Keynote lecture

What does it mean to find patterns in language data?

Karin Tusting (Lancaster University)

In this lecture I will reflect on the discipline of Linguistics and the range of different ways in which we make meaning from language data. Using concrete examples from research in different sub-disciplinary traditions, including linguistic ethnography, literacy studies, and corpus analysis, I will explore the epistemological assumptions which the different datasets and approaches to analysis rest on.  I will consider the different ways that we can learn about language from these different approaches: the long, slow, “nose-to-data” approach to interactional data which characterises much linguistic ethnography; the qualitative thematic analysis which literacy studies often draws on; and the identification of patterns across thousands or millions of words which gives corpus linguistics its particular value. I will consider the warrants each of these approaches can provide for the claims that it makes, and the different ways of knowing about language that are enabled by each of them. The lecture will invite the audience to think about the assumptions that are built into the approaches to language that they have been thinking about during the summer school, and more broadly, the nature of the claims to truth that the discipline makes.


Karin Tusting is a full professor at the Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, UK. Her research focuses on workplace literacy practices. She recently led an ESRC-funded project exploring academics’ writing practices, published as Academics Writing: The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation (with McCulloch, Bhatt, Hamilton and Barton, Routledge 2019). She has been a leading figure in the development of linguistic ethnography, convened the BAAL Linguistic Ethnography Special Interest Group for six years, and edited The Routledge Handbook of Linguistic Ethnography (2020).