Fieldwork today or cultural theft ? (part 2)

Peter Keegan pkeegan at
Wed Feb 5 09:09:37 UTC 1997

kia ora,

It seems a number of people have taken offence from my earlier posting judging
by the content of personal email I have received. However, I wish to add
comments in response to some of the discussion that my posting has
generated on the list.

In my view, in the majority of instances of linguistic fieldwork on
indigenous communities, Linguists simply impose themselves on the
communities they wish to study. (Note my concern here is only for
indigenous communities). Such communities rarely get to choose their
Linguists or set the framework in which
the research is undertaken. Many Linguists are well aware that such
are constrained by customs of hospitality towards outsiders. Hence
Linguists (& other researchers) can and do exploit such hospitality and the
communities THEY choose to work with.

Some Linguists claim that they act in culturally appropriate ways in doing
research. However, did their informants think the researcher acted
appropriately ? When  indigenous groups get together such issues are
discussed in depth. Some of the "named Linguists" mentioned in previous
postings are not so highly regarded by the  indigenous groups they have
worked with.

Often indigenous communities haven't yet realized their languages are in
fact cultural capital (in my opinion the most valuable possession a
community owns) and can be treated as commodities in western society.

The Maori language here in New Zealand (although an endangered language) is
very much cultural capital and highly marketable. Academics tell us here
that New Right Ideology prevails and market forces should control
everything. Yet at the same time our government is currently attempting to
honour a treaty signed 150 years ago which guaranteed us Maori protection
of very thing we valued. The government pumps millions into Maori-medium
education. Hence there is much employment for those Maori (& non-Maori)
with knowledge and facility in the Maori language (i.e. those with cultural

We Maori here in New Zealand are now very westernised. Our culture is
rapidly changing. Many us of realize that our language is the only thing
that will identify us Maori in the future. As with many other indigenous
groups, our language may
turn out to be the only cultural capital we have any chance of retaining.

Peter Keegan
Endangered-Languages-L Forum: endangered-languages-l at
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