--------- CHAPTER II ---------
IN THE FIELD: THE HIBISCUS OF MULTILINGUALS
These tongues all bear their own culture, their own blood— yet they infuse with one another at certain encounters, multiplying and diversifying. They are held in the oral cavities of 31 million people in this country, and by even more people lying beyond the edges of this beautiful hibiscus.
Opening Our Eyes
FIELDWORK ELICITATION WORKSHOP
"Frog story? So are we supposed to ask the informants for a zoology lesson on the habitats of local frogs?
. . .
Before our sightseeing excursions on the second day, we were actually engaged in something much less physical -- that is a 3 hour long workshop on fieldwork data elicitation methods. Prior to the field trip, we were given two gigabytes worth of reference materials to look at: some of them were illustrations, some of them were intriguing mime videos. They were tried-and-true exemplars of data elicitation stimuli.
Scattered around the room, we were encouraged to sit with our new buddies from UM. Eagerly, with our laptops and notepads out, we listened to Kofi's introduction of fieldwork elicitation frameworks. We were exposed to samples of different linguistic data from different languages, such as the African languages, and how fieldwork is carried out in an ethnolinguistic context.
"This is a field recorder. You use it to elicit audio data during field work. Sometimes your phone doesn't cut it, especially when you're working on sound-based research projects." We leaned forward to take a better look at this mechanical device with great curiosity. We were then introduced to other elicitation stimuli design methods such as the SWADESH list, a basic universal vocabulary list for foreign language elicitation; and the frog story, a set of illustrations covering basic prepositional and verb concepts.
Kofi then gave us drilling questions on topics such as semantic role encoding across different languages: for example, what can we derive from case markings, word order, serial verb constructions and adpositions? These tasks were like of collaborative puzzles, and we worked with our fellow UM buddies to compare and explore our own languages. We were never quite sure whether our analyses ended up being correct or not, but the satisfied nods of Kofi and Sheena at our whiteboard answers probably meant that we at least got something right.
FROM OUR WAYFARERS...
"Back in HKU, we often sit in a lecture hall and learn various linguistic theories based on previous studies, but we never have the chance to apply what we learnt in real life. During the field trip, we have to formulate our own research topic, design the experiment, find informants ourselves on the UM campus, and record their response and perform on our own analyses. For me, the trip provides a glimpse of how actual linguist works in reality." -- Judy, HKU coursemate
Onto the Fields
PREPARATION CONFERENCE & FIELDWORK
The voyagers were ridden by anxiousness as they presented their project ideas in the FLL conference room. Soon, their fear turned into what they themselves deemed "unprompted confidence" as they proceeded to share their plans and ideas with eloquence and assertion.
. . .
We were gathered at the FLL conference hall on the third day for the programme opening ceremony. On our way to the ceremony, Kofi asked one of us to deliver a speech during the event. Our fellow warrior Jason accepted this quest, albeit skeptical at his own capabilities ("Are you sure I'm not ruining HKU's reputation?"). Unsurprisingly, it turned out just fine as everyone "aww"-ed in pride for our brave soldier.
After the ceremony, we sat around our teammates and prepared ourselves for what we thought would be a savage, merciless slaughter to veto our theses. Fortunately, our ideas were deemed at least somewhat plausible as our teachers helped us refine our topic scopes and suggested appropriate elicitation methods for our tasks. Perhaps we should have given ourselves slightly more credit for our linguistic knowledge, for even our teachers agreed that our ideas were far from being utter trash.
We took a lunch break after the conference, then returned to work. Next on the agenda was to start the elicitation process by finding informants from all over the campus. It started off with worried mumbles of "where can we even find an informant" and quickly transformed into zealous pursuits for informants. Our UM buddies were our first targets. Even the security guard who was resting at the ledge became an informant for us.
Alternatively, we could also attend language and linguistics classes that we were interested in. Everyone rushed over to the semantics and Malay classes by Dr. Ang Pei Soo and Mr. Norfaizal respectively. And of course, our teachers could not escape our crazed enthusiasm in asking them to be our informants and interviewees. Over the next few days, we completed many more elicitations, all the while refining and reviewing the stimuli and direction of our projects.
“Malaysia is a good place for language study because of this multi-racial setup that we have. If you have time, you’d probably take years if you want to study everything. You’d go from places to places and speak to people. Then you will find that even within KL itself, if you talk to people in the coffee shop versus the way they speak in the night market, the variety that they use will be different."
DR. ANG PEI SOO -- Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Languages & Linguistics, UM