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Losing a Vital Voice: Grief and Language Work

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Title: Losing a Vital Voice: Grief and Language Work
Authors: Sapién, Racquel-María
Thornes, Tim
Issue Date: 03 Mar 2017
Description: Working with speakers of endangered languages often involves developing a rapport with the eldest members of a community and spending a great deal of time with them. These intense relationships present the outsider researcher with challenges unique to this type of work. The undertaking typically involves navigating great losses—not only of the language, but also the death of its speakers. The rationale for this talk resides in the recognition that grief and loss in language work bring with them a complex array of both personal and professional crises that require an open and cogent attempt to identify, explore, and deal with them. This talk draws on case study examples from the authors' own linguistic field research to examine the emotional component of language work through grief and loss. Reflexive consideration of a researcher's emotional state, and specifically grief, have been a part of the methodological fabric of field research in anthropology for decades (Rosaldo, 1993; Hedican, 2006; Throop, 2010; Henry, 2012). By contrast, linguists have only rarely delved into the stresses and emotional aspects of field research in print (Macaulay 2012 is a notable exception), and such receive a light touch in even the most comprehensive recent works (Chelliah & deReuse, 2011; Austin & Sallabank, 2015; Thieberger, 2012). Although it is often an unavoidable part of working with speakers of endangered languages, the subject of grief and loss is largely unexamined. With this talk, the authors hope to stimulate conversation about the emotional challenges that are unique to field research with endangered languages. This talk represents an attempt to problematize the experience of death in the field in two key ways. One is as a methodological issue that arises for those operating under collaborative models (Czaykowska-Higgins, 2009; Author, 2007; Leonard & Haynes, 2010) where investment by the community and participatory research by the fieldworker are the norm. Concerns include: the researcher's relationship to the circle of bereavement, questions raised regarding proper use of data and recordings, and how personal and professional aspects of loss are managed. The other is as a training issue involving responsibilities we bear to those we mentor in understanding the reality of close work with speakers, particularly of endangered languages. Concerns include: providing adequate preparation, managing responsibility--to the language, community, and profession--in a way that can be borne through loss, and expectations held by the community with regard to participation in death traditions. REFERENCES Austin, Peter K. & Julia Sallabank (eds). 2015. The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Author, 2007. Chelliah, Shobhana L. & Willem J. de Reuse, 2011. Handbook of Descriptive Linguistic Fieldwork. New York: Springer. Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa. 2009. Research Models, Community Engagement, and Linguistic Fieldwork: Reflections on Working within Canadian Indigenous Communities. Language Documentation & Conservation, 3 (1), 15-50. Manoa: University of Hawai'i Press. Hedican, Edward J. 2006. Understanding Emotional Experience in Fieldwork: Responding to Grief in a Northern Aboriginal Village. International Journal of Qualitative Methods 5 (1): 1-8. Sage Publications. Henry, Rosita. 2012. Gifts of Grief: Performative ethnography and the revelatory potential of emotion. Qualitative Research 12 (5): 528-539. Sage Publications. Leonard, Wesley Y. & Erin Haynes. 2010. Making “collaboration” collaborative: An examination of perspectives that frame linguistic field research. Language Documentation & Conservation 4: 268-293. Macaulay, Monica. 2012. Training Linguistics students for the realities of fieldwork. Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Fieldwork, Nick Thieberger (ed.), 397-411. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rosaldo, Renato. 1993. Introduction: Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon Press. 1-21. Thieberger, Nick (ed). 2012. Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Fieldwork. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Throop, C. Jason. 2010. Latitudes of Loss: On the vicissitudes of empathy. American Ethnologist 37 (4): 771-782. American Anthropological Association.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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