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From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
9th May 2009

It seems that linguistic fieldwork has become a topic that is attracting quite a lot of interest lately. As Sheena Van Der Mark from La Trobe University recently wrote, there will be a workshop on Non-linguistic aspects of fieldwork at the Australian Linguistic Society annual conference in July.

On the 22nd of this month, SOAS Linguistics Department will be hosting a workshop on Teaching field linguistics techniques, organised in conjunction with the LLAS, the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, the UK national body which supports teaching of languages, linguistics and area studies in higher education. We anticipate roughly 40 attendees, including students interested in learning more about fieldwork, and staff who are considering how fieldwork might fit into the linguistics curriculum. Presentations will be given by staff and post-graduate students from SOAS, Manchester University and Queen Mary, University of London, covering the following topics (in line with my remarks from two years ago here and here (see especially the comments section), we are aiming to cover a range of fieldwork types, including language documentation-type fieldwork and urban sociolinguistic-type fieldwork):

  • why and how linguists do fieldwork‚ how fieldwork linguists collect data, and what they do with it‚ Peter K. Austin, SOAS
  • fieldwork in remote locations: examples from the Pacific and Africa‚ Oliver Bond, SOAS
  • fieldwork "at home": research with communities in the UK‚ Devyani Sharma, Queen Mary
  • ethical issues in doing linguistic fieldwork‚ Yuni Kim, Manchester University
  • "giving back": reciprocity in linguistic fieldwork and how researchers can support communities and languages‚ David Nathan and Mary Chambers (nee Raymond), SOAS
  • incorporating field methods and fieldwork into the university linguistics curriculum‚ Friederike Luepke, SOAS
  • student experiences of fieldwork‚ MA and PhD students, SOAS

The final session will include reports by students in the MA in Language Documentation and Description at SOAS who recently participated in a two-week fieldwork trip to Guernsey.

There will also be a display of fieldwork kit (recorders, microphones, video cameras, solar panels, carrying cases, etc.) during the lunch break, and staff from the Endangered Languages Archive, together with post-graduate students will be available to discuss it.

Postscript: The current level of interest in fieldwork and the theory and practice of language documentation is extremely high, if the response to our 3L Summer School is any indication. We have had to close registration for the summer school fully two months before it begins because of the overwhelming number of applications from all over the world: we anticipated being able to take 50 students for the summer school and ended up with 180 applications in mid-April! We have rejigged the programme and can increase the intake to 100 (thanks in part of the generous support of our sponsors that allowed us to offer nine types of scholarships), however this will still leave many motivated applicants disappointed, not to mention those who were thinking about applying later but hadn't yet done so. Clearly there is a need for more opportunities for this kind of training.

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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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