Informants / Malagasy

Wolfgang Schulze W.Schulze at LRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE
Fri Nov 27 14:49:57 UTC 1998

Because Charles "suspect[ed that] he [that is Wolfgang] - like many
practitioners-- may be using the same type of informant as many other
people" (he obviously refers to 'an expert language consultant') let me
briefly state that I did field work with native speakers of Malagasy in
situ (basically in the regions north of Toamasina, Ambodifototra, and
Mahajanga) in the Eighties. I never worked with people (students or what
so ever in Europe) as described by Charles ("without any knowledge
whatsoever of your own native tongue and be totally ignorant of its

When I said that "[a]ccording to my informants, XY would be perfect (and
pragmatically "normal"....)" I did not refer to their articulated
linguistic knowledge (which in fact my informants did not have). Rather,
I referred to both their reaction on phrases like XY (those given in my
las email) and to the way people talked to me (and which I carefully
wrote down in my note book). Perhaps my wording wasn't too good (but
remember that I don't have a tacit knowledge of English, but only a
(rudimetarily trained) articulated one)). So, please excuse!

But I think that Charles has addressed a very serious point, namely the
question whether we as linguists should refer to tacit or articulate
knowledge of our informants. I must confess that - analogically to what
I infer from David's claim ("everybody has perfect (tacit) knowledge of
their native language, by definition") - I think the major goal of
descriptive (and explanative) linguistics is to reconstruct the tacit
linguistic knowledge of a speech community (collective tacit knowledge).
Naturally, it also of significant importance to learn more about how
people construe the experience (German: "Erfahrung" in a psycholigical
sense) of language in terms of (folk-linguistically) articulated
knowledge (which is specifically relevant with respect to the
"pragmatization" of a linguistic knowledge system (> intentional /
idiosyncratic "use"). Of lesser use (in a first step) seems to me to
refer to such knowledge systems that have become articulate(d) through
any kind of prescriptive training (I exclude from that linguistic
training that is due to the reception of oral traditions during language

But, I admit, everything depends on which theoretical framework is
applied. The more autonomous (or modular) a language system is thought
to be the more it should be cleaned from idiosyncratic, social, or
cultural parameters; and: the more linguistically trained an informant
should be. The more "holistic" the framework is (or, the more a
communicative-cognitive (CoCo) perspective is taken), the more we have
to respect such parameters and to integrate them into the explanative
part of our framework. This perspective logically prefers linguistically
untrained informants.


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang SCHULZE
Institut für Allgemeine und Indogermanische
Sprachwissenschaft * Universität München
Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1 * D-80539 München
Tel.: +89-2180 2486

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