suggestion for discussion

Sat Feb 1 16:28:40 UTC 1997

Dear everybody,
 A few weeks back I made a suggestion to the Linguistic
Society of America's Committee on Endangered Languages and
their Preservation (CELP), and when that suggestion was
circulated to the CELP mailing list a day or two ago there
was a lively enough response so that Tony Woodbury, CELP
chair, prompts me to post the same suggestion to the ELL
for wider discussion. Here's what I suggested.
"I wanted to suggest another possible 'action
item' for the CELP to consider, something that might be useful
in rousing interest both among upcoming young linguists
& among a wider reading public.  Compared to anthropologists,
linguists do almost nothing to foster a fieldwork tradition/
ethic/mystique within their profession.  Even tho the 'mystique'
aspect can be overdone, near-total silence about the rewards of
doing fieldwork isnt a useful alternative, especially at a
point when it's critical to get professionals out into
the field.
"How about trying to put together an edited volume
would bring out the joys, terrors, difficulties,
surprises, elations, bafflements, etc., of linguistic
fieldwork, something that could be read with interest
and pleasure by college students, beginning graduate
students, and a modest part of the reading publica & might
attract people's attention both to the critical need for
fieldwork & to the rewards of fieldwork?
"One way of going about such a collection would
be to gather in indidivudal accounts of fieldwork from
researchers in very different linguistic, cultural &
geographic areas.  But I think it might be livelier &
more interesting to take a topical approach & ask for
contributions from a variety of researchers on each of
a number of topics (not excluding the possibility that
individuals who write vividly, engagingly, or wittily
could contribute to more than one topic section).
Examples of possible volume sections might be such
things as:
arriving in a new field site & hunting up
getting started (acquiring data; learning
to function in/with the language
under study);
eureka phenomena;
breakthrus/insites brought about by the
researcher's mistakes in linguistic
reception or production or by misapplication in the cultural sphere
of linguistic knowledge; extraordinary sourcepeople;
extraordinary findings; the unique character of the language under study
& some sense of the remarkable human as well as linguistic resource that each
language represents.
If a volume of this sort were done well, graduate students
might covet field experience of their own & be more inclined
to press for the opportunity to go into the field for their
dissertation work.  And linguistic fieldwork might become a
little more intelligible in terms of its appeal to a well
educated reading public, as archaeology & anthropology
already have, thanks to some gifted writers among their
field practitioners."
It's clear from the responses to date, from
members of the CELP mailing list, that there are lots of
people who have interesting, thotful, & heartfelt
contributions they'd relish making to such a collection.
Give or take the edited collection, maybe an archive is
One or two people have indicated some interest in
taking editorial responsibility for an edited collection of
some sort, & Tony Woodbury has suggested that multiple editors
might be useful, since fieldwork areas differ so widely &
many delicate issues of professional ethics arise that might
be dealt with most sensitively by people with diverse
experience & backgrounds.
But this may be jumping the gun, & so at Tony's
urging I'm posting this suggestion to the ELL as a whole
for further discussion of its possible usefulness (or not).
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