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Thoughts from a student after surviving our Field Methods course.

The decision to take this unit of study came easily to me. Having had Field Methods recommended by fellow linguistic-loving students as one of the best linguistics classes EVER!!!! I was pretty much sold even before I knew the class was on offer. And as prior to this class the only world of linguistics I knew was a theoretical one with data being presented on a nice little platter for me to pick up and analyse with no thoughts or concerns as to how the data actually made its way to me in the first place, I thought it might make a nice change for me to personally go through the elicitation process. Plus, this way I didn't actually need to deal with the sand and dirt that generally goes hand in hand with field work, as I could get some experience in the field right here in our beloved intransient Transient Building.

Feeling I was involved in contributing to the linguistic community as a whole, I enjoyed the classes right from the start, though I quickly started to understand that there was a whole lot more to this data collecting business than I had accounted for. Never before had I considered the seemingly endless hours of tedious transcribing that accompany a field linguist's work, nor the challenge and time it takes to come up with elicitation techniques to ensure the data being gathered is actually the data being sought (whilst also making sure that the techniques did not have a soporific effect on the informant by being insanely insipid (hmm...nice alliteration there).

Although at first, I must confess, I felt I could possibly be one of the worst field linguists ever to have attempted to gather data on a previously unstudied language, over time, as the informant and I got used to each other and my elicitation style improved, our communication and understanding increased, and by about half way through the semester I realized that I was actually making real progress, uncovering grammatical patterns in what had seemed like a great tangled web of a language with no logic about it whatsoever. Breakthrough had begun and continued from there on in.

By the end of the semester, I found myself in a position I believe is common to many a field linguist out there - I was overjoyed at having made numerous discoveries about this intriguing language, but felt that there was so much more lying beneath the surface that was yet to be unearthed. And all that lay between me and these hidden gems was that my time had run out. My inaugural season as a field linguist was over.

All in all I enjoyed this new facet of the linguist's life, though am I ready to throw down my hat as a theoretical linguist and run into the field for the rest of my days? At this stage I would have to say probably not, but who knows what is just around the corner? And in the meantime, whenever I am analyzing data, I will stop for a moment and be thankful for the field linguist who went before me and made my studies possible.


very nice post.
You've captured something about fieldwork that just makes the hard work worthwhile. It's a wonderful meeting of minds, that is so exciting. Certainly no-one becomes a field linguist because they want to get rich yet it's hard to think of a more enriching experience. However I'd hate to think that being a field linguist should preclude anyone from becoming a theoretical linguist or a typologist or any other kind of linguist. Quite the contrary. A theoretical linguist with field experience? I mean how solid a grounding is that? And it would make for richer theories too, I'll wager!


PLEASE tell me the name and authors of your text for this course, so that I diligently might try to acquire it.

Language to me-- and to the "work" (in retirement) I do AT BEST means application-to-real-problems/field-work. The American penchant-- I suppose inspired by the Chomskyan turn in linguistics-- seems NOT to be in the direction of "the practical stuff." I consider myself ONLY a sociologist-of-language: if you do want to call me a "sociolinguist," you may-- but know that my training is all in other social sciences, and I am just interested in semiotics-- and have per-university-library here read deeply on these matters. Nevertheless, the same university (University of Louisville, Kentucky) seems NOT to be interested in applied linguistics. It was for this reason that your entry excited me so much-- and I do want to acquire the textbook for your course.
---Vernon Lynn Stephens, M.S.S.W.

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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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