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In celebration of fieldwork

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The kind of fieldwork-based linguistic research conducted at CRLD offers a very unique experience. Do not let the some of the warnings in the pages of this manual deter you. The advice and information have come from personal experience in the field and the more prepared you are, the better your chances are of having a very positive time in the field.

Many researchers have returned from the field with a very rich experience not available elsewhere. They have gotten to know the people, the culture and their beliefs. They have had the chance to share in the daily lives of others, often being welcomed or adopted as members of the family. This is a rare and special honour that is not possible without leaving the society we are accustomed to.

Doing fieldwork in a situation of cultural immersion gives you a unique relationship with your language data that makes the process of analysis a very rewarding one. You discover aspects of the language and the culture that you perhaps wouldn't have even thought of.

Fieldwork can be an intense experience in itself. But this leads to great personal development. You discover things about yourself you wouldn’t have thought possible.

One 'extra' benefit of fieldwork research is that you will always have something interesting to talk about to people you meet at conferences!

The village where I did research was occasionally visited by tourists. They would usually stay for an hour or so and then move on. The locals would perform dances, and display artefacts, but the tourists would learn little about the present-day living conditions of the people. As I was living with the locals, sharing their problems, disputes and hopes, the difficult moments were the most insightful. I had many discussions with people in the village, comparing life in the village with my "previous" life in the Western world. We agreed that both lifestyles had good and bad sides. The fieldwork experience will be valuable for the rest of my life, as it taught me how to adapt to an unfamiliar environment. No travel agent could have organised a similar experience.

-- Gerd Jendraschek

My star sign is Taurus (the earthy bull) - it's certainly not the star sign of an adventurer. All I usually think I want in life is a comfy paddock, a shady tree and some decent grass to chew – well, say, a cosy house and an interesting job. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing in this career! Fieldwork takes me completely outside of myself and this can be quite shattering. What keeps me going back is the fact that there is simply nothing like the feeling that comes from being an outsider who is recognised, accepted and welcomed into a family or a community. I have learnt a lot about myself by discovering what other people can see in me. Without becoming vulnerable and dependent, there is no opportunity for others to provide the warmth and hospitality that they can extend so generously when they recognise the need. So, in spite of the difficulties and ambivalence, there is nothing in my field experience that I would ever give back and I will certainly be going again (and again).

-- Tonya Stebbins

I can't really say it was premeditated, but I managed to fit in quite well with the community I was living in. So good, in fact, that one of its members is now actually my wife. In theory, this means that in some cases I should now ask for ethical approval to talk to my own family!

-- Rik de Busser

Every year in January the Tai Ahom community celebrate a festival called Me Dam Me Phi, a worship of the ancestors. Since the research team I am working with was going to be in Assam for the festival, we contacted the most senior priest I know to ask him where we should go to watch the festival. He arranged for us to join a celebration held on the grounds of the former Ahom king's palace at Gargaon, a 5 storey stone edifice that still stands. When I arrived I was invited to sit next to the chief priest during the celebration, a position of great honour. To witness an ancient ceremony, albeit renewed, in such surroundings was such a thrill. All the more so since I actually went to Assam in the first place in 1996 to investigate the Tai Ahom language.

-- Stephen Morey

There is a forest just near to the Tai Aiton village of Duboroni, and one time an elderly, blind, wild elephant came into the village and started eating the people’s rice harvest. One foolish young man responded to this by attacking the elephant and so the forest police came to arrest him. When they saw me, they wondered what I was doing there, and the following morning a summons came from the local police that I should attend the police station – I was quite fearful because I didn’t know what the police wanted. So off I went in the police jeep. My friends in the village could see that I was fearful, and so one by one, on foot, or on bicycle, they set out for the town. Someone crossed the river to summon another friend from a nearby village, and as I waited at the police station a small crowd of supporters gathered, just to sit and be there and support me. My feelings of fear soon changed as I realised just how deep their feelings of friendship and love for me were.

-- Stephen Morey