Fieldwork Forum (FForum)

When? Wednesdays 3:10PM-4:00PM

Where? Spring 2021 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 Wesley dos Santos, Emily Drummond, 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

2021.04.28 Gladys Camacho Rios (UT Austin)

L1 insights on South Bolivian Quechua Language Documentation

This talk addresses why it is important to stress documentation and preservation of monolingual varieties of South Bolivian Quechua (SBQ). I discuss my experiences in community-based fieldwork, data curation and analysis, and specific issues such as morphological variation in the use of verbal morphology between monolingual and Quechua-Spanish bilingual groups.

South Bolivian Quechua has been studied by many linguists, oriented both theoretically and descriptively. But almost all studies have been conducted with Quechua-Spanish bilingual speakers in urbanized areas. Therefore, bilingual varieties of South Bolivian Quechua appear to be well documented, leaving rural varieties less documented and less well-understood. There are no studies describing the way people speak in rural areas. I argue that urban and rural environments can be reasonably understood as different dialects. I draw on detailed empirical evidence and personal experience as a native speaker of SBQ. The way monolingual elders speak is different. These differences are highly visible in the use of verbal morphology. Monolinguals use many idiomatic morphological combinations to form verb stems, while bilingual speakers have smaller lexicon of suffixes. This morphological variation between monolingual and bilingual varieties includes different grammatical categories such as associated motion.

In this talk I will present a new variety of South Bolivian Quechua that corresponds to monolinguals living in rural areas. This variety of Quechua does not involve contact with Spanish in day-to-day life as bilingual varieties do. Based on a large amount of corpus analysis I will demonstrate native speaker insights in understanding this variety to learn about the grammar and its aesthetic value such as recurrent figures of parallelism to create verbal art in South Bolivian Quechua.

2021.05.05 No FForum - RRR Week

 Recent Meetings (Spring 2021)

2021.04.21 Jorge Rosés Labrada (University of Alberta)

Using Pre-existing Collections for Fieldwork Training 

Many universities have developed Language Documentation (LDoc) courses as a way to train new fieldworkers in the multiple—often recursive—steps of the LDoc workflow (Thieberger and Berez 2011) and in the use of specialized documentation software. However, students in these courses rarely have the opportunity to develop the practical skills necessary to carry out a LDoc project of their own and the need for training in the practical and technological aspects of fieldwork remains (Brickell 2018). In this talk, I draw on my experiences training both university students as well as community members in LDoc through the use of pre-existing collections/corpora of linguistic materials for Makah (myh, Wakashan), Popti’ (jac, Mayan), and Anishinaabemowin (otw, Algonquian). In particular, I analyze the context, motivations, and outcomes of this training and argue that working with pre-existing collections not only creates better-trained documentarians but facilitates the mobilization of said collections in research and revitalization.

Brickell, Timothy C. 2018. “Linguistic Fieldwork: Perception, Preparation, and Practice.” Language Documentation and Description 15: 179–207.
Thieberger, Nicholas, and Andrea L. Berez. 2011. “Linguistic Data Management.” In The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Fieldwork, edited by Nicholas Thieberger. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

2021.04.14 Natalie Povilonis de Vilchez (NYU) (Co-hosted with SLaB)

Note: this meeting will take place via the SLaB Zoom Link

Deconstructing 'standard' in a minority language: Variation in Chanka Quechua

Abstract TBA

2021.04.07 Joana Jansen, Regan Anderson, Twálatin (Gregory Sutterlict) (Northwest Indian Language Institute)

Language in relation: Sɨ́nwit ttawax̱tpamá

 This talk discusses integrative methods of language documentation, curriculum development, and language teaching and the varied roles of those involved. Topics of importance to elders and teachers center the efforts of documentation, curriculum development, and training. The language we work with is Yakama Ichishkiin, spoken at the Yakama Nation in what is now Washington State, and taught at schools on and away from the Yakama Nation, including Heritage University and the University of Oregon.  

As part of a large collaborative team, we work to center Yakama knowledge within the academic institution and language and education research. We’ll discuss two frameworks based on tk’u (tule) and language cultivation that inform our work. We suggest that this pedagogical and documentation approach incorporates human and linguistic rights, and contributes to healing relationships between tribes and the educational systems that perpetuated loss of language and culture. Through new models and approaches, these same systems then can assist in language and culture restoration. (Falcón and Jacob 2011, McCarty and Lee 2014, Tachine 2018).

2021.03.31 Madeline Bossi (UC Berkeley)

Diagnosing pragmatic bias: Kipsigis belief reports

Across languages, speakers use a variety of tools to convey information about their expectations and background knowledge in conversation. Such constructions express pragmatic bias, in that they shed light on what interlocutors think the Common Ground looks like. In this talk, I discuss considerations that arise when studying pragmatic bias in elicitation, using Kipsigis negatively biased belief reports as a case study. In Kipsigis (Nilo-Saharan; Kalenjin), the verbs pwaat and par both mean ‘think’, though use of par indicates that the speaker views the reported belief as false or poorly evidenced. This talk describes the interpretive differences between pwaat and par in Kipsigis and offers methodological commentary on the elicitation of pragmatic bias.

2021.03.24 No FForum - Spring Break

2021.03.17 Karolin Obert (UT Austin)

When grammars collide: Reflections on Nadëb word order from the community’s perspective

In the linguistic landscape of Northwestern Amazonia, situations of language endangerment and language maintenance frequently co-exist. While many small minority populations that are surrounded by national languages show a decrease in the transmission of their languages to their children, languages are actively passed on to children in other communities. However, the distinction is not often as clear-cut as it seems: very often endangerment affects communities, genres and registers differently. Frequently, speakers express concerns about the loss of certain genres (e.g., specialist discourse such as ritual speech or songs) and the effects of this loss for the preservation of their language. Questions that arise in these contexts are: What happens with the grammar when a language is actively maintained, however shows significant changes on structural level? And also: How aware are speakers of these changes? And finally: What does it tell us about language preservation and on what to preserve?

         In this talk, I explore these questions based on an account of my experience with the Nadëb people (mbj; Naduhup family; Brazilian Amazon) in a Linguistics workshop during which participants enthusiastically engaged in a discussion on word order differences in Nadëb. While some participants advocated for OAV word order as the “right” one, others insisted in AVO once "The New Testament (translated to Nadëb) speaks like this” and again others showed acceptance for variation between both patterns. We will thus see how language contact and/or shift scenarios can lead to word order changes over time and how speakers can be aware of potential confusion where order is variable or in flux. Speaker’s awareness and attitudes towards these changes are consequently a vital source of information on community member’s ideas on what to document. However, for us as linguists who thrive to document a language in all its facets, we might find us being confronted with the conflict between language preservation and typological loss, that I would like to discuss and explore with the audience.

2021.03.10 Tzintia Montaño (UC Berkeley)

An approach to locative descriptions in Da’an Davi (Mixtec of Southern Puebla)

Locative descriptions express posture, position, or location of animate and inanimate entities (figure) in a background. Languages vary in the use of copula, posture, or dispositional verbs (Bowerman and Pederson 1992; Ameka et al 1999; Newman 2002; Levinson and Wilkins 2006, Ameka and Levinson 2007). The talk focuses on Da’an Davi, a Mixtec language from Puebla. I explore the morphosyntax and semantic properties that motivate the specific use of posture verbs and the copula in Da'an Davi. The data were collected in San Jeronimo Xayacatlan, Puebla, during fieldwork in 2017.

2021.03.03 Kristina Balykova (UT Austin)

Working with last Guató speakers

Manuals on linguistic fieldwork usually convey the idea that a researcher should choose the most appropriate consultant(s) to work with. In particular, a good consultant would ideally be patient, friendly, and show interest in linguistic questions. However, when one investigates a dying language, the real challenge is establishing effective working relationships with few remaining speakers, who rarely suit the “ideal informant” definition. This is the case for the Guató language, currently spoken by only two elders. I have been documenting and describing Guató since 2017 and, in this talk, I will discuss how my consultants’ personalities influence my fieldwork and which practices help me organize a workflow that is productive and comfortable for both sides.

2021.02.24 Felipe Lopez (Haverford)

Teaching Zapotec Language as form of Language Activism

In Mexico, there is little to no formal space given to education in or about Indigenous languages. Teaching Zapotec language in a higher education setting in either Mexico or the US brings extra challenges as the instructor is tasked with navigating discriminatory policies and / or ideologies as well as with creating course material, which usually does not exist (Mendoza-Mori 2017, Galla 2019). As a native speaker of Dizhsa, also known as San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec in the academic literature, I have worked as a language activist since 1992, promoting Zapotec language in public spaces. I have taught Dizhsa at different US and Mexico Universities as well as at high school in Mexico and I view teaching Dizhsa as part of activism work.

In this talk I demonstrate how teaching an Indigenous language can be a type of cultural resistance, especially in the Indigenous (and diasporic) context. I’ll focus in particular on the impact of the students, both Zapotec and non-Native students, in coming to reframe their perception of Indigenous language and culture as well as the creation of pedagogical materials required to teach my language. Creating open access, multilingual teaching materials itself is an act of resistance; in this talk I’ll share some of these including a tri-lingual Zapotec Valley dictionary (Munro & Lopez et al., 1999), the San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec Talking Dictionary (Lillehaugen et al. 2019, Harrison et al. 2019), the new digital open access edition of Cali Chiu? A Course in Valley Zapotec (Munro et al. 2021) and Caseidyneën Saën (Flores-Marcial et al. 2021, Broadwell et al. 2021).

Works Cited

Broadwell et al. 2020.  Ticha: Collaboration with Indigenous communities to build digital resources on Zapotec language and history. Digital Humanities Quarterly 14(4). Online:

Flores-Marcial et al. 2021.  Caseidyneën Saën – Learning Together: Colonial Valley Zapotec Teaching Materials. Online:

Galla, Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu.  2019.  Materials Development for Indigenous Language Learning and Teaching: Pedagogy, Praxis and Possibilities.  In Elizabeth Ann McKinley and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Eds.).  Handbook of Indigenous Education. Singapore: Springer Singapore Pte. Limited.

Harrison et al. 2019. Electronic lexicography in the 21st century. Proceedings of the eLex 2019 conference, ed. by Iztok Kosem et al., 31—50. Online:

Lillehaugen et al. 2019.  San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec Talking Dictionary, version 2.0. Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.

Mendoza-Mori, Américo. 2017.  Quechua Language Programs in the United States: Cultural Hubs for Indigenous Cultures.  Chiricú Journal: Latina/o Literatures, Arts, and Cultures. 1(2): 43-55

Munro et al. 2021.  Cali Chiu? A Course in Valley Zapotec, 2nd edition. Online:

Munro & Lopez et al. 1999.  Di'csyonaary X:tèe'n Dìi'zh Sah Sann Luu'c (San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec Dictionary / Diccionario Zapoteco de San Lucas Quiaviní). Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

2021.02.17 Presentations on Language Revitalization (Co-hosted with Language Revitalization Working Group)

*Note that this meeting will take place from 3:40PM-5:00PM PST at a different Zoom location.

Please join us for a joint session of FForum and Language Revitalization Working Group featuring a series of talks from students in language revitalization in Fall 2020. We'll hear from:
  • Ash Cornejo (3:40-3:55) - "Indigenous Plant Identification: An Interactive Mapping Project"
  • Alex Chang (3:55 - 4:10) - "Taiwanese Revitalization Through Song Annotation"
  • Irene Yi (4:10-4:25) - "Chumash Language Learning Through Storytelling, Illustration, and Body Reclamation"
  • Ellis Miller (4:25-4:40) - "Uchinaa Language Reclamation through Music"
  • Sharon Marcos (4:40 - 4:55) - "I AM HERE FOR MYSELF: Affirmations of Self Love in Q’anjob'al"

2021.02.10 Maksymilian Dąbkowski (UC Berkeley)

A'ingae Language Documentation Project and U koorpusil maaya t'aan. Two corpora in LingView, a web interface for viewing ELAN and FLEx files

Recent years have seen a flourishing of language documentation efforts. The scholars can use powerful tools such as ELAN and FLEx, which facilitate translation, transcription, and morphological annotation. Nevertheless, the files they produce are often inaccessible to the general public, including natives speakers of the documented languages.
In this talk, I introduce LingView, a flexible web interface for viewing ELAN and FLEx files, optionally timed-aligned with multimedia files. I discuss the design choices behind LingView and present two LingView-based corpora of audio-visual narratives: A'ingae Language Documentation Project with texts in A'ingae (or Cofán, an Amazonian isolate, ISO 639-3: con) and U koorpusil maaya t'aan with texts in Yucatec Maya (Mayan, ISO 639-3: yua).

2021.02.03 Open Discussion on Fieldwork and Colonialism

We envision this meeting as an Open Discussion on Fieldwork and Colonialism. Our starting point could be to go back to the previous topic from our first meeting on 1/20 (i.e., the umnaming of Kroeber’s Hall, the physical process of which took place last week), and/or consider other points in Andrew’s paper to extend our discussion. Indeed, this was a suggestion made by one attendee: Andrew's essay made use of the notion of "essentialism" in discussing Kroeber's paradigm, which I found very interesting. Perhaps it would be fruitful to (a) examine what Andrew meant by "essentialism" in his essay, (b) consider our own understandings of that notion, and (c) scrutinize if/when/how we may ourselves engage in essentializing paradigms, and why.

2021.01.27 Katie Sardinha (Independent Scholar)

A fieldworker’s reflection on the psycholinguistics of language and aging

Many indigenous language consultants working today are elderly.  In my own case, all except one of my Kwak’wala language consultants are over the age of 80.  Given the intimate nature of fieldwork, it is important that those of us working with older adults become familiar with what the wider linguistic research community knows about language and aging, both in order to better accommodate our consultants’ needs in the course of elicitation, and to make sure we are conducting our research as efficiently as we can.

In this talk, I will discuss findings from the psycholinguistics literature concerning how various aspects of language change (or remain stable) across the lifespan in the course of normal, healthy aging, focusing on findings which have particular relevance to fieldworkers.  Throughout this discussion, I will relate these findings to my own experiences spanning a decade of fieldwork on Kwak’wala.  I will also suggest strategies for improving elicitation outcomes, and for mitigating some common mistakes I’ve witnessed myself making in elicitation with older adults. 

2021.01.20 Andrew Garrett (UC Berkeley)

Roundtable Discussion: Legacies of colonialism in fieldwork
As a starting point for the discussion, Andrew will be giving us a concrete example, which will be on the unnaming of Kroeber Hall at UC Berkeley. In addition to a quick introduction to the issue and how it relates to linguists during the meeting, he will be sharing with us a draft of a paper he is writing on the topic. In this paper, as he puts it, "I am exploring how somebody with Kroeber's documentary accomplishments in linguistics and anthropology reached the point of being removed from a building, and what lessons this might have for present-day linguistic practice”.

 Recent Meetings (Fall 2020)

2020.12.02 Maura O'Leary (UCLA)

Hän's Pronominal Prefixes
Hän, a Dene language spoken in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, only has six remaining speakers. While we work towards revitalization as an L2, we are faced with the necessary task of rapidly documenting the details of an understudied language which is not used in the daily life of any of the remaining speakers. This talk discusses ongoing theoretical work on the pronominal prefix system used in Hän for direct object verbal prefixes, indirect object postposition prefix, and possessor-marking nominal prefixes. I propose that Hän's pronominal system has a distinction between reflexive and disjoint anaphors, and a distinction between definite and indefinite pronouns, with a single phonetic form representing the disjoint anaphor and the definite pronoun. I additionally discuss the challenges of conducting fieldwork on a dying language that is seldom used, especially those that affect this particular theoretical question.

2020.11.25 No FForum

2020.11.18 Lisa Matthewson (UBC)

How experimental should we be?

In this talk I focus on methodologies for hypothesis-driven semantic fieldwork. The core question is whether and how the methodologies we currently use should change, in response to the growth of quantitative research and recent criticisms of non-quantitative methods. I support Davidson’s (2020) proposal that ‘experimental’ is a gradable predicate and that research can be made more robust by adopting a subset of practices from experimental fields. However, I argue that ‘more experimental’ is not always ‘better’. [Davidson, Kathryn 2020. Is “experimental” a gradable predicate? To appear in Proceedings of NELS.]

2020.11.11 No FForum (Veteran's Day)

2020.11.04 Ignacio Montoya (U. Nevada, Reno)

Reflections on Numu language (Northern Paiute) classes at the university level: Decolonial strategies within a colonial context and implications for language revitalization theory

In this talk, I will reflect on the recently launched Northern Paiute classes at the University of Nevada, Reno using a reclamation-based, decolonial lens. In particular, I will focus on the decolonial practices that were incorporated in the design and implementation of the classes, on how aspects of the classes challenge common ideologies of language, and on how the findings that emerge from this exploration have implications for theorizing about language revitalization.

2020.10.28 Amalia Skilton (UT Austin)

Fieldwork on language and social interaction

This talk discusses how fieldworkers can collect data about language use in conversation and other forms of informal social interaction. First, I motivate the discussion by showing how data from conversation can be transformative for both linguistic analysis and language reclamation. Second, I consider some of the challenges -- technical, institutional, and (inter)personal -- which can prevent fieldworkers from collecting this form of data. Last, I present strategies for troubleshooting these challenges, including a workflow for collecting and processing high-quality conversational data using common documentation tools. I illustrate the talk with successes and failures from my own fieldwork with speakers of Ticuna, an Indigenous Amazonian language.

2020.10.21 Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)

 Steps toward semantic fieldwork
I will give some advice on how to get started on a semantic fieldwork project, and talk about the process (and some pitfalls to be aware of) with examples from my work on modals and de re/de dicto contrasts in Nez Perce.

2020.10.14 Alex Elias (UC Berkeley)

Everything you always wanted to know about New Caledonia (but were too afraid to ask)

Abstract: My talk will be about my experience so far in New Caledonia (Kanaky) after a two-week trip in October 2019, and my plans to work with speakers of Jawe there next summer. I will start with an overview of the things that I find interesting about the languages of New Caledonia. Then, I will talk about the process of choosing a site to do research and making the initial connections with Jawe speakers. I will talk about the objectives for my upcoming trip and ask for your feedback on a number of topics, including ways to approach orthography development. Possible topics for discussion afterwards include fieldwork in the age of Covid and the relationship between historical research and fieldwork. 

2020.10.07 Hilaria Cruz (U. of Louisville)

Between family and strangers: When an indigenous researcher conducts studies in her own community

In this talk I discuss the experiences of an indigenous researcher who performs linguistic field work in her own community. A growing number of indigenous scholars find themselves conducting language documentation, description, and promotion within a field of research that was created by and for members of academic institutions historically distant from collaborative work with speakers of indigenous languages. The author’s belonging to the community and thus the culture allows her to have a profound insight into local linguistic research, as well as its limitations and difficulties. There is a need for discussions that addresses the complexities of native researcher’s experiences. These complexities include the different roles they play, as women, as part of complex and intergenerational families, as community members, and as members of educational institutions.

2020.09.30 Larry Hyman (UC Berkeley)

How far can you get with one language consultant? The case of noun reduplication in Runyankore

In this talk I focus on how far one can get in understanding a specific issue from the kinds of data obtained in working with only one language consultant. Among the oft-discussed limitations arising from elicitation in general, is the problem of interpreting varying judgments of acceptability that inevitably arise within and across speakers. Although one's reservations can only multiply when there is only one language consultant, this is how many of us have been forced to work, as when Thera Crane and I produced our Nzadi grammar with Simon Nsielanga Tukumu. My example in this talk will come from nominal reduplication in Runyankore, a Bantu language spoken in Uganda. Originally studied in my Linguistics 140 field methods class in Fall 2019, I have followed up the study with one (spectacular) speaker ever since (continuing to meet with her 3-5 times a week over Zoom). The result is a massive amount of data that have led me to draw certain conclusions concerning the numerous ways of reduplicating a noun as a devaluative process, e.g. o-mu-sháho 'doctor', o-mu-sháho-shaho, o-mu-shaho-sháho, o-mu-sháha-shaho, o-mu-shaha-sháho 'a sort of/substandard/bad doctor'. I will present some of the results of our investigation in which I have considered every logical reduplicated form, keeping track of the consultant's (mostly consistent) judgments to reach an analysis. I hope to "elicit" reactions as to how much confidence we (I, you) should have both in the data and in my analysis.

2020.09.23 Katie Russell (UC Berkeley)

Discussing Fieldwork from a Distance

I’m planning to talk about my experiences with remote fieldwork this summer with two languages, Guébie (Kru: Côte d’Ivoire) and Gã (Kwa; Ghana). I’ll go through what I've seen as advantages and disadvantages of conducting fieldwork at a distance, drawing from my experiences in two different contexts: collaborating with Guébie-speaking community members in Gnagbodougnoa and with a Gã-speaking consultant in a (virtual) classroom setting. After I share what I've encountered, I'd like to lead a discussion with the whole group about different aspects of this kind of research, from ethical implications to practical methods for remote fieldwork.

2020.09.16 Peter Jenks (UC Berkeley)

Audience and authorship in the Moro Grammar project

In this talk I discuss some of the challenges that we have encountered working on the Moro language project as well as in the process of writing "A Grammar of Moro." Moro is a interesting case because, while understudied from a linguistic perspective, there are existing literacy programs and biblical translations which are used in the Moro community. Some of the challenges we navigated include orthography, choice of dialect for the grammar in the light of standardization efforts, issues of permission and participation from the community, audience for the grammar, and authorship.

2020.09.09 Christine Beier and Lev Michael (UC Berkeley)

Mobile tonal melodies in Iquito: analysis, elicitation, and texts

This talk focuses on the analysis of mobile tonal melodies in Iquito and methodological issues that we faced in developing this analysis. Iquito mobile melodies are tonal melodies whose position is affected by the presence of either adjacent words or adjacent morphemes. We argue that the position of these mobile melodies is governed by an interaction between positional faithfulness and a preference for underlying tones to be realized on the surface. As we will discuss, our development of generalizations regarding these patterns depended crucially on identifying tonal behaviors in connected discourse. This meant attending to tonal patterns not only in elicited forms but also in texts. We describe the interplay between textual data and elicitation that underlay our eventual success in developing robust analytical generalizations about mobile tone.

2020.09.02 Welcome back!

Join us via Zoom for the first FForum meeting of the semester, where we will catch up on summer developments. All are welcome!

2021.01.20 Andrew Garrett (UC Berkeley)