Fieldworkers of the World Unite

I so enjoy seeing other linguists doing what they love, especially when it’s despite many of the obstacles we frequently encounter. Today I visited former SOAS colleague Serge Sagna in his home village Essil, transcribing child speech he’s been recording for the new project with which he is currently assisting, hosted at York. 

I am certainly in awe of his setup, workflow, and methodology, and I’m sure the results of his hard work are going to be equally outstanding. Not only is he the first linguist to tackle child acquisition in Senegal, he’s gathering language data “in the wild”: the children wear dinosaur shaped backpacks with recorders and transmitters inside. Even though the language they speak is the same as that which he grew up speaking, some of the speech so hard to understand that he needs child’s mom to assist with the transcription, and even identification in the cases of audio only files with more than one child speaking. 

His goal of one hour of transcribed audio and an hour of video would be insurmountable if it were not for the team he’s taught to transcribe in ELAN. Some of the team members are even the mothers of the children in the recordings, many of whom have never touched a computer before let alone a complex keyboard of diacritics and linguistic idiosyncrasies. Yet in just under two months he’s succeeded in training his assistants to record, video, and then transcribe and translate child production. 

Today, despite a young relative’s unexpected injury, solar battery charged power failure, excessive heat, and the farmers’ anxiety to miss a crucial day not in the field due to being yet of again in front a computer, he smiled with glee at the realization of the pronunciation of a child’s playful speech, with the assistance of the youth’s mother.


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