Article published in:Language Documentation and Endangerment in Africa
Edited by James Essegbey, Brent Henderson and Fiona Mc Laughlin
[Culture and Language Use 17] 2015
► pp. 215–238
Folk definitions in linguistic fieldwork
Informal paraphrases by native speaker consultants are crucial tools in linguistic fieldwork. When recorded, archived, and analysed, they offer rich data that can be mined for many purposes, from lexicography to semantic typology and from ethnography to the investigation of gesture and speech. This paper describes a procedure for the collection and analysis of folk definitions that are native (in the language under study rather than the language of analysis), informal (spoken rather than written), and multi-modal (preserving the integrity of gesture-speech composite utterances). The value of folk definitions is demonstrated using the case of ideophones, words that are notoriously hard to study using traditional elicitation methods. Three explanatory strategies used in a set of folk definitions of ideophones are examined: the offering of everyday contexts of use, the use of depictive gestures, and the use of sense relations as semantic anchoring points. Folk definitions help elucidate word meanings that are hard to capture, bring to light cultural background knowledge that often remains implicit, and take seriously the crucial involvement of native speaker consultants in linguistic fieldwork. They provide useful data for language documentation and are an essential element of any toolkit for linguistic and ethnographic field research.
Published online: 22 October 2015
Ameka, Felix K.
2008 Constructing and describing meanings. Plenary lecture presented at the West African Languages Congress, University of Education, Winneba.
Bernard, H. Russell
2006 Research Methods in Anthropology. Lanham MD: Altamira Press, Rowman & Littlefield.
2010 The sensory world: Ideophones in Africa and elsewhere. In Perception of the Invisible: Religion, Historical Semantics and the Role of Perceptive Verbs, Anne Storch (ed.), 275–296. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe.
Bouquiaux, Luc & Thomas, Jacqueline M.C.
(eds) 1992 Studying and Describing Unwritten Languages. Dallas TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Casagrande, Joseph B. & Hale, Kenneth
1967 Semantic relationships in Papago folk definitions. In Studies in Southwestern Ethnolinguistics: Meaning and History in the Languages of the American Southwest, Dell Hymes & William E. Bittle (eds), 165–193. The Hague: Mouton.
Chelliah, Shobhana L. & de Reuse, Willem J.
Childs, G. Tucker
1993 Lexicography in West Africa: Some problems and issues. Lexikos 3: 13–28.
1994a African ideophones. In Sound Symbolism, Leanne Hinton, Johanna Nichols & John J. Ohala (eds), 178–204. Cambridge: CUP.
2007 Field Linguistics: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: OUP.
Cruse, D. Alan
1986 Lexical Semantics. Cambridge: CUP.
1972 Notes on expressive meaning. Chicago Linguistic Society 8: 440–447.
Dimmendaal, Gerrit J.
1995 Studying lexical-semantic fields in languages: Nature versus nurture, or where does culture come in these days. Frankfurter Afrikanistische Blätter 7: 1–28.
2011 The Meaning and Use of Ideophones in Siwu. PhD dissertation, Radboud University Nijmegen. http://thesis.ideophone.org/
Dingemanse, Mark, Blythe, Joe & Dirksmeyer, Tyko
Dixon, Robert M.W.
2007 Field linguistics: A minor manual. Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung 60(1): 12–31.
Enfield, Nick J.
Enfield, Nick J., Kendrick, Kobin H., de Ruiter, Jan Peter, Stivers, Tanya & Levinson, Stephen C.
2011 Building a corpus of spontaneous interaction. In Field Manual, Vol. 14, Kobin H. Kendrick & Asifa Majid (eds), 29–32. Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.
Everett, Daniel L.
Franklin, Karl J.
1971 Some comments on eliciting cultural data. Anthropological Linguistics 13(7): 339–348.
1977 The contingent query: A dependent act in conversation. In Interaction, Conversation, and the Development of Language, Michael Lewis & Leonard A. Rosenblum (eds), 63–94. New York NY: Wiley.
Geurts, Kathryn Linn
2002 Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.
Levelt, Willem J.M., Roelofs, Ardi & Meyer, Antje S.
2000 Having fun with ideophones: A socio-linguistic look at ideophones in Hamar, Southern Ethiopia. In Proceedings of the XIV International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Baye Yimam, Richard Pankhurst, David Chapple, Yonas Admassu, Alula Pankhurst & Birhanu Teferra (eds), 886–91. Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University.
1977 Semantics, Vols 1–2. Cambridge: CUP.
1923 The problem of meaning in primitive languages. In The Meaning of Meaning, Charles Kay Ogden & Ivor Armstrong Richards (eds), 296–336. London: Kegan Paul.
1980 Ways of defining: Folk definitions and the study of semantics. Forum Linguisticum 5: 122–139.
1979 Folk-definitions as a tool for the analysis of lexical meaning. In Ethnolinguistics: Boas, Sapir and Whorf Revisited, Madeleine Mathiot (ed.), 121–260. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
1992 Hand and Mind. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
Noss, Philip A.
1999 The ideophone: A dilemma for translation and translation theory. In New Dimensions in African Linguistics and Languages, Paul F.A. Kotey (ed.), 261–272. Trenton NJ: Africa World Press.
Nuckolls, Janis B.
2000 Spoken in the spirit of gesture: Translating sound symbolism in a Pastaza Quechua Narrative. In Translating Native Latin American Verbal Art, Joel Sherzer & Kay Sammons (eds), 233–251. Washington DC: Smithsonian Press.
1992 African Oral Literature: Backgrounds, Character, and Continuity. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.
Payne, Thomas E.
1997 Describing Morphosyntax. A Guide for Field Linguists. Cambridge: CUP.
Perchonock, Norma & Werner, Oswald
Pole, Leonard M.
1908 Die spezifischen Verstärkungsadverbien im Haussa und Kanuri. Mittheilungen des Seminars für Orientalische Sprachen 11(3): 307–317.
Rattray, Robert S.
Samarin, William J.
1967a Determining the meaning of ideophones. Journal of West African Languages 4(2): 35–41.
1967b Field Linguistics. New York NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
1971 Survey of Bantu ideophones. African Language Studies 12: 130–168.
Schegloff, Emanuel A., Jefferson, Gail & Sacks, Harvey
Schlegel, Joh. Bernhard
1857 Schlüssel der Ewesprache, dargeboten in den grammatischen Grundzügen des Anlodialekts. Stuttgart.
De Schryver, Gilles-Maurice
1981 The Limits of Awareness. Austin TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
Vidal, Owen Emeric
1852 Introductory Remarks. In A Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language, Samuel Ajayi Crowther (ed.), 1–38. London: Seeleys.
Voeltz, F.K. Erhard & Kilian-Hatz, Christa
Watson, Richard L.
1962 Lexicographic definition in descriptive semantics. In Problems in Lexicography, Fred W. Householder & Sol Saporta (eds), 25–44. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press & The Hague: Mouton.