Fieldwork Forum (FForum)

When? Wednesdays 3:10PM-4:00PM

Where? Spring 2022 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

2022.02.02 Edwin Ko (UC Berkeley)

The diachrony of suppletion in Crow: Some reflections on contact-induced change

In the first part of this talk, I propose a number of historical pathways to verbal and grammatical suppletion in Crow, an indigenous Siouan language that is spoken in Montana. Diachronic studies on suppletion have typically focused on data drawn from Indo-European languages (e.g. Aski 1995; Börjars and Vincent, 2011; Fertig, 1998; Juge, 1999, 2013, 2019; Maiden, 2004; among others) and I discuss how the Crow data may provide insights on the development of suppletion and the mechanisms of morphological change that involves similarity in meaning but not necessarily similarity in form.

The second part of the talk concerns morphological data that is typically regarded to be a result of language shift. In situations of language shift, speakers often regularize paradigms that contain suppletive forms. In Crow and its sister language Hidatsa, several irregular paradigms display variation in their forms, especially among suppletive forms. Although "non-standard" morphological data may be disregarded and excluded from one's description of the language, I suggest that these types of data can provide valuable insights into language change, particularly analogical change.

2022.02.09 Elizabeth Wood (UT Austin)

Describing complexity in naturalistic speech data: Status suffixes in Chichicastenango K’iche’

In this talk I will discuss the distribution of “phrase-final” and “phrase-medial” status suffixes in the Chichicastenango dialect of K’iche’ (Mayan) based on a study of a corpus of naturalistic narrative speech. Status suffixes are a class of primarily verbal suffixes and constitute one instance of a larger pattern of positionally sensitive allomorphy in Mayan languages: the form of the suffix depends on whether the verb is located at a phrase boundary. This study addresses two primary questions: 1) Is the relevant “phrase” syntactic (the clause, as in Larsen 1988) or prosodic (the intonational phrase, as in Henderson 2012)? 2) Do consonant cluster phonotactics influence the distribution of "phrase-final" and "phrase-medial" suffixes as occurs in some related languages? To conclude I will discuss some of the data that is not accounted for under the identified factors and raise the question of distinguishing speech errors from unexpected or complex grammatical structures when working with understudied languages. 

Henderson, Robert. 2012. Morphological alternations at the intonational phrase edge: The case of K’ichee’. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 30.3, pp. 741–787.

Larsen, Thomas Walter. 1988. Manifestations of Ergativity in Quiché Grammar. PhD thesis.University of California, Berkeley.

2022.02.16 Lise Dobrin (U. of Virginia)

2022.02.23 Gabriel Gallinate (UT Austin)

2022.03.02 Peter Jenks (UC Berkeley)

2022.03.09 Joshua Birchall (U. of New Mexico)

2022.03.16 Tulio Bermúdez Mejía (U. of Chicago)

2022.03.23 No Meeting (Spring Break)

2022.03.30 Chris Beier & Hannah Sande (UC Berkeley)

2022.04.06 Pamela Munro (UCLA)

2022.04.13 Richard Bibbs (UC Santa Cruz)

2022.04.20 TBA

2022.04.27 Samuel Akinbo (U. of Minnesota)

Recent Meetings

2022.01.26 No Meeting

2022.01.19 No Meeting

2021.12.01 Rodrigo Ranero (UCLA)

An I-language approach to optional agreement in Tz’utujil

I discuss the virtues of adopting an I-language approach to linguistic description and analysis (Paster 2019). I argue that adopting this approach—which focuses on the mental grammars of individual speakers—can readily accommodate the existence of microvariation at the idiolectal level among members of a speech community. I show that pooling acceptability judgements across consultants can obscure the grammatical knowledge of individual speakers, potentially leading to the analysis of grammatical systems that are not, in fact, a part of anybody’s grammar. I illustrate my point through the results of a project analyzing the conditions governing optional predicate agreement in Santiago Tz’utujil (Mayan) (Levin et al. 2020, Lyskawa & Ranero 2021), comparing my approach to previous work that has addressed the phenomenon in related languages (e.g., England 2011).


England, Nora C. 2011. “Plurality Agreement in Some Eastern Mayan Languages”. International Journal of American Linguistics 77(3). 397–412.

Levin, Theodore, Paulina Lyskawa & Rodrigo Ranero. 2020. “Optional agreement in Santiago Tz’utujil Mayan is syntactic”. Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft 39 (3). 329–355.

Lyskawa, Paulina & Rodrigo Ranero.  2021. “Optional agreement as successful/failed AGREE: evidence from Santiago Tz’utujil (Mayan)”. Linguistic Variation.

Paster, Mary. 2019. “Analyzing interspeaker variation in Maay”. Loquens 6(2).

2021.11.24 No Meeting (Thanksgiving)

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

 A Diné Field Linguist’s Eye-Opening Experience

Diné Bizaad is much more endangered than previously thought, as Diné children are no longer learning to speak their heritage language at home. Navajo is often described as thriving with an estimated number of 150,000 speakers. Navajo is taught in classrooms and is a well-researched Indigenous language. Is Navajo truly thriving? My field experience has revealed that Navajo is not as healthy as it is believed to be.

During this talk, I will present issues that reflect a decline in the intergenerational transmission of Diné Bizaad. I will share the challenges I encountered in locating child speakers, the language attitudes about learning Diné Bizaad, the issue of what defines a Navajo speaker, and the work to motive speakers to record themselves at home. I encountered many challenges during my fieldwork, but I also found one positive common denominator that sustained Diné Bizaad in the homes that I visited. All families that participated in my research were involved in some aspect of Diné culture. The most unexpected finding was learning that Diné Bizaad is endangered.

2021.11.10 Nadine Grimm (U. of Rochester)

Reflections on gender and other social identities in fieldwork

In this talk I discuss the impact of a fieldworker's gender and gender identity on their overall fieldwork experience and integration into the community. In contrast to other fieldwork-based disciplines, especially anthropology, linguistics has had relatively little to say about this issue, which is, however, crucial for the researcher's wellbeing and safety in the field and ultimately affects the quality of the research.

I dissect the concept of gender and its cross-cultural applicability, putting forth that gender can never be seen in isolation, but is just one social role, along with age, race, and socio-economic status (Crenshaw 1991). The combination of a person's social roles determines their power status and has consequences for a researcher's expected behavior within the community, which most likely differs from a researcher's home society. Drawing on my own fieldwork experiences of cumulatively more than two years in West and Central Africa, I discuss measures for successful community relations and dealing with unwanted behaviors.

2021.11.03 Anna Björklund (UC Berkeley)

Notes from the archives: the road towards Nomlaki language revitalization

Nomlaki (ISO: nol) is a Wintuan language native to the northern Sacramento Valley. For all three Wintuan languages (Wintu, Nomlaki, and Patwin), no native speakers are still living. Intergenerational transmission has been disrupted for several generations, and the languages are preserved only in archival notes and recordings. However, revitalization efforts for Nomlaki are ongoing. I first teamed up with the Nomlaki revitalization group at Breath of Life 2020, and have continued regularly working with them ever since. Revitalization of Nomlaki poses a particular challenge because archival materials are comparatively scant, an issue exacerbated by how often the Wintuan languages are conflated with each other in field notes.

This presentation will discuss the joys and challenges of the Nomlaki revitalization journey so far, especially in regards to i) searching for archival documentation, ii) creating and participating in language pedagogy, and iii) using the archives for academic research.

2021.10.27 No Meeting

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.

2021.10.13 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!