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Changing fieldwork roles in Community-Based Language Research

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Title: Changing fieldwork roles in Community-Based Language Research
Authors: Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa
Issue Date: 14 Mar 2009
Description: This paper examines several fieldwork situations from a community-based language revitalization project taking place in British Columbia, Canada. Through this examination I intend 1) to exemplify possible types of roles played by linguists and community members, with a view to expanding linguists’ perspectives on fieldwork, and 2) to touch upon several interesting implications of changing the roles and relationships of linguists and community-members in fieldwork. There is a growing movement amongst linguists to conduct linguistic research on small Indigenous languages in collaboration with community members (e.g., Yamada 2007, Stebbins 2003). A consequence of conducting research collaboratively is that the roles which outsider linguists and community members take on in fieldwork situations are no longer simply expert/informant types of roles in which a linguist is the outside expert and a speaker is a language-data source (see Rice 2006: 140-145 for discussion of roles). For example, in a Community-Based Language Research model, research on a language is conducted for, with and by the language-speaking community within which the research takes place and which it affects (Author 2008; cf. Grinevald 2003). This model allows for the possibility that community members participating in fieldwork research will be explicitly recognized as experts and as researchers, not simply as informants, consultants, teachers, or even collaborators. As experts, the community researchers direct and lead the research; outsider linguists, in contrast, take on supporting roles. In one fieldwork situation that I discuss, for instance, two elders and their community research assistant defined the focus of their fieldwork and their working methodology. Only once the fieldwork was underway was a linguist asked to provide support in specific aspects of the fieldwork, such as helping to organize a database. One interesting aspect of this fieldwork situation is that the roles that the community members and the linguist have taken on do not fit standard roles assumed by Human Research Ethics Boards and university Research Services. This in turn raises ethical and intellectual questions about ownership and authorship, and practical questions such as whether the elders should sign the usual informed-consent forms to participate in the grant-funded project and how Memoranda of Understanding between the community and university apply to the research. As this example suggests, collaborative research requires linguists to re-define themselves as fieldworkers and researchers, to re-think research roles, and to address new issues. This paper aims to contribute to the redefinition and rethinking.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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