publishing fieldwork data
gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Wed Apr 18 13:00:33 UTC 2007
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.)
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