EKConest3 - Faculty e-Portfolio

Conest 3
Atmajaya Catholic University, Jakarta.
29-30 November 2006
The use of qualitative research method in Linguistic studies has hardly been found in many
Indonesian students’ theses. This paper will discuss about the use of qualitative research method
in Linguistic studies. There are three points to be discussed in this paper: First, when qualitative
research can be best applied in doing linguistic studies. Second, What topics in Linguistics which
are best to be studied by using qualitative approach. Some examples from S1 students’ theses
will be used in this discussion. Finally, how to analyze and report the findings when using
qualitative approach in Linguistic research. In this paper, we can also learn the differences in
using this approach compared to the conventional positivistic approach in doing Linguistic
By: Esther Kuntjara, Ph.D.
Petra Christian University, Surabaya.
For a long time, research in Linguistics has been carried out in the traditional positivistic
mode. In this mode, language and linguistic researches are done under the influence of positivistic
paradigms. The use of statistics and other means of quantification have been the common ways in
doing research in linguistics. Meanwhile, many linguistic studies deal a lot with people’s
behavior in their interactional relationships. In such studies, qualitative methods are often found
to be more appropriate when used in such research. Take for instance, the study of politeness in
sociolinguistics. Brown and Levinson (1978, 1987) who wrote their frequently cited book:
Politeness: Some universals in language use, claimed that the language use of politeness as they
proposed are believed to be universal. Therefore, they set out some formulas to generate how
people in the world dealt with the principles of politeness. Many sociolinguists at that time
(especially from the white middle class society) found Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness
intriguing since they could apply the theory in their everyday life wherever they lived. However,
the notion that the formulas are universal, is in fact not able to show the real problems of
politeness. Asian people cannot disregard the social hierarchy and the intricacies of social
relationships of the local culture, which may influence the way a person shows his/her politeness
attitude to the other interlocutor. No wonder many Asian sociolinguists found that Brown and
Levinson’s theory of politeness is often far from being universal when it is applied in Asian
settings (Kuntjara, 2005). The consequence of this idea in doing research is that the study of
politeness could be more appropriate when conducted using qualitative research approach than
using traditional quantitative approach.
In many Indonesian universities, however, Linguistic students have not been introduced
to the use of qualitative research so that many students are either unfamiliar or reluctant to apply
qualitative method in doing their research. Another reason is perhaps due to many people’s
assumption that qualitative research is a minor methodology. According to Silverman (2001,
p.26) “Qualitative reseachers still largely feel themselves to be second class citizens whose work
typically evokes suspicion, where the ‘good standard’ is quantitative research.” Therefore, many
considered that qualitative research is not as reliable as quantitative research. Besides that,
qualitative research has been known and used more often by the cultural anthropologists, not
linguists. So, in linguistic research, it is rarely used and only currently being introduced to
students. Many teachers still doubt the reliability of the results produced in a qualitative research.
In Linguistic research, it is often a descriptive quantitative approach which is used to analyse the
speech products or the texts, while the process is just superficially touched. Meanwhile, it is
through the use of qualitative research we can uncover the process and its intricate details of the
phenomena which are difficult to covey with quantitative methods (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
This paper will briefly discuss when qualitative research methods are preferred; some
linguistic research topics which can be best carried out by using qualitative methods; and how we
analyze and report the findings when these methods are applied.
When to use Qualitative Method in Linguistic Research
Although qualitative research methods are often referred to a nonmathematical analytic
procedure that results in research findings, the notion that qualitative research is non-quantitative
is true but uninformative (Grahame, 1999, in Silverman, 2001). The choice of using qualitative
methods should not downplay statistical techniques of the kinds of quantitative methods. The
same reminder also applies to the use of quantitative methods over qualitative methods. The
choice between different research methods should depend upon what the researcher is trying to
find (Silverman, 2001). In a survey of discovering how many people use standard language
compared to using local language, quantitative method may seem to be the most appropriate
choice. However, if we are more concerned with exploring why in a certain area people prefer the
use of a certain language uncommon to the local standard language, then qualitative method may
be favored. Hence, the choice of using qualitative research mainly depends on what it is that the
researcher wants to find out.
Lincoln and Guba (1985) maintain that qualitative methods are used because they are
more adaptable to dealing with multiple realities. Such as in the example given earlier in this
paper, i.e. research in politeness, especially Asian politeness, qualitative methods are more
appropriate since many Asian politeness expressions often connote multiple meanings. Hence,
qualitative methods can present the nuances and intricate details of the phenomena that are
difficult to convey with quantitative methods. In conversation analysis, the use of qualitative
methods can uncover and understand why an interlocutor utters a certain speech act, and what
possible meanings lie behind it.
Qualitative research is often done by researchers in the social and behavioral sciences, as
well as by practitioners in fields that concern with issues related to human behavior and
functioning. Many sociolinguistic researches have been dealing with human behavior. There is a
common belief that qualitative researchers can in fact provide a deeper understanding of social
phenomena than would be obtained from quatitative data. To find out why some people prefer
using hints instead of using direct requests for instance, the use of qualitative methods may
uncover a deeper understanding of their behavior. This is also supported by Lincoln and Guba
(1985) who maintain that since qualitative researchers are used to probing for possible meanings,
they are more sensitive to and adaptable to the many mutually shaping influences and value
patterns that may be encountered. Eventually, it will also allow researchers to show empathy and
deeper understanding of their respondents’ behavior.
Qualitative research does not concern with the number of sample used in the research, but
on sample(s) who can provide a lot of answers to the research question. It is also not meant to
make any generalization about a certain phenomenon. Sample should be selected purposively to
be able to provide rich data to the researcher. So, the choice of using qualitative may be due to the
need of giving rich answer rather than for making generalization.
Many qualitative researches do imply a commitment to field activities. In an observation
on classroom behavior, Mehan (as quoted by Silverman, 2001) suggests that the quantitative
approach to classroom observation is useful for certain purposes, namely, for providing the
frequency of teacher talk by comparison with student talk. He further mentions, that this approach
minimizes the contribution of students, neglects the inter-relationship of verbal to non-verbal
behavior, obscures the contingent nature of interaction, and ignores the multiple functions of
language. This is to say that field activities are significant in qualitative research. Therefore,
linguistic research, where natural speech acts, natural settings and field activities are needed
would be best carried out in qualitative methods.
Linguistic Research Topics Carried out in Qualitative Methods
Several S1 students of linguistics who have attempted to apply qualitative methods in
their research are usually concerned with the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions in their research
questions. Although at first many students had a notion that any research, which does not employ
the use of mathematical or statistical numeration is considered as qualitative research (which is in
fact not so), after they learned qualitative methods and chose the appropriate topics of linguistics,
they found that doing qualitative research is very challenging and interesting in some points.
Below are a couple of examples from S1 students’ theses, which were carried out using
qualitative methods:
1. “Language Repertoire of a Kutainese English Teacher at Palem Village.” (2006). In this
research the student chose a Kutainese English teacher who had been a very successful
English teacher in a small village with approximately six hundred young people coming
to his English course to study English. Since the researcher noticed that his respondent
used several languages in his daily life with family, friends and students, he wanted to
find out how his respondent used different languages, when they were used, in what
condition they were used, to whom they were used, and why they were used. His study of
the English teacher’s language repertoire apparently forced him to go deeper by finding
out the teacher’s family background, his former and recent culture, his attitudes, his
religious life, his hobbies, and his other life styles. By imersing into the life of his
respondent through regular visits in at least two months, he could understand deeply how
and why he used different languages to different people. The student admitted that doing
research using qualitative methods made him understand others more. He became more
sensitive towards human problems. Besides, he found the findings to his research were
more real to life.
2. “Language and Identity of a Banjarese man in Surabaya.” (2005). Like the first student,
this student also chose a man whom she thought was quite interesting to probe in relation
to how this man’s language showed his identity as a Banjarese or a Surabayanese since
he had been living in Surabaya for some years. She tried to find out how the man’s
language reflected the way he thought about himself. Through participant observation
and interviews during her field research, she could see more deeply how the man
perceived about himself when he was talking in Banjarese, Indonesian, or Javanese. The
researcher admitted that she found the use of qualitative methods intriguing. It was like
doing a jigsaw puzzle, looking for missing pieces in order to see the big picture. She felt
like she was really doing an investigation which could answer her research problem.
Sometimes she would even compare his repondent’s life with hers as a Javanese, Thus, it
made her learn about her self as well.
The two students above indeed showed their enthusiasm while doing the research. However, it
has to be noted that there had been quite a lot of preparation in doing qualitative research.
Choosing the good settings, selecting a purposive sample, writing journals after each visit,
making and checking the working hypotheses, doing constant comparative methods after each
visit and interview, were some of the jobs which not many students like to do. Hence, students
should be prepared mentally on the abundant work load they will encounter when doing
qualitative research.
How to Analyze and Report the Findings
One noted difference between doing quantitative research and qualitative research is the
amount of the gathered data. In doing qualitative research the researcher usually has piles of
collected data in the forms of journal writings, transcripts of interviews, documents, results of
triangulation, and field notes, which are not as easy to organize as in quantitative data findings
which are often helped by the use of computer. The use of coding method as suggested by Strauss
and Corbin (1990) is usually helpful to make the report more organized. Analysis of data is done
during and after the field research. The working hypotheses during the field research should
continuously be checked, noted and compared.
The case study reporting mode is likely to be preferred. Qualitative researchers argue that
case study reporting mode is more adapted to a description of the multiple realities encountered at
any given site. It is also adaptable to demonstrating the researcher’s interaction with the site and
consequent biases that may result. Narration is also often used in the report, because it is suited to
demonstrating the variety of mutually shaping influences present, and picture the value positions
of researcher, substantive theory, methodological paradigm, and local contextual values (Lincoln
& Guba, 1985). This kind of reporting mode is used by many feminist sociolinguists, who found
qualitative methods to be even more approapriate for women researchers in researching on
women’s problems (Kuntjara, 2003). It is true that subjectivity in this case cannot be avoided.
However, it could be a strong point in the deep understanding of human behavior, which
quantitative methods cannot provide.
The use of qualitative research in linguistic study has opened another way of doing
research besides the traditional research methods. Using qualitative methods has proved to be
appropriate for certain topics, which deal with deeper understanding of human behavior.
Linguistic research questions which deal with finding out the ‘how’ and ‘why’ certain linguistic
phenomena occur, and how human bahavior has a role in their language use. Here I should again
note that the use of qualitative methods is not to replace quantitative methods. Each has its own
positive and negative sides. One can complement the other to achieve better understanding of the
real problem. Every researcher has a choice to use whatever methods he/she thinks to be more
Alief, I.I. (2005). The language and identity of a Banjarese man in Surabaya. Unpublished
Theses, Petra Christian University, Surabaya.
Kristi, G.C. (2005). The linguistic repertoire of a Kutainese man at Singgahan subvillage of
Palem village, Pare, Kediri. Unpublished Theses. Petra Christian University, Surabaya.
Kuntjara, E. (2003). Feminist perspective in qualitative research. Paper presented at the 2nd
Qualitative Research Convention in P.J. Hilton, Malaysia.
Kuntjara, E. (2005). Sociolinguistic study of politeness and its problems in using qualitative
research approach. Paper presented at the 3rd Qualitative Research Convention in Johor
Baru, Malaysia.
Kuntjara, E. (2006). Penelitian kebudayaan: Sebuah panduan praktis. Yogyakarta: Graha Ilmu.
Lincoln, S.Y. & Guba, E.G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Newbury Park, London: Sage
Silverman, D. (2001). Interpreting qualitative data: Methods for analysing talk, text, and
interaction. London: Sage Publications.
Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research.Newbury Park, London: Sage
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