New Edition of Linguistic Fieldwork: A Practical Guide.

I’ll be preparing a new edition of my fieldwork book over the next year or so. Minimally, I’ll be corrected a bunch of typos and updating the technology recommendations, though they have not aged as much as I thought they might. I will probably also incorporate some of the material that I have used in my classes alongside the book.

Now is the chance for readers to make suggestions about things they would like to see in the book. There are three comments of that type that have come up a few times. One is from Africanists: Africanists seem to feel that the book is not very applicable to their field situations, but they are usually hard pressed to give specifics about what they don’t like. Given that I’m not an Africanist, it’s hard for me to address this without some indication of what isn’t applicable. I suspect that part of the issue may the focus in the book on ‘small’ languages. It may also have something to do with the emphasis on community consultation (though I also try to make it clear that this is only one model, and one that is not applicable everywhere).

Second is the lack of what we might call ‘typological’ information. I’ve heard from people who were disappointed that the book didn’t cover more about topics like ‘how to discover if your language has ergativity’. I suspect this comment comes from people who combine their field methods classes with a class on typology. I’m not sure that I can do much about this in a book of this length. I don’t like the attitude that there are ‘normal’ constructions and then there are ‘exotic’ constructions like ergativity (which is found is something like 40% of the world’s languages, so while it’s a minority construction, it’s hardly uncommon). But I can provide some more guidance on using questionnaires and designing surveys and experiments.

The last topic is epigraphy, or interpreting old records. The book does have a bit of advice on using old sources, but there is plenty of other material that could be covered here.

Another thing I have in mind is producing some materials for speakers who are working on their own languages; something like ‘how to do linguistic documentation without a linguistics degree’. That would probably not be for this book, however, since the main constituency for this book is field methods classes.

Given that I’ve just come off finishing the Bardi grammar camera-ready copy, there is no way I’ll be spending a lot more time reading my own writing in the near future, but I would like to start thinking about how to proceed. Comments and suggestions from readers would be very welcome – you can leave them in the comments or email me at

5 responses to “New Edition of Linguistic Fieldwork: A Practical Guide.

  1. I’ll second the epigraphy suggestions. It’s also useful to understand how fieldworkers in the past may have organized their materials and their metadata. Some examples from well-organized researchers versus less-organized ones might be useful (e.g. Morris Swadesh v. J.P. Harrington).

  2. Danny, the new Chelliah and de Reuse volume “Handbook of Descriptive Linguistic Fieldwork” ( might be more what you want for epigraphy – although I just noticed that you put up the Linguist List post so you probably know better than I do.

    Metadata is quite hard because these days more and more projects are attached to archives (ELAR, DoBeS, PARADISEC etc), which each have their own set of requirements – but it does help to make sure people are thinking about these things and have a reliable procedure in place before misnaming hundreds of files.

    I’ve always loved that this book isn’t heavy on typological info – grab your copy of Payne or some sneaky scans of the Schopen trio for that. I really like that this book gets you thinking about the bigger context, and even if it is skewed towards situations I didn’t find were relevant to me, at least I’d started thinking about these issues before throwing myself in! Also, while Chelliah and de Reuse and the new Thieberger “Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Description” are amazingly far-reaching in their scope they’re also really big – I don’t think it’s too much of a surprise that Claire’s book, and Terry Crowley’s, are the only two I’ve read cover to cover.

  3. G’day! I am quite happy with it your book as it is. I would like to visit the companion site. The few links I have found for it are broken. Cheers.

  4. Thank you so much!

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