The Cycle of Language Exchange in Pinnacle Sherpa: new evidence for the reversibility of language shift—Keith W. Slater SpecGram Vol CLXI, No 3 Contents EtymGeo™—U.S. Edition—The SpecGram Puzzle Elves™

Van Der Fort’s Guide to Field Linguistics
by J. S. S. van der Fort

Review by Webley Louis Severson III

Rating: ƛƛƛƛ / ƛƛƛƛ (Underlyingly Good)
714 pp.; Limited Signed Edition of 10,000
Geen van de Bovenstaande University Press, May 2011

For the last twenty years, one name has stood above the admittedly smallish number in American linguistics: Jan Stenenkop Skylar van der Fort. We need not list all the accomplishments of this intrepid Dutchman from Gelderland, but a few shall suffice: how he systematically demonstrated that the spread of the High German Consonant Shift was due largely to an influx of bad beer originating in Austria and Switzerland, and how the Dutch avoided the worst of it by hewing to their own local hops; how he was able, where many before him had failed, to integrate himself into the Pigmy Goat Tribe of Nazca and record their language; how he single-handedly saved a small Nahua community in Veracruz from drought by re-introducing blood sacrifice, using forgotten rituals scribed in codices hidden under Mexico City; how he proved, once and for all, that Quechua and Aymara really are genetically related, and likewise related to the Limburgish Dialect of Dutchbut his working papers were lost in a shipwreck before they could be published, as we all lament; and, finally, his recent work with the Raartong Tribe of Brazil and their peculiar language has undoubtedly earned him a place amongdare we say it?the luminaries of our profession: Boas, Sapir and Bloomfield.

Van Der Fort’s Guide to Field Linguistics is a distillation of two decades of solid methodology and accumulated wisdom. It is aimed specifically at those studying un- and under-documented languages in the Western Hemisphere. A pithy quote from American linguist Lyle Campbell on the back cover sums it all up: “This is the biggest piece of unmitigated **** I’ve ever seen come off a university press. And you can quote me on that!” And so they have; and Dr. Campbell’s unreserved praise undoubtedly will echo through the halls of learning for years to come.

The Guide, unlike many others of its kind, covers far more ground than mere nuts-and-bolts techniques of elicitation, recording and analysis; it is, as van der Fort himself explains in the Preface, “an holistic guidea handbook to the entire experience of integrating oneself into a speaker community for the purpose of revealing the hitherto unknown subtleties of the dialect of that community.” Dr. van der Fort firmly believes that one cannot properly study a language without such full social integration: hence the title of Chapter 3: “Why Sexual Words Are Best Elicited As Pillow-Talk.” Especially helpful in the integration endeavor is the Troubleshooting Guide (pp. 377-658), whose capstone sub-chapter is entitled “How to Save Your Marriage When Your Wife Catches You With Native Girls.” Appendix III tip-toes into even more adventurous territory, describing in detail how a field linguist can install himself as the deity of a native tribe in six easy steps.

This review would not be complete without an extended quote from the Guide itself; the tome is so full of logic and wisdom that any page will do. Starting at the top of p. 162, we find the following bit of insight concerning diachronics:

“If one is having a difficult time making the proposed sound history of a language work consistently, it is best to assume that apparent irregularity is due to one of three factors: (a) sound changes to the same segments have piled upon one another, with different conditioning factors each time; (b) conditioning environments have been erased by subsequent sound changes; or (c) space aliens did it. I most commonly find that (c) is usually the correct answer. I base this conclusion upon myriad concurring reports of native speakers themselves, who, when questioned about why their language works in a certain manner, almost always respond with “the gods did it.” And by “gods,” of course, they really mean extraterrestrials in flying saucers, as von Däniken has amply shown. We may rightly reject appeals to the magic and superstition inherent in the term “gods,” as no educated Westerner would ever in a million years give credence to such things, but space aliens by contrast use advanced technology, and are thus scientifically explicable in principle; consequently we can invoke them as an explanation without contradiction or embarrassment.”

The Cycle of Language Exchange in Pinnacle Sherpa: new evidence for the reversibility of language shiftKeith W. Slater
EtymGeo™U.S. EditionThe SpecGram Puzzle Elves™
SpecGram Vol CLXI, No 3 Contents