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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Barbara SOUKUP

Speaker evaluation as a speech event: A social constructionist recast of experimental research on ‘language attitudes’ and its implications

Abstract/Résumé: Quantitative research on ‘attitudes’ (and, by extension, also on ‘language attitudes’) has long been criticized for failing to take into account, let alone explain, variation in evaluative responses. Thus, Potter and Wetherell (1987), in particular, have famously denounced the quantitative research mainstream within social psychology for casting attitudes as cohesive, stable, underlying evaluative dispositions that can be subjected to scientific ‘fact-finding’. Such reification is seen as problematic because it stands in apparent contradiction to findings that show people’s attitudinal responses to be subject to situational variation and relativity, which suggests a more ad hoc, bricolage-type evaluative process. The proposed and preferred alternative is to conceptualize attitudes as locally situated and socially constructed ‘evaluative practice’ or activity (see e.g. Potter 1998). Such a reconceptualization is often argued to preempt the use of quantitative attitude elicitation methods altogether (see e.g. Hyrkstedt and Kalaja 1998). The central argument of the present paper is, however, that this is not necessarily so. Rather, quantitatively-based experimental attitude elicitation can easily also be conceptualized as ‘evaluative practice’, provided that respective experiments are cast not as ‘fact-finding missions’ but rather as contextually situated ‘speech events’ in which human meaning-making activity occurs (just as, for example, in conversational interaction). I elaborate this argument by applying Hymes’s (1972) ethnographic heuristic known as ‘the SPEAKING grid’, which is commonly used to describe speech events, to a matched-guise experiment that investigates language attitudes towards standard vs. dialectal Austrian German. The point of this application is to 1) show that quantitative language attitude elicitation integrates well with social constructionist conceptualizations of human meaning-making 2) show the benefits of this exercise, which are to enhance the validity of claims based on experimental findings as well as their practical applicability to the explication of actual human behavior, like for example rhetorical style-shifting/code-switching (which are arguably contingent on an audience’s language attitudes – see Soukup 2009).