In assessing a language situation, we attempt to answer such questions as:
- How linguistically similar is one speech variety to another?
- How intelligible is one speech variety to speakers of another variety?
- By whom is the variety used? Under what circumstances is the variety used? By what name do the speakers of a linguistic variety call themselves? Where are the speakers of a language variety located?
- Do people of a community regularly use more than one speech variety in their daily life? What is their level of proficiency in each of the speech varieties they use?
- What are the relevant social, economic, political and religious factors which affect language attitudes and use?
- Is there language shift in progress?
Many of the answers to these questions can be found by conducting a language survey. The methods used on these surveys include the collection of wordlists in order to determine lexical similarity, intelligibility tests using recorded texts, bilingual proficiency evaluations, questionnaires, group and individual interviews, and observations.
Representative sampling (as much as is possible under field conditions) allows us to produce sociolinguistic profiles of the communities we survey.
Our surveys make use of existing research material whenever possible and add our own primary data. The resulting analyses are used internally in SIL to make decisions about where to become involved in language development efforts. The data are also reported to the academic community through our publications, including books and electronic survey reports.
Surveys are not uniform in depth but are governed by many factors.
Some of the answers to the above questions are not easily obtained through
a survey. SIL field workers assigned to a language development project continue
to gather sociolinguistic data throughout their participation in a project
in order to guide the strategic planning of the project. This continuing assessment often uses participant observation
and ethnographic methods as well as questionnaire and interview techniques.