Field Methods (630)

Spring 2023

Facilitator: Bradley McDonnell
Time: F 10:30 – 1:15
Location: SAKAM A103
Office hours: T R 12 – 1 (Virtual)
Virtul meeting:

Course description

This course is primarily designed to equip graduate students to carry out linguistic fieldwork on un(der)documented languages. It is the first part of a two semester course in which students acquire training in the skills and tools of linguistic fieldwork and language documentation by working with a speaker of a language previously unknown to them to produce a documentation and description of aspects of the language. We will take (or maybe more accurately simulate) a holistic and ethnographic approach and simultaneously create and annotate a corpus of language in use, build a lexical database, and produce a grammatical sketch. Students will learn techniques of data collection, elicitation, management, and analysis by doing language documentation.

Course objectives

At the end of the course, a successful student should be able to:

  1. Plan, initiate, and conduct fieldwork on an unfamiliar language in an informed and productive way by drawing on state-of-the-art methods in language documentation.
  2. Investigate different levels of the structure and use of a previously unfamiliar language by collecting and using various types of language data.
  3. Effectively use and critically evaluate a range of audio and video recording equipment, software, and questionnaires and other elicitation tools.
  4. Clearly describe aspects of the language’s phonology, morphology, and syntax based on analyses of primary data.

Course readings

There is no required textbook for this course, and there will be sporadic required readings. Course readings can be accessed through Laulima. If you are interested in a recent book on field methods, I highly recommend Meakins, Green & Turpin (2018). There are other helpful books, which I list in the references.


  • Some training in phonetics/phonology (e.g., LING 421) and morphology/syntax (e.g., LING 422).
  • Some training in language documentation theory (e.g., LING 680) and methods (e.g., LING 710) is preferable.1

Tentative Course Outline

This course will “go where the language takes us,” so there is no set schedule. However, there are some general guidelines that we will (try to) follow.

  • Language/culture learning
  • Background research on language
  • Sociolinguistic background of consultant
  • Archiving plan for class
  • Eliciting lexical items
  • Creating/maintaining lexical database
  • Phonological analysis
  • Phonetic analysis
  • Develop practical orthography
  • Recording speech events
  • Transcription & translation
  • Morphosyntactic analysis

Sessions with language expert

There are two types of sessions

  1. Class sessions
    • Class sessions meet during the scheduled course time slot with the entire class.
    • Class sessions may be used to discuss organizational issues and analysis of the language.
    • Class sessions may be spent working with the language consultant, carrying out elicitation, recording, transcription, and translation.
    • Class sessions may include discussion of readings on fieldwork.
    • Each group will rotate facilitating sessions, and within each group students are responsible to (i) plan and facilitate the session, (ii) act as the scribe, (iii) record and (if necessary) edit sessions, (iv) upload session recordings to Google Drive immediately after class, and (v) fill out the metadata and activity log.
  2. Small group sessions
    • Small groups of 3–4 will meet for approximately 1 hour per week either in person in Moore Hall 575 or preferably outdoors somewhere on campus or virtually over Zoom.
    • Small groups need to work with the language consultant to work out times that fit his schedule. (Keep in mind that he has his own responsibilities.)
    • Each small group session needs to be audio and video recorded. It is the responsibility of the students to make sure that the audio and video recorders are available and ready for use in each small group session. If there is an issue with the equipment, make sure to notify everyone in the class. Students meeting virtually may record their sessions using Zoom.

Course assignments & grading

All course assignments must be turned in on time and should be submitted to Laulima by the deadline given below. Some tasks (e.g., activity log, backing up and file naming recordings) do not have a due date per se, but need to be completed after each small group session. If I notice a backlog, I may suspend the student(s) from small group sessions until they have caught up on these tasks.

  1. Sessions & Activity log 10%
    • Students are required to record each session with the language consultant using both audio and video. The resulting video and sound file(s) need to be given appropriate file names, annotated with metadata, and prepared for archiving.
    • Students are required to upload audio and video files to their computer, name the files, and back them up on the external hard drive and Google Drive immediately after each session.
    • Students are required to keep a record of each small group session or class session they are in charge of. The information that should be included is: (i) the goal of the session, (ii) the activity or activities planned for the session, (iii) the outcome of the session (i.e., what was actually learned/accomplished in the session), and (iv) what questions came up or still remain from the session. (i) and (ii) should be filled out before the session. (iii) and (iv) should be filled out after the session. Each of these should be short notes in complete sentences that anyone in the class (or future researchers interested in the language) can search for and understand.
    • The activity log is a shared spreadsheet file in Google Drive that should be filled out immediately after each session.
  2. Lexicon 15%
    • The class will create and maintain a shared lexicon that will be kept in FLEx (aka FieldWorks, Language Explorer).
      • We will be using the ‘send/receive’ function in FLEx and share the lexicon remotely.
      • In order to access the shared lexicon, each student needs to create an account
      • Note: After requesting the account, Language Depot will send you an email to confirm. This email commonly goes into SPAM.
      • Please download FLEx (version 9.0.7) at before the second week of class. (I am aware of the issues of using FLEx on a Mac. We will problem solve these issues in the second week of class.)
    • The lexicon will be checked twice throughout the semester (see Important dates below). Students must make sure that their entries are up to date by these dates.
  3. Recording / ‘Text’ 20%
    • Each group will be required to make at least one recording using both audio and video of our language consultant telling a story or performing some elicitation task (e.g., Pear Film, Frog Story) that involves ‘connected speech’. Here are a list of some possible elicitation tasks:
      1. Pear Story
      2. Frog Story (see Google Drive) &
      3. Story-builder: Picture Cards for Language Activities
      4. Totem Field Storyboards www.
      5. Problem Solving Task
      6. The North Wind & the Sun (See Google Drive) &
      7. L & C Field Manuals
    • In some cases, the group may need to conduct more than one elicitation task. In this case, the second elicitation task need not involve ‘connected speech’.
    • Each group will be required to prepare the recording for archiving (e.g., provide complete metadata, photographs of the recording setup and setting, description of the context, summary description of the content of the recording). (If the recording session takes place over Zoom, then it is not necessary to provide all of these materials.)
    • Each group will be required to segment (a portion of) the recording into intonation units, transcribe, and provide free translations for the recording.
    • Additionally, each person is required to submit a short write up assessing the recording and the process of recording.
  4. Sketch grammar 30%
  • Each group will work collaboratively to write a sketch grammar of some basic elements of the language, and each student must contribute to several sub-sections to the phonology and several sub-subsections to morphosyntax portion of the sketch grammar.
  • Each group is required to submit a draft of their sketch grammar. Comments and suggestions for changes must be addressed in the final draft.
  • Each group is required to cite all data used within their sketch grammar.
  1. Notebook/Session notes 10%
  • Students will need to take detailed notes either in a notebook or on a text document of all sessions with the consultant.
  • Notebooks must follow best practices for keeping a field notebook (see Bowern (2015) and Sakel & Everett (2012)). Text documents must be well organized with clear transcriptions and translations.
  • Notebooks themselves are never turned in, but scanned pages in the notebook must be archived.
  1. Archived data 15%
    • Each group is responsible for preparing their bundles–whether that be a small group or class session that a particular group is facilitating–for archival. That means that each group has appropriate metadata and has all files prepared for archiving. Data will be uploaded to the archive at the end of the semester, but I will be intermittently checking the activity log and backed up recordings on Google Drive to make sure everything is up-to-date. This includes the following tasks:
    • Backing up original audio and video files on an external hard drive and the fm6 folder in Google Drive.
    • Editing in Adobe Premiere (i.e., syncing audio and video, and cropping audio and video to the same length) each small group session and each class session that they are facilitating.
    • Scanning–not taking pictures–of their notebooks (i.e., high-quality JPG files or PDF/A files) for each small group session and every class session, not only the class session your group is facilitating.
    • Providing detailed metadata required by Kaipuleohone for each consultant session and each class session that they are facilitating.
    • Upload edited files (e.g., .mp4 video files, .wav audio files, .jpg notebook scans and the recording setting) into the archive folder.
    • Note: this year each group will only archive a selection of at least five sessions. These five sessions should be good examples of your work and must be accompanied by at least some annotation in ELAN .eaf.

Important Dates

Dates are subject to change.

No class (Labor Day) September 6
First lexicon check October 18
Phonology sketch draft due November 1
Recording & write-up for ‘text’ assignment due November 8
Morphosyntax sketch draft due November 29
Transcription of recording in ELAN due December 6
Final lexicon check December 13
Archive materials due December 13
Final draft of sketch grammar due December 18

Course Policy

  • Please be respectful to everyone in the class. More than any other course, Field Methods has the potential for conflict between students.
    • If you know that you are the type of person to talk a lot in class, be conscious of the students around you who may not be so quick to share. It is not enjoyable to be in Field Methods when it is dominated by one or two people.
    • If you know that you are a more reserved person in class, you may need to challenge yourself to speak up.
    • Remember that ??? is the only expert on the language in our class. He should be treated as such. Be mindful of the questions that you are asking and how you are asking them. It can be easy to get lost in the ‘data’ and forget your manners.
  • Attendance in this course and small group sessions is crucial. In order to be successful in the course, you need to attend every class and be punctual. Excessive absences or tardiness may result in a grade reduction.
    • Please be attentive during class, and please refrain from working on anything unrelated to class during small group and class sessions, including texting, checking email, Facebook, Instagram, etc. It can really be distracting for everyone.

Inclusivity policies

Diversity and Civility

I consider the classroom to be a place where you will be treated with respect, and we welcome individuals of all ages, backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, gender expressions, national origins, religious affiliations, sexual orientations, ability – and other visible and nonvisible differences. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment for every other member of the class.

Preferred Names and Pronouns

I will gladly honor your request to address you by a preferred name or gender pronoun. Please advise us of this preference early in the semester so that I can make appropriate changes to my records.

Needs (ADA Statement)

If you have a disability for which you need accommodations in this class or any other special need (e.g. religious holidays), please inform the instructor as soon as possible. The KOKUA Program (Office for Students with Disabilities) can be reached at (808) 956-7511 or (808) 956-7612 (voice/text) in room 013 of the Queen Lili’uokalani Center for Student Services.


Bowern, Claire. 2015. Linguistic Fieldwork: A Practical Guide 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Chelliah, Shobhana L. & Willem J. de Reuse. 2011. Handbook of Descriptive Linguistic Fieldwork. Dordrecht: Springer.
Meakins, Felicity, Jennifer Green & Myfany Turpin. 2018. Understanding Linguistic Fieldwork 1st ed. New York: Routledge. DOI:
Sakel, Jeanette & Daniel L. Everett. 2012. Linguistic Fieldwork: A Student Guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thieberger, Nicholas (ed.). 2012. The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Fieldwork. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  1. For students who have not taken LING 710, you will need to familiarize yourself with current language documentation practices in audiovisual recording, basic video editing, metadata collection, archiving, and transcription. Please ask me at the beginning of class to give you access to the Laulima for LING 710, so that you can review the readings.↩︎