Monday, 2 December 2013

Apples and Oranges and Acholi

I'm pretty sure there aren't muscles in my brain.  But I swear I can feel teeny tiny sinuous straining in my head when I stare at my data.  Raking over the pages.  Dicing it up.  Piecing it back together in new combinations. Milking every ounce of remotely interesting reportable information from it.  Participants 5 and 9 mentioned the word BLUE. great. no idea what that means. yet.

Two things are in the back of my mind: Daniel Dennett's latest book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, because one of the early chapters is about failure.  Strategic flops.  He talks a lot about the toil of generating ideas.  And it does feel like a rare and wonderful thing that we (people who have the luxury to just sit around and ponder) get a problem that really strains those brain muscles.  Data analysis has also brought to mind an image of sculptors from another age who could see their design within the marble while slowly chipping away toward it.  I am reasonably confident that somewhere within all the data I've collected, if I sift and sort enough, the description I envisioned at the start is poised to emerge.  What I don't know is what tools I need to get there.  And then again, if my first pass at designing an experiment like this wasn't quite right, was it a strategic flop?  Did it generate anything that will lead me in the right direction next time or provide a least (fingers crossed) a partial picture?

When I initially designed my experiment, (The experiment was conducted in three stages. Participants were asked to watch a short video on a laptop from Youtube titled, ‘Crazy Nigerians’ which they might watch alone or in pairs. They were asked to describe what they had seen in Acholi, ‘Lok ma ineno/ Tell me what you saw,’ then they were handed a mobile device to answer question(s) about the video, and finally they described the scene again in English.)  I knew that it might not work (the risk of all experiments), but I hoped it would provide a certain kind of data, a certain kind of description of the situation I was investigating.  Unlike previous qualitative work, this experiment might be more useful to software engineers.  Additionally, it narrows the focus from language or communication generally to event construal, or a type of cognitive connection to language.  How we conceptualize an event in time and space, who was there, etc... how this is stored in our memory and recalled through language has been shown by previous bilingual research to vary by language, but what happens when ICT is thrown in the mix? 

As mentioned in previous posts,  I modeled my experiment on the work of several others in the field of cognitive linguistics.  In particular, Aneta Pavlenko (the new president of the American Association for Applied Linguistics) and Christiane von Stutterheim an expert on narrative.  Once my results take shape, I will integrate comments from members of the software development community.  Just as I have done with earlier papers, writing to engage several disciplines is one of the biggest challenges.  I am by no means trying to please everyone, but at least get my point across and be prepared to answer reasonable criticism.   

In subsequent posts, I will be addressing initial themes as well as analysis techniques since this is a new, although adapted, method.  So far... the emergence of an alternative hypothesis indicating narrative disruption, the identity of the attacker in the video, and the conveyance of doubt/uncertainty have emerged as the main themes.... Stay tuned.

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