The Linguist

The Linguist 55,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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20 The Linguist Vol/55 No/3 2016 FEATURES P eople have been doing linguistic fieldwork, as we know it today, for about 250 years. In 1784, a scientific expedition under the auspices of Catherine the Great provided word lists of many of the languages of the Russian Empire. It included languages not only of the Indo-European family, closely related to Russian, French, Latin, and other languages already well-known, but also Turkic, Caucasian and Finno-Ugric languages, and many others. Supplemented with dictionaries, this work by Peter Simon Pallas was published in 1786 under the title Linguarum totius orbis vocabularia comparativa ('Comparative Vocabularies of the Languages of the Whole World'). It led to a fundamental change in how people viewed linguistic diversity at the time. These days, of course, we know that the world's linguistic diversity is a lot greater than Pallas envisaged, but in other ways, his concerns very much mirror those of contemporary researchers. For example, he comments on how few of the languages are well known and well documented. Almost half of the 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world are endangered. Many of them have few speakers, and we therefore want to make sure that we have the best records of these languages that we can, both for linguistic work and for speech communities who may want to use those materials in future. Sometimes, a fieldworker's notes are the only record of a language. Many endangered languages have never been written down by the people who speak them. In Australia, where most of my fieldwork is done, the written documentation by native speakers of the country's c.400 languages is very small. Only a handful of languages, including Dhuwal (from Arnhem Land), Warlpiri (from the Tanami Desert) and Kaurna (from the Adelaide Plains), have much writing from native speakers. The vast majority of the languages are documented through non-fluent speakers, including not only professional linguists but also teachers, missionaries and the occasional 19th-century convict, taking dictation from community members or working from pre-made recordings. Because of the role that academic linguists – and community outsiders – have played in documenting the world's languages, it is all the more important for those linguists to have good training. From the personal to the professional Linguists still use fieldwork as a primary way of gathering data about the world's languages, although many things have changed since Pallas travelled across the Russian Empire. The biggest change is that we can make audio and video recordings and are not totally reliant on the written word for our documentary materials. This means that we can capture many more aspects of language than early field workers, including fine-grained details of pronunciation. But it also brings new challenges in the preservation and analysis of the materials themselves. We understand a lot about how to conserve ink and paper; we are still coming to grips with how best to preserve digital language records. Linguistic fieldwork is a special type of research. Like ethnographic research in anthropology and other types of interview- based research (such as folklore studies), it involves a unique mesh of the personal and professional, the 'scientific' and the emotional, the empirical, theoretical and technical. Fieldworkers have many hats in the field. The roles are as diverse as teacher, movie maker, scientist and secretary. Fieldwork is also typically very intense, making it both a challenging and a rewarding experience. In 2008, I wrote Linguistic Fieldwork: A practical guide, because I wanted a resource for my students who were going to the field. Existing resources covered something of how to elicit language data from speakers, but not the other things that go into fieldwork, such as how to get funding to do the work or how to make a decent sound recording. A few articles talked about personal challenges, such as Monica Macaulay's article on her graduate student fieldwork in Mexico, 1 but there wasn't a single resource that took students through the different aspects of a field project. From useless to priceless My own fieldwork centres on the linguistic situation in Australia, including work with the last speakers of Bardi (spoken by fewer than five people in the far northwest of Western Australia). Linguists in Australia have long been encouraged to negotiate their research programmes with community members, to involve community members in research, and to 'give back' to the community in some way, such as through the production of community- oriented language materials or training community members in language pedagogy. Gathering linguistic data isn't just a matter of making recordings of people speaking. A crucial part of linguistic fieldwork is analysing Claire Bowern looks at 250 years of linguistic fieldwork and how attitudes towards documenting languages, and the language communities involved, have changed in recent years Responsible research From the field

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