Stefanie Wulff (Univ. of Florida)
April 15, 2022
9:00 am

Stefanie Wulff (Univ. of Florida)

 "Where Theory and Methods Meet: Examining Usage" 

Dr. Stefanie Wulff, Associate Professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of Florida 

Friday, April 15, 9:00–10:30 a.m. EDT, via Zoom and in 127 Moore

Over the past two decades, linguistics research has become increasingly methodologically sophisticated, owed to technological advances, availability of unprecedented amounts of data, and an infusion of complex statistical techniques previously used in other disciplines. Critics of this development have argued that methods have become an end in and of itself, with mindless, shallow number-crunching replacing properly informed, deep analysis. Others lament that this attitude towards sophisticated methods create an anti-empiricist trend (Divjak, Levshina, & Klavan, 2016). A third group of researchers, meanwhile, notes that research continues to be published that demonstrably employs unsuitable or under-sophisticated methods, limiting the credibility of reported outcomes (Gries, to appear; Gass, Loewen, and Plonsky, in press).

In Dr. Wulff's opinion, there is a grain of truth in all three positions. In this talk, she will seek a middle ground, which is to embrace the commitment across contemporary theories of language to being empirically grounded whole-heartedly, yet without losing sight of the established body of knowledge that should guide our methodological choices. In many cases, methods need to better reflect what we already know to be true at a conceptual or theoretical level or what we assume as our working hypotheses until they are shown to be false. For example, we know that language is complex, that it varies between and also within individuals, and we know that language is intertwined with cognition at large. While in many cases, this means that we need to up our methodological game and use methods that more adequately reflect the assumed complexity of the phenomenon we are investigating, in many other cases, selecting the right method does not mean selecting the more complex method, but one that more adequately reflects and/or approximates what we are trying to measure. In virtually all cases, we need to devote more effort to explaining and rationalizing our methodological choices, and acknowledge shortcomings in finding the best match between theory and methods. For illustration, she will critically discuss examples of research in second language and heritage language acquisition, including particle placement, adverbial clause ordering, and morpho-syntactic development.