23.281, FYI: Ling Research in Fragile Language Communities

Mon Jan 16 16:50:19 UTC 2012

LINGUIST List: Vol-23-281. Mon Jan 16 2012. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 23.281, FYI: Ling Research in Fragile Language Communities

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Date: 13-Jan-2012
From: Olga Lovick [Olga at lithophile.com]
Subject: Ling Research in Fragile Language Communities

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2012 11:49:55
From: Olga Lovick [Olga at lithophile.com]
Subject: Ling Research in Fragile Language Communities

E-mail this message to a friend:
Introduction to the project: 

We intend to interview fellow researchers on endangered languages 
about their fieldwork experiences, focusing in particular on the 
challenges of conducting linguistic fieldwork in fragile speech 
communities. The findings will be published in a book with the working 
title "Linguistic research in fragile language communities: Lessons from 
the field".

The field of linguistics has heard an international ethical call to assist in 
the documentation of endangered languages.  Linguists have 
responded by working to develop programs to educate and support 
documentationalists.  As they enter the field, these linguists take on 
personal responsibility for linguistic community development, language 
teaching, and language revitalization. In some cases, these linguists 
may be charged with creating the only documentation that will exist for 
a given language, serving as the only liaison between their language 
community and linguistic academic, and providing the only academic 
input into community language revitalization efforts.  In other cases, 
they must integrate their work into layers of previous or ongoing 
academic and social intervention, which can greatly complicate their 
task. It is in these fragile language communities that we see the need 
for research on goals, methodology and academic preparation.  It is 
our own colleagues, the linguists who have experience in working with 
fragile communities, whom we wish to interview for this project.  

On the academic side, the nature and quality of data is also affected by 
linguistic fragility.   Linguistic methodology necessarily differs, and if 
any success is to be achieved, goals must often be adjusted. It is easy 
to tell a student to gather data from a variety of linguistic genres such 
as every-day conversation, narrative, formal oratory in addition to 
elicited paradigms. It is completely different to actually gather these 
data if the language is not spoken on a day to day basis, if there is 
nobody who still understands formal oratory, and nobody to listen to a 
narrative. Similarly, a typology of speakers is useful only if there is a 
large number of speakers with an interest in language work: If there 
are only 15 speakers willing to work with a linguist, then chances are 
very high that particular documentation tasks will not be possible. The 
field situations are often very different, leading to questions such as, 
"Who is the language community? Who gets to decide what happens 
with the language? What level of revitalization is possible?  What is the 
proper role for the linguist in revitalization? What is the top priority for 
the community (as opposed to the researcher)? What challenges are 
there in working almost exclusively with elderly people? What 
challenges are there in working with no monolingual speakers?" and 
many others. We hope to answer some of these questions. Foci of our 
interest include community relations; work flow; unexpected, irregular, 
or patchy data; linguistic fragmentation through different genres or 
registers; data protection and preservation; results, dissemination and 
evaluation of project success.

We also know that the questions that have arisen out of our own work 
in fragile language communities in North America are not the only 
questions.  For this reason, rather than writing a book that will 
inevitably be colored primarily by our personal experiences, we want to 
open the discussion to a much larger group of linguists whose 
experiences may complement our own. We have identified a number of 
challenges above and will be happy to send you a more complete list. 
Depending on your own experiences, you could discuss one of those 
or you could add to the list. You could submit your answers in writing, 
or be interviewed by us, by Skype or telephone, or as chance allows in 
our respective travel arrangements (our work is unfunded at present, 
but chance can be our friend.)   Allow us to quote or to paraphrase, be 
named or be anonymous, respond to questions or simply instruct us in 
the areas you feel are most important. 

Our methodology will not involve computation.  We are interested in the 
expression of our participants' ideas.   However, this book will not be a 
simple compilation of individual experiences.  We would like to address 
the basic question:  what does it mean for linguistic work to be 
successful in a fragile language community? We hope to be able to 
consider this question and to arrive at some answers that will help the 
field of linguistics to advance as more and more language communities 
reach states of fragility.   

If you are interested in participating in our research, simply contact one 
or both of us and we will send you a consent form and our 
questionnaire. We will then discuss how to best be in touch with you.

Dr. Olga Lovick
Department of Interdisciplinary Programs
First Nations University of Canada
(306) 790 5950 ext. 3311
Olga at lithophile.com 

Dr. Siri Tuttle
Alaska Native Language Center
University of Alaska Fairbanks
sgtuttle at alaska.edu 

Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation


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