If anyone knows which community this story refers to, could you let me know?
Bulanjdjan asks for field horror stories about things we’ve done in the field that we really wished we hadn’t done.
And in field linguistics and language revitalisation, the need to crticially evaluate our work and ask for help/advice is crucial. And while I do this on a personal, informal level, sharing this with a wider audience is pretty scary. But I also really think it’s important, especially for new researchers/field workers, to hear other’s stories of abysmal failure or of cultural insensitivity or of sudden (and very late) realisations in basic linguistic analysis. I think this is important cos it gives new field workers license to make mistakes and to admit to them! (Cos how else can we learn from them?) Surely the ‘sink-or-swim’ mentality to inducting new field workers is out-of-date?
I must admit I’m a bit of a believer in the sink-or-swim (at least, guided sink-and-swim). There’s nothing like making the mistakes to make sure you only make them once, or twice.
Here’s a small list of things that I can admit to doing (but really wish I hadn’t done)
- Offending people by not eating something I’ve been given. I remember one time when it was really hot and I was feeling dehydrated and queasy, and someone gave me a bunch of oysters, covered in sand in an old tin from the beach – couldn’t touch them. The response was “oh yes, white people like their food from the supermarket, Aboriginal people eat this bad stuff” and weeks of careful work was demolished in half a second, even though I was trying to explain that many people paid a dollar or more per oyster and getting them fresh off the rock was a luxury they seldom had.
- Assumptionsabout cultural knowledge, e.g. assuming something like nursery rhymes weren’t shared experiences when they were, or asusming something was shared knowledge when it wasn’t. I lost either way with this, because on the one hand I was implying that there was an ‘Australian identity’ that Aboriginal people did not share, but on the other that they shared an identity that they didn’t want to share.
- Forgetting who is in taboo relations with each other and not warning someone when an aloorr was approaching, like I was supposed to.
- Linguistics/actual elicitation things:
- leaving the pause button on. It’s my belief that this is something that you have to do in order to get it out of your system. You’ll never remember until you’ve actually lost data…
- asking “what’s this” and getting a response, and not writing down the referant at the time. I have a lot of tapes with this sort of thing on them, which I had to go back and check afterwards.
- leaving the microphone switch off. Again, like the pause button thing, something you have to do a few thimes before you odn’t forget.
- forgetting to elicit crucial pieces of information. e.g. for a Bardi verb you need to know several forms before you can work out what its underlying form is. There are also some nouns that look like verbs. It’s easy to tell if you have the 3rd singular or 2nd singular, but there’s a few I only have in the plural in the “present”, so I can’t tell if they’re argument-taking nouns or verbs. Case allomorphy is another one. Nothing like dictionary work for realising that there’s a heap of stuff you didn’t ask and really should have (or ran out of time to ask)
- I can’t think of any d’uh moments for synchronic analysis (although I’m sure they’ve been many and I’m repressing them), but for historical and etymology there’s nothing quite like seeing the blindingly obvious after months of thinking about it.
There’s another thing which probably plagues me more than mistakes, and that’s the things I didn’t ask people who’ve now passed away. Couldn’t have been done, I don’t think – I don’t think I could have done more work with speakers on Bardi field trips, but there are still so many things I wish I’d been able to ask, that we’ll now never know.
A round of applause for Patsy Bedford and June Oscar, who will be teaching Bunuba at Wesley College in Melbourne (Australian article here). What a fantastic opportunity for the kids! Patsy is the lynchpin of the Fitzroy Crossing annexe of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, and June is the Chair of the KLRC.
This article is atypical in several ways. One is that it mentions an Aboriginal group (and language) by name. It’s also quite a bit more positive than your average language article (although it’s a pity about the title).
In honour of the recent 40th anniversary of the Wave Hill walkoff, this week’s language is Gurindji.
I suspect that Gurindji is one of the few language names that are nonindigenous Australians know. That’s because of the walkout and the subsequent hand back of land by the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Gurindji is a member of the Ngumpin-Yapa subgroup of Pama-Nyungan. It’s a Ngumpin language and is thus quite closely related to Walmajarri and Jaru, and less closely related to Warlpiri.
Patrick McConvell has been working on the language for quite a long time now, and has a number of publications on various aspects of Gurindji synchronic language, language contact, and historical linguistics.
It’s actually quite difficult to find Web materials on Gurindji. Most of the information available is about the Wave Hill walk off/strike and the subsequent handing back of land. There’s nothing on Gurindji in David Nathan’s virtual library of Australian languages, for example. The Daguragu community web site has a couple of sentences on language. And there’s a nice web page on the Gurindji Kriol project run by Patrick McConvell, Jane Simpson and Gillian Wigglesworth. Patrick has a paper on emergent mixed languages, which includes Gurindji as an example (along with Tiwi), and Felicity Meakins and Patrick have a rippper of a paper on Gurindji Kriol in an AJL from 2005 (link to papers resulting from the Gurindji Kriol project is here and includes the AJL paper).
Here’s a link to the Google scholar search for Gurindji grammar if you’re interested in the non Web publications on Gurindji. I would have a link here to a search on Mura, but the site was down when I was writing this post. It is almost never down, though so you check back soon.
Stop whatever you’re doing and go and listen to Hindsight on outstations. The link goes to the mp3 of the program. The program was based largely around Jarlmadangah (a Nyikina outstation in the Kimberley region, on Mt Anderson station) and provided an excellent set of resons whythe outstation movement is important and why homelands are not “cultural museums”, as Amanda Vanstone thinks. There was a bit of dodgy reasoning in a few places (for instance, I’d be very surprised indeed if some of the economic arguments presented were actually true – that, for example, homelands are a net contributor to the economy of remote areas – that is, that they raise more money than they cost) but that’s not the point.
You also get to listen to Annie Milgin on this program. She’s a health worker and does a lot of language work with Nyikina. The program didn’t mention language work very much, but Jarlmadangah seriously have their act together on this point.