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Benefits and shortcomings of the synchronic approach.

Benefits and shortcomings of the synchronic approach

What are the benefits and shortcomings of the synchronic approach to the study of society used by functionalists and structural functionalists?

Traditionally, all linguistic study was diachronic: all language study focused on language’s change over time. For example, a predominant question asked in a diachronic study is how did Old English transition to the very different Middle English to the different, yet similar, Modern English of Queen Elizabeth’s time. For example, see the progress of Old English gieddian to Middle English singan to the uninflected Modern English sing. Or see the progress of the modern representation of a sleep vision (for which we now have no single word other than “dream” OE drēam; ME dreem) from Old English mǣting to Middle English sweven. It is clear there is much of interest in diachronic study

The thing it foliage out, even so, is definitely the connection between language and culture: it never asks Why changes happened from your social standpoint nor How culture makes use of language or perhaps is influenced by variations in it. The answers to these and similar questions lies not in the progress of language over time (diachronic) but in language and society interacting in a given set time (synchronic). Synchronic study of language is the study of the interaction between language and society in a fixed time period. Therefore, synchronic language study answers these questions previously neglected by diachronic study. Therefore, the advantage to synchronic language study is that the social linguistic dynamics of a set time period may be discovered.

Moreover, the established time period of synchronic study might be previously or it could be from the provide. Diachronic study can look only at the past. Consequently, while synchronic study may lead to attempts to predict future changes based on present dynamics, diachronic study can only poorly lend itself to attempts at predictions. A disadvantage of synchronic study is that perspective is lacking. With only synchronic language study, data may be misunderstood in its context and lead to conclusions that are faulty. For example, it may lead to predictions skewed by historic bias or it may lead to definition of sub-group dynamics skewed by inadequate background data.

At the start of this option, you must ask, “Why am I understanding this vocabulary? ” Of course, an ideal study would include both diachronic and synchronic study, but if your intention is to be an oral translator for, for example, the tourism trade, a synchronic approach is advantageous because it deals with the way a language works in a specific time period (here, the present). But if you want to translate historical texts or literature from past centuries, you will want to know how the language formed and grew through many time periods—a diachronic study. If you are, for example, a student from another culture seeking to learn English for a tourist guide occupation, you would want to concentrate on modern synonyms, modern slang, modern connotation, modern cognates, etc.; but if you wanted to be an English history scholar, you would want to study the Chaucerian contributions, the Elizabethan expansion, and the r-metathesis phenoma, etc., and in that case a synchronous approach would not be as fruitful. Virtually all language scholars study both elements of a language. The important difference is the question you ask – is it “What does that word mean? ” or “Where did that word come from? ” and it is easy to see that these two questions are inexorably linked. That is why a good dictionary gives word origins as well as denotative definitions.

Sociolinguistic investigation from the practice of Labov (1966, et seq.) has tended to pay attention to phonological and morphosyntactic variation, with discursive difference acquiring relatively tiny focus (though see, e.g., Hasan 2004). Nevertheless, just as the incorporation of qualitative methods, such as ethnography (e.g., Eckert 1989, et seq.), has advanced sociolinguistics, the incorporation of quantitative variationist methods into the (traditionally qualitative) study of language-in-interaction can enhance discourse analysis. This is particularly evident in critical analyses of institutional discourse, such as Conley and O’Barr’s (1990) research in small claims courts, which found (qualitatively) that most litigants use one of two discursive strategies in presenting their cases and (quantitatively) that users of the more successful strategy were, overwhelmingly, educated men, a finding that the authors attributed to gendered differences in the distribution of opportunities to acquire “powerful” discourses. This paper explores discursive variation in another institutional setting—the classroom—examining synchronic and diachronic variation in the discursive strategies teachers use in allocating turns at talk to individual students. Teachers use two main turn-allocation strategies: “individual nominations” and “invitations to bid” (Mehan 1979), each of which will be discussed in turn.

Possible data advise that person nominations were actually the main surface-allocation technique in U.S. classrooms from the 70s, comprising over 70 % of teacher-began interactions (Mehan et al. 1976, Griffin & Humphrey 1978). The predominance of this floor-allocation method has been attributed to teachers’ goal of equitably distributing turns at talk and the fact that individual nominations make it easy to ensure that every student takes such a turn (Griffin & Humphrey 1978: 88). Despite the enduring importance of this objective (see, e.g., Fennema 1990, Secada et al. 1995), more recent research suggests that invitations to bid (discussed in the next section) have since become the predominant floor-allocation method in many classrooms (Lemke 1990: 7).

The SoCal classroom corpus consists of detailed transcriptions of eight reading and math lessons— approximately 4.5 hours of interaction—video-recorded in 2008 in three third-grade classes (students ages 8-9) at a diverse Southern California public elementary school located in a lower-middle class suburban neighborhood.1 The three teachers in the corpus are White females. At the time of recording, one was in her 11th year of teaching, one in her 13th, and one in her 24th. Of the 20 students in each class, approximately half are White and half are Hispanic, with roughly equal numbers of boys and girls and just under 42 percent receiving free or reduced-price meals, all of which was representative of the school at that time.

There are actually 262 circumstances in the SoCal class room corpus in which a trainer allocates a convert at talk to an person pupil. Of these, 11.5% (n = 30) are individual nominations—where the teacher extends a response opportunity and selects a student to respond without that student’s having bid—and 88.5% (n = 232) are invitations to bid—where the teacher extends a response opportunity and solicits students to make themselves known (e.g., by raising a hand) if they want a turn at talk, then nominates one of the bidders. This stands in stark contrast to the results of comparable analyses from the 1970s, which found that individual nominations (which made up a mere 11.5% of turn allocations in the SoCal classroom corpus) constituted over 70% of all teacher-initiated interactions (Mehan et al. 1976, Griffin & Humphrey 1978). This supports Lemke’s (1990, p. 7) impression that invitations to bid have become the predominant floorallocation method used in classrooms. Discussion of these findings with those involved in the study provides further support for the notion of a shift in discursive practices, as educators are apparently well aware of the move from individual nominations to invitations to bid and see it as part of a larger, ostensibly positive move away from the ‘authoritarian’ classroom of old and toward a more ‘egalitarian’ model (cf. Cazden 2001).