Negotiating meaning between researchers and language consultants: underlying languages and clashing concepts
Matthias Brenzinger (University of Cape Town)
The linguistic fieldworker is often assumed that an etic grid of concepts and categories can be established as a point of departure for linguistic description and analysis that allows for identifying diverging conceptualization. The presentation will discuss and exemplify that non-conformist concepts can often not be accommodated in this way. Fieldwork has to be understood as an ongoing reflection of preconceived understandings and expectations on both sides, by the scholars as well as the language consultants. Arguably, this becomes most relevant in producing a language description whenever meaning is construed –as obviously in the form of lexical semantics, but also with regard to grammatical functions and pragmatic mechanisms linked to specific linguistic constructions. Analyzing languages in the field might be seen as a cultural negotiation with the translation of meanings being compromises.
As one of our invited experts, Matthias Brenzinger is going to address and illustrate the negation of meanings based on his broad experience as a fieldworker in southern and eastern Africa. One of the examples will look at perception verbs as starting points for discussing the culturally entrenched understanding of the relationship between sensing and understanding, i.e. the true “nature of knowledge”. Khwe, and most likely other speakers of Khoeid languages, know things they have not perceived through body parts, such as ears, eyes, nose, mouths or fingers. Cultural thinking challenges, changes or substitutes information gained though sensory perception with vision being the most unreliable source. Perception verbs open the rather complex topic of the underlying concepts of cognition and knowledge.
Linguistic Fieldwork in Siberia: Experiences from Working with the Tundra Yukagir Speech Community
Cecilia Odé (University of Amsterdam)
Part I: Subjects
- In this first part I will discuss the following issues (the list is not exhaustive and other issues may come up during the workshop):
- How to select and approach subjects for your research?
- How much do you pay them for what kind of work?
- What can you expect from your subjects?
- What can you accept from your subjects?
- How to gain the confidence of members of the speech community (not only of subjects)?
- How do you behave in difficult situations and who can you contact or trust?
- What about feedback for members of the speech community?
Part II: Local schools: teachers, pupils, education programmes
Teaching the Tundra Yukagir language is a hard job for the teachers. They don’t have much time, there are hardly any teaching materials, there is no properly working technical equipment, there are not enough native speakers who can assist, there is hardly any financial support.
The pupils are mostly very motivated which is an absolute first requirement. However, they do not reach a reasonable level in none of the four proficiencies. At home and among each other they do not speak the native language, the only practice they have is in the classroom. The method of teaching the language is the traditional translation method. There are no modern learning possibilities by means of computers: either they have not been developed, or the computers are broken down.
With concrete examples I will discuss these difficulties and I will make some suggestions how a fieldworker can encourage teachers and pupils to solve their problems.
Doing Fieldwork on Contact Languages: What is the Ideal Consultant?
Evgeniy Golovko (Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg)
It is widely assumed that, unlike dialects of ‘a normal language’ (Finnish, Russian, etc.) which form a dialect continuum, contact languages, due to inherent variability, form a (post-pidgin, post-creole) contact continuum ranging from basilect to acrolect. While basilect has fewer features in common with lexifier language, acrolect turns out to be much closer to it. In my paper I will approach the material of two Russian-based pidgins (Taimyr pidgin and Russian Chinese pidgin) recorded by different linguists at different periods of time. I will examine how well the material of Russian-based pidgins fits the above-mentioned concept. I will also consider to what extent the social parameters of consultant-researcher interaction influence the result.
The material analyzed in the second part of my presentation comes from my own field data on Mednyj Aleut – a mixed language that emerged as a result of the intertwining between Aleut and Russian. I will demonstrate that the linguistic biography of a consultant, as well as the mode of communication between consultant and linguist, may be determinant as regards the structural properties of linguistic material and the interpretation.
Ket linguistic fieldwork and Yeniseian historical linguistics
Edward Vajda (Western Washington University)
The Yeniseian family of central Siberia contains several extinct languages and the severely endangered Ket, for which documentation is still possible. Fieldwork with the last generation of native speakers over the past decade has resulted in a clearer understanding of the language’s polysynthetic verb structure. This refined comprehension of the verb system, in turn, has yielded several recent advances in tracing the historical diversification of the Yeniseian family. Innovative developments in verb structure have helped define the family’s internal subgrouping and also provide a much clearer picture of language contact with the surrounding Uralic, Tungusic, and Turkic languages of the area. While linguistic fieldwork is generally valued for its use in creating synchronic descriptions, the data collected from disappearing languages can also play a crucial role in informing diachronic linguistic investigations.
At the crossroads – a journey from an essentialist look at one target language towards a multidisciplinary, multisited, multilingual documentation project
Friederike Lüpke (School of Oriental and African Studies, London)
Linguistic researchers and the speakers they work with alike often have strong essentialist, purist and graphocentric language ideologies. These ideologies influence the design and results of research projects, as they frame the questions linguists can ask and answer on languages. In this talk, I describe the journey I have taken with colleagues away from documenting several target languages – Baïnounk languages spoken in Casamance (Senegal) to documenting multilingual repertoires in different field sites, where individual repertoires span 6 to 8 languages and children grow up aquiring at least three languages simultaneously. In describing this development from individual pilot research to a major collaborative project investigating the relation between more and less mono- and multilingual language modes and communities of practice and social networks, I draw on some challenges that often face fieldworkers and show the strategies we have chosen to address them. These comprise:
- the tension between short-term research dictated by funding constraints and long-term, collaborative, inter- and multidisciplinary perspectives.
- the tension between purist ideologies and hybrid practices (in researchers and researched alike)
- the absence of training in ethnography, corpus linguistics, and multilingualism research in most field linguistis programmes and the need to adopt methods from these and other fields.