Hong Kong Study Circle vs. Nerd Girls

Blog » Hong Kong Study Circle vs. Nerd Girls

Posted on 10 Mar 2013 18:35

Pieces Analyzed:

  • John Swales The Concept of Discourse Community
  • Mary Bucholtz “Why be normal?”: Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls

Swales and Bucholtz both have a similar goal in their papers: to define what a discourse/practice community is (the terms are almost interchangeable; Swales uses discourse community and Bucholtz uses practice community), and to give a contemporary example of one specific discourse/practice community along with explanations for why that specific group fits into the definition of a discourse or practice community. However, Swales and Bucholtz both go in different directions to accomplish this common goal. Swales studies a group called the “Hong Kong Study Circle”, which is an international group devoted to studying and generating interest in the stamps of Hong Kong. Bucholtz, on the other hand, studies an anonymous group of girls in a California high school that she believes fit into the practice community of “nerd girls.”

Swales, in choosing the Hong Kong Study Circle discourse community, hoped to dispel the notion that discourse communities have to be academic or that their members have to be geographically close in proximity. He reveals the diversity of the group, noting that a fifth of the members are women and a third of them are non-native English speakers (Swales, 473-4). Additionally, Swales notes he attempted to participate in the discourse community, which would provide another incentive for choosing this particular group. To do his research, Swales studied the group closely through their bi-monthly newsletter. The data he presents is in the form of excerpts from these newsletters which display the community specific genres and highly specialized terminology of the discourse community. He also presents an anecdote of his early attempts to participate in the community and the responses those attempts elicited from the members. Swales chose to gather this kind of data because it best served his purpose of proving that this particular group was a discourse community. The excerpts display many of the characteristics Swales believes make a discourse community.

Mary Bucholtz, in choosing to study a practice community of nerd girls, was hoping to expose the inadequacies of the speech community model and to promote the use of the practice community model. Since she believes language and gender scholars are affected most by the shortcomings of the speech community model, she chose to analyze a group where she could focus on those two aspects. To do her research she conducted a study on a group of high school girls at an anonymous California high school that she felt exemplified the “nerd girl” practice community. Since her focus was primarily on language, her choice of data representation was though phonetic transcripts of the girls’ lunch conversations. She includes special syntax in these excerpts for pauses, voices talking over each other, laughing, etc. This very specific data allows Bucholtz to carefully examine the language practices of this community. Her entire analysis consists of these excerpts followed by an excruciatingly detailed breakdown of what the show about the “nerd girl” community.

Although Swales and Bucholtz chose very different cases to study, there are some similarities between their methods. First, they both have secondary motives: Swales wants to prove discourse communities do not have to be purely academic or geographically close, and Bucholtz wants to prove the speech community model is insufficient for studying cases like hers where language and gender are vital components. Both also choose methods of data representation that are specific to the point they want to make. Swales uses the newsletter excerpts to show the various genres and terminology at work in that community, while Bucholtz uses transcripts of actual conversations to show how vital spoken word is in the nerd girl practice community.

By studying the methods of research of these two discourse/practice community writers, I believe I can apply much of what I learned to my own project on discourse communities. For example, I must be careful in choosing what kind of data I present. Since I want to show that the discourse community I choose is in fact a discourse community according to Swales criteria, I will want to take an approach similar to that of Swales. That is, I must carefully choose excerpts of writing from the community that clearly display the various characteristics of a discourse community. Since I am also a member of the discourse community I am planning to research, I could draw on Swales method of using a personal anecdote to further my point.

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