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


2021.01.27 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. 


2021.02.03 TBD


2021.02.10 Maksymilian Dąbkowski (UC Berkeley)


2021.02.17 TBD


2021.02.24 TBD


2021.03.03 Kristina Balykova (UT Austin)


2021.03.10 TBD


2021.03.17 TBD


2021.03.24 No FForum - Spring Break


2021.03.31 Madeline Bossi (UC Berkeley)


2021.04.07 Tzintia Montaño (UC Berkeley)


2021.04.14 Natalie Povilonis de Vilchez (NYU)


2021.04.21 Jorge Rosés Labrada (University of Alberta)


2021.04.28 Gladys Camacho Rios (UT Austin)


2021.05.05 No FForum - RRR Week


 Recent Meetings (Spring 2021)


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)