My mate Joe has a fantastic description of one ethical way to record naturalistic conversation.
Nicewan. Such interesting issues you always discuss here!
It is so interesting to see here other peoples’ experience of this. I found the best way was to do a similar thing in a way… talk to everyone about the project, and make it clear I want to record people speaking, and then as we are driving out to where we will be ‘working’ , ie recording somewhere in the bush, ask if I can turn the recorder on. I have some great recordings from all driving along in the car together, and because we are passing through country and interesting things, people quickly become absorbed in the surroundings… of course the noise level can be in issue with the engine but actually turned out quite well.
One of the most exciting (oh the life of a linguist!) natural recordings I have was an accident of doing some elicitation when the speaker’s phone rang, they put it on speaker phone and had a three way conversation- when I played the recording back and asked if we could transcribe it- everyone nearly killed themsleves laughing! we had a great time transcribing that – we all enjoyed it much more than elcitiation!
I would love to catch up with you sometime Claire! And of course Joe too… small world eh! Best wishes- Sophie
With you two in the US the number of Australianists here has increased by 50%!
Did either of you have any issues with people saying that they didn’t want to record conversation data because it wasn’t “proper” language?
No- as i was recording Kriol, it already has a relatively low status and no one seemed worried- but I did do a lot of follow up elicitation trying our discourse particles and jokes in different positions in the sentence. This was a lot of fun- but it took me a long time to convince people that I wanted to know what you *couldn’t* say- and what about it sounded strange. The same issues in Ritharrngu- sometimes speakers would direct me to someone else or wait until a certain senior speaker was present before we started, but I never had the experience of actually excluding data at the request of speakers, and once people got the hang of me wanting to know ‘wrong’ ways of talking we had a lot so fun!
No, I didn’t. No one had any problems with it, although they thought it was a bit strange to be interested in this stuff. I was expecting to react badly but people took it pretty much in their stride.
I heard from a linguist who works around Borroloola (I don’t know what the etiquette is with regard to name-dropping on blogs) that she did have problems with this, at least at first. The conversations were in a mixed language, so I’m not sure in that case whether the im”proper”ness related to it being mundane conversation or to the fact that it was a mixed language. However since that time she has transcribed conversational data. So I don’t know whether it’s still a problem.
I think people begin to get over these feelings rather quickly when they work on the texts. This is a further opportunity to explain your interest in conversation. Once I discussed Schegloff, Jefferson and Sachs (1974) turntaking rules with my informants and how it would be interesting to know if the same rules apply for Murriny Patha. People thought I was mad, but they could kind of understand that there might be method to the madness. It’s through working on the texts that people begin to appeciate there is value in the exercise. However I feel so sorry for my informants cause its so hard and so slow to transcribe this stuff. Their patience is beyond belief.
One of my more spectacular failures was an attempt to capture a land dispute argument going on in the haus win.
After a lengthy discussion of what conversational data was in my best Tok Pisin, my informants went to discuss this with the group. They came back about an hour later and said yes, no worries. So I quickly grabbed my gear and set up.
What followed was a 15 minute “dramatisation” of the 3 hour long argument, complete with people interrupting with “no you said this”, feigned anger, and giggling every time someone slipped into Tok Pisin!
…I was going to say too, before I hit submit, that had the same experience with people thinking I was pretty odd wanting to capture “nothing”, and also wanting to defer to the appropriate person to produce this.
I haven’t had too much trouble getting people to talk about what couldn’t be said. It was often in the context of language learning (e.g. I’d ask people to tell me if I said something bizarre or inappropriate – usually of course it had some sort of sexual connotation) and people seemed to regard grammaticality judgements as a natural consequence of this sort of work. But there was a real feeling that casual nyäl talk wasn’t something that should form part of a description. Maybe I just didn’t push it hard enough. They got interested in spectrograms and scope judgement so maybe if we’d talked about Gricean maxims too it would have helped!
Sophie, are you going to the LSA in January?
Hi Claire, yes I will be there (LSA) for sure- I even submitted an abstract, I haven’t heard back about that- but either way I will be there. If you are going to be there it would be great to meet with you- much anticipated after much blog reading!
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