9. Biases in research: Who counts as ‘authentic’ bilingual speaker – and how can we tell?

monolingual bias, research practice, bi-/multilingualism research, language ideology, self-reflexivity

Karolin Breda, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt(Oder)
Michael Hornsby, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań
Philipp Krämer, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder)

For many years, (socio)linguists have been researching bi-/multilingual speakers and contexts through a monolingual lens, that is bilingualism has been understood as the existence of two neatly separable systems in one person which could be accessed and analyzed with the same methods used for investigating monolingual speakers. This conception has been challenged by a more holistic view of bilingualism (Grosjean 1982, 2008) as a specific linguistic configuration, as well as by critical approaches to 'language' itself (Romaine 1995; Heller 2007). The way we look at bi-/multilingual speakers’ language use has shifted away from the highly ideologized view of 'languages' and communities as bounded, homogenous entities towards an understanding of language as a set of social resources speakers draw on in order to create meaning in specific social contexts (cf. Heller 2007). The questions we ask and our expected results highly depend on the way we conceive of our subjects and objects of research and on the processes of co-constructing our data in collaboration with our consultants (cf. Irvine and Gal 2000). However, some authors argue that despite this “multilingual turn” in (socio)linguistics, current methodology falls short within this new approach. Different types of multilingualism still seem to be a challenge within current research practices (Auer 2007; Jørgensen et al. 2011). This thematic section seeks to explore our own empiric research practice, focusing on priming effects in interviews with bi-/multilingual speakers as well as on 'selection biases' from a critical, self-reflexive standpoint, asking if the 'traditional' model of bilingualism is still (implicitly or explicitly) being reproduced by the researchers themselves in sociolinguistic research. And if so, why and how is it reproduced? What are the inherent assumptions researchers work with while conducting interviews? To what extent does researcher bias contribute to eclipsing speakers or practices when they seem to produce ‘unsuitable’ data which are not considered to be representative of the community under research? How do these assumptions become evident in conversations between scientist and research participant? How do they reinforce the self-perception of informants as being deficient bilinguals? This last question finally leads to a more general one: Who counts as an 'authentic' bilingual in sociolinguistics (cf. Bucholtz 2003)? What are 'good' bilingual practices? And who decides? The speakers of this section draw on data from their own research in multilingual contexts. Though they deal with quite different problems ranging from structural linguistics through borrowing strategies to performative aspects of bilingual speakers’ identities, they all have in common the study of minoritized languages. Within these settings of prestigious and dominant majority languages surrounding the communities in question, the extent to which speakers perceive their language use as legitimate varies to a high degree. This is even more true when the hybrid and flexible use of multiple linguistic resources are the rule rather than the exception. The sometimes highly implicative questions of the researchers presuppose languages as homogenous entities in the first place and thereby can form an obstacle to capturing real-life language use. Sharing these insights the speakers of this section go way beyond the observer’s paradox Labov (1972) has identified.
Auer, Peter (2007). The monolingual bias in bilingualism research, or: why bilingual talk is (still) a challenge for linguists. In M. Heller (Ed.), Bilingualism: a social approach (pp. 319–338). Palgrave Macmillan.
Bucholtz, Mary (2003). Sociolinguistic nostalgia and the authentication of identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7(3), 398–416. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9481.00232Grosjean, François (2001). Life with two languages: an introduction to bilingualism (Nachdr.). Harvard University Press.
Grosjean, François (2008). Studying bilinguals. Oxford University Press.
Heller, Monica (Ed.). (2007). Bilingualism: a social approach. Palgrave Macmillan. Irvine, Judith & Susan Gal. 2000. Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In Paul V. Kroskrity (ed.), Regimes of language: ideologies, polities, and identities, 35–83. (School of American Research advanced seminar series). Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press. Jørgensen, Normann, Martha Karrebaek, Lian Malai Madsen & Janus SpindlerMøller (2011). Polylanguaging in superdiversity. Diversities 13(2): 23-37.
Romaine, Susan (1995). Bilingualism (2nd ed). Blackwell.

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