Doing Fieldwork on Constructed Languages—Curtis U. Lehder SpecGram Vol CLIX, No 1 Contents Parsers in the Cloud—Cruella Žestókij-Grausam

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!).

Common Threats:  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.

Add to pack:

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.

Common Threats:  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.

Add to pack:

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 sectionsparticularly in the more tropical sections, where malaria remains a major problem, and the giant snakes are, if anything, stealthier.

Common Threats:  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

Add to pack:

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.

Common Threats:  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

Add to pack:

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.”

Doing Fieldwork on Constructed Languages—Curtis U. Lehder
Parsers in the Cloud—Cruella Žestókij-Grausam
SpecGram Vol CLIX, No 1 Contents