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Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
Linguistic Fieldwork
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Linguistic Fieldwork

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Presentation given at School of Oriental and African Studies, December 2009

Presentation given at School of Oriental and African Studies, December 2009

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  • 1. Linguistic Fieldwork: An Introduction <ul><li>Peter K. Austin </li></ul><ul><li>Endangered Languages Academic Programme </li></ul><ul><li>Linguistics Department, SOAS </li></ul><ul><li>7 th December 2009 </li></ul><ul><li>© 2009 Peter K. Austin </li></ul>
  • 2.  
  • 3. Overview of this presentation <ul><li>Defining “linguistic fieldwork” </li></ul><ul><li>A little bit of history </li></ul><ul><li>Why do we do fieldwork? </li></ul><ul><li>Where do we do fieldwork? </li></ul><ul><li>How do we do fieldwork? – a little bit about methods and styles </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusions </li></ul>
  • 4. Definitions <ul><li>Bowern (2008:2) “Fieldwork (not just linguistic fieldwork) is about collecting data in its natural environment … when linguists go to the field, they are going to study the natural environment for their object of study – that is, they go to study a language in the place where it is spoken, by the people who usually speak it. Of course, it’s not quite that easy. Linguists don’t just ‘dig up’ the grammar of a language to put it in grammar book. We work with real people, and become part of the data collection process ourselves (cf. Hyman 2001).” </li></ul>
  • 5. Kennedy discovers the gerund and leads it back into captivity
  • 6. More on definitions <ul><li>Bowern (2008:7) “So, after all that, what is ‘fieldwork’? My definition is rather broad. It involves the collection of accurate data in an ethical manner . It involves producing a result which both the community and the linguist approve of . That is, the ‘community’ (the people who are affected by your being there collecting data) should know why you’re there, what you’re doing, and they should be comfortable with the methodology and the outcome. You should also be satisfied with the arrangements. The third component involves the linguist interacting with a community of speakers at some level . That is, fieldwork involves doing research in a place where the language is spoken, not finding a speaker at your university and eliciting data from them.” (emphasis added – PKA) </li></ul>
  • 7. A bit of history <ul><li>Up until 19 th century linguistics tended to be based on studying books or written materials, describing languages or testing out theories about language structure and history </li></ul><ul><li>Information on “exotic languages” typically came from reports by missionaries, amateur settlers, or explorers – professional linguists rarely ventured out from their offices </li></ul><ul><li>the first researchers actually going into the field in 19 th century were linguist-anthropologists studying indigenous languages in America, Asia and Australia-Pacific region or dialectologists in Europe keen to record local dialects and folklore (France, Germany, Italy) </li></ul>
  • 8. eg. Atlas Linguistique de la France <ul><li>1897-1901 Edmond Edmont (a grocer) helped collect data on French dialects for the Swiss linguist Jules Gilliéron by cycling through 639 localities in France and the French-speaking parts of Belgium, Switzerland and Italy </li></ul><ul><li>he collected phonetic data transcribed in a consistent phonetic alphabet and interviewed males aged between 15 and 85 (considered to be ‘local intellectuals’ and good ‘folk speakers’) </li></ul><ul><li>Note : this was slow to catch on in England </li></ul><ul><li>1875:  Alexander Ellis (English dialect collector) said:  “Collecting country words is looked upon as an amusement, not as laying a brick in the temple of science”. </li></ul><ul><li>1948:  Eugen Dieth of Zurich and Harold Orton   of Leeds started the  Survey of English Dialects (SED) </li></ul>
  • 9. In North America <ul><li>1890-1940 Franz Boas was a strong supporter of anthropological and linguistic fieldwork among native American groups and sponsored and trained generations of researchers who did summer field trips, as well as training native speakers to do research on their own languages and to co-publish their results </li></ul>
  • 10.  
  • 11.  
  • 12. <ul><li>Boas’ famous students included Sapir, Bloomfield, Haas, Kroeber, Swadesh, all of whom did fieldwork on indigenous languages and trained a generation of their own students (eg. Survey of California Indian Languages at UC Berkeley) who did fieldwork on native American languages </li></ul>
  • 13. Cultural change – 1955 onwards <ul><li>Fieldwork and descriptive linguistics was side-lined in Linguistics Departments by the emergence of Chomsky in 1955, and the devaluation of “mere description” in favour of “theory” and introspection </li></ul><ul><li>Fieldwork continued to be done by linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists, but often in Education, Anthropology or other Departments </li></ul>
  • 14. In the UK <ul><li>1910-1940: British anthropologists such as Bronisław Malinowsky emphasised fieldwork and studies of local languages </li></ul><ul><li>Fieldwork was an important part of research at SOAS from 1930’s to 1960’s, especially for Asian and African languages (eg. Milner, Robins, Hudson, Smith) and at some other universities </li></ul>
  • 15. SOAS – Endangered Languages <ul><li>Fieldwork all but died out between 1970’s and 2000 in Linguistics Departments as Chomskian linguistics dominated the UK scene </li></ul><ul><li>The Endangered Languages Academic Programme was founded in 2003 – all staff and students do fieldwork across the world, and the Fieldmethods course is a central part of the MA in Language Documentation and Description </li></ul>
  • 16. Technology plays a role in fieldwork <ul><li>Starting in the late 19 th century, linguists and anthropologists made recordings of indigenous languages </li></ul><ul><li>using the latest technology </li></ul>
  • 17. Equipment became smaller in the 1970s, but still researchers intruded into people’s lives
  • 18.  
  • 19. Today compact equipment means we can go to where the languages are spoken and live together with the people, and learn their languages
  • 20. Why do fieldwork? <ul><li>to document linguistic diversity </li></ul><ul><li>about 7,000 languages are spoken on earth today, 50% are endangered and may disappear this century </li></ul><ul><ul><li>very few languages have been properly studied and most of them have never been recorded or written down </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>around 2,000 languages have writing, most of them very recently, and so around 5,000 languages have no written form </li></ul></ul><ul><li>studying languages in the field provides the data to answer fundamental questions like: ‘what are languages like and how are they used?’, ‘are there universal characteristics shared by all languages, cultures and societies?’, ‘how much variation or difference can there be between languages/varieties and how is it patterned?’ </li></ul>
  • 21. Why do fieldwork? <ul><li>Intellectual satisfaction of solving complex descriptive and analytical problems, test theories, encounter other ways of being/living/talking, and try to understand them </li></ul><ul><li>to support communities whose languages are under pressure by documenting and strengthening them </li></ul><ul><li>to forge meaningful relationships with members of other communities and cultures and experience significant cultural/social events </li></ul><ul><li>to learn amazing languages that are different from one’s own in interesting and challenging ways </li></ul><ul><li>to be able to go to exotic locations and tell everyone about it when you get home safely </li></ul>
  • 22. Where do we do fieldwork? <ul><li>Prototypically, fieldwork is done in remote locations, requiring long distance travel, living in basic conditions, under attack from diseases and creepy crawlies, and at some personal risk (what I have called elsewhere the “Crocodile Dundee Fieldwork Model”) </li></ul>
  • 23. You call that a morpheme? This is a morpheme
  • 24. Fieldwork places <ul><li>however we can also do fieldwork in situ , especially among diaspora or immigrant communities in major urban centres like London with its 400 languages and vibrant communities and cultures in which they are used </li></ul><ul><li>access to field sites depends on who is doing the research. In some cases, due to physical or political or social danger, it is not possible to go to remote locations, and so local fieldwork is the best or only alternative </li></ul>
  • 25. How do we do fieldwork? <ul><li>There are several well-tried fieldwork methods and each has its own advantages and disadvantages (see References handout): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>participant observation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>elicitation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>staged communication </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Some linguists insist that you have to learn the language being studied and use it as much as possible (monolingual fieldwork) while others rely on lingua francas (eg. Spanish, Hausa, Bislama) and translation, and others use a mixture </li></ul>
  • 26. Participant observation <ul><li>other terms: ‘naturalistic data’, ‘spontaneous speech data’ </li></ul><ul><li>external interference is limited to the fact that the communicative event is being observed and recorded – attempt to create a ‘natural’ context of interaction (story telling, ritual, conversation etc) </li></ul><ul><li>generally constitutes the backbone of a language documentation and an important component of a data corpus </li></ul>
  • 27. Data resulting from monologues <ul><li>PLUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Have a high degree of ecological validity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Yield phonologically, semantically and syntactically natural utterances </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Give insight into the culture, if thematically balanced </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Show high-frequency phenomena </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MINUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Can seem ‘natural’ but actually aren’t because the cultural settings are not respected </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can contain pragmatic oddities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Are not very controlled </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Many features are not quantifiable because a unique performance of one speaker </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t offer negative evidence and are not good for low-frequency phenomena </li></ul></ul>“ The elephant went into the forest and waited for the lion...”
  • 28. Data resulting from conversation <ul><li>PLUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>often seen as the non-plus-ultra in naturalness </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>yields data that are naturalistic in every respect </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>also gives important information about the culture </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MINUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>not controlled at all </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>very difficult to get </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>tedious and time-consuming to transcribe </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>even more time-consuming to analyse </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>doesn’t offer negative evidence and insight into low-frequency phenomena </li></ul></ul>A: “you won’t believe what I heard on the bus this morning” B: “are you still catching the 19 to Euston?”
  • 29. Elicitation <ul><li>Contextualising elicitation : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Speakers are asked to comment on or provide contexts for a given word/construction. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Translation equivalent : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Speakers are asked to translate a given word/utterance. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Judgement : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Speakers are asked to evaluate the acceptability/grammaticality of a given form. </li></ul></ul>
  • 30. Data resulting from contextualis-ing elicitation <ul><li>PLUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Yield phonologically natural utterances. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can be quantified to some extent. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Are highly controlled, or at least seem to be. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Offer negative evidence </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MINUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Results depend heavily on the creativity of the researcher and the receptiveness of the consultant </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Easily lead to misunderstands that go by unnoticed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can thus yield syntactically, semantically, pragmatically odd utterances </li></ul></ul>“ How do you say hello to people in the morning?”
  • 31. Data resulting from translational equivalent elicitation <ul><li>PLUS : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Are easy when starting work on an unknown language </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Give good data to work on phoneme inventory, basic lexicon, and for lexical comparison </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Are quantifiable and highly controlled </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Offer negative evidence </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MINUS : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Yield phonologically odd utterances </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Give restricted picture of the extension of word in target language </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can easily lead to misunder-standings from lack of context </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Translatable items limited </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hyper-cooperative consultants may create neologisms </li></ul></ul>“ How do you say ‘my mother’ in Cicipu?”
  • 32. Data resulting from acceptability judgements <ul><li>PLUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>is controlled and quantifiable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>can give results for domains that are difficult to cover otherwise </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>gives comparable results for many fields </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>offers negative evidence </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MINUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>very often does not test acceptability of the utterance, but rather of the context provided for it </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>can therefore very often be contradicted by the same and by different speakers </li></ul></ul>Can I say ‘liwuru na’ when the book is lying over there?
  • 33. Staged communication <ul><li>Other term: ‘quasi naturalistic data’ </li></ul><ul><li>Communicative events that are enacted for the purpose of recording them for analysis: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Telling of a story/joke/the way to do something </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Description of a picture/acted video/animated video </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Matching/sorting game that involves non-linguistic categorisation or linguistic interaction. </li></ul></ul>
  • 34. Data resulting from static stimuli <ul><li>PLUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>is highly controlled, quantifiable and comparable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>yields phonologically, semantically and syntactically accurate data </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>is free from linguistic interference of the meta-language and from misunder-standings of context </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>can be used for non-linguistic categorisation tasks </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MINUS: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>validity of the data depends on coverage of the domain under inspection by the stimulus </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>if gaps in parameters, data can be severely flawed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>cross-cultural applicability can be limited </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>ese is limited to visually depictable scenes </li></ul></ul>
  • 35. Data resulting from dynamic stimuli, eg. videos <ul><li>PLUS: </li></ul><ul><li>yields phonologically, syntactically and semantically quantifiable and comparable data etc. (see previous slide) </li></ul><ul><li>can be used for non-linguistic categorisation tasks </li></ul><ul><li>MINUS : </li></ul><ul><li>see previous slide and: </li></ul><ul><li>requires the use of high-tech, which is complicated if not impossible in many field settings </li></ul><ul><li>if stimulus is abstractness and the purpose is unclear, misunderstandings can occur </li></ul>
  • 36. Data resulting from interactive stimuli <ul><li>PLUS : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>allows controlled interaction of two or more speakers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>yields quantifiable and comparable data </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>can be used for non-linguistic categorisation tasks </li></ul></ul><ul><li>MINUS : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>may create culturally inappropriate or strange situations. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>since the true purpose of the interaction is normally not known to the consultants, misunderstandings occur easily </li></ul></ul>
  • 37. Summary <ul><li>linguistic fieldwork is about working on language in culturally, socially and ethically appropriate ways in a context where the language is being used </li></ul><ul><li>linguistic fieldwork began in the 19 th century, was interrupted and side-lined by Chomskian “science”, and is now seeing a resurgence </li></ul><ul><li>we do fieldwork for a variety of reasons, in a variety of places, and using a variety of methods and styles </li></ul><ul><li>but mostly we do fieldwork because it’s fun </li></ul>
  • 38. The End

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