Have you ever heard of the term observer’s paradox? This is a sociolinguistic term which was introduced by Labov (1972, p. 209) who noted that “the aim of linguistic research in the community must be to find out how people talk when they are not being systematically observed; yet we can only obtain this data by systematic observation.”
Indeed, in order to be able to observe any linguistic phenomenon and carefully analyze it, this phenomenon needs to be recorded (e.g. in the form of an audio or video recording); however, as soon as speakers are aware that they are being observed, their linguistic behaviour may change.
What are the ways to overcome the observer’s paradox? Have you ever conducted research (or participated in a research) where observer’s paradox was or might be a cause of the change in participants’ linguistic behaviour? How reliable is the recorded data which linguists explore and which might be subjected to the observer’s paradox?
Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.