By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Review of The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Fieldwork
EDITOR: Thieberger, Nicholas TITLE: The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Fieldwork SERIES: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2011
Carmen Jany, Department of World Languages, California State University, San Bernardino
The book under review, ‘The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Fieldwork’, is a practical guide for field linguists. It focuses on the cultural context of linguistic fieldwork and its collaborative nature across linguistic subfields and disciplines. As the editor, Nicholas Thieberger, notes in the introduction, this volume provides advice on ‘optimizing both the form and content of field material’ (p. 2) at a time when it has become clear that language documentation encompasses recording a wide range of materials on as many aspects as possible. The volume features twenty contributions by both well-established and experienced fieldworkers and younger scholars across several disciplines. The main goal is to guide fieldworkers towards recording various aspects of human knowledge and creating high quality, reusable, and accessible primary data. The volume is divided into four parts: ‘Part I: Data collection and management’, ‘Part II: Recording performance’, ‘Part III: Collaborating with other disciplines’, and ‘Part IV: Collaborating with the community’.
Part I: Data collection and management
The first section of the volume focuses on the choice and use of equipment, experimental field elicitation to record conceptual categories, using the right techniques for elicitation and text collection, and the creation of a lasting record.
In Chapter 1, Anna Margetts and Andrew Margetts outline, in great detail, techniques and proper selection of equipment for making the best quality audio and video recordings. Moreover, they provide suggestions on how to deal with the power supply for the recording equipment in various field situations. Included is also a content list of a basic field kit.
Chapter 2 discusses various elicitation techniques to capture semantic categories. In this chapter, Asifa Majid informs us about the basic tools and methodology for using non linguistic stimuli to explore semantics in language and warns us about potential pitfalls and dangers. She describes how to select and create stimuli, how to administer tests, and how to record and evaluate outcomes.
In Chapter 3, Ulrike Mosel provides a guide to field guides for morphosyntactic analyses. Surveying the existing literature, she highlights the advantages and disadvantages of various field methods, from the selection and training of consultants to the actual data collection, zeroing in on elicitation techniques (translational versus non translational) and text types for corpus creation.
Chapter 4 guides us through the process of fieldwork data management. Nicholas Thieberber and Andrea L. Berez offer advice on how to create and manage ‘long lasting, archivable primary data’ (p. 91) in the course of linguistic fieldwork. Via illustrations and examples, they discuss the planning stage prior to fieldwork, the workflow for creating well-formed data and metadata in the field and afterward, and the technology used for data management. Overall, they advocate for the importance of creating a well constructed and reusable set of data as a solid foundation for long lasting use and research.
Part II: Recording performance
The second section of the volume deals with recording performances of various kinds.
In Chapter 5, Miriam Meyerhoff, Chie Adachi, Golnaz Nanbaksh, and Anna Strycharz review techniques for examining sociolinguistic variation within speech communities. They start out by outlining key concepts in sociolinguistics, such as the observer’s paradox, the sociolinguistic variable, and the concept of speech community. Furthermore, they discuss practical matters in data collection, from setting the stage and getting started to creating and conducting a sociolinguistic interview. They focus on methods for addressing the observer’s paradox in the interview and conclude with a review of some merits and pitfalls of an alternative model, the group interview, while including tips for successful group recordings in the appendix.
Chapter 6 deals with reasons and guidelines for documenting gestures. Mandana Seyfeddinipur provides an overview of the approaches and methods for linguistic fieldworkers to examine the multifaceted and understudied phenomenon of gesture. She includes tips on how to record gestures, what topics may prompt certain kinds of gestures, and how to create basic annotations of the collected data. In this chapter, the concept of gesture is narrowed down to the ‘hand and arm movements speakers make when they communicate’ (p. 148). Seyfeddinipur exemplifies several cross linguistic, cross cultural, and cognitive differences of gestures manifested in repertoire, size, content, orientation, and types of gestures.
In Chapter 7, Linda Barwick advances reasons for including musical performance in fieldwork corpora. She stresses the significance of human musical capacities and provides suggestions for linguistic researchers to engage in the documentation of song texts and other dimensions of musical performance.
Part III: Collaborating with other disciplines
This section, which is the largest, comprises half of the volume’s papers, for a total of ten contributions. It deals with the interdisciplinary nature of fieldwork and stresses the need for working with experts from other disciplines.
Chapter 8 focuses on collaboration with anthropologists and musicologists. Nicholas Evans presents case studies from his own fieldwork on Iwaidja to illustrate how collaborative interdisciplinary fieldwork can help the linguist solve analytic problems related to the investigation of the verb lexicon and create a richer record to include such details as five gender distinctions and distinct verbs of wearing for different body parts.
In Chapter 9, Laurent Dousset points out central concepts related to kinship and social organization and provides guidelines for the field linguist for recording data. Social organization is distinct from, yet related to, kinship itself, and must be treated separately. While social organization centers on society and describes the structure of general social distinctions, kinship focuses on the relationships between particular individuals from an egocentric point of view.
Chapter 10 treats the anthropology of food. Nancy Pollock provides an overview of the language of food. She notes that food carries many meanings that are open to diverse interpretations and that it is analyzed and discussed using very specialized concepts pertinent to the disciplines of economics, nutrition, and social science. The language of economics differs from the language of nutrition, which in turn differs from that of social science. Within an economic perspective, food is viewed in terms of food supplies, food poverty and hunger, and food security. From a nutritional perspective, food is dealt with in terms of health and well being. The dimensions of food sharing and the place of food in social interaction are treated within social science.
In the following chapter (Chapter 11), Barry J. Conn offers a brief introduction to the techniques used for collecting botanical specimens. Conn stresses the importance of knowing the identity of plant species and their scientific names so that collected information is available to everyone. The chapter includes many practical instructions for pre fieldwork planning and preparing a collecting equipment kit, collecting good specimens and preserving them through pressing and drying, as well as how to construct appropriate field notes.
In Chapter 12, Will McClatchey discusses some key concepts of ethnobiology, defined as the study of the dynamic relationships among peoples, biota, and environments. More specifically, he focuses on how biological knowledge is acquired, learned, and controlled, e.g., hierarchical folk classification systems for plants and animals (e.g. animal, bird, raptor, owl, barn owl). He outlines five common field methods used for ethnobiological data collection (i.e. free listing, inventory interview, environmental transect, area inventory, and artifact interview) and comments on the ethical and legal issues involved in collecting physical and other types of evidence.
Chapter 13 deals with the recording of technical processes. Techniques are responsible for producing social ties and types of information as they are transforming the material world. After introducing several key concepts, Pierre Lemonnier presents two case studies from the Anga people in Papua New Guinea, paying close attention to the making and using of artifacts, such as the Baruya fence and the Ankave drum. The case studies illustrate how technical processes need to be understood within their cultural context. Lemonnier concludes the chapter with comments for the linguistic fieldworker regarding field questions and methods and collecting linguistic data, such as multiple descriptions of technical activities.
In Chapter 14, cross-cultural quantification and mathematical algorithms are presented. Marc Chemillier introduces the field linguist to work in ethnomathematics and shows how mathematical concepts can be extracted from fieldwork situations. He presents observations on the best way to record and annotate data while visiting the field, the completeness of data collection during fieldwork and checking for consistence of mathematical knowledge, and specific topics, such as vernacular lexicons used for numbers and measurement and mathematical operations in societies with no number above five. Moreover, via his fieldwork in Madagascar, Chemillier illustrates how gestures can convey mathematical ideas.
Jarita Holbrook elaborates on cultural astronomy for linguists in Chapter 15. All human cultures have some sort of sky knowledge and a relationship to the sky through observation, perception, and use, such as through stories, art, timekeeping, and night navigation. Holbrook offers a crash course in cultural astronomy from suggestions on how to prepare before going to the field, to what type of information to collect from simple terms, such as names for cardinal directions and stars, to names for more complex phenomena, such as comets, eclipses, faint starts, zodiac constellations, and weather predictions using the night sky. From the sky we move to terrestrial topics.
In Chapter 16, Andrew G. Turk, David M. Mark, Carolyn O’Meara, and David Stea discuss motivations and techniques for documenting terms for the human environment in ethnophysiography, a field that seeks to understand cultural differences in conceptualizations of landscape. With illustrations from three case studies undertaken by the authors of this chapter (with the Yindjibarndi people in Australia, the Navajo in the Southwestern United States, and the Seri in Mexico), they summarize methods used in obtaining terms for landscape features and toponyms. In addition, they identify and address a set of threats to the validity of the collected information. The authors also discuss several field methods (e.g. dictionary work and photo collection, field interviews, photo interpretation sessions, semi structured follow-up, reporting back and getting feedback) and conclude the chapter with a discussion of key ethical issues.
The last chapter of this section, Chapter 17, deals with toponomy. David Nash and Jane Simpson focus on the documentation and linguistic aspects of placenames. They discuss issues such as determining the location of the denomination in the field, the cross-cultural variability in categorization of landform types and built structure types, etymology and etiology, social significance of a place, structural properties of placenames, and data storage and presentation.
Part IV: Collaborating with the community
The fourth section of the volume includes three contributions treating topics related to ethical issues, like speakers’ consent, duration of fieldwork, and the authoring and archiving of collected material.
In Chapter 18, Keren Rice surveys some ethical issues that arise in fieldwork and frames them in terms of individuals, communities, and scholarship, advocating for longer field experiences in order to get to know the community and to establish a relationship with it. Rice notes a resurgence of attention to ethics in linguistic fieldwork and documentary linguistics and lists several key sources in her appendix. The author summarizes three ethics protocols and walks us through the process of institutional ethics approval and getting started and working in the community, including considerations regarding scholarship, from data recording to intellectual property rights.
Paul Newman, in Chapter 19, discusses copyright and intellectual property rights. Copyright deals with intangible mental products and covers artistic and literary creations in the broadest sense. Newman summarizes a number of general copyright laws and then proceeds to the basics of US copyright law. Of particular interest to the fieldworker is the section distinguishing different types of collaborators and their copyright entitlements. While contributions of informants (i.e. providers of natural language data), subjects (such as those in a sociolinguistic study), and consultants (i.e. providers of ideas and information) are not copyrighted, those of text providers are. It is suggested that the fieldworker obtain a non exclusive license to use copyrighted collected texts for linguistic research. The appendix provides useful samples of copyright transfer and license forms.
In the last chapter, Chapter 20, Monica Macaulay deals with the personal and psychological difficulties of fieldwork. The author illustrates the need to better train graduate students in these matters through a very personal account of fieldwork experience presented via excerpts from her fieldwork journal. Areas such as the mechanics of fieldwork (getting into the community, and finding and paying consultants), health and safety, food, and culture shock need to be addressed before going into the field. A good start is to familiarize oneself with the anthropological literature about the culture and community prior to travel.
As Nicholas Evans notes, ‘undocumented languages contain too much information to be wasted on linguists alone’ (p. 183). Focusing on interdisciplinary collaboration, this volume is a fine collection of papers that demonstrate the importance of creating a lasting and comprehensive linguistic record which goes beyond traditional linguistic fieldwork. More than half of the chapters stress the need for cross disciplinary work and encourage the field linguist to collect data beyond the usual elicitation and text collection. In this sense, this handbook is very timely, representing a shift in the field of language documentation, from primarily focusing on formal properties of language and relying heavily on elicitation to collecting data on a wide range of cultural practices and a great variety of genres. However, the reader may be surprised to find such content in this volume when judging from the title alone. A title such as ‘Handbook of Interdisciplinary Language Documentation’ may be more fitting and representative of this volume.
The volume includes many themes which have not been central to linguistic explorations, such as astronomy and mathematics, among others. As a handbook, it is expected to provide the reader with accessible instructions and references for the covered topics. Most chapters certainly achieve this goal by providing concise, yet sufficiently detailed, specific practical notes and guides to introduce the field linguist to the tools and practices available in a particular discipline. Some chapters, however, such as Pollock’s contribution on the language of food, simply present an overview of the key concepts in a given discipline without offering specific practical tools for the field worker. Nevertheless, this does not impinge upon the fact that this volume constitutes an excellent source of information and guidance for any field linguist. Although a fieldworker may not always be able to take all the interdisciplinary suggestions offered in this volume into consideration, this handbook provides many useful ideas for what to look for while in the field and how to go about documenting interesting features beyond linguistic structure. Even a seasoned fieldworker will find ideas for new concepts to work on to enrich already collected data. Conn’s chapter is particularly valuable, as it concisely outlines the basic methods of botanical collecting with practical suggestions for the requirements of such fieldwork. Finally, one of the major strengths of this work is the fact that, while the authors come from a wide variety of disciplines, they are all experienced fieldworkers and are, thus, able to share their experiences and lessons learned with the reader. In most chapters, the techniques and practices covered are exemplified and illustrated via real field situations from across the globe.
It has to be noted that, while the volume covers many different topics pertinent to cross disciplinary language documentation, it is a coherent piece of work. Appropriately divided into four parts, each part covers a major theme of the handbook. The uneven distribution of contributions across the four parts only highlights the major focus of this handbook, namely, to serve as an interdisciplinary guide for the linguistic fieldworker. It is unfortunate that some topics were not included. For example, in the second part, treating the documentation of performance, I would have welcomed a paper on storytelling and other topics related to verbal art, such as poetry. As noted by Nicholas Thieberger in the introductory paper, a chapter on zoology would have been a nice addition to the volume. I would have also liked to see a paper on folk medicine.
There is certainly no shortage of recently published handbooks and other guides on linguistic fieldwork and language documentation (Austin and Sallabank 2011, Gippert, Himmelmann, and Mosel 2006, Grenoble and Furbee 2010, Chelliah and de Reuse 2011). However, a handbook reflecting the current status of linguistic fieldwork as an interdisciplinary and collaborative enterprise is a welcomed addition to the existing literature. In sum, this handbook is a timely publication that does not duplicate, but rather complements, other recently published guides on linguistic fieldwork (Chelliah et al. 2011), as it embraces new trends in documentary linguistics, which is moving beyond traditional grammatical description. I welcome the growing encouragement to conduct more interdisciplinary fieldwork and highly recommend this rich source of information to any new or seasoned linguistic fieldworker.
Austin, Peter K. And Julia Sallabank eds. 2011. The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gippert, Jost, Nicholas Himmelmann, and Ulrike Mosel eds. 2006. Essentials of Language Documentation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Grenoble, Lenore A. and N. Louanna Furbee. 2010. Language Documentation: Practice and values. John Benjamins.
Chelliah, Shobhana L. and Willem J. de Reuse eds. 2011. Handbook of Descriptive Linguistic Fieldwork. London: Springer.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Carmen Jany received her PhD from UC Santa Barbara in 2007. She now holds a
position as Associate Professor of Linguistics and Spanish at California
State University in San Bernardino. Her main research interests include
linguistic typology, language documentation, Native American and other
endangered languages, morpho-syntax, phonetics and phonology, and language
contact. Currently, she is working on the grammatical description of
Chuxnabán Mixe, a Mexican indigenous language. Her dissertation was a
typologically framed grammatical description and analysis of Chimariko, an
extinct Northern California language.