Mark P. Line mline at ix.netcom.com
Thu Feb 13 21:04:39 UTC 1997

Karl Teeter wrote:
> What other
> course was possible for Kroeber, Sapir, and those who tried to get what
> they could? Kroeber travelled all over California on horseback with a
> steno notebook in his jacket pocket, and interviewed native Americans
> wherever he could find them. Will those of you who insist that the only
> way to study a language in the field is to become a part of a community
> comment on this problem?

Kroeber et alia probably had no other option, if they'd already made up
their minds to capture residual information on already-defunct languages,
rather than immersing themselves in communities whose language was still
alive and in stable use but was as yet undescribed.

The question of last-minute descriptive salvage over participant
observation in a stable or declining community has already been touched
upon -- everybody has their own concerns and their own priorities, and
that's fine.

But what I and others here are trying to get across is that, if there _is_
a living community (e.g. in Arizona),  then that is where empirical
linguists should go to collect their data -- not to a hotel room in New
York City or some academic setting outside the field (by _our_ definition
of "field").

The practice of taking the "field" into your office or hotel room, when
there is a perfectly good, living community of speakers (maybe in a place
where they have rattlesnakes and scorpions, I'll admit) reminds me of
Maslow's quip that people, possessing only a hammer, tend to see every
problem as a nail. Our point here is that we _sometimes_ only have a
hammer (in the case of Lushootseed, perhaps), but if in certain instances
we have _more_ than a hammer (Hopi, for instance), we should opt for a
course of empirical research that is methodologically state-of-the-art
rather than taking the personally more convenient course.

-- Mark

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

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