Fieldwork Forum (FForum)

When? Wednesdays 3:10PM-4:30PM

Where? Fall 2023-Spring 2024 hybrid format (in-person in Dwinelle 1303 and via Zoom; email organizers for passcode)

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 Alexander Elias ( and Tyler Lemon ( We welcome all those interested in linguistic fieldwork, with all levels of experience, including those in other departments. To join our mailing list, please write to <tylerlemon at berkeley dot edu>.

See a list of our past talks here.

Upcoming Meetings

2024.04.17 Luke Gessler (CU Boulder)

Beyond FLEx and ELAN: Reimagining Language Documentation Software with Glam

Apps such as FLEx and ELAN are essential in modern language documentation practice, but the apps that are most popular have remained essentially the same for at least the past decade. In this talk, I present Glam, a work-in-progress whose goal is to become the next-generation language documentation app. I begin by briefly surveying the history of apps in language documentation before describing Glam's design goals, current state, and future plans. Particular design goals I will cover include overcoming long-standing usability issues with existing apps; facilitating interoperation with machine learning models to support documentary tasks; and community member-facing user interfaces.

(link to speaker website here)

2024.04.24 Ana Lívia Agostinho  (joint meeting with Language Revitalization Working Group)


(link to speaker website here)

Past Meetings

2023.08.30 Welcome back to Fieldwork Forum!

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!

2023.09.13 Kate Lindsey (Boston University)

A speaker-focused grammar of Ende, a language of Papua New Guinea

In this presentation, I will talk about my work writing the first grammar of Ende, a Pahoturi River language of Papua New Guinea, and the efforts I have made to include speaker perspectives, attributions, and values throughout the manuscript. I will also talk about the challenges of drafting a grammar from an under-researched area of the world. Finally, I will open the floor for discussion on grammar writing in general and new methods for incorporating variation in language and perspective into grammars and language description.

(link to speaker website here)

2023.09.27 Round-table discussion: Chris Beier (UC Berkeley) and Zach O'Hagan (UC Berkeley)

Round-table discussion about the logistics of grammar writing, grammar organization, and making grammars useful for different audiences, including the language community

This round table discussion will touch upon a combination of the following questions from our broader list:

1. How did you order your grammar writing tasks?
  1. Did you work on particular modules at a time, or did you work on all at once?

  2. How did you interlace fieldwork with grammar writing?

    1. Ie, did you start writing, run into problems, go back to the field to clear up problems (can you give examples)

    2. Were you able to write while in the field?

2. How much data did you collect before you felt confident enough to start writing your grammar?
3. Which part of the process did you find the most difficult and why?
16. Do you feel that there is a best way to organize grammars?  A best way to organize topics?
21. How can a grammar/grammatical description be useful for the community, rather than just linguists? (translating, removing technical terms, pedagogical materials, etc.)
22. Who is the audience of a grammar?  How do you make your grammar accessible to the widest set of people?
26. How can a grammar be made useful for language use, especially purposes like language learning and/or teaching?

(link to Chris Beier's website; link to Zach O'Hagan's website)

2023.10.11 Hossep Dolatian (Stony Brook)

Documentation of Iranian Armenian: A pandemic grammar

Iranian Armenian is an under-described dialect of Armenian that developed as a koine among the Armenians of Persia/Iran over the last few centuries. In this presentation, I go over the history of this speaker community and my involvement with them during the pandemic. I go over the factors that helped or deterred me as I prepared the first known grammar of this dialect.

(link to Hossep Dolatian's website)

2023.10.25 Round-table discussion: Maks Dąbkowski (UC Berkeley) and Hannah Sande (UC Berkeley) (CANCELED)

Round-table discussion about incorporating theory into grammatical descriptions, dealing with variation between groups of speakers and between individuals, and deciding on the scope of a grammar

This round table discussion will touch upon a combination of the following questions from our broader list:

6: To what extent do you incorporate theory into your grammatical descriptions?
     A. What is your view of the relationship between theory and description?
7: How do you deal with inter-village or even inter-speaker variation?
25: At what point do you think you’ve covered enough in your grammar?  When do you feel it’s “complete” enough?
(link to Maks Dąbkowski's website; link to Hannah Sande's website)

2023.11.08 Claire Bowern (Yale)

The past, present, future, and irrealis of the Bardi grammar

What is the purpose of a reference grammar? Is a reference grammar a good use of a linguist's and community's time, given all the other possible language-related activities they could be working on? How do grammars relate to other language-specific projects, like dictionaries, text collections, and pedagogical materials? How do they relate to cross-linguistic grammar projects (like Grambank)? Are they written just because of the ubiquity of the Boasian triad, or are there other reasons? In this talk, I draw on my work with Bardi community members and the writing and publishing of the Bardi grammar (published by Mouton de Gruyter in 2012) to think about some of these questions. I describe the background to the grammar, the data collection and grammar-writing process, the uses it's subsequently been put to, and what I would have done differently if I could write it again.

(link to Claire Bowen's website)

2023.11.29 Round-table discussion: Becky Jarvis (UC Berkeley) and Tessa Scott (UC Berkeley)

Round-table discussion about the logistics of grammar writing, making grammars useful for different audiences, and the influence of the contact language on data

This round table discussion will touch upon a combination of the following questions from our broader list:

1. How did you order your grammar writing tasks?
  1. Did you work on particular modules at a time, or did you work on all at once?

  2. How did you interlace fieldwork with grammar writing?

    1. Ie, did you start writing, run into problems, go back to the field to clear up problems (can you give examples)

    2. Were you able to write while in the field?

22. Who is the audience of a grammar?  How do you make your grammar accessible to the widest set of people?
23. How does the contact language affect the data you get?  In terms of your competence in the contact language, the speaker’s competence in the contact language, how they evaluate what you’re saying in terms of your social status/relationship to the speakers and competence.

(link to Becky Jarvis's website; link to Tessa Scott's website)

2023.12.06 Katie Sardinha (University of British Columbia)  (joint meeting with Language Revitalization Working Group)

NOTE: This talk will be held in 370 Dwinelle Hall, 3:10-4:30pm.  Katie will present in person. This talk will have a different Zoom link than usual, LRWG's Zoom link. There will be a reception with food afterwards in Ishi Court, 4:30-5:30pm.

Using an inductive learning approach to train speaker-linguists in Kwak'wala grammar: Can we accelerate language revitalization?

What is the most effective way to transmit grammatical knowledge of a language to adult language learners? In this talk, I’ll discuss why we are using an inductive learning paradigm to meet the goals of Kwak’wala language revitalization, what this approach entails, and how it functions to train speaker-linguists, who will then possess the tools necessary to accelerate revitalization efforts.

Our course begins where we have seen many language courses get stuck, focusing on sentence structure and the ability to generate new sentences given a small set of abstract, but intuitive concepts. We approach language as a pairing of meaning and form, in which predicates (form) describe events (meaning). We show that predicates have arguments, which can be classified into five core grammatical roles. In parallel with these categories of form, we then demonstrate corresponding categories of meaning: events have event participants, which can be classified into five core event roles. From these basic principles, together with rules for deriving word order, we proceed to derive argument alternations and to understand the Kwak’wala voice system, which underlies the formation of passives, wh-questions, relative clauses, indefinite object constructions, and clefts.

Similar to many Linguistics courses, the course is taught using structured sets of data – that is, sets of sentences and/or words which differ from each other minimally. We call this the “DOGS” method: students are presented with data (D); then they are led through the process of making observations (O) of the data; they are then led through the process of making generalizations (G) from the observations; and finally, they are led to reflect on the significance (S) of what they have just seen. Compared with traditional deductive learning, inductive learning tends to require greater investment of time and attention on the part of students. However, it also tends to result in deeper learning and better retention, while simultaneously teaching students how to do linguistic analysis.

Throughout the talk, I will mention some of the most important lessons I have learned doing fieldwork with Kwak’wala speakers from their 70s into their 90s. I will also briefly touch upon how we are using culturally relevant metaphors from the world of living things to help learners understand, and naturalize, the reality of inter- and intra- speaker variation.

(link to speaker website here)

2024.01.31 Wesley dos Santos (UC Berkeley)

NOTE: This talk will be held at a different time than usual, 3:30-5:00pm.  This is not an official FForum meeting; it is a practice job talk intended for a general audience based on data from a language on which the author conducts fieldwork.

Verb-initial clauses in Kawahíva: a Tupían language of the Brazilian Amazon

Around 10% of all languages exhibit the verb-initial (V1) pattern, where the verb obligatorily comes first in declarative sentences with neutral information structure (Dryer 2005). In this talk, I argue that verb-initial (VSO) word order in Kawahíva, a Tupían language spoken in Brazil, results from long head movement, similar to phrasal movement. This analysis is supported by the hallmarks of syntactic movement in Kawahíva verb movement, including interpretive semantic effects and nonlocality. I also show that two theoretical accounts of the V1 order – Remnant VP Movement and Head Movement – are insufficient to derive the V1 order in Kawahíva.

(link to speaker website here)

2024.02.14 Round robin show and tell!

Bring any fieldwork data, photos, questions, or anything that you'd like to share or get feedback on!

Do you have some vexing data, methodological questions, or something else in your fieldwork that you'd like to get feedback on?  Do you have something fun or interesting that you'd like to share?  Come tell us about it!  All who want to participate are invited to do so!

2024.02.28 Round-table discussion: Alex Elias, Tyler Lemon, and Katie Russell (UC Berkeley)

Round-table discussion about incorporating previous work on a language and its relatives into your own work

This round-table discussion will be about incorporating previous work on a language and its relatives into your own work.  This can be for typological or comparative research, learning about the history of the language you work on, or simply building on previous work.  We will discuss the benefits as well as potential pitfalls.  We imagine that most FForum participants have experience in this area, and we are eager for input from others!

(link to Alex Elias's website; link to Tyler Lemon's website; link to Katie Russell's website)

2024.03.13 Chris Beier (UC Berkeley) and Lev Michael (UC Berkeley)

Making the most of FLEx in your field research

Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx) is a unique and powerful tool for language documentation and description (LDD) research. It is also sufficiently complex, non-intuitive, and adaptable that users can reap substantial benefits from conversations with other users regarding their experiences and expertise using FLEx in long-term research projects. In this meeting of FForum, we will begin with a brief discussion of why and how we have used FLEx in various LDD projects in Amazonia. We then focus on two fundamental issues: the use and creation of FLEx ‘fields’ and ‘custom fields’, especially for recording and organizing grammatical information; and the creation and use of ‘entry history’ notations. The majority of the meeting will be dedicated to an open discussion of these and other issues in using FLEx. To get warmed up for the discussion, we encourage you to have a look at our chapter in the 2022 Open Handbook of Linguistic Data Management, “Managing Lexicography Data: A Practical, Principled Approach Using FLEx (FieldWorks Language Explorer)”, available here:

(link to Chris Beier's website; link to Lev Michael's website)

2024.04.03 Elinor Ochs (UCLA)

Outside In Fieldwork

Decades of engaging in linguistic anthropological fieldwork have yielded vastly different data sets (Malagasy oratory and conversation, Samoan children’s language development and socialization, US family communication, physicists lab problem-solving discussions, one woman’s panic disorder narratives and family conversations, children with autism’s conversations with family and peers).  Yet, two methods of data collection perdure across these endeavors. The first and most fundamental rests upon the ethnographic principle of attunement to broader, ever shifting historical and socio-cultural circumstances, including the researcher’s own positionality.  For the linguistic anthropologist, this attunement entails a growing reflexive awareness beyond langue and parole in the here and now.  This awareness accounts for why anthropologists pay so much attention to entering a site of fieldwork and why many anthropologists think that the pursuit of ‘context’ never abates.  The second vital method for linguistic anthropologists is to electronically record communication in social life.  In my own research, I began using the first portable audio recorders in 1969 and moved to portable video recorders in 1978.  Such recordings allow ongoing probing of the linguistic resources undergirding meaning-making. The presentation to the Fieldwork Forum will probe these dynamics as they have informed a series of transdisciplinary field projects.

In preparation for this talk, please take a look at Elinor Och's 2022 autobiographical article in Annual Review of Anthropology "Thinking in Between Disciplines", available at

(link to speaker website here)