rjpensal at MIT.EDU
Thu Feb 13 17:07:49 UTC 1997
This is kind of orthogonal to the whole 'where is the best place to do
fieldwork' questions, but perhaps it qualifies as a reminiscence :-)
When I was collecting data on Jingulu (a central Australian language), I
went to the communities where the speakers dwelled (dwelt?). This was not
because I wanted to observe the language in a natural communicative
setting. This would not have been possible, because nobody actually speaks
the language. There are some native speakers, but they gave up using the
language some 20 years ago, because they married or otherwise moved in with
people who did not speak Jingulu at all. Therefore no natural communicative
The reasons I went 'to the field' rather than do the work in the comfort of
my living room are:
1. It was easier, more convenient, and just more appropriate for me to go
there than to attempt to drag a few old folks back to the city.
2. It was fun! Let's not forget that many of us actually get an enormous
amount of pleasure out of fieldwork for its own sake (and the associated
experiences), in addition to the satisfaction (on many levels) of producing
materials that are of varying uses to varying groups of people.
3. It did actually enhance the work, not in a directly linguistic fashion
but in a para-linguistic fashion. I could have learned about the kinship
systems, collected hunting stories etc in a room, but I was able to learn
it more thoroughly and more intricately by meeting families, by going
hunting. Even though these experiences did not usually involve the use of
Jingulu in themselves, the deeper understanding of the speakers'
communities and culture that I gained made me better able to elicit texts
on these issues when it did come time to sit down on the back porch and
turn the tape recorder on.
In fact I found that the majority of the speakers, if asked just to tell a
story in Jingulu , could not or would not do it. If I actually took them
out hunting or looking for gum or something, however, they would talk at
length about it in Jingulu upon our return. furthermore, these activities
were things that the people I worked with loved to do, but never got the
opportunity to (they did not have vehicles and were too old or infirm to
walk the required distances).
It makes for better texts, and everyone involved gets to have a really cool
time in the process.
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