Fieldwork today or cultural theft ? or theory or...

Trond Trosterud trondt at
Fri Feb 14 09:57:03 UTC 1997

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The last days we have seen a new round of the

That brings us nowhere but away from what we should do, and I for one will
stop participating in that.

In this posting I take it that we agree that, yes, we want it all, we want
all lg shifts reversed, all lgs supported and documented, for the benefit
of the speakers and the world community, done in the field and on campus,
everywhere (anything found in the following paragraphs that hints at other
assumptions or intentions is a misread.). Thus, limitless resources.

But of course, we do not have limitless resources.

- So, how do we proceed in an efficent way?
- What are the priorities?
- How can we extend our resources, i.e. recruit new students to the task?

Someone(s) with an overview should administer and delegate rather than do
it him/herself: Point to collected but unanalysed texts, to white spots, to
lg communities in a critical stage, just above to enter generation 2 in the
3-generation lg shift process, etc.

We should also ask: What are the factors preventing linguist L from
participating in the documentation & support work?

I for one frequently say to myself:

- I do not know where to start
- I do not know what language/area would be right for me
- I do not know what to do
- I do not know how to write a grammar
- I am afraid a dictionary is to big a task
- I would like to be sure what I do is on the terms of the members of the
communities, so that they are not just polite to me, but quite negative/fed
up (as we heard earlier on this list)

I never did documentation work myself, only field work on specific
constructions, and now support work. Thus, I do not have the answers.

Also, the answers will differ from place to place.

Speaking of documentation:

About some languages we know nothing, about others their relatives, about
others we have a sketch or a neogrammarian lautgeschichte. More work is
needed on all of them, but different types of work.

In Australia and the USA it seems to me you have all these last 5 speakers
all over the place. Brazil and Papua New Guinea have living, monolingual
min lg communities (and a DIFFERENT cultural background!). The approach
will be very different in the different cases, elaborations are welcome.

In Northern Eurasia, where I am, the primary work has been done already (no
lgs without at least 300 pages of word lists, some texts, not all of them
have grammars, though, so that is an obvious group to single out). I also
think that we should take a round and write new grammars in addition to the
ones from the Soviet era, at least from the 40ies and onwards, many of them
had some heavy Russian glasses (Russian has aspect, so what about the
aspect distinction in this lg..). Their morphology chapters are often good,
but their syntax parts are most often than not detailed classifications of
semantic categories, thus, the syntactic structure remains undocumented.

Speaking of support & Reversing Language Shift:

Work on top level: Linguistic Human Rights (connecting the not-so-accepted
Linguistic Rights with the very fashionable Human Rights (fashionable since
USA and EU use HR as parts of their expansive foreign policy, and of
course, since the message of HR has been understood better than LR)) should
be agitated in all the appr 200 independent countries of the world, make
them to sign certain treaties, etc. For documents, go to

Work towards the community members: We are good at writing postings to each
other, but I would like to have some articles circulated that are intended
not for us, but for people that are about to decide whether they should
hide their much-despised language from their children or not, or that are
or are not concerned with the shrinking domain of their language, or are
wondering why some lgs disappear and others survive.

This I have mentioned earlier, so skip if bored:
(this is not a top 10 list, but a list of things I feel are often forgotten)
- the importance of utilizing intervening maj lg borders (encourage min lg
contact across them, also, when you have two (closely) related lgs in
different maj lg environments, encourage min lg 2nd lg education)
- the importance of dictionaries FROM maj lg TO min lg (vocab domain increase)
- the importance of working computer & printing press solutions (number of
non-English newspapers in india rose sharply after computers breaking
7-bits-boundary). Using own lg should come as no extra cost. There should
be keyboard standards, code page standards for exchange of data, etc. etc.
I have more info on this for anyone interested.
- the importance of #exact knowledge# (people in the 40ies may not realise
that although the young parents speak min lg to them, they all speak maj lg
to the kids (Montaignais use French nouns instead of their own, first as
code switch, then (since the kids cannot "switch", they simply never
learned the Montaignais ones) as the only option, this came as a surprise
to the community), etc.
- the importance of ideologic struggle against monolingualism brainwashers
(In Northern Norway, kids from Finnish homes were told their head were
buckets, and with too many Finnish stones in them there would be no room
for the Norwegian ones...) and "we just want your best"-assimilationists.
Let us distribute agitprop between us against this.

Then, let us proceed from meta-discussion to discussion, from headlines and
slogans to detailed proposals, action items and postings that can be of
substantial help.

Trond Trosterud                         email: trondt at
Barentssekretariatet, P.O.Box 276,              work: +47-7899-3758
N-9901 Kirkenes, Norway                          fax: +47-7899-3225       home: +47-7899-2243
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