Mark P. Line mline at ix.netcom.com
Mon Feb 10 01:50:43 UTC 1997

Victor Golla wrote:
> The "field" of 19th century colonial officers and gentlemen-amateurs
> is long gone, but the mystique of living "among the natives" lingers
> on and has insinuated itself into our discussion.

This sounds like you don't get out much. ;)

> In my experience
> some of the most fruitful encounters between linguists and languages
> take place in quiet academic settings in Europe and North America.

Particularly fruitful, in fact, if one's theoretical and methodological
paradigm includes the following postulates:

1. Language can be separated analytically from culture.

2. You can learn to understand (in the scientific sense) a language by
   working bilingually with a native-speaker in structured interviews.

   3. Native speakers in Western academic settings are excellent sources on
      their language. In fact, they may even be _better_ than those in other
         settings because of their better command of your working language and
	    their ability to learn your descriptive-linguistic framework.

	    Since I disagree with all three postulates, I find the kind of
	    "research" you mention very much less than fruitful. Been there,

	    > My own mentor, Mary Haas, got nearly all of her "field"
	      > with Thai in Ann Arbor and Berkeley, and even her Creek and
	      > work--carried out in Oklahoma--was done in offices, hotels,
	      > people's living rooms.

	      That's not any kind of field experience in my book. It's merely
	      descriptive as opposed to theoretical.

	      > A certain kind of anthropological linguistics--certainly any
	      > investigation of conversational interaction and public
	      > discourse--
	      > requires the intrusion of the linguist into local settings,
	      > often
	      > in remote and physically demanding places.  So do the
	      > missionary
	      > functions of SIL.

	      Also the _non_-missionary functions of SIL, because their
	      methodology is
	      at odds with the three lounge-chair-description postulates

	      > But most linguistic data gathering requires only
	      > a speaker and a linguist, a comfortable venue, and time to do
	      > the
	      > work.

	      Depending, of course, on one's definition of "data". There are
	      those who
	      accept introspective statements about the linguist's own L1 as
	      "data", but
	      not everybody agrees. I don't think everybody agrees that your
	      lounge-chair "data" is always data.

	      > Tony Woodbury has suggested that not all "informants" are
		> Some individuals have the capacity to generalize and
                organize the
		> abstract facts of their native language, and in combination
                with a
		> linguist they create--co-create--deeply insightful analyses.

		For some linguists, a native speaker who does that is not an
		She's a linguist (perhaps amateur, and perhaps even more
		underpaid) who
		happens to be a native speaker of the language in question.

		-- Mark

		(Mark P. Line   ----   Bellevue, Washington   ----
		mline at ix.netcom.com)

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