summary: consultant compensation

Robin Sabino sabinro at
Wed Mar 27 15:38:10 UTC 1996

Dear All,

Many thanks for sharing your experiences and for your suggestions. I 
was prompted to query because I wanted to compensate  
consultants/informants at rates that were fair to them and to 
other researchers. I am also hoping that paying for fluent language skills
will spur flagging interest among learners in younger generations.

It's been a while since the first posting and several people have posted 
directly to me, so I thought it useful to condense the 
contributions once they seemed to stop coming in. I've divided responses into
three categories. 


From: Allan Wechsler <awechsle at>

In the absence of firmer guidelines, my temptation is to explore the local 
market in private language tutors to find out the range of going rates.
From: Mark Donohue <wk767 at>

There can't be a set rate, because of socio-economic factors in 
different parts of the world, and because of differences in funding. 
Payment in money is, often VERY insulting and difficult to organize well 
as  opposed to payment in services and gifts (e.g., having a new well dug 
for a village). The most appropriate return from a linguist is work that s/he
is qualified to do (e.g., making primers, alphabet books, dictionary 
materials). Also important are talking about and making people aware of the 
issues involved in language endangerment and language survival.
From: jbobalj at (jonathan david bobaljik)

Though I believe fully that linguists should strive to benefit the community
they work with I am concerned about setting an (inter)national standard. 
There are several reasons:
1. $10 is pennies to some, and a month's salary to others.
2. Money is not always appropriate compensation. For example, if the 
economy is heavily depressed, if accepting $ for a favor is viewed as 
crass or as an admission of poverty. 

In order to avoid possible insult, I gave gifts (e.g., food, reading 
glasses, chocolates, a toy for a grandchild). In other cases,the 
consultant did not know they were compensated: I gave food to their (adult) 
children, explaining why. Since I also worked with groups whose members
stayed for different times, compensation was sometimes uneven. 

I am concerned that I made many of these decisions unilaterally. I did the
best I could, but would like to know what others have done in similar
situations.  In particular, if I were to force an elder to accept 50,000 
rubles for an hour of talk over tea, I would risk not being
welcomed back. More importantly, should I succeed in convincing the 
speakers that $10/hr is the going rate for consultant work, this 
might prove disastrous for Russian linguists doing field 
work as they will be unlikely to be able to pay anything near 
that percentage of their monthly salary.
>>From Eric M. Kapono" <erick at>

What I assume below is that is that, "consultants" are not "informants" 
when it comes to extensive field research.  While the latter can provide 
the details of the linguistic and cultural terrain, it is the former that 
navigates you through to your destination by pointing outlandmarks and 
other important features along the way.

Consultants of varying backgrounds (education, planning, legal, etc.) --
respected and bringing many years of experience to the job -- might 
charge a non-profit organization, say, $100/hr or $250/day. Thus, if you
have found an individual you know to have broad knowledge of his or her 
native language and culture, is a native speaker him/herself, has respect
amongst his/her own, and can provide language insight that _so few_ 
others can, why is this level of expertise not compensated accordingly? 

If one is researching Native American languages, the truly insightful 
individuals with a firm grasp of the breadth, depth and magnitude of their
language may be very few and very far between.  Recognize this person's 
level of knowledge like any other.  If money is the means, then pay up.


From: Jeff Marck <Jeff.Marck at>

The protocol for work with Australian Aborigines outside of Darwin is about
$20/hr or $100 a day (Australian dollars = about 75 cents U.S). In 
addition to those direct payments a lot of money goes to:

1. Feeding people as they are often not eating properly in the morning and 
the sessions go better if they've had some fruit, and then providing 
sandwiches for lunch (these sessions often include younger relatives (who 
are non-speakers or marginal speakers) who pick up what they can as the 
sessions transpire. Cost $10-15 fruit and drinks in the morning and $15-20
for sandwiches and drinks at lunch).
2.  Taking them to see their relatives in town once or twice a week 
(these days supplement data collection and occur mainly on the weekend 
and there are no payments to the speakers for those days).
3.  Helping financially at funerals.
4.  Helping people as they become terminally ill and move to the city to 
be closer to the hospital and need household furnishings (radio first, TV 
second, beds third, tables and living room furniture last).

This is all in the context of a system of grants which is rather liberal 
in its payments to the native speakers.  Researchers budgets "direct 
payments", the hourly or daily fees, and "gifts" (all the other stuff) 
and grant agencies and tax people here are used to it. 
and never challenge it.

The name and address of this respondent was lost during editing. My 
apologies, especially because very useful points are raised.  

In Canada I paid between 10 and 15 dollars/hr CAN.  Much more should be 
paid if you record songs on CD or so. I recommend that you give everybody 
small presents. Something characteristic of you and your home town or the 
like. In some communities you will have to bring tobacco, otherwise they
cannot do anything. Even if they do not smoke; they have to offer 
before telling stories.


From: Rob Pensalfini <rjpensal at>

In Australia, we pay what translates to about $10/hr.

sara trechter <STRECHTER at>

Recording Lakhota conversations with an experienced consultant on 
transcription and translation, I paid the people $10 dollars.

From: Karl Teeter <kvt at>

$10 unreasonable. I worked with Peter Paul in Canada from 1963-89, and at the 
beginning paid him $10; ended up with $25 or so, depending on what my 
grants gave me.

From: Monica Macaulay <macaulay at>
In 1992  the Karuk (Northern CA) charged $12.50/hr.

From: Susan Penfield <penfield at CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU>

Consultants for an endangered Native American language in the 
Southwest receive approximately $20/hr.

From: Alice Taff <taff at>

I pay fluent speakers $10-20/hr depending on their experience as 
consultants.  People who have done a lot of such work are more efficient 
since they know what to do.  These are Alaskan prices by the way.

Another missing address! Apologies, again.

In the lower BC area the standard rate is around $15/hr, plus 
transportation if the consultant is coming out to work with 
you (rather than your going there). 

From: Harry J. Harm <Harry_Harm at>

The rate depends on the local non-Native and Native economy and pay scales 
and on the employability of the consultants. In Mississippi the pay rate 
is US$10/hr.

From: Matthew Dryer <DRYER at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU>

$20/hr for native consultants.

From: Julie Brittain <julieb at>

I pay $15/hr Canadian at present - for work with untrained consultants;
others pay up to $20/hr if they find someone who is literate 
in their own language because this saves time and gets through more 

From: Kenneth C. Hill <hillk at CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU>

The Hopi Dictionary Project at the University of Arizona, funded by the 
National Endowment for the Humanities, has been paying language 
consultants $12.50/hr. This rate is more than the stingy University rules 
normally allow (the consultants don't have higher degrees!), but the NEH 
supported this rate and the University was obliged to accept it.

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