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This week was the start of the Field Methods class. There are about ten of us, undergraduates and postgrads, with a range of interests, from about-to-head-off-to-the-field, to thinking-about-maybe-heading-off, to love-hearing-language-sounds, to love-language-and-technology, to I-think-I'll-change-to-theory. I 'm hoping that our class can keep up a weekly commentary on what's been happening. I'm also hoping that together with the local PARADISEC people, Tom Honeyman, Aidan Wilson, Amanda Harris and Vi King Lim, we can create a space on the PARADISEC links web-site to put up final versions of useful information we create, and links to other people's useful information. And of course, I'm hoping that we get suggestions for improving all of this!

We're meeting the language teacher next week, so this week was preparation. The first class was a general introduction - respect for speakers and their languages, respect for data, and respect for colleagues past and future working in the area. OK, rather moralistic I guess, but it helps me be a bit more careful - .rtf notes here.

And then there's the importance of finding out what you can before you go about absolutely everything from food (do you need to bring your own chili sauce?) to religion, to insurrections, to toilet paper . This is something Terry Crowley discusses in loving detail in his posthumous book, edited by Nick Thieberger, Field linguistics: a beginner's guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007). A lovely book, filled with excellent advice and stories that bring Terry's voice to mind, as he chuckled over absurdities. Like hiding one's secret supply of toilet paper under the bed.

We did the thought experiment of imagining we were off to Banjarmasin in Kalimantan, where our language teacher comes from (he speaks Banjarese). (I wasn't clear enough about the thoughtiness of this experiment, and one alarmed person thought we really were off on a field-trip). So, after the class, the students prowled the web looking for what they could find about Banjarmasin: languages, maps, climate, health, humidity, power supplies, research visas (website down, not answering the phone.. a good introduction to how long getting a research visa can take ).

Meanwhile Tom and I prowled the university looking for a microphone cable that would fit our good microphone. Ours had slithered away. Note well .... most microphone cables remember they were reclusive snakes in previous lives.

So, the session on recording! The room they assigned us to is dreadfully echoey and hot - with the window open, the noise of happy students comes in. With the window closed and the fan on, well we ARE supposed to be demo-ing best practice archival quality sound. ...Sigh.

We had a round table discussion of what gear to take - led by Tom and Aidan and some of the class who are sound enthusiasts. While what's good is changing all the time, the factors remain much the same - weight, power supply, humidity, archival quality (no proprietary format) , ability to return materials to language speakers. I rely on lists such as the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity or the CHILDES list for updates. And see Anggarrgoon's discussion of this.

What we'll be using in the class is a Marantz flash ram recorder, with a directional Sony mike or possibly a Rode mike. We spent some time looking at the level meter and making sharp noises, and testing out the headphones.

Our plan is that each week a student will upload the week's sound files after class onto PARADISEC, make an MP3 copy, catalogue the recordings, including a file of notes, and then the .wav files will be archived on PARADISEC. We gave the students a handout on workflow for this from an earlier class - with the additional note that it might be better to use Audacity rather than iTunes for making the MP3 - as it's free cross-platform.

A point we emphasised is FILE-NAMING. We're proposing that the whole class adopt the PARADISEC naming convention - which will make it much easier to archive the material, and is also good housekeeping. I cannot count how many hours of my life have gone on thinking about file names, and the thoughts are often regretful.

Each session will have a label of the form FM1-20070308-01ALL. FM1 is the first Field Methods collection. The session date is 8 March 2007, and the session itself is 01ALL (which means the interviewer(s) were ALL - the whole class, and it was the first session of the day's recording).  To this name is added an extension - an MP3 format version of this recording is FM1-20070308-01ALL.mp3. And FM1-20070308-01DPAW.wav names the file in WAV format recorded on the same day in the session 01DPAW i.e. the first session of the day, recorded by interviewers DP and AW.   The notes that interviewers DP and AW took during the session are saved, if possible in plain text format, and labelled in the same way, FM1-20070308-01DPAW.txt. And the transcript will have an extension of the right type: .cha if it is a CLAN CHAT file, for example. We can then store them simply - FM1-20070308-01ALL.mp3 will be inside 20070308 which will be inside FM1.

And that's really as much as we had time for this week. Off to dream of file-names coiling and slithering away.

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.
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