‘Slowly, slowly said the jaguar’: Giving collaborations time to develop

Pérez Báez, Gabriela
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Language documentation has become increasingly collaborative over the last decade (Benedicto and Mayangna Yulbarangyang Balna 2007; Czaykowska-Higgins 2009; Rice 2006 and 2011; Grenoble and Furbee (eds.) 2010; inter alia). However, collaborations have become almost a condition for research endeavors (cf. Dwyer 2010 which considers that non-collaborative linguistic research is unethical). This paper is motivated by what I consider to be insufficient discussion about the conditions needed in order to develop collaborations of value to all involved. The focus is on whether a researcher might have sufficient knowledge about a language and has had the time to develop a strong enough rapport with members of the relevant community in order to effectively contribute towards a meaningful collaboration by the time s/he is to engage in one. I describe the history of my interaction with speakers of Isthus Zapotec (Otomanguean) from La Ventosa, Oaxaca, Mexico where I began lexicographic documentation as a graduate student in 2002. A fledgling collaboration began to emerge in 2009 and only solidified in 2013 through a large-scale, one-year effort to document the local flora and the lexicon and knowledge associated with it. The collaboration was only possible when the following conditions were met: (a) having sufficient knowledge of the language to be able to earn the respect and acceptance of highly knowledgeable community members of social prominence; (b) having sufficient sociolinguistic and cultural knowledge as to be able to identify opportunities for collaboration; and (c) be in a position to secure the funding to sustain the collaboration long-term. The collaboration that emerged has developed into a project grounded on the notion of retention –rather than return– of research results in the community through the development of a one-year language, knowledge and nature conservation program with increased community ownership and views towards long-term sustainability. This case study is described in detail to explain that a forced collaboration in the early stages of the research would have been unlikely to yield results as favorable as those that have emerged overtime. In fact, had an early –and forced– collaboration been dissatisfactory to the community members involved, future work could have been at risk. As such, I advocate for allowing researchers the time to develop such collaborations and considering collaborations as a goal of linguistic research rather than a condition for it. References Benedicto, Elena and Mayangna Yulbarangyang Balna. 2007. A Model of Participatory Action Research: the Mayangna Linguists’ Team of Nicaragua. In Proceedings of the XI FEL Conference on ‘Working Together for Endangered Languages - Research Challenges and Social Impacts,’29–35. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: SKET, University of Malaya and Foundation for Endangered Languages. 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. Dwyer, Arienne M. 2010. Models of successful collaboration. In Lenore A. Grenoble and N. Louanna Furbee (eds.) Language documentation: Practice and values, 193-212. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Grenoble, Leonore A. and N. Louanna Furbee (eds.) 2010. Language Documentation: Practice and values. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. Rice, Keren. 2011. Documentary Linguistics and Community Relations. Language Documentation & Conservation. 5, 187–207. ----- 2006. Ethical issues in linguistic fieldwork: An overview. Journal of Academic Ethics 4.4, 123–55.
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