Scope of a Linguistic Survey
The word ‘survey’ may go either a synchronic viewpoint (as
in A Survey of farming methods in contemporary India or in 16th
century Europe) or with a diachronic one (as in A Survey of English
Literature from Chaucer to Milton).
A linguistic survey can likewise be of either kind—G.A.
Grierson’s Linguistic survey of India (11 volumes in
19 parts and 3supplements, Calcutta 1903-28) is an example of the
first kind, while Ernst Pulgram’s The Tongues of Italy: Prehistory
and history (Cambridge, Mass., 1950) is an example of the second kind.
In the present context of the proposed survey of the contemporary
dialects of Panjabi at Punjabi University we are obviously concerned
with a synchronic survey. The
adjective ‘synchronic’ defines the survey where the dimension of space
is the one that counts. ‘Space’ is to be interpreted rather liberally
here to include both geographical area and social span.
A diatopic linguistic survey then answers the following question
in some detail: Which speech habits are found in whom in a given population? Let us spell this out further.
In the first place we must remember that a survey is never
chiefly interested I individuals. It is more like a census.
Indeed, as we shall see later, one phase of it is simply a
census of a rather specialized kind-a census at tells us how many
there are of speakers in whom we find more-than-chance correlation
between the speech habit in question and other characteristic such
as geographical location, age and generation, literacy, sex, caste
and class, and area of language use. The speech habits isolated for the purpose
of finding out this correlation may be either whole systems or specific
traits. In a gross survey we handle large language
units (like standard Panjabi or Bangru or South Dravidian family)
in the census. Alternatively,
in a trait survey we look for the distribution of phonological or
grammatical or lexical traits like the use of tones or certain postpositions
or a high percentage of English borrowings.
So we can rephrase our question as follows: Which language
or language traits are found well-correlated with which speaker characteristics
or which areas of use in how many speakers out of the population under
survey? The whole survey operation will therefore resolve
itself into three-sub-operations:
Preanalysis of language isolates (whole systems or traits):
Isoglosing or locating the isolates in the geographical area or social
Census or counting heads.
The results to obtained
may in part be put in publishable form—say, maps or tables—or stacked
away for future reference in the for of tapes, microfilms, and the
like. So we can add two more sub-operations:
Presentation or mapping and tabulating; and
Let us examine these five phases serially.
- Preanalysis of Language Isolates
gross survey the speech habits isolated may be of the following kinds:
The use of a given whole linguistic system L1 (a particular
homogeneous dialect or variety);
The use by the speaker of any one of a group of family of whole linguistic
systems L1 or L2 or L3
( a particular dialect family or language-family or language-group);
The use by the same speaker of each one of a group of linguistic systems
L1 and L2 and L3 (typically
the standard variety plus one non-standard variety or the prevailing
language or link language).
census in which dialect-families centring around certain standard
varieties are returned is thus a very gross linguistic survey.
In a trait survey (very often called a dialect survey rather
than a linguistic survey when limited to a single speech community)
the speech habits isolated may be of the following kinds:
The use of specific feature T1 of phonology or morphology or syntax
or vocabulary (as, a particular system of tones);
The use by the speaker
of any one of a group of competing linguistic features T1
and T2 and T3 (as the use of any
tone system or the general preference for periphrastic tenses over
tense inflections); or
The use by the same speaker of each one of a group of correlated linguistic
features T1 and T2 and T3
that need not be all phonological or all grammatical or all lexical
(as, the use of a specific tone system combined with the non-use of
voiced aspirates or the non-use of honorific plural combined with
the low frequency of dignified synonyms).
will be clear that before the central operation of locating the social
or geographical isolosses or correlations can be started the linguistic
surveyor must have a clear notion of what he is going to correlate.
To this end the surveyor must
familiaze himself with any available diachronic survey of the field
and with the history of the phonology, grammar, and vocabulary of
the languages involved;
draw lessons from any previous diatopic survey of the field and even
of neighboring areas (it would follow from this that coordination
and cooperation between the various linguistic surveys under way in
India will be a highly desirable thing);
supplement this knowledge by undertaking a pilot survey of his own
to determine which the likely directions are in looking for correlations;
familiarize himself with any available phonological, grammatical,
and lexical descriptions of the languages and dialects in the field;
supplement this knowledge by undertaking a monographic survey of his
own so as to have at his disposal a series of descriptive sketches
in accordance with modern methods of a representative selection of
language varieties (some linguistic surveys do not proceed beyond
this preliminary or monographic phase).
conclusion of the preanalysis language isolates there will be ready
a list of language varieties with their genetic relationships and
their mutual contacts thorough bilingualism duly noted;
a list of linguistic traits to be embodied in the questionnaire and
the formulation of suitable questions for this purpose (naturally
such traits will tend to come from the overall pattern minus the
common core shared by all the related varieties and from areas
of structural uncertainty and freedom of choice rather than the basic
and obligatory patterns in the language); and
a list of the other characteristics of the speaker to be elicited
in the questionnaire such as the geographical locations(s) of settled,
migratory, and nomadic speakers, the age group (juvenile, adult, old),
literacy (with the script and language in question also noted), sex,
caste and ethanic group, religion, class status, and finally the area
of use or function of the language variety or language trait (intimate
circle, school, public life and mass media).
2. Isoglossing of Correlations
is now ready in its final shape: preferably it has been preteste for
its for its efficiency and
practically, and has been calibrated with questionnaires in neighbouring
surveys for comparability of results.
What goes into the questionnaire will be determined by the
over all aim and limits of the survey-which may be a gross survey
of a large population or a trait survey of a small population or a
comprehensive survey. The question may be direct, e.g. which variety
do you use at home and among close friends? Do you say [khatir] or [xatir]? Or they may be indirect, e.g. Will you read
this letter? Can you make
out what this man is saying this tape playback?
How would you name this object?
(This last may be a test for a phonological trait no matter
what the respondent may think!)
The exact shape and size of the questionnaire will be determined
by the exigencies of administering the questionnaire in a satisfactory
manner. Thus the length and number of questions will
depend on the number of respondents, the number of fieldworkers, and
available time and money. The
knowledgeableness, ability, willingness, an prejudices of the fieldworker
as well as the respondent have to be taken into account.
(It must be remembered that revenue officials and school teachers
have been pressed into service as fieldworkers and as such are apt
to do the responding for the “ignorant” speaker.) some of the questions
will obviously have to be answered by the fieldworker himself, e.g.
about the speaker’s sex or attitude to the language situation.
The mode of administration of the questionnaire (which may
include open question like: Tell me a story or Retell the story of
the North Wind the Sun or of the Prodigal Son or Say the Lord’s Prayer)
may vary. The fieldworker can carry the questionnaire with him, conduct an
interview with more or less strict adherence to it, and record the
proceedings, i.e. replies as well stage directions (the respondent’s
laughter or resentment, etc.) in his fieldnotes with or without tape
recording. (It is never wise to depend on the recorder alone; notes
are always a help even if they are in ordinary spelling and not systematized
transcription.) The so-called postal method employs the local
man affiliated to the survey as a fieldworker who receives and returns
the questionnaire by post. The
former method is costly and reliable.
The latter has obvious dangers, but may be forced by circumstances:
the advantage is that a much larger sampling of different speakers
can thereby be afforded. The
size of the sample is sometimes referred to as the “grid of the survey”
(one respondent per so much population or area, for example).
3. Census Determination of the Strength of the Correlation
At one extreme we have the vast house-to-house
government census which amounts to a very gross linguistic survey:
the inclusion of bilingualism in the Census of India counts relatively
as a refinement. At the other
extreme there may be the mini-survey of his class by a linguist under
training. The normal survey lies somewhere in between
making its own compromise between level of analysis (gross and trait),
depth of analysis (the amount and refinement of the data sought),
and the size of the sample.
Ideally after all the collecting sorting has been done the
surveyor should be in a position to come up with statements in accordance
with the following scheme:
Language variety L1 or linguistic trait T1 is
(a) With functional situation
S1 (home, etc.) and/or
(b) With geographical location GL1 (district,
point of the grid, etc.) and/or
With social location SL1 (age group, sex, literacy, etc. or a combination of these)
In so many respondents (out of the total so many sampled out of the
group of speakers defined by (ii) (b) and/or (ii)(c).
the representative character of the sample is questioned because of
or for some other reasons,
this kind of statement yields information on the strength of correlation
only in a limited way (known to be compatible not own to be compitable.
The presentation of results has to be done with some care. It can take many forms some of which may be
fruitfully combined-maps, map-like diagrams and charts (for social
location), tables, and sample responses illustrating linguistic varieties
Errors that have crept into the designing of the questionnaire
itself cannot of course be rectified in the presentation. Such errors may arise from the absence of any
theory for that matter): pre-phonemic surveys thus often manage to
pile a large amount of phonetic data without providing the answers
to even simple phonologically interesting questions.
Or errors may arise from an insufficient prenanalysis: the
decision of the Census of India to limit questions about a second
language to languages of the Indian origin was thus an unfortunate
one. A careful pre-testing
of the questionnaire in a small-scale pilot survey should be of great
help in avoiding such errors.
Errors can of course creep in at the time of the administration
of the questionnaire. A pilot
survey can uncover deficiencies in the fieldworker’s training, unavoidable
personal equations, and peculiar pitfalls in the field being covered
that the fieldworker should beware of.
Errors can creep in at the collection and sorting stage too.
The least that a good presentation will accomplish is not to
add its own quota of errors in transferring figures an data and not
dressing up unrectifiable errors handed over from the previous stages.
honesty demands that the reader should be duly forewarned about possibilities
of error (by a proper sprinkling of question marks, for example).
Pre-testing of maps, charts, tables with potential readers
for their clarity and perspicuity may be a good idea.
Maps can take a lot of money and be nice to look at but very
painful to decipher.
presentation has to strike a balance between two opposite and somewhat
conflicting requirements; it must leave the reader free to draw his
own conclusions an apply his won statistical techniques an at the
same time must not saddle him with mere
detail. The do-it-yourself principle can be carried
too far! Enough should be
left buried in the archives.
The importance of preserving the records in a form accessible
to any bonafide future worker
cannot be stressed enough in a country like India so ridden
with red tape and so light-hearted about history.
Modern technology has provided us with the recorded tape and
the microfilm or microcard as relatively cheap modes of preservation
and multiplication serves both as an insurance against destruction
and as a means to ready accessibility.
SO FAR we have spoken the surveyor, as if the organization
of a survey is onbe-man affair. And
there have been one-man surveys and good ones too-Andre Martinet did
a survey in rather unusual circumstances as a prisoner of the Germans
during World Wa II (La Prononciation du
francais contemporin : Tèmoignages recueillis en 1941 dans un camp
dofficers prisonniers, Paris: Droz, 1945).
The practical organization of a bigger survey has to contend,
among other problems, with pressures arising out of linguistic and
other loyalties that militate against the scientific objectivity and
validity of the results of the survey.
The machinery can divide itself along the following lines:
Bibliography and library;
Historical monographs and surveys;
Designing of questionnaire and pilot survey;
Administration of questionnaire and collection and sorting of results;
Preparation of press copy and seeing it through the press;
Administration, publication, and public relations (with other surveys
and with the public and authorities in the field under survey).
discussion of the philosophy of a linguistic survey will have a
bearing on the working
of each of these departments.
This was presented at a seminar on Linguistic Survey Project,
Patiala, July 1969 and published in Pàkha sanjam (Punjabi University)
1:1:5-11, 1969. It was subsequently reprinted in Language
Surveys in developing nations: Papers and reports on sociolinguistic
surveys, Siriapi Ohannessian, Charles A. Ferguison, Edegar C. Polem,
Centre for Applied Linguistic, 1975, p7-12.