But it’ll be too long for you to write down!

That was the reason given for not recording a conversation about what we did on camp last week (I’ve got two Bardi speakers in the same place at the moment!). But since we’ve already got more than 100 hours of tape and 20 mins or so is neither here nor there, it was fine to record.

So … I’ve got real Bardi conversation on tape! It’s really good – much harder to understand than narratives. My brain is addled anyway at this stage of the trip (I’m really looking forward to the weekend for some consolidation and stock-taking time).

The reason for particular addling is that I have two fluent Bardi speakers who like each other and who haven’t seen each other for a few months, and are keen to talk. We’ve been working 4 or 5 hours a day for the last 4 days. I normally only spend 2 or so hours with speakers so things are happening fast.

Time for a wildlife update, too. Many baby snakes of different varieties (must be up to 10 at least tokens now), one turtle, and more birds than you could poke a stick at.


3 responses to “But it’ll be too long for you to write down!

  1. Capture as much conversation as is physically and mentally possible for you! I implore you to do so. As a revitalizationist as well as a linguist I can say for sure that the greatest problem for revitalizationists with endangered language documentation is the lack of variety in speech genres collected, with the primary example being quotidian conversation between friends. Tlingit is purportedly “well documented” by some linguists, however there is nowhere publically available a single recording of conversation that could be used to investigate conversational phenomena, like turn-taking and interruption for example. The same is true for nearly every documented endangered language I know of, except for the efforts of a few people working in the past couple of years.

    From a revitalization standpoint, the most useless speech genres are those of formal oratory and narrative. The simple reason is that people rarely speak in such highly formalized situations. Second language teaching starts with conversation and eventually works up to formal speech after several years of practice with informal genres. However, field linguists have focused almost entirely on formal genres because they’re the easiest to record, transcribe, and translate, as well as being the most useful for anthropologists and folklorists.

    This focus has legitimate methodological reasons initially, because the pen and paper linguist can’t transcribe conversation at all without it being forced and unnatural. But the tendency to work with single speakers rather than groups is artificial now, and not warranted by the recording methods in use today. Nowadays we have the equipment to record even the most complicated and messy of conversations, those involving several people who talk on top of each other. There’s no excuse to collect conversation, even if narrative is so much easier and less stressful for the linguist.

    Transcribing conversation may be difficult and prohibitive (indeed, it has its own field of study in Conversation Analysis). But at the very least, field linguists should record conversation and archive it for future study and application. There’s no excuse not to record it, even if you can’t transcribe it accurately.

  2. I have been trying to record conversations in Bardi for 10 years now, so there’s no need to tell me how important they are and how they’re different from narratives, insults, information-requests, songs, native title land assertions, etc. But it’s not as simple as doing as much as possible. For a start, recording a lot of material that can’t be circulated in the community is not a good way to help a revitalisation project. After all, in a community like this, most conversation is about what other people are doing, and that’s exactly the sort of recording that can get everyone in trouble. Also, my commission here (what the ‘community’ want me to do) is produce a ‘good’ documentation of the language, which includes not recording swearwords, for example, and it doesn’t include casual conversation. There’s only so many times that I can suggest that a ‘proper’ documentation includes genre-appropriate ways of speaking.

    The overlap isn’t the problem on this recording, it’s the fast speech things; [‘ɪnɲɐgɐl], for example, ends up as [ɲə]. [gɪɲɪŋgɔn] is something like [gɪɲɐ̃]. (And if I didn’t have a sizable collection of more or less formal narratives, there’d be no hope in figuring this out, given the trouble we’re having with the Peile Jawi tapes. The transcribed and glossed Laves Jawi materials are fine, but the unprocessed materials for Peile are pretty hard, even working with fully fluent speakers who grow up hearing Jawi.)

    “From a revitalization standpoint, the most useless speech genres are those of formal oratory and narrative.” That’s a bit of a sweeping statement – *all* information is useful for a revitalisation project! To the reasons you gave for recording narratives, I’d add that they can also be treasured as community history, and that they are also the genres that speakers may want to record. It’s not all high rhetoric and mythology. The most valuable stories in the Laves collection, for example, aren’t the mythological stories, they’re the anecdotes about camping trips and other personal narratives.

  3. I was thinking about my comment reply and it probably came across as a bit aggressive. Sorry about that. It’s just that recording conversation here has been really difficult for many trivial reasons (e.g. one speaker was housebound but another speaker I was working with a lot couldn’t visit her because it was her son in law’s house. Someone else wanted to tell stories, not have conversations, etc. Scripted dialogues were suggested as an option but of course they aren’t conversation. And it’s only in the last year of 2 that anyone’s mentioned a revitalisation program here; I was commissioned to document Bardi language, history and culture, and for that documenting the history and culture through the language – i.e. by having people tell ‘stories’ – seemed the best way.

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