May 27, 2008

mela ola munanga linggwismob

Over at Transient Languages and Cultures, there was a bit of discussion in the comments about doing language work in communities. Jane Simpson gave this excellent summation that I thought I'd share (thanks Jane):

"It's a balancing act. Scientific researchers are nosy parkers - sometimes that can be good and cause good things to happen with documentation that would not otherwise have happened. Sometimes it can be bad and reduce the quality of the material that might otherwise have been collected.

Community researchers almost always have a much better understanding of attitudes and relationships and uses of language, as well as of what their friends and family are hoping for from language work. They may have native speaker intuitions about languages. And it is they who will be working with their communities to keep talking the languages.

A damaging situation that can arise is when an outsider linguist comes to be seen as the main source of knowledge about the language. That can cause a loss of confidence among community people, and can reduce their ability to maintain their language. It can lead to resentment, and to the rejection of outsider linguists, which then deprives the community of the good things linguists could do in partnership with them. A Lose-Lose situation.

The ideal situation is when community researchers and scientifically-trained linguists can work together, each learning from the other, and each respecting the other's skills."

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