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Summer School prepares linguists for the field

Australian National University, Summer School

Date: 19 December 2018

By ANU student correspondent Diana Tung

Linguists and language scientists from around Australia converged at The Australian National University (ANU) recently for the Centre's 2018 Summer School. Participants learned practical skills to enhance their research in the field but, most importantly, they were taught how to deal with the unexpected.

Professor Nick Evans, Director of CoEDL, led the Linguistics Field Methods course alongside Mr Jeffrey Aniba-Waia, a Kala Kawaw Ya language teacher from Saibai Island in the Western Torres Strait.

According to Professor Evans, the course is unique in teaching students how to learn languages in the field. This involves a range of methodologies such as taking field notes, recording, transcribing, and most importantly, listening.

“In most subjects you study at university the lecturer knows more about the subject than the student. When we teach a field methods course, in my view the lecturer should not know the language,” Professor Evans said.

“We train people to deal with the unexpected and learn a language without a textbook, a dictionary or a course.”

Video: Jeffrey Aniba-Waia performs and explains Kala Kawaw Ya 

 Each afternoon students engaged in individual sessions with Mr Aniba-Waia to apply the skills they learned in the morning.

“Every day, something we want to do is just learn four or five expressions like ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘where are you?’ and so on,” said Professor Evans.

“It’s partly about learning to speak normally as well as about complicated linguistic structures. If you don’t bother to learn to speak, why would anyone teach you?”

Mr Aniba-Waia, a teacher with over 36 years of experience, emphasised to his students that mistakes are okay.

“It is okay to make mistakes. It is one of the practices that you will learn – don’t be afraid to have a go at it,” he said.

“When Nick talks about listening, don’t touch the pens or the paper. That’s the technique of an oral language and that’s the way I was brought up. It’s learning through what you hear.”

Jeffrey Aniba-Waja and Dr Darja Hoenigman

The Summer School also covered the use of newer technologies such as film.

Dr Darja Hoenigman, a Postdoctoral Fellow, hosted a a separate workshop on film-making as a method of data collection in the field.

“As we all know, language is multimodal. It’s not only the uttered words but the gestures, the facial expressions that contribute to understanding language,” she said.

“Rather than learning about how to use cameras, we talked about how to think when we have a video camera in our hands and how to make decisions in different filming situations.”

Dr Hoenigman also emphasised the importance of preparing for the unexpected in the field.

“You often don’t know what you are filming. We are lucky enough to be there once when something is happening. We can’t be guaranteed that it will be happening again.”

 Fieldwork course Summer School 2018

(Main and last images by Diana Tung; Video by Darja Hoenigman; 3rd image: Jeffery Aniba-Waia with Darja Hoenigman filming, photo by Julia Miller)

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