Archive for Fieldwork

My foci cup

Comments (5)

The end of dialect fieldwork

The title and following paragraph of this post are from a genuine, serious, highly experienced, and well-published dialectologist who wishes to remain anonymous (he is quoting from a communication by the Practicum Education Department of USC's Suzanne-Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California):

As we enter 2023, we would like to share a change we are making at the Suzanne-Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to ensure our use of inclusive language and practice.  Specifically, we have decided to remove the term “field” from our curriculum and practice and replace it with “practicum.” This change supports anti-racist social work practice by replacing language that could be considered anti-Black or anti-immigrant in favor of inclusive language. Language can be powerful, and phrases such as “going into the field” or “field work” may have connotations for descendants of slavery and immigrant workers that are not benign.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (73)

Overheard just now…

…in Alta, Utah, where I'm conducting field research into how many words skiers have for snow, evidence of the polysemousness of Twitter:

Do you want to know what her Twitter is? [Apparently meaning 'her Twitter handle']

I have a Twitter. [By the same guy, apparently meaning 'a Twitter account']

Extra added bonus: I'm writing this on my iPad, and the autocorrect suggestion for polysemousness was polysemous nests, which for some reason I kinda like.

Comments (17)

On whether prairie dogs can talk

Ferris Jabr recently published in the New York Times Magazine an interesting article about the field research of Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus of biology at Northern Arizona University, on prairie dog alarm calls. The article title is "Can Prairie Dogs Talk?"

It is an interesting question. People who have read my earlier posts on animal communication have been pressing me to say something about my reaction to it. In this post I will do that. I will not be able to cover all the implications and ramifications of the question, of course; for one interesting discussion that has already appeared in the blogosphere, see this piece by Edmund Blair Bolles. But I will try to be careful and scholarly, and in an unusual departure (disappointingly, perhaps, to those who relished my bitterly sarcastic remarks on cow naming behavior), I will attempt to be courteous. Nonetheless, I will provide a clear and explicit answer to Jabr's question.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Neil deGrasse Tyson on linguists and Arrival

This is a guest post submitted by Nathan Sanders and colleagues. It's the text of an open letter to Neil deGrasse Tyson, who made a comment about linguists on Twitter not long ago.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson,

As fellow scientists, we linguists appreciate the work you do as a spokesperson for science. However, your recent tweet about the film Arrival perpetuates a common misunderstanding about what linguistics is and what linguists do:

In the @ArrivalMovie I'd chose a Cryptographer & Astrobiologist to talk to the aliens, not a Linguist & Theoretical Physicist

Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson), 1:40 PM – 26 Feb 2017

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (59)

Tom Wolfe takes on linguistics

Or maybe I should say, Tom Wolfe's take on linguistics.

I've been an avid reader of Tom Wolfe's works since the 60s:  The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Right Stuff, The Painted Word, Bonfire of the Vanities).  What I like most about his non-fiction is that, as a leader and exponent of the New Journalism, he writes with a flair that captures the reader's attention without sacrificing accuracy and objectivity.  What attracts me to his novels is that they convey the impression of having been based on a huge amount of research, without in the least being turgid or dull.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)

"Chinese" well beyond Mandarin

A topic which I have raised here and elsewhere a number of times is that of Sinitic topolects and languages (, and I have also called attention to the increasing domination of Mandarin in education and the media.  Even native speakers within China sometimes don't appreciate quite how varied the Sinitic group of languages can be.  People often say that someone can move from one valley to the next, or one village to the next, and just not be able to make themselves understood.  But until you've been in that situation yourself, it doesn't really hit home.  Before long, I'll post on Shanghainese and will provide audio recordings that will demonstrate clearly just how different it is from Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM).  There are countless other varieties of "Chinese" that are just as different from each other as Shanghainese (or Cantonese or Taiwanese, for that matter) are from MSM.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

Androids in Amazonia: recording an endangered language

Augustine Tembé, recording a story using a smartphoneThe village of Akazu’yw lies in the rainforest, a day’s drive from the state capital of Belém, deep in the Brazilian Amazon. Last week I traveled there, carrying a dozen Android phones with a specialized app for recording speech. It wasn't all plain sailing…

Read the full story here.

Comments (5)

Android app for oral language documentation

Steven Bird, "Cyberlinguistics: recording the world's vanishing voices", 3/11/2013:

Of the 7,000 languages spoken on the planet, Tembé is at the small end with just 150 speakers left. In a few days, I will head into the Brazilian Amazon to record Tembé – via specially-designed technology – for posterity. Welcome to the world of cyberlinguistics.

Our new Android app Aikuma is still in the prototype stage. But it will dramatically speed up the process of collecting and preserving oral literature from endangered languages, if last year’s field trip to Papua New Guinea is anything to go by.

Read the whole thing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Oh, we got endangered languages / right here in New York City

[ Note: the San Diego wing of Language Log Plaza is about as far from NYC as you can get in the continental U.S.; I just couldn't resist the title. ]

Surely, most if not all of our devoted Language Log readers have by now noticed the recent NYT story "Listening to (and Saving) the World's Languages", about some of the work being done by the Endangered Language Alliance to document and preserve endangered languages spoken in New York City. (And in case you hadn't noticed it, there it is. Check it out.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

So many languages, so much technology…

Suppose you had 100 digital recorders and 800 small languages, all in a country the size of California, but in one of the remotest parts of the planet.  What would you do?  What would it take to identify and train a small army of language workers?  How could the recordings they collect be accessible to people who don't speak the language?  My answer to this question is linked below – but spend a moment thinking how you might do this before looking.  One inspiration for this work was Mark Liberman's talk The problems of scale in language documentation at the Texas Linguistics Society meeting in 2006, in a workshop on Computational Linguistics for Less-Studied Languages.  Another inspiration was observing the enthusiasm of the remaining speakers of the Usarufa language to maintain their language (see this earlier post).  About 9 months ago, I decided to ask Olympus if they would give me 100 of their latest model digital voice recorders.  They did, and the BOLD:PNG Project starts next week.  Please sign the guestbook on that site, or post a comment here, if you'd like to encourage the speakers of these languages who are getting involved in this new project.

Comments (13)


This is a video clip provided by Dan Everett, in which he interviews Kaioá, a Pirahã man in his 30s.   Dan's transcription, translation, and discussion can be found here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

The colleagues down the hall

This is a long-overdue follow-up to my post (from April 26), announcing the availability of the film The Linguists on A couple things that I failed to point out in that post: first, the version of the film on Babelgum is the DVD version, not the slightly shorter cut that has aired on PBS; second, there are several additional clips that you can watch separately on Babelgum that are on the DVD. Search for "the linguists" on Babelgum and you'll find links to the trailer, the film, and the additional clips. These are all available for some unspecified limited period, so watch 'em now if you're interested.

What I'm really following up on here, though, is this comment by Jesse Tseng.

I was struck by this sentence [in the film, spoken by David Harrison–eb]:

I don't see how you can justify devoting your research career to the syntax of French (a language with millions of speakers), when the skills that you possess could help document a language that is going to go extinct within your lifetime.

Hmm. The fieldwork skills I possess would make me go extinct long before any tribal language I helped to document. And good luck doing any syntax at all with your 15 sentences of Kallawaya…

Seriously, I was disappointed to hear this gratuitous swipe at the colleagues down the hall. I would like to believe that we are all engaged in a common endeavor, with the same justifications. And when linguistics departments get cut, all the sub-fields of linguistics go down together. Or are they hoping that the money then gets funneled into Anthropology?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (29)