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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Page 20 of 35 JUNE/JULY 2016 The Linguist 21 the language, providing a key so that records can be understood later. Just making a lot of recordings, in the hope that someone will be able to come along later and interpret them, is a recipe for failure. Consider one of the 'treasures' of Yale, the so-called Voynich manuscript (MS 408: named after the Polish- American collector who acquired it in 1912). It is a late 15th-century manuscript but in an unknown language. Because we have no documents that translate it, no dictionaries and no knowledge of the script used to write it, we can't read it. Compare that to Egyptian, where the Rosetta Stone – a bilingual text in Greek and Egyptian (in both hieroglyphics and demotic script) – provided the key to the language and allowed us to decode it. Of course, sometimes we may be lucky and chance recordings or keys may come to light. Five years ago, I spent some time at the archive of the Australian Institute of Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra listening to tape recordings from the 1960s. The tapes had been labelled with some language names, but the labels had fallen off. There was little information in the recordings themselves to identify the languages and speakers. Luckily, most of the languages of the region have some documentation, so I was able to match most of them to known languages. But there were several tapes which were from otherwise unrecorded languages. If the tapes had not included English translations, they probably would have been useless, rather than priceless records of languages now no longer spoken and otherwise unknown. Rewards and responsibilities In making recordings, there are many things that can go wrong, such as forgetting to plug the microphone into the recorder or the batteries running out. Some things are beyond the linguist's control: for example, I once had a highly venomous king brown snake slither across the floor of the porch where a Bardi elder and I were working. However, aspects of the process of language documentation can also lead to errors. It's very common to get the word for 'finger' when pointing to body parts. Much of this is common sense, but easy to overlook, especially if the fieldwork is brief. Working on language is not, of course, just working on the language. Languages are the communication systems of speakers and signers, and linguistics increasingly recognise the stake that language speakers and communities have in research on their languages. Fifty years ago, a linguist may have gone to the field with no thought that their work would be read by the language speakers who worked with them, or their descendants, or that the linguist had any obligation to the community or speakers they worked with beyond, perhaps, compensating them for their time. In many parts of the world this view has now shifted. Many linguists now recognise that they benefit a great deal from fieldwork, in terms of academic kudos, opportunities for promotion and the like, if not always in direct monetary terms. And though academic publication is often difficult to obtain, it is a lot easier for community members to read and react to the results of fieldwork about them and their languages than it used to be. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is providing language materials to community members who, for whatever reason, have been unable to learn their heritage language growing up. The 2nd edition of Claire Bowern's Linguistic Fieldwork: A practical guide was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. Notes 1 Macaulay, M (2004) 'Training Linguistics Students for the Realities of Fieldwork'. In Anthropological Linguistics, 46.2, Bloomington: Indiana University, 194-209 'A RNHEMLAND ARTIST GLEN NAMUNDJA WORKING ON AN , ARTWORK', MARK ROY, 1/11/14 VIA WIKIPEDIA (CC BY 2.0); RETOUCHED

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