[ from our roadie, Peter K. Austin, Linguistics Department, SOAS
23rd February 2008]
Last week David Nathan and I ran a Language Documentation Workshop at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies at the invitation of Toshihide (“Toshi”) Nakayama, Associate Professor at ILCAA, the Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, and author of Nuuchahnulth (Nootka) Morphosyntax among other publications. The workshop was attended by 18 graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from various Japanese universities from Sapporo to Kyoto, most of whom had already done some fieldwork. The attendees were remarkable for several reasons:
- they all showed an amazing level of commitment to language documentation and fieldwork. Roughly half of them had bought recording equipment (Edirol R-9 was a favourite) with their own money – hard to imagine UK students coughing up the equivalent of 30,000 yen for their own machine. They mostly paid for fieldwork costs themselves;
- they were working on a wide array of languages, from Alutor (Siberia), to Amdo Tibetan (China) to Bunun (Taiwan) to Dom (Papua New Guinea) to Cherokee (USA), requiring knowledge of contact languages as varied as Russian, Chinese and French (as well as English);
- many of them endure tough conditions getting to and from the field – one student, for example, works in Siberia and it can take her three weeks to get to her field site. The journey involves three plane trips, and local flights in Russia can only be booked a maximum of three days in advance and are frequently cancelled or rescheduled so for each leg of the journey days of waiting to buy a ticket can be involved;
- they receive little support and training from their home institutions – almost none had taken a field methods course, and none had received training in research methods, tools or workflows (apart from workshops Toshi has been running recently on software tools like Toolbox). When asked how they selected their field sites, one student told us his professor had said genkisoo ni mieru kara papua nyuuginea ni itte kure “Since you look healthy go to Papua New Guinea” – he went to the University of Papua New Guinea, befriended a student from the highlands and ended up working on his language!
- they willingly shared samples of their data and analysis with us;
- they were very interested to learn and fully participated in the course until 6pm each day. Exhausting for us but great for them!