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Title: Plenary: Documenting enduring cultures 
Author: Cash Cash, Phillip
Date: 2009-03-14
Abstract: This talk presents findings from my ongoing ethnographic documentary study on how present-day speakers of Cayuse, Nez Perce, and Sahaptin utilize the linguistic practices of their speech communities at a time when
their ancestral languages are severely constrained by language endangerment and language shift. I adopt the
contemporary concerns of an ethnographically-informed documentary linguistics to show how the linguistic resources
of a speech community serve to maintain and transmit culture. Methodologically, this investigation employs digital
video to capture and record three interrelated empirical domains of language use, these are: multimodal interaction,
interactional structure, and linguistic practices. My key concern in such an approach is to establish links between
language use and socially situated communicative interactions as a means to understanding how everyday language
use motivates, gives meaning to, or otherwise organizes language, culture, and society. Discovering such linkages
is a result of understanding that many traditions are discursive achievements and worthy of documentation. Thus,
my own commitment to this type of documentary orientation emerged over the course of my current field research,
my speaker status in the speech communities where I conduct my research, as well from the deeper commitments to
language and culture found there.
Description: After years of neglect in which linguistics lost sight of the value of empirical field research, new life has finally been
breathed into this fundamentally important component of our discipline. But in the process, linguistic fieldwork
has ironically lost sight of linguistics! That is, if by linguistics one means the scientific study of language, fieldwork
ideology and practice have gone askew. The major movements and individuals that we can thank for the resurgence
of interest in linguistic fieldwork all promote (in words or deeds) approaches to field research that fall far short of
the tenets of science. Examples of such misguided directions include (a) the endangered languages movement,
(b) language documentation, and (c) the “Dixon school.” In my talk, I expose the failings of these non-scientific
approaches to linguistic field research and set out what would be required for linguistic fieldwork to qualify as truly
scientific and thus be entitled to recognition as an essential subfield within linguistics per se.

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