Where Do We Need to Go From Here?



Fieldwork Session Planner

This week on the ELAR blog, ELDP grantee Kristian Roncero introduces a Fieldwork Session Planner, which he developed while working on his PhD. Kristian’s ELAR Collection is titled An audio-visual documentation of Chamalal, a language of Dagestan (Russia).

By Kristian Roncero

Fieldwork is messy, otherwise “armchair linguists” wouldn’t call us “dirty feet linguists”. However, we should think of ways of finding a bit of order in the midst of the chaos. In as much as many of you will have heard this, the best way to mitigate the “post-fieldwork depression”, is to have a good plan for your data. And I’ll be honest, I still find it daunting opening the “Pandora’s box” of recordings whenever I come back from the field, especially as a neurodivergent person. One of the peculiarities of fieldwork is that you can’t plan very much and that you have to very flexible, so all this may sound like a vicious circle, but let’s be patient. Breathe in, breathe out! There is still hope!!

During my PhD I created this template for classifying and reporting any anomalies in my field recordings and I keep adjusting it during my current postdoc. There are three main objectives behind this methodology:

  1. Data organisation: When you are not transcribing video, and only doing grammar sessions (in audio), you probably won’t be using ELAN. However, how will you remember from here in two years which audio files were associated to the examples you had obtained? By keeping all the materials of a session within a single document, it makes it much easier to navigate, if you ever need to retrieve some information (which you probably will).
  2. Data transparency: Data replicability is becoming a predominant practice, although it seems that it is taking longer to reach the old-fashion linguists like myself. By making data easily identifiable and replicable, we open up our work to be reused and cited from here in 50, 100 years. It requires more effort and commitment. And yes, it also exposes us to criticism or being attacked. The days in which I could say whatever I want, because nobody else works in my language are almost over, indeed. (Surely, there will be always nasty people in academia who love picking on everyone’s mistakes, but that only speaks about their deep complexes and fears; watch out that you don’t behave like one of them). Yet, we can also see this as an opportunity to collaborate with other people and keep improving.
  3. Related to transparency: Having a consistent way of reporting any incidences that could have altered the answers is crucial. If you have been in the field for a while, you may realise how common power shortcuts are (and so you have to stop recording on a new file), or trying to interview some women when there are many children messing around, for example. As innocent as it may seem, over the years, I have observed significant differences in the answers. When I worked on two languages that were closely related, but one was more prestigious than the other, the moment speakers were tense or felt threatened, they would switch to the more prestigious or something in between, that they would otherwise never use. I have sent quite specific but short questions, so that I don’t need the Muse of Inspiration to come, in order to make sure I am filling them in on a regular basis. In fact, sometimes it can be even therapeutic to let everything that went wrong in the session out.

I have provided more instructions in the intro to the template, as well as a sample of my sessions in this document (please, make sure you download the latest version).

I also recommend you reading about FAIR & CARE principles for data management.

Please, feel free to modify anything that you want in order to adapt to your needs. If you have any suggestions or comments regarding the template, I will be more than happy to hear about them. Send me an email to ronceroATshh.mpg.de

May the force be with you!


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