University of California, Santa Barbara - Department of Linguistics
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University of California, Santa Barbara -- June 23 - August 1, 2008  

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June 25 - June 28, 8:30 a.m. - 10:15 a.m.
June 30 - July 3, 10:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.
McCune Conference Center

Tucker Childs, Professor
Portland State University

Momoh Taziff Koroma, Lecturer
Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone


Course Overview
The general purpose of this workshop is to problematize the field experience in order to promote reflection on that experience by the fieldworker. The hope is to encourage a vantage point that sees: 1) the importance of the community of focus as a complex and fluid entity and 2) the relevance of building community. The fieldwork experience may thus be seen as a joint and cooperative enterprise that promotes negotiation and reconciliation in a constant process of redefinition and adaptation.

Fieldwork guidelines proceeding from the “Western tradition” (the Judeo-Christian scriptural tradition, the Anglo-Roman legal tradition, and classical Greek philosophical views ( Pijan 2007 )) have often been at odds with host cultures when applied in descriptive and documentary work. The oughts and shoulds that appear in such discourse often mask a number of assumptions about the object of study in what have been asymmetrically empowered contexts. Ironically, in terms of the goals of the field linguist, the power dimensions are reversed from the traditional interpretation: the “powerless” in this case control access to the language. The first part of the workshop will provide some background to the ethical tradition in the West, dealing primarily with the normative level of discourse.

The next step will be to provide an historical overview and background to the ethical discourse in linguistics. It will begin by first considering the objections of Boas to the wartime use of linguistic anthropologists and continue on through the ethical statements of several major funding institutions, professional organizations, and universities.

The instructors will then present moral conflicts in which they have participated, Childs primarily from his work as a field linguist, Koroma from his extensive work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone and for various international NGOs elsewhere on the continent. Topics include language documentation, materials development, and revitalization, as well as more general ones such as entering and joining a community. These discussions will provide models for student conflicts, representing the final component of the course.

Students individually or in small groups will be asked to present and analyze ethical issues in their past or future fieldwork, identifying the systems of belief underlying the conflict. Although it is unlikely that a solution can be achieved in the classroom context, students will explain what processes a solution could employ in arriving at a resolution.

Some recommended readings appear below. This list will be supplemented in coordination with class interests and experiences.

Austin, Peter K. ed. 2003. Language Documentation and Description,Volumes 1-4. London: Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, SOAS, University of London.

Cameron, Deborah, Frazer, Elizabeth, Harvey, Penelope, Rampton, M. B. H., and Richardson, Kay. 1992. Researching Language: Issues of Power and Method. London and New York: Routledge.

Childs, G. Tucker. 2007. The ethics of documenting dying languages: Lessons from the MDP and projections for the DKB. Gainesville, FL: Panel on Endangered Languages, 38th Annual Conference of African Linguistics (ACAL), March 22-25.

Grinevald, Colette. 2006. Encounters at the brink: linguistic fieldwork among speakers of endangered languages. In The Vanishing Languages of the Pacific Rim, eds. Osahito Miyaoka, Osamu Sakiyama and Michael E. Krauss, In press. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Newman, Paul, and Ratliff, Martha eds. 2001. Linguistic Fieldwork. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pijan, Barbara. 2007. The ethical linguist: The discourse of morality in the field, Applied Linguistics, Portland State University.

Rice, Keren. To appear. Ethical issues in linguistic fieldwork: an overview. In The Ethics Trapeze, ed. W. van den Hoonaard.

Relevant Links

About the Instructors
Childs is a professor in the Applied Linguistics Department at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. His primary interest is the languages of Africa (including its pidgins and creoles, as well as its newer urban varieties), especially their phonology and variation. He also has interests in African-American Vernacular English, especially with regard to its African substrate, along with more general interests in dialectology and variation. He has conducted field research in many parts of Africa and has lectured widely in Europe, Africa, and North America, where he has also held academic and research positions. During the summer of 2007 he taught field methods courses in Molise, Italy, and Portland, Oregon. Childs has just finished a project on the dying language Mani (2004-07), and is now (2007-10) directing a research project on two dying languages in Sierra Leone jointly with Mr. Koroma.

Koroma is a lecturer in Linguistics at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. On the linguistic side he has worked primarily on the languages of Sierra Leone, especially Krio and Mende (he is a speaker of both) in the domains of semantics (tense and mood) and pragmatics. At the conclusion of the civil war in Sierra Leone, Koroma’s expertise was sought by both domestic and international bodies, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UN, in putting the country back together again. He has worked to canvas public opinion and to develop countrywide workshops on democracy.


This page was last modified on 8 June 2008.
Institute on Field Linguistics and Language Documentation - Dept. of Linguistics, UCSB