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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: June 2012

8 - Monolingual field research

Summary

I have no idea whether I am doing the right thing or not, or how valuable my results will be. It all weighs rather heavily on my mind.

Margaret Mead to Franz Boas, January 16, 1926 (cited in Freeman 1999: 115)

The purpose of this paper is to present the methodology, axiology, and teleology of monolingual fieldwork – how to do it, the values and ethics of engaging in it, and its ultimate aims. The paper also argues that monolingual fieldwork should not be restricted to only those environments in which other methods are not available, but that it should be the method of choice, wherever the linguist is able. In connection with this, I argue that language learning, so crucial to the monolingual approach, is a vital part of all fieldwork.

A good case can be made for the claim that the most important tasks facing linguistics today are the preparation (or discovery or theorization or invention – choose your predicate) of grammars of little-studied or unstudied languages and the construction of theories of the nature of human language. Neither of these vital tasks should be postponed. Neither should they be compartmentalized or isolated from each other. Ideally, the terms fieldworker and theoretician ought to designate the same set of individuals.