Fieldwork Forum (FForum)

When? Wednesdays 3:10PM-4:00PM

Where? Fall 2021 hybrid format (in-person in Dwinelle 1303 and via Zoom, password: fforum)

What? We are a working group dedicated to the critical examination of methodologies in language documentation, description, and revitalization, as well as to the linguistic and ethnohistorical analysis that falls out from that work. Our aim is to learn from and ultimately improve upon methods for carrying out more rigorous, insightful and ethical linguistic and cultural documentation, revitalization, and revival, as well as to help researchers implement those methods.

How? Fieldwork Forum is made possible through a Working Group Grant provided by the Townsend Center for the Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley.

Who? FForum is organized by Anna Björklund and Zach Wellstood. We welcome all those interested in linguistic fieldwork, with all levels of experience, including those in other departments. To join our mailing list, write to wellstood at berkeley dot edu.

See a list of our past talks here.

Upcoming Schedule

2021.10.20 Danielle Ronkos (Datapeople) & Zach Wellstood (UC Berkeley)

The making of the Sikles Language Portal: a community-facing thematic web dictionary

Tamu Kyuii, or Gurung, is a Tibeto-Burman minority language of Nepal. The Sikles Language Portal is a community-facing thematic web dictionary that includes written language and recordings of the variety of Gurung spoken in Sikles Village. This project began in 2013 as a documentation project at the Endangered Language Alliance in collaboration with a native speaker of Sikles Gurung who had relocated to New York City, and continued when we travelled to Nepal in 2017 to work with Gurung speakers still living in Sikles. The Sikles Language Portal was created in 2020-2021 with data drawn from word lists and narratives recorded with six speakers of Sikles Gurung.

In this talk we discuss methodological and design decisions made in creating this mobile-friendly web portal for use by the community, including (i) the development of a practical orthography using both Devanagari and a romanized equivalent, (ii) the separation of lexical entries into thematic categories (rather than alphabetical ones) while also preserving inter-speaker variation, and (iii) the conversion of our FLEx database into a MySQL database. We will also demo an alpha-release of the portal and solicit feedback and input from the audience.

2021.10.27 Sigwan Thivierge (Concordia University)

2021.11.03 Anna Björklund (UC Berkeley)

2021.11.10 Nadine Grimm (U. of Rochester)

2021.11.17 Melvatha R. Chee (U. of New Mexico)

2021.11.24 No Meeting (Thanksgiving)

2021.12.01 Rodrigo Ranero (UCLA)

Recent Meetings

2021.10.13 Hannah Sande (UC Berkeley)

Introducing Twisted Tongues: An online alternative to FLEx

This presentation will involve an interactive demonstration of the Twisted Tongues data management tool for fieldworking linguists. This tool serves as an online alternative to FLEx and other data management tools. The following features will be highlighted: Online real-time collaboration options, search functions, export functions, automatic dictionary creation, and flexibility of data input options. Discussion about additional features or tools to consider integrating into the site is welcome!

2021.10.06 Alex Elias (UC Berkeley)

Rapid speech phenomena in Tahitian

The Polynesian languages, including Tahitian (te reo Mā’ohi), are widely reputed for their phonological simplicity and tiny segmental inventories. This reputation for simplicity belies the complex rapid-speech phenomena that occur in Tahitian, which have not been well described. On the surface, Tahitian has glottalized, aspirated and breathy consonants created by metathesis of laryngeals /ʔ/ and /h/. Extreme vowel coarticulation effects lead to a much larger surface inventory of vowels than the 5-vowel phonological analysis would suggest. This talk will summarize these findings (and others) that resulted from my field trip to the Tahitian-speaking island of Taha’a in French Polynesia.

2021.09.29 Aaron Broadwell (U. of Florida)

Making historical texts in indigenous languages accessible to communities: A Zapotec case study

Caseidyneën Saën is a set of open educational resources on Colonial Zapotec funded by an ACLS grant and created by a team including activists, educators, academics, and students. Here, we present this resource as a case study that contributes to larger conversations related to (1) communities working with historical corpora in their languages (e.g. Leonard 2011, Hinton 2011) and (2) the role digital scholarship can play in such projects (e.g. Czaykowska-Higgens et al. 2014).

Zapotec languages (Otomanguean) are indigenous to Oaxaca and are also spoken in diaspora communities, including in the greater Los Angeles area. Historical forms of Zapotec are attested in an expansive corpus written during the Mexican Colonial period. The online, digital resource Ticha ( makes these manuscripts accessible to the public by providing open access to high-resolution images, transcriptions, translations, linguistic analysis, and historical context. The continued development of Ticha is embedded in pedagogical practices and committed to co-creation with Zapotec individuals and pueblos. InCaseidyneën Saën, a collection of public-facing teaching materials, we use the resources available on Ticha to teach about Zapotec language, culture, and intellectual history.

The e-bookCaseidyneën Saënwas created by a team comprised of both Zapotec and non-Native collaborators, and the 18 co-authors of this multilingual (English, Spanish, and Zapotec), multimedia presentation represent the diversity of the team. In this talk I discuss how we went from traditional linguistic fieldwork to a deeper immersion into collaborative work with Zapotec communities to provide documents that are relevant to their linguistic history.
George Aaron Broadwell is Elling Eide Professor of Anthropology at University of Florida. See more details at

2021.09.22 Jack Martin (William & Mary)

85 Years after Haas: Collaborative Documentation of Muskogee (Creek) Oral History

From 1936 to 1940, Mary R. Haas worked extensively on Muskogee (Creek) in Oklahoma, collecting numerous paradigms, a vocabulary, and texts (see, e.g., Haas and Hill 2015).

The current project was initiated by Chief Leonard Harjo of the Seminole Nation in 2014. The Seminole Nation had just opened an elementary school (Pumvhakv School) that taught children through immersion. Chief Harjo wanted us to document oral history in the language, with the goal of giving these children something to study in twenty years.

The project was funded by NEH. We have so far conducted 32 video interviews (18 hours). The first drafts of transcriptions and translations are being done by community members: students taking immersion courses at Bacone College paired up with elders.

I will spend the first portion of the talk discussing our methods. I will then discuss some findings, particularly regarding “men’s and women’s speech” in Muskogee.

2021.09.15 Ronald Sprouse (UC Berkeley)

Computing needs of Linguistics Department field research

This meeting will be a discussion of ways to support the computing needs of field researchers in the Linguistics Department. It will involve a demonstration of a cloud-based virtual machine running FLEx that could be used for collaborative work on a language project, or by individuals who otherwise do not have access to FLEx (i.e. Mac users).

As a department we have access to a pool of cloud compute resources, and we will discuss ways to allocate these resources in order to address needs for field research effectively. If you have questions about how to address computing issues that slow down your research or ideas about how cloud (or other) resources could be useful to you, please bring them to the discussion.

2021.09.08 Zachary O'Hagan (UC Berkeley)

Note that this talk will be in-person only, not hybrid (i.e. not available remotely).

Lessons from the Preservation of the Ashaninka Collection of Gerald Weiss

Anthropologist Gerald Weiss (1932-2021) spent 43 months conducting fieldwork in Ashaninka communities on the Tambo River in Peru between 1961 and 1980. His research included general ethnography (e.g., cosmology, manufacture, kinship; see Weiss 1969), history, language, and ethnobiology, resulting in a large collection of sound recordings, photographs, notes, diaries, manuscripts, material cultural objects, and biological specimens. In May, Weiss's children donated everything but the material cultural objects to the California Language Archive. In this presentation, I describe the contents of the collection and the context in which it was created, give examples of the ways in which Weiss's wide-ranging scholarly connections (e.g., with scientists at the Systematic Entomology Laboratory) and meticulousness are relevant for documentary linguists today, and illustrate how the collection is valuable for the documentation of related languages such as Caquinte (see O'Hagan 2020). I also situate Weiss's collection among other endangered archival collections, advocating for more engagement on the part of active scholars with archival materials in private hands. This will be a hands-on event with many objects to circulate, including the material cultural collection, donated to the Museo Nacional de la Cultura Peruana in Lima but temporarily in my keeping.


O'Hagan, Zachary. 2020. Focus in Caquinte. PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Weiss, Gerald. 1969. The Cosmology of the Campa Indians of Eastern Peru. PhD dissertation, University of Michigan.

2021.09.01 Welcome back!

Join us for the first FForum meeting of the semester, where we will do a round robin to catch up on summer developments. All are welcome!