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Language & Communication 29 (2009) 193–198 www.elsevier.com/locate/langcom


Introduction: Reflecting on language and culture fieldwork in the early 21st century

Linguistic anthropologists have now been gathering data in the field for over a century. Many of the institutions, cultural practices, and assumptions that contextualize this fieldwork have changed over the course of this century, while others have not. However, at present only approximately 20% of anthropology departments provide formal training in fieldwork methods (Gupta and Ferguson, 1995, p. 6), while the field methods training found in linguistics departments is usually decontextualized, and has as a goal the accurate documentation of linguistic structure without reference to language in use. Even so, fieldwork is central to both linguistic and sociocultural anthropology, and although less visibly, to linguistics as well: all structural and theoretical linguistic analysis is predicated upon data that has been gathered in some way.1 The ascendancy, in recent decades, of reflexive ethnography has led to the examination of various facets of fieldwork, ranging from the ‘‘where” of anthropology and what it means to be ‘‘in the field” (Gupta and Ferguson, 1995) to ethnography as a genre of writing (Clifford and Marcus, 1986) to the ‘‘lies of ethnography” and moral dilemmas of field research (Fine, 1993). Far less, however, has been written on fieldwork by researchers of language and culture, and this special issue is meant to begin to make explicit and central what is so often implicit and marginal in the articles and books that result from fieldwork on language in use, and to consider and critically assess some of the practices, methodologies, and epistemologies of researchers engaged in ethnographically grounded studies of language use and linguistic form. As Duranti (2001, 2003) has noted, the different names for fields of inquiry that have language as culture at their center – e.g., linguistic anthropology, anthropological linguistics, ethnolinguistics, and sociolinguistics – correspond to different theoretical and methodological orientations and different research paradigms as well. Early linguistic research by American anthropologists fell under the new rubric of Boasian four-field anthropology; their linguistic fieldwork was focused on the documentation of Native American languages, often as a central means of accessing and analyzing culture (Boas, 1911), as well as contributing to a better understanding of the genetic relationships among American languages. The emergence of American anthropology as a discrete field of inquiry coincided with the increasingly rapid decline of Native American languages and traditional cultural practices, particularly in the West, where contact with English-speaking settlers had historically been more limited. The urgent need to document as many linguistic forms as possible before they entirely disappeared was often part of what was later deemed ‘‘salvage anthropology” or ‘‘triage linguistics”; some practitioners of this sort of fieldwork were notoriously autocratic, and prioritized the collection of data above all else (for example, stories still circulate among Native Californians about the extremely prolific J.P. Harrington, whose fieldwork practices included grammatical elicitations at the deathbeds of elderly speakers (cf. Laird, 1977)). Students of Boas, most notably Sapir and Kroeber, contributed significantly not only to


Note that for some linguists working within the paradigm of generative grammar, data produced by introspection is also acceptable.

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and England (2002. the prototypical fieldwork scenario appears to be a rural and remote monolingual setting in which the researcher is a participant observer. As one might expect. Linguistic anthropologists have most notably problematized fieldwork and the production of ‘‘knowledge” via increased attention paid to local norms and values as well as to the context within which the researcher is situated (e. and periodically implemented. here. 2001). 2001). This has led to an increasing focus on the use of linguistic fieldwork to develop tools for local communities designed to aid their language documentation and revitalization efforts (e. Rosaldo. Some writing on reflexive ethnography has come from an explicitly feminist or postmodern perspective. 2002). 812) suggests that rather than having individual researchers extensively reflect on their subjectivity and place themselves at the center of their ethnographic narratives. Duranti. there was a shift from working with native speakers to elicit grammatical forms to the analysis of contextualized language in daily use (e. which have seen limited interdisciplinary discourse and cross-pollination.. has attempted to account for the fieldworker’s positionality and role in the selection and construction of knowledge (e. or a combination of the two (e. Labov. e. By contrast. Scholte..g.. within these subfields. the prototypical scenario appears to be an urban monolingual but multidialectal setting where the main method of data gathering is the sociolinguistic interview.g.. and several recent critical reassessments question precisely when considerations of reflexivity and positionality are in fact actually useful (e. however.g. 1992). 2003) have drawn attention to the ways in which linguistic researchers can and should engage in both collaboration with and advocacy for the language communities with whom they work. Salzman (2002. these discussions rarely address issues of fieldworker effect. by contrast. Wolf.194 Editorial / Language & Communication 29 (2009) 193–198 language documentation but also to linguistic theory – and not only in the areas of historical and typological linguistics. 1997. Within linguistic anthropology. 1978. phonology.g. 1999). Hinton (2001. along with the social constructs and processes constituted by language (e. For example. Researchers such as Hill (2002). more recently.. Meanwhile. For many (but certainly not all) linguistic anthropologists. 1962). 1984. particularly those developing theories within generative grammar (following. 1965). 2002). Newman and Ratcliff. These divergent research agendas and methods help explicate the widening split in the last few decades between linguistic and anthropological approaches to language data.. ethnographic research would be better served by using collaborative research teams in which individual members can challenge and test each other’s perspectives and findings. Cameron et al.g. 2002.. Silverstein. Dorian (1989. reflexive ethnography. 1997). p. Milroy. fieldwork remains a central form of data development within subfields such as descriptive linguistics and anthropological linguistics.g. Ochs. Traditionally.g. with issues of fieldworker power and control (e. Within sociocultural anthropology. 1972. along with writings on reflexivity. The drive towards a critical evaluation of fieldwork and the process of writing up fieldwork results has thus been largely absent from public disciplinary discourse on linguistic structure and theory. Hinton and Hale. 1989. 1994) and. as part of an attempt to develop new epistemologies and means of analysis. and semantics. In addition. with the wide acceptance of and interest in reflexive ethnography. decontextualized experiments or rely upon data collected by others. either collect data via tightly controlled. Over time. 1984. Rickford and McNair-Knox. exception of the collection of papers in Newman and Ratcliff.g. 2002). 1986. in linguistics.b. by scholars working on the documentation and revitalization of contracting languages..g.. 1987a.. Bucholtz et al. the pendulum has begun its swing back. e. 1992). Theoretical discussions of linguistic fieldwork that has as its goal grammatical documentation appear to have as an implicit or explicit model a ‘‘prototypical” fieldwork experience involving a researcher who lives in the field for a prolonged period of time and works with a select group of linguistic consultants (sometimes still called ‘‘informants” or ‘‘subjects”) using a researcher-generated and controlled agenda (cf. many linguistic researchers working in the ‘‘core” subfields of phonetics. 1982. The increasing engagement by linguists and anthropologists with speech communities of contracting languages has brought to the forefront the need to reconsider traditional fieldwork interactions and agendas. Chomsky. syntax. the epistemologies and processes of data collection are rarely addressed (with the notable. however. 1972). Ruby. 2001). Robertson.g. sociolinguists have been grappling with issues of fieldworker effect for the last several decades (e. This move towards collaborative research teams has also been suggested. many language communities are more interested in working with linguists and .. Hymes. Clifford and Marcus. Salzman. Briggs. the fieldwork methods and goals of scholars in linguistics and anthropology departments diverged. if limited. linguistic and anthropological documentation is geared towards exploring and answering questions of interest to academics and academic departments.g.

p.” also notes that new recording technologies further complicate the ‘‘technical. Johnstone. and moral problems” confronting fieldworkers (1997. 2000. 85–87). 1997. Research on language ideologies not only informs an understanding of fieldwork relationships by exploring the congruencies and conflicts between the ideologies of fieldworkers and community members. 992) has slowed the kinds of conversational exchanges suggested by the papers in this volume. 871). pp. 586). for example. Ochs. along with recent work on the practice of transcription that examines the ways in which this seemingly denotational and highly technical practice also encodes stances toward power and authority and understandings of situated knowledge (Bucholtz. with methods and approaches drawn from diverse academic disciplines. bridging the kinds of gaps mentioned above. pp.Editorial / Language & Communication 29 (2009) 193–198 195 anthropologists to develop resources that will aid in the reinvigoration of traditional linguistic and cultural practices. and in fact argue explicitly that such integration is crucial for both the development of linguistic data.” they focus on the need for researchers of language in use to include ‘‘both the details of language and the workings of culture and society” (Bucholtz and Hall. .. 1993. and of formal conceptualizations of the project of ‘‘fieldwork” itself. 2007). p. In their articulation of what they call the ‘‘sociocultural linguistic perspective. The development of such resources requires a shift in fieldwork praxis away from the monogenesis of research questions and complete researcher control of continued intellectual exploration. Duranti. recognizing and mitigating the potentially damaging impact of technical academic jargon on contracting speech communities requires a willingness to critically examine multiple aspects of the fieldwork process and results. in addition to suggesting the need to explicitly discuss and document ‘‘the dialogical practices out of which descriptions are born. but also provides insight into relationships among academic disciplines. language ideologies have influenced disciplinary boundaries in the social sciences and are ‘‘inscribed and reproduced in the contrasting practices through which different disciplines claim access to specialized knowledge” (1995. concluding that local ideologies and perceptions of language learning and preservation must be incorporated into revitalization and maintenance programs in order for them to succeed. 1998 for another useful examination of local ideologies associated with language varieties and their use). and that the culture of language in the community being studied may be ‘‘quite at variance phenomenally and epistemologically” with the culture of Linguistic Science (cf. work with contracting languages brings up issues of scholarly power and epistemological authority. both in the data-gathering process and in understanding their role as fieldworker vis-a field site. and for the development and maintenance of relationships between the fieldworker and the language community within which the researcher is working. In addition. 2008) counter such ideological assumptions. Many of the authors of the papers in this volume consider ways to include these areas of inquiry in their ` -vis the fieldwork. This suggests a need to understand and incorporate local language ideologies and stances. Kroskrity. Du Bois et al. both when working in the field and within academic contexts. and Leonard (2008). 2005. These trends have also led to an exploration of the ways in which the ‘‘expert” attitudes of linguists and anthropologists are encoded in their terminology (Hill. 1978. they propose. Bucholtz and Hall (2004. pervasive ideologies in which the study of language is the purview of an autonomous linguistics and ‘‘outside the bounds of anthropological research” (Gal and Irvine 1995. and the data developed through the fieldwork process. which has resulted. However. has suggested a reconceptualization of ‘‘extinct” languages as ‘‘sleeping. with their often unspoken attitudes towards fieldwork. As Gal and Irvine have noted. communities. political. in the partial invisibility of the diverse methods and more integrative aspects of research in linguistic anthropology. For example. 1–2) suggests that small languages are comparable to other natural resources in developing locations that are exploited by non-local professionals. 2005) have set forth an agenda to develop explicit connections and conversations between sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. of the role of the linguistic researcher relative to the field site. following on his work with the Miami language and members of the Miami community. In addition. and delineating ‘‘the toolkit already available” to researchers. Silverstein (2003. p.” This shifting focus in linguistic fieldwork from documentation solely for academic purposes to advocacy and the development of community-centered work product requires a rethinking of prototypical conceptualizations of the fieldwork setting. books aimed at introducing students to the contextualized study of language (Duranti. Vigoroux. Nevins (2004) describes a controversy based on conflicting language ideologies that threatened a language maintenance program in Arizona. 2002). While the conjunction of linguistics and anthropology has long offered a deep and wide toolkit of field and analytical methods.

These papers thus represent a next step in an ongoing conversation about the nature and role of fieldwork focused on contextualized language. In order to adequately assess the vitality of Ban Khor Sign Language. particularly with reference to three crucial areas of concern: the listing and assessment of the methodologies.. Discourse Studies 7 (4–5). is less frequently addressed by scholars engaged in projects in which linguistic data is at the center. Suslak explores the ways in which local understandings of social categories such as ‘‘age” not only affect the dynamics of language loss and retention. Hall.. Introduction. Hall. but was herself being socialized into particular sorts of linguistic and social behaviors as she worked collaboratively in the field to transcribe and analyze the data she had gathered. While formal linguistic training does include a fieldwork component. 2000. 1439–1465.196 Editorial / Language & Communication 29 (2009) 193–198 A number of related themes appear throughout the papers in this volume. Moore’s paper brings the anthropological lens to bear on that most linguistic of questions. The reflexivity of these papers includes the examination of the role of the fieldworker in the field setting... And Wertheim discusses the process by which her carefully prepared strategies for self-presentation to locate herself most productively as a participant-observer in Tatarstan were promptly co-opted and utilized to promote local linguistic ideologies and projects. Language in Society 13. however. Bucholtz. Oxford University Press.. References Boas. in Moore’s paper. Bucholtz. And underlying each paper. when. Language and Society 33. K. 1999. the continuing development of interdisciplinary conversations in order to inform fieldwork praxis. For example. kinship diagramming. 1911. many papers in this volume address the ways in which the researcher may be affected by local ideologies and projects of which they may be completely unaware. In her discussion of fieldwork with the signing community of Ban Khor. for example. Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse.. and why they are most productive. Journal of Pragmatics 32. In a shift from the position where a lack of fluent linguistic competence in all languages of a field site is to be seen as a deficit. Moore begins the work of analyzing the fieldworker’s linguistic competence as one factor among many in a field setting. Liang. and an explicit discussion of the ways in which these assessments and conversations can be incorporated into the training and professionalization of new members of our fields. 1–28. The politics of transcription. Bucholtz. Identity and interaction: a sociocultural linguistic approach. pp. which while widely discussed among sociocultural anthropologists. Nonaka argues for the importance of incorporating such traditional anthropological tools into linguistic fieldwork. M. including the importance of utilizing traditional anthropological research methodologies in linguistic research.. and social network analysis. Sutton. . (Eds. M. M. and the need for collaboration in the fieldwork process. 469–515. F. M.. who must be integrated into such local understandings. Briggs. New York. it rarely includes exposure to other tools commonly used by anthropologists in the field. The convoluted nature of the role of fieldworker and the problematization of that role is further taken up by Ahlers as she describes the process of incorporating local agendas into formerly outsider-generated research and looks at the importance of developing multiplex relationships within the field. Learning how to ask: native metacommunicative competence and the incompetence of fieldworkers. C. 585–614. Bucholtz. it is the linguistic competence of the fieldworker that is scrutinized. A. K. Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research. 2004. 1984. More subtly. 1–83. kinship analyses. Washington. medical genetic pedigrees. traditional and otherwise. that are useful in the field. is the desire to make explicit and central the analysis of the project of fieldwork itself. with all of their attendant implications. surname analysis. linguistic competence. the insights available from the examination of the social identities of fieldworkers and their relationship to the communities with whom they work. and to suggest ways to reform and refine that project in light of the outcome of these analyses. Smithsonian Institution. 2005. DC. along with a discussion of how. of course. L.. Nonaka makes use of mapping. but also inexorably absorb the fieldworker. Thailand.). as well as at the ways in which promoting collaboration in research design and execution leads both to a more productive field relationship and to higher quality research output. Riley looks at another aspect of fieldworker co-optation by considering the ways in which she not only affected her data in the analytical process. Handbook of American Indian Languages.

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edu . San Marcos.. California State University. Wertheim Department of Anthropology. CA 92096. San Marcos. CA 90095-1553. 341 Haines Hall.edu Suzanne A. Twin Oaks Valley Rd.198 Editorial / Language & Communication 29 (2009) 193–198 Jocelyn C. United States E-mail address: jahlers@csusm. United States Fax: +1 310 206 7833 E-mail address: swertheim@ucla. Ahlers Department of Liberal Studies. Los Angeles. Los Angeles. University of California.