Field Methods

      You probably never asked what it took your instructor to bring an informant to your practicum class. Field research does not start with working with an informant. This is about the middle of a long process that involves planning and sometimes applying for funding, unless you are independently well-endowed financially to fund your research on your own. Aside from teaching students field research techniques (such as how to select and interact with one’s informants, or the complementarity of interviews, elicitation, and collection of spontaneous speech), this course is also about many practical and logistic aspects of field research, on the model of the social sciences. Students learn how to define their research topics and write a convincing grant proposal, how to identify the kind of equipment they need, and how to put together a realistic budget. Many professionals outside quantitative sociolinguistics have learned this the hard way. Today’s graduate students need not, although everybody must be prepared for setbacks, such as not being funded, for reasons that are independent of the excellent thinking and planning invested into their research project. The course starts by explaining the meaning of field in field work, and why and how field work can be done at home, sometimes without requiring funding. It also explains how one can be in a strange place, surrounded by a new population speaking the language that interests them but still fail to do field research. This is a course that I think every department of linguistics should make available to the future professionals they are training, as the latter should know how to collect the right data from either speech or text by working in the best conditions possible, paying attention to a multitude of things, identifying the relevant ones, asking the right questions, etc. Even theoretical linguists need such a course, knowing that they need not search for data in the same way that (quantitative) sociolinguists do but being aware of the benefits of learning from each other.



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