A proposal for conversational questionnaires

Date
2019
Authors
François, Alexandre
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Publisher
University of Hawai'i Press
Abstract
This paper proposes a new approach for collecting lexical and grammatical data: one that meets the need to control the features to be elicited, while ensuring a fair level of idiomaticity. The method, called conversational questionnaires, consists in eliciting speech not at the level of words or of isolated sentences, but in the form of a chunk of dialogue. Ahead of fieldwork, a number of scripted conversations are written in the area’s lingua franca, each anchored in a plausible real-world situation – whether universal or culture-specific. Native speakers are then asked to come up with the most naturalistic utterances that would occur in each context, resulting in a plausible conversation in the target language. Experience shows that conversational questionnaires provide a number of advantages in linguistic fieldwork, compared to traditional elicitation methods. The anchoring in real-life situations lightens the cognitive burden on consultants, making the fieldwork experience easier for all. The method enables efficient coverage of various linguistic structures at once, from phonetic to pragmatic dimensions, from morphosyntax to phraseology. The tight-knit structure of each dialogue makes it an effective tool for cross-linguistic comparison, whether areal, historical or typological. Conversational questionnaires help the linguist make quick progress in language proficiency, which in turn facilitates further stages of data collection. Finally, these stories can serve as learning resources for language teaching and revitalization. Five dialogue samples are provided here as examples of such questionnaires. Every linguist is encouraged to write their own dialogues, adapted to a region’s linguistic and cultural profile. Ideally, a set of such texts could be developed and made standard among linguists, so as to create comparable or parallel corpora across languages – a mine of data for typological comparison.
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Citation
François, Alexandre. 2019. A proposal for conversa­tional ques­tionnaires. In Lahaussois, Aimée & Vuillermet, Marine (eds.), Methodological Tools for Linguistic Description and Typology, Language Documentation & Conservation Special Publication No. 16. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
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