UCT Language Attitudes Update #2: The Interviews

Penguins at Boulders Beach

So, in my last post, I focused on building the matched-guise study.  Even though I probably left that I little confusing, I would like your permission to move onto what proved to be a more frustrating part of my study – the interviews. Given that this blog is primarily meant to shed some light on the W&M undergraduate research experience, I think such a post would be more relevant. Thanks for understanding!

To give a brief initial summary, once I reached South Africa, I spent the next day meeting with Linguistics professors at the University of Cape Town and visiting some of their classes to ask for participants. That part went very well, and lots of students signed-up for the matched-guise study, the primary, quantitative part of my study. Fewer than who signed-up came, but that was okay, since a bunch still showed and I was still gathering data. Furthermore, my advisor’s voice was always in the back of my head saying “Any data is good data!” – thus bringing me joy at the appearance of any participant at all.

After they had participated in the matched guise study, I gave the participants the option to sign-up for a sociolinguistic interview with me, based on their answers to the supplemental questionnaire that more directly elicited their language attitudes. A lot signed-up! I was happy. 🙂

I also went into the large Level 1 Linguistics class and pleaded for interviews. Even more signed-up! I was happier. 🙂

Then, learning the hard way, I found out the reality of asking for and scheduling  voluntary follow-up interviews for a two-week linguistics study: there is no accountability whatsoever, and you will not be in their lives for long (zero-guilt). So, out of the about thirty students who signed-up for interviews, I got about ten. Still a decent number (Any data is good data!), but not one that kept me a happy clam at the time. What made it worse was that I could not exactly do things other than sit and read articles, all alone in the room I was provided, as I waited for invisible participants. The thought that someone might actually show kept me sitting still for days. I was kind of unhappy. :/

However, in retrospect, getting the interviews I did was great! I also filled some of the time with interviews with faculty and past-grad students, which were fun to conduct.

My core interview schedule was based on my supplemental questionnaire, completed at the conclusion of the matched-guise study. This questionnaire directly elicited both intrinsic and extrinsic attitudes (based on Ramsay-Brijball’s 2004 study of students at the University of Durban-Westville in KzaZulu-Natal) towards Xhosa, English, Afrikaans, and codeswitching. To look at intrinsic attitudes, I asked them to rate on a scale their agreement with:

  • Speaking _____ is important to my identity.
  • Being able to switch between two or more languages is important to my identity.

To elicit extrinsic attitudes, simply replace “important to my identity” with “necessary to my success in life.” If you are confused about intrinsic vs. extrinsic, I like to think of the difference by how they are influenced – intrinsic attitudes are influenced from your own personal values and beliefs, while extrinsic attitudes are influenced by the outside world. This is where we get the difference between “important” and “necessary.”

The supplement also asked for personal information, such as majors and minors, age, gender, and then a linguistic profile. The profile had four questions:

  • What languages or language varieties do you speak?
  • What languages or language varieties do you speak with your family?
  • What languages or language varieties do you speak with your friends?
  • What languages or language varieties do you speak on campus?

You may wonder why these distinctions are important – it’s because the focus is attitudes. Someone who speaks both English and Afrikaans, but only speaks Afrikaans at home, could very likely have a different attitude towards the language than someone who regularly codeswitches between the two with his friends. This data will also be used to find different correlations with the matched-guise data, since the participants each had a code to keep track of these things.

So, my interviews basically consisted of tailoring follow-up questions to the answers provided on these supplements. I found out rather quickly that they did not need to last long, since I had very direct questions that did not allow for excellent follow-up material (answers I could use for further questions). However, every once and awhile I would get a talkative person (a.k.a. a breath of fresh air) who would give me great answers to form follow-ups.

In summary, follow-up interviews are unpredictable in every way. You literally never know who/what/when/why you’re going to get what you do, so just be happy when you get something! =)


  1. gadriessnack says:

    Mike, I am totally with you on this one! I conducted ethnographical interviews for data collection and experienced similar frustrations. I free-lanced it a bit more and simply walked out into the community I was staying in and randomly selected folks to talk too. But the interviews had a wide-range of success. Some people seemed to get very confused between the translator and myself and the meaning behind questions was somehow lost or not conveyed properly. And then, of course, my two translators were members of a non-profit themselves and were quite busy, making it all the more difficult to get more than five interviews done a day. Oh the joys of research eh? But I really like your philosophy of “Any data is good data.” That is true in my book as well! It seems like you really persevered and good on ya for it!