Urituyacu River, Loreto, Peru

Fieldwork Forum (FForum)

Department of Linguistics
University of California, Berkeley

When?Wednesdays 11am - 12:30am
Where?1303 Dwinelle Hall
What?We are a working group dedicated to the critical examination of methodologies in language documentation, description and revitalization, as well as to the linguistic and ethnohistorical analysis that falls out from that work. Our aim is to learn from and ultimately improve upon methods for carrying out more rigorous, insightful and ethical linguistic and cultural fieldwork, and to help researchers implement those methods.
How?Fieldwork Forum is made possible through a Working Group Grant provided by the Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley.
Who?FForum is organized by Alison Zerbe and Hannah Sande. We welcome all those interested in linguistic fieldwork, with all levels of experience, including those in other departments.

Fall 2014

Sep 3Discussion Session: Field Debriefing

Sep 10Discussion Session: Field Debriefing Part 2

Sep 17No regular meeting
Evening GAIL meeting

Sep 24Andrew Garrett, Ron Sprouse, Katie Sardinha (UC Berkeley)
Using the CLA prearchive
In this presentation we re-introduce the 'prearchive' service of the California Language Archive (CLA) and discuss how the service can be integrated into the workflow of your language documentation project. One of the central ideas behind the prearchive is that language materials should be copied to secure storage and with appropriate metadata as they are produced, and that language researchers should not put off organizing and describing their materials to some indefinite point in the future. A secondary goal of the prearchive is to make the transfer of materials to full archival status in CLA (or some other archive, as appropriate) as smooth as possible. The presentation will define and differentiate prearchiving and archiving. We discuss how to organize materials into archival objects, or 'file bundles', and we also cover the types of metadata that CLA collects. All of the prearchive concepts and the user interface will be illustrated in a live demo with materials from a grad student research project.

Oct 1Leanne Hinton
Breath of Life: Indigenous use of documentation of endangered languages
Over the last two decades, as indigenous communities have seen their languages disappear, documentation made of their languages has gained great importance to community members. Since 1996, the UC Berkeley Linguistics department has partnered with the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival in presenting a workshop to help indigenous Californians find and utilize documentation of their languages in the rich archives on our campus. This model - the Breath of Life Language Restoration Workshop - has now spread to other places with archives of documentation of endangered languages, the biggest of these being the Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages, held in Washington, D.C. In this talk, Leanne Hinton and other people who have been part of Breath of Life will discuss the history and results of these workshops and institutes, and will also invite graduate students and faculty to take part in the June 2015 Institute in Washington, as mentors to the Native researchers.

Oct 8Stephanie Farmer (UC Berkeley)
Methods for the elicitation of subtle grammatical distinctions
The field linguist, whose duty it is to isolate and analyze some of a language's subtlest patterns, often faces a great methodological frustration. Traditional grammatical elicitation in theory allows the linguist complete freedom to manipulate the relevant parameters, but is seen as problematically artificial. The analysis of natural speech, however, can leave the field linguist looking for a needle in a text corpus---the one instance, perhaps, when the speaker happens to utter the relevant morpheme in the relevant environment in the relevant context. An obvious solution to this dilemma is to choose both elicitation and text analysis, and in this talk I describe two means of choosing both: alternating between them and merging them via various forms of targeted text elicitation. I'll describe the strengths and shortcomings of these approaches based on my own fieldwork on Máíhɨ̱̀kì, a Tukanoan language of the Peruvian Amazon.

Oct 15Matt Faytak (UC Berkeley)
Potential orthographies for Ghitsang: a case study
In this talk, I detail some difficulties in developing an orthography for Ghitsang, a language spoken by some 10,000 people in the Cameroonian Grassfields. Several neighboring languages have orthographies, which present both a tempting shortcut to a finished orthography and a variety of challenges. After a brief inventory of phonological differences between Ghitsang and its neighbors and an overview of the proposed orthography itself, I discuss the extralinguistic factors that make even a modified adaptation of established orthographies problematic.

Oct 22Christine Beier (Cabeceras Aid Project)
Discussion: Being a woman in the field
As well-trained as we may be in linguistics and field methods, when we go into the field we go as whole people, and our fieldwork engages and impacts us as whole people. Women who do fieldwork face a particular set of challenges that our professional training typically does not address directly. The goal of this meeting is to explore some of the most common challenges women encounter when doing fieldwork, especially when working alone; and to discuss strategies for meeting such challenges with confidence and fortitude. I will preface and contextualize our group discussion with some of the experiences and insights I have gained over 20 years of carrying out linguistic and anthropological research and humanitarian work in Peruvian Amazonia.

Oct 29Pattie Epps (UT Austin)
Specialist discourse and language change: observations from the northwest Amazon
While much work on language variation and change has stressed the view that “all linguistic processes are social processes” (Enfield 2003:7), relatively little attention has been paid to the ways in which specific (i.e. regionally variable) socio-cultural practices may guide processes of language change in particular ways. In this talk, I explore the hypothesis that specialized and ritual discourse forms – such as song, myth, and shamanic incantation – are relevant loci for the development and propagation of linguistic innovations in the Amazon basin. This possibility is suggested by a number of observations regarding these discourse forms: their extensive circulation and close replication across speakers, communities, and languages (e.g. Beier et al. 2002, Epps & Stenzel 2013), their importance within multilingual regional communicative networks, and the social position of the specialists themselves (who tend to bring together both diffuse social networks and relatively high status). I consider several examples of grammatical and lexical change in languages of the northwest Amazon that have plausible ties to specialist discourse.

Nov 5Steven Bird (The University of Melbourne)
Language Preservation 2.0: Crowdsourcing Oral Language Documentation using Mobile Devices
Mobile technologies combined with social media offer a scalable solution to the problem of documenting the world's endangered languages while there is still time. In this presentation, I will report work on the development of a mobile application to support oral language documentation, and on experience using the application in a variety of field locations alongside more conventional approaches to documentation and description. I will discuss some consequences for informed consent, naturalistic materials, transcription, data management, and digital archiving. I will also describe some new challenges and opportunities that documentary linguistics raises for computational linguistics.

Nov 12Ken Safir (Rutgers University)
How to use the Afranaph Project in your research
The Afranaph Project is a platform for research on African languages that is designed to provide linguists with access to rich and subtle data that addresses empirical questions generated by theoretical and/or analytic questions generated by their research programs. The presentation will demonstrate how the project is structured, how the database is structured, how researchers can participate, and how to find interesting generalizations using our database that can lead to new research questions.

Nov 19No regular meeting
Evening GAIL meeting

Nov 26No regular meeting

Dec 3Christine Beier (Cabeceras Aid Project)
Discussion, continued: Being whole people in the field
In FForum on October 22, we began a stimulating discussion on how to deal skillfully with challenging personal and ethical situations that arise in our fieldwork. We started that day with gender-related issues, but also touched on religion, class/economics, politics, and other sensitive cross-cultural issues that have come up for many of us. On December 3, we will continue the discussion, with the goal of sharing our experiences and strategies such that we find ourselves better equipped to handle these types of challenges in our future fieldwork.