Urituyacu River, Loreto, Peru

Fieldwork Forum (FForum)

Department of Linguistics
University of California, Berkeley

When?Thursdays 2pm - 3:30pm
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.

Spring 2015

May 7No regular meeting
Collecting video data in fieldwork settings: A hands-on tutorial with Chris Beier (Cabeceras Project); 3:30pm
Feel free to bring your own equipment to work with.

May 14Manfred Krifka (Humboldt University of Berlin)
Field work on Daakie (Ambrym, Vanuatu), with special reference on sounds, nouns, and mood.
I will present the language documentation work on the Oceanic languages of Southwest Ambrym funded by the VolkswagenFoundation within the DoBeS project, 2009 — 2014, and still ongoing. After a general overview of the language Daakie (aka Port Vato), I will present details on three topics: (i) the local formation of fronted rounded vowels as allophones, (ii) the possessive and relational nouns and their use, and (iii) the mood system, which is based on a realist/irrealis distinction and includes forms expressing temporal anchoring and counterfactually, negation, and dependent negation.

Jan 22No regular meeting

Jan 29Herman Leung (UC Berkeley)
Wiyot Language Database: Building an online searchable corpus from scratch
In this talk, I present an overview of the technical processes involved in an ongoing project to build an online searchable corpus of the Wiyot language. The project began in Fall 2014 and an early version of the web interface is in place, with access to 20 narratives/500 sentences, 300 audio files, and 900 unique lexical items. I will show how -- with the help of bulk text processing (via Python programming) -- we semi-automated the processes of digitizing the data, extracting unique lexical items, and populating the database, with a glimpse into how the database is connected to the web interface. I will also briefly present the MySQL database structure used in this project and its pros/cons (vs. XML, commonly employed in linguistic databases such as FLEx).

Feb 5Peter Jenks (UC Berkeley)
Elicitation and documentation of definiteness and quantification
This talk presents a typologically and theoretically oriented overview of varieties of nominal interpretation and the ways that different categories are realized in different languages. I will introduce and characterize linguistically important differences between familiar versus uniqueness definites, specific, quantificational, and narrow-scope indefinites, kind-level and generic interpretations, and strong, proportional, and weak quantifiers. While we will not have time to discuss all of the elicitation techniques for distinguishing these different varieties of nominal interpretations, I will provide a questionnaire with elicitation contexts for use in the field.

Feb 12Jenneke van der Wal (University of Cambridge)
How to elicit information structure in fieldwork? An illustration from focus strategies in Luganda.
Over the last decades it has become clear that information structure (old/new information, what is highlighted) has to be taken into account in describing and analysing natural languages. However, it can be very difficult to discover the linguistic strategies for expressing topic and focus when doing fieldwork. In this talk I provide a number of elicitation tests that have been used to diagnose various types of focus (replacive, exhaustive etc.) and illustrate these with data from Luganda. This Bantu language has two strategies that at first sight seem to encode the same type of focus. With the help of the elicitation tests they can nevertheless be shown to differ: the cleft construction is identificational whereas omitting an initial vowel on a noun expresses exclusive focus.

Feb 19Lev Michael (UC Berkeley)
Elicitation and Documentation of Evidentiality
Work in recent decades has shown evidentiality to be a category of great semantic, pragmatic, and social subtlety. In this talk I describe complementary elicitation- and corpus-based methodologies for identifying evidentials in a language, for determining their semantic and pragmatic properties, and for distinguishing them from other notionally similar grammatical categories that convey information about speakers’ knowledge states. I also discuss what the properties of evidentials entail for adequate linguistic documentation of languages that exhibit evidential systems, especially with respect to documenting their discursive and social-interactional properties.

Feb 23Martin Benjamin (Kamusi Project, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), Lausanne): NOTE SPECIAL MEETING TIME, MONDAY 3-4:30
Collecting, linking, and sharing language data using the Kamusi multilingual platform
Kamusi, which started as the "Internet Living Swahili Dictionary", set out to extend its participatory model to other African languages - and the effort has resulted in a unique multilingual platform that can, in principle, serve to document and interlink any language. The architecture calls for monolingual entries for each term/concept pair in each language, which get linked to related concepts in other languages. The monolingual structure allows a fieldworker to produce rich, precise data for one language that, through a nuanced approach to transitive relationships, becomes a bilingual reference to each other language in the system. For those working on bilingual dictionaries or wordlists, Kamusi provides a comprehensive starting/ destination point, handling word sense disambiguation on the English side and all of the problems of developing and maintaining a website, database, and mobile apps. In this talk, I will discuss the underlying data model, and demonstrate the "expert"-focused online Edit Engine as well as the new game methods for Facebook and mobile systems that we are developing to elicit data for people's languages directly from the public.

Mar 5Katie Sardinha (UC Berkeley)
Real and fictional referents in linguistic fieldwork
Semantic fieldwork and language documentation rely on telling stories as a means of investigating language. In semantic fieldwork, telling a story to establish a discourse context and having speakers judge semantic felicity in that context can be used to discover semantic distinctions (Matthewson 2004, Anderbois & Henderson 2013, Rose-Deal 2013) while in documenting a language, eliciting stories can be an end in itself. In this methodologically-oriented presentation I discuss a previously unaddressed methodological issue: how choosing whether to talk about real people or fictional characters can affect the outcome of elicitation tasks, and what methods we can use to improve these outcomes. By paying close attention to how the properties of stories affect the outcomes of elicitation tasks, my aim is to raise awareness of how referential choices can give rise to difficulties in elicitation, as well as provide practical advice for overcoming such challenges in fieldwork.

Mar 12Discussion: Field equipment
When planning a field trip, we all face decisions about what kind of technology and equipment to bring. To help in this process, we will lead a discussion about field equipment based on our own experiences. This will include a discussion and demonstration of recorders, microphones, solar panels, equipment cases, livescribe pens, water purification methods, and anything else you bring up! Feel free to come with questions and suggestions based on your own fieldwork.

Mar 19Michael Dierks (Pomona College)
Object Clitics in Bantu Languages
Object markers (OMs) in Bantu languages have long been argued to be either incorporated pronouns or agreement morphemes, distinguished mainly by their ability (or not) to co-occur with (i.e. double) in situ objects. Lubukusu appears to be an instance of OMs-as-incorporated pronouns, as OMs in neutral discourse contexts cannot double in situ objects in a broad range of syntactic contexts. As we show, however, certain pragmatic contexts in fact do license OM-doubling; we demonstrate that OM-doubling in Lubukusu is licit only on a verum (focus) interpretation, and provide a syntactic analysis of these facts. Our conclusions follow other recent results in concluding that object markers in individual languages are epiphenomenal, arising from different syntactic structures/operations in different contexts; we also summarize relevant results in ongoing research on other Bantu languages that mirror these results. Our conclusions also re-emphasize the importance of understanding the interpretive effects of OM-doubling in getting a full picture of the properties of OMing cross-linguistically. The talk covers the empirical patterns and analytical conclusions, as well as engaging with methodological questions in describing some of the hiccups and obstacles to be overcome in the fieldwork process.

Mar 26No Meeting: Spring Break

Apr 2Joel Dunham (Concordia)
LingSync: Software for Collaborative Linguistic Fieldwork
LingSync ( is a suite of open source software components designed to facilitate linguistic fieldwork and language documentation with a focus on enabling collaborative data creation and curation and, as a consequence, on promoting data-sharing and data reuse. The presentation will include a) a description of and argument for LingSync, including what considerations and contexts motivated its creation and design decisions; b) a guided tutorial of, and hands-on practice with, the in-production graphical user interface (GUI) for LingSync (dubbed 'LingSync Spreadsheet'); and c) a demo of new components currently under development, in particular the new GUI called 'Dative'.

Apr 9Florian Lionnet (UC Berkeley) and Remadji Hoinathy (Centre de Recherche en Anthropologie et Sciences Humaines, N'Djamena, Chad)
(Very) preliminary presentation of Kawa̰way, an endangered blacksmith language of southern Chad
In this talk, We present preliminary anthropological and linguistic data from Kawa̰way, a highly endangered language spoken by about 60 people in the village of Tile Nougar in southern Chad. This language, brought to our attention by one of our Laal consultants during a field trip in 2012, was heretofore unknown to anyone outside the region where it is spoken. During a very brief trip (24 hours) to the village of Tile Nougar in April 2014, We were able to collect anthropological information, and record about 200 Kawa̰way words. As we will show, this very limited information is sufficient to establish that 1) Kawa̰way is one of the rare "blacksmith languages" still spoken in Chad; 2) it is a Bua language (Adamawa), possibly a dialect of Ba.

Apr 16Yoram Meroz
The segmental phonology of Yahgan
Yahgan is an isolate language of Tierra del Fuego, now with one remaining speaker. Despite documentation going back some 200 years, existing accounts of its sound system are inaccurate and inconsistent among themselves. In this talk, I will compare older records and analyses of the language to recent results from the field. I will show that the sound inventory of the language and other aspects of its phonology have remained largely intact since the time of first European contact.

Apr 23Christine Beier (Cabeceras Project)
Text translation in the context of endangered language documentation: The case of Iquito
This talk and discussion will explore the realm of translating 'texts' of various types from Iquito [iqu], a highly endangered Zaparoan language spoken in Peruvian Amazonia, into Spanish and English, in the context of a long-term, community-oriented language documentation project, the Iquito Language Documentation Project (ILDP). We will discuss some key assumptions, objectives, strategies, and challenges relevant to text translation as part of endangered language documentation; and we will examine some of their impacts on project planning, work flow, quality control, and eventual tangible outcomes, illustrated with specific examples from texts produced by the ILDP team over the years since the ILDP was launched in 2002. At present, there are about 18 remaining fluent speakers of Iquito, all over 60 years of age. Handout1 Handout2

Apr 30Discussion: Heading to the field