Field Methods Class Pondering

I had lunch with the field methods speaker for the fall class a few days ago. As befits a field methods consultant, she’s awesome! The language we’ll be working on is Fijian, and our speaker has some linguistics training and is very aware of the stylistic and geographical dialect differences in the language.

I am pondering how best to run this class this semester. It seems a waste of our consultant’s abilities to pretend that Fijian is an undescribed isolate. On the other hand, there does not seem to be very much recent published work on the language. There is Schutz’s grammar from 1986 (and Dixon’s grammar, on the Boumaa dialect, from about the same time), but the most recent published dictionary seems to have been compiled by Capell in the 1940s. I’m therefore starting to have a think about what smart students with a smart consultant and a bunch of background materials can do in a semester that would be educational for the students, not too boring for the consultant, and ideally of some use to the profession as a whole. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, besides the usual term papers for grad students on topics they are interested in:

  • Descriptive work using some of the MPI  stimulus kits.
  • Web dictionary with sound and examples
  • Gesture elicitation
  • Prosodic structure elicitation
  • JIPA-type phonetic sketch

2 responses to “Field Methods Class Pondering

  1. Syntax! Question formation. Relative clauses (at least run through Keenan & Comrie). Sentence embedding. Verbs taking sentential complements (“he said”, “she knows”, “I think”). Questions as indefinites (“how many years it’s been”, “what men you meet there”). Possibility of cataphora (“his mother loves Pila” & “Pila” = “his”?). Nested relative clauses (“the man who burned the store that he built”). Analogues of “such/so that” (“its construction such that it would never collapse”). Topicalization and focus. Processes of nominalization and verbalization. Idioms and syntactic processes (“the man who kicked the bucket”, “the bucket which was kicked”).

    There’s lots of this kind of stuff which has been largely overlooked by the older grammar-writing generation. The syntactic literature can be difficult to comprehend, but there are many questions that have come out for which we need more cross-linguistic information, and the elicitation of such data isn’t very difficult. It also creates opportunities for rapid publication, since the phenomena are immediately interesting when they haven’t been looked at before in a particular language. It also opens opportunities for stick-in-the-mud English syntacticians in the department to get interested in the field methods language since they will suddenly find themselves confronted with questions from the students. Have the students check out the Polynesian syntax literature (there’s a surprising amount) for things to compare Fijian against, maybe one of your students will get interested in syntactic reconstruction.

  2. Ah, thanks James – these were the sort of topics I’d kind of glossed over under “graduate student final papers”.

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