Javanese, Farsi, and Navaho.

Chapter 8, a new addition in this edition, covers ''Politeness, Power,
and Politics.'' Topics covered include social control, institutional
discrimination, and language planning.

The brief conclusion ends with ''a note of warning,'' Saville-
Troike's call for the social responsibility of the researcher: ''Even
as ethnographers of language seek for a deeper understanding of the
human condition, they bear a heavy responsibility to guard against the
misuse of their research, and the exploitation of the communities in
which they work'' (p. 284).


The Ethnography of Communication (first edition) was required reading
for my master's exams in 1984.  I had also read Foundations in
Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach (1974).  I later heard
Hymes lecture on Native American ethnopoetics (''In Vain I Tried to
Tell You''). As an applied linguist, I was captivated by its
methodology and objects of study.  Yet one question has always
troubled me.  Is the ethnography of communication a field of study or
a research methodology, or both?  In the introduction, Saville-Troike
argues that the ethnography of communication is significant not only
to anthropology, but to psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, applied
linguistics, and theoretical linguistics. To this argument, she adds:
''Its contribution to the description and understanding of culturally
constituted patterns of communication will be limited if its methods
and findings are not integrated with other descriptive and analytical
approaches.  It is the nature of ethnography to be holistic in nature,
and this should also characterize the disciplinary orientation of its
practitioners'' (p. 8).  How, then, can a linguist define him/herself
as an ethnographer of communication?

On the book jacket is a positive review of the newest edition of TEC
by Ron Scollon: ''Its coverage of what has been a major area of study
for scholars in sociolinguistics, communication, and linguistic
anthropology for the past three decades is comprehensive, insightful,
and, in this third edition, completely brought up to currency with
developments in the field.'' I agree with Scollon that TEC is the one
book to read on the ethnography of communication.  However, as the
representative volume of a field of study, I fear that TEC has
outgrown its parameters and become so syncretistic that it is no
longer part of a series on sociolinguistics but a précis of it.  I
use the term ''syncretism'' deliberately, realizing that in its most
frequent connotation it refers to the absorption, over time, of the
rites and practices of other, often indigenous, belief systems into
organized religions. If the first edition represented the organized,
bounded, ''orthodox'' version of the ethnography of communication, it
has since absorbed not only sociolinguistic and anthropological
content, but also philosophical and psychological.

Although language varieties, speech acts, bilingual identity, and
language planning are all of interest in the study of communicative
competence, are they rightly the purview of the ethnography of
communication?  If the field embraces them all, how will it be defined
and differentiated from related fields of study? Was this, I wonder,
the intent of Hymes? In a 1972 monograph, Hymes argued that all
linguistic study, not just sociolinguistics, should incorporate a
social perspective.  During its development, however, the ethnography
of communication has not been embraced as the ''default'' approach to
linguistics or, for that matter, to sociolinguistics. Rather than
advocating syncretism, Hymes appears now to support clearer
disciplinary boundaries. In a 2000 dialogue with William Samarin in
the Journal of Sociolinguistics, Hymes argued that sociolinguistics
and (linguistic) anthropology should not and will not converge, that
their very divergence facilitates a multi-pronged approach to the
exploration of language and society. In this respect, Saville-Troike's
boundary- erasing work appears to have diverged from Hymes' current,
if not original, intent.

Although TEC references a wide variety of world languages, specific
language examples to support the concepts and analyses are always
provided. For instance, on pp. 58-59, in the section on code-
switching, Saville-Troike quotes Woolard (1999) on Castilian-Catalan
bivalency, defined as ''the use by a bilingual of words or segments
that could 'belong' equally to both codes.'' One would have a much
clearer understanding of this concept if a relevant example were
provided.  Later in the same paragraph, the author refers to
alternating English and German lines in T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland.
Claire Kramsch's analysis of this literary code-switching is
referenced, but not the lines of the poem.  It is as if Saville-Troike
either assumes that readers are so well-versed in Castilian, Catalan,
and German that examples would prove redundant, or are so inexpert in
language(s) that exemplification would be pointless.  My suspicion is
that it is the latter, but this only makes the text less accessible to
the novice reader.  For an introductory text, I would prefer fewer
analyses with detailed examples than more analyses lacking them.

Where does the ethnography of communication, and Saville-Troike's
interpretation of it in TEC, fit into the linguistics curriculum?
Having read the third edition, I contemplated it as a possible text
for an undergraduate general education course in language and culture
(combining anthropological linguistics and sociolinguistics).
However, as TEC presupposes some familiarity with linguistics, I
decided it would be inappropriate. For sociolinguistics students,
again at the undergraduate level, certain chapters (e.g., ''Varieties
of Language'') would have been exceptional, but I viewed the text as a
whole as unsuitable given the current variationist bias of that field.
I eventually found a use for it as a reference text in a graduate
discourse analysis course, encouraging students to read with
particular care chapter 5, ''Contrasts in Patterns of Communication.''
Because of the scope and breadth of TEC, I can only envision it as the
core text in a course of the same name -- and in most universities,
such a class would most probably be offered not through the
linguistics department, but through anthropology, possibly education,
or at the University of Arizona, the Department of English.


Hymes, Dell (1972) The scope of sociolinguistics. Georgetown
University Monograph Series on Languages and Linguistics, 25, 313-333.

Hymes, Dell (2000) The emergence of sociolinguistics: A response to
Samarin. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4, 312-315.

Samarin, William J. (2000) Sociolinguistics as I see it. Journal of
Sociolinguistics, 4, 303-311.


Terese Thonus is Associate Professor of Linguistics at California
State University, Fresno.  Her research interests include oral
discourse analysis (particularly writing tutorial conversations),
second-language writing, and teacher education.


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