publishing fieldwork data

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Wed Apr 18 13:00:33 UTC 2007

Dear all,

My rather casual attempt to distinguish between "fixed" texts and  
"open ended" databases seems to have attracted some critical remarks  
from two different directions.

I agree with Peter Austin that the "understanding/analysis" of a text  
can (and maybe even should) evolve over time.  My claim is merely that  
with respect to texts, there still exists a kind of basic intuitive  
level of transcription plus annotation -- comprising things such as  
orthographic transcription, phonetic transcription, interlinear gloss,  
free translation into English (or some other language) -- that, once  
accomplished, provides a natural point at which the text may be  
published. Even if one chooses to add or amend things later.

But contrary to Harald Hammarstrom, I don't think that typological  
databases are necessarily endowed with a similar inherently-defined  
natural point where you stop, tie on a ribbon, and present it to the  
world.  Sure, you can decide in advance that you're going to sample X  
languages, with Y data points per language, and once you've reached  
your predefined goal you're done.  This is certainly a legitimate way  
of doing things.  But I don't think it's the only legitimate way of  
doing things, and it's not my preferred way.  What I find is that when  
the data for a typological survey starts coming in, it generates new  
hypotheses, which in turn point towards expanding the survey, both in  
terms of the languages covered, and also in terms of the questions  
asked of each language.  Even after having published a database (eg.  
in a WALS chapter), I find myself collecting more data, and working  
more on the database.  However, I am quite happy to concede that these  
different approaches to databases may boil down to matters of personal  
style and (perhaps) philosophies.

So while I would readily admit that texts *may* evolve over time, and  
databases *may* be given cut-off points for publication, I would  
continue to maintain that by their very nature, texts are more  
conducive to a single act of publication, while databases are more  
conducive to ongoing and open-ended development.  (For which  
alternative modes of ongoing electronic distribution should be and are  
in fact being developed.)


This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program.

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list