The Prudent Fieldworker’s Guide to Preparation and Packing
Part II: Central and South America, Central and South Asia, East Asia, Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania
by Professor Athanasious Schadenpoodle
[Editor’s Note. This is Part II of Professor Schadenpoodle’s authoritative guide to preparing for the vicissitudes of fieldwork. Part I can be found in the previous issue of Speculative Grammarian.]
Central and South Africa
General Notes: A very large number of languages in this area are badly under-described, even though contact with Europeans historically led to many groups being over-kidnapped, and over-invaded. Still, many of the languages of the region have preserved vast, glittering arrays of noun classes, or verb marking of an almost fractal complexity, and have in some cases required linguists to exercise to the fullest their capacity to rescue the generalizations they have already decided are true of all languages (Oh, Malagasy, how you taunt us!).
Add to pack:
|| Disease and more disease (since our species primarily evolved here, so did a lot of other things that use us as hosts), injury, violence, oil companies, Margaret Thatcher’s son, crocodiles, things that eat crocodiles, anarchy (some areas), too many simultaneous archies (other areas), the usual giant snakes.
- Quintuple the usual amount of insect repellent, plus at least four gallons of insecticide. It won’t do any good, but you’ll feel like you got some revenge.
- Chloroquinone, and lots of it. The mal in ‘malaria’ is the morpheme you’re thinking it is. Tonic water isn’t effective enough, even with the gin.
- Extra cash. For “customs.”
- Mercenaries. Technically, of course, you can’t pack them, but having some along can be quite useful (however, make sure they’re the competent kind; any mention of having done “outsourcing” work for Western nations is a red flag, as is group composition restricted to one nationality or ethnos, or possession of copies of Soldier of Fortune). Pay half up front, and arrange for competent medical support (give preference to groups that refuse to work without latter being stipulated in contract). When working with native speakers, keep the mercenaries at some distance, since they tend to produce distortions in the probability distributions of certain constructions/lexical choices.
- A list of Peace Corps volunteers in the area. They’ll have all manner of useful information. Don’t bring the mercenaries when you visit, though—very bad for appearances.
- Large, sealable plastic bags (i.e., sandwich bags, but larger). An amazing number of things cannot get into shoes that are stored in these.
Central and South Asia
General Notes: Included in this section are regions like the Caucasus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, as well as India and Pakistan. This grouping is, of course, artificial, but there is a long-standing tradition of artificially grouping people in this region; whole nations owe their existence to it. While a majority of the linguistic groups in the region are affiliated with well-studied macrofamilies (e.g., Turkic, the ever-overdone Indo-European), some areas, like the Caucasus, are more varied, and dialect variation is of interest regardless.
Add to pack:
|| Disease, injury (both the usual kind, and the accidentally-being-stepped-on-by-livestock kind), violence, invasion by multinational forces, hyperthermia, dehydration, over-hydration (during monsoon), consonantal hypertrophy (Caucasus), lime pickle (India), Jain commando squads,4 the Golden Horde.
- Tarnke’s Guide to Religious Garb. Under normal circumstances, of course, the fieldworker does not care what faith is practiced by those with whom s/he works, but a native-speaker coworker who is fond of koans can unintentionally wreak untold havoc on a grammar. For over ten years, the expression listed as meaning roughly “yes” in one grammar actually meant “What is it if it is not of itself?” It was a worse fiasco than the hovercraft-eel incident.
- Recorder with slow-playback feature (if traveling in India or Pakistan). Eight separate languages have turned out to be English when played back at 45% normal speed. Keep in mind that the response that a native speaker provides to a fieldwork question may, in fact, be a projected answer to what you’re likely to ask two minutes from now. They are not deliberately trying to make you feel slow. Just keep telling yourself that.
- Antacid tablets. Remember, “cold” food does not mean food that is not spicy, it means food that cools you off. Internal temperature drops when you are in shock, which partially explains lime pickle.
- Application for GPS-locator that sounds an alarm if you get within fifty miles of Kashmir or Waziristan. Yes, fieldwork needs to be done in those places, but it can wait for the invention of the armored exoskeleton.
East Asia, incl. Siam5
General Notes: While many of the languages in this area have developed defenses against being subjected to fieldwork (tone systems, for example), the possibilities for fieldwork remain legion. Given the amount of topographic and climatic variation over this vast region, the threats to prepare for can include some of the same ones mentioned in any of the earlier sections—particularly in the more tropical sections, where malaria remains a major problem, and the giant snakes are, if anything, stealthier.
Add to pack:
|| Disease, injury, violence, water (oceanic and riverine), drivers, meat-on-a-stick, colonialists, anti-colonialists, the Burmese government, social engineering attempts on a titanic scale, natto (Japan), obscure organizations striving for world domination.6
- Extra earplugs, esp. if traveling through Hong Kong.
- (If traveling in Japan) Large amounts of extra packaging. Each section of each chapter of your grammar should get a separate wrapper, and the chapter should then get its own, differently-colored wrapper (with decorative cord); the abstract goes in a small, gold-filagreed box attached to the rest of the grammar by a multihued ribbon, with the whole assembly going in a bigger box.
- Access to the SIL’s Ethnologue, to identify in advance which language groups are likely to use tones (so you can work on different ones instead). If you’re a phonetician, ignore this item, and please accept our profound admiration.
- A “medic alert” bracelet listing allergies to meat and seafood. You want a polite excuse for sticking to vegetables. You do not want to know what’s on that plate, especially if it’s staring back at you, attempting to attack you, or even just emitting a blue glow and a rising humming sound. This applies double to anything served you by Shan tribal elders, who I’m sure mean well, despite the results.
- (If traveling in Japan) Ovarsson’s Pictorial Guide to Japanese Sweet Dishes, so you can avoid them. There are some things that simply should not be done with ice cream.
Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania
General Notes: This region presents a marked dilemma to the prudent fieldworker. On one hand, it abounds with fascinating languages whose 40,000-year-plus isolation from those spoken elsewhere renders them of the greatest importance to discussions of long-range language development. On the other hand, half of the things a biologist has a Linnaean name for in Australia have some way of killing you, and some of the rest have no Linnaean name at all because the biologist died too fast. Australians are so inured to this that they simply edit considerations of safety out of consciousness.
Add to pack:
|| Venomous insects, venomous snakes, venomous shellfish, venomous coelenterates, venomous amphibians, venomous egg-laying mammals,7 venomous shrubs, venomous rock formations, rugby teams, dehydration, drop bears,8 neck strain (Bondi), graphogenic neuro-semiotic hyper-stimulation.9
- Case of assorted antivenins. Practice selecting the right one in the smallest possible amount of time.
- Concussion grenades—while these are a major pain to get through customs, they have a high chance of dealing with poisonous creatures that are occupying the spot where you plan to pitch a tent (typically, any given spot will have at least four such creatures).
- If traveling into the Outback, bring at least two fifty-gallon water tanks on self-powered carts. Spray these regularly with repellent to discourage the snakes from wrapping around them.
- Pictorial guides to insects and sea life, so you can tell the medical team exactly what’s making your leg swell up. Saving them time like this helps them save you, and they’re much less likely to hand you a piece of bread with some awful spread on it to distract you while they confer.
- A guide to Australian English. You do not want to do things like asking a sports fan which team they’re rooting for.
4 Pacifists, but capable of writing very sternly-worded memos.
5 At first, we thought Prof. Schadenpoodle’s reference to Burma in the following threat list was an intentional political statement, but it is possible that he needs a new globe in his office. —Eds.
6 We were, naturally, rather curious about this item. After some correspondence with Prof. Schadenpoodle, we’ve arrived at two conclusions. First, he assumes everyone is already familiar with non-obscure organizations striving to achieve world domination (his phrase was, “the government, for example”). Second, he has watched far too many B-movies. We are still trying to convince him that no botanist has ever validated the existence of the black lotus. —Eds.
7 <reality>Everything in the Australian threat list up to this point is actually true.</reality>
8 Related to koalas in much the same way grasshoppers are related to locusts. Periodically, the koala population grows to an unsustainable size, and the species has evolved a compensatory device: an entire generation is born that is larger than normal, and violently hostile, prone to attack any moving target (usually by plummeting from above, much like porcupines). They are not very efficient at this, however, and many of the moving targets either are venomous or are wombats, which are distinctly plummet-proof, so the population is dramatically reduced.
9 A petit mal-like condition caused by trying to process overly Delphic linguistic diagrams; also known as “Matthiessen Syndrome.”