Word Hunters

Field linguists on fieldwork

ORCID logoHannah Sarvasy | The Australian National University
ORCID logoDiana Forker | University of Jena
ISBN 9789027200273 | EUR 95.00 | USD 143.00
ISBN 9789027264442 | EUR 95.00 | USD 143.00
Google Play logo
In Word Hunters, eleven distinguished linguists reflect on their career-spanning linguistic fieldwork. Over decades, each has repeatedly stood up to physical, intellectual, interpersonal, intercultural, and sometimes political challenges in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. These scholar-explorers have enlightened the world to the inner workings of languages in remote communities of Africa (West, East, and South), Amazonia, the Arctic, Australia, the Caucasus, Oceania, Siberia, and East Asia. They report some linguistic eureka moments, but also discuss cultural missteps, illness, and the other challenges of pursuing linguistic data in extreme circumstances. They write passionately about language death and their responsibilities to speech communities. The stories included here—the stuff of departmental and family legends—are published publicly for the first time.
[Studies in Language Companion Series, 194] 2018.  vi, 177 pp.
Publishing status: Available
Table of Contents
“A paean to linguistic fieldwork, with all its trials and tribulations, but equally with all the triumphs and joys of giving a voice to speakers of endangered and other little-described languages, often from severely disadvantaged communities. The outsider will read with awe and envy.”
“Fieldwork is among the most fundamental kinds of linguistic research: it creates the empirical basis for an unbiased, non-Eurocentric theory of language. This book provides a nice selection of fieldworkers' personal accounts of their experiences, covering many language areas of the world.”
“The essays in Word Hunters reflect on fieldwork by highly experienced fieldworkers working around the world, reviewing what they learned, details about the peoples they worked with, insights into the languages that they worked on, and the challenges, rewards, and responsibilities of life as a fieldworker. Each author brings their own story and their own interests, and the reader has much to learn. Thanks to all of those who contributed to giving the reader rich perspectives on fieldwork. Let’s hope that someday we see a companion volume, reporting on the experiences of fieldwork from the perspective of the speakers that the linguists were so fortunate to work with!”
“Both aspiring and experienced field linguists will find much of value in this volume's focus on the very human side of fieldwork. It's not often in linguistics that one can get a glimpse into the ways that linguists manage the inevitable difficulties that arise when working on languages far from home as well as how they respond to the many small triumphs that make their work successful. This book should be required reading for any student contemplating a career involving linguistic fieldwork, and even seasoned fieldworkers will enjoy the opportunity it provides them to compare their own experiences with those presented in this collection.”
“The peaks and troughs of linguistic fieldwork have for too long remained something of a guild secret. This collection of autobiographical accounts by eleven 'unsung heroes of linguistics' is leavened by the insights of two editors who are themselves consummate fieldworkers. It vividly conveys the intellectual exhilaration, the manifold practical challenges, and the profound existential re-tuning that pervade this most fundamental aspect of the linguistic endeavour.”
“Sarvasy and Forker’s little book would have been an invaluable companion during my fieldtrips and will be so in the future. This volume offers a first collection of straightforward and personal accounts from long-term fieldworkers who have dedicated many decades of their careers to studying underdocumented minority languages on five continents. With 177 pages, the volume comprises biographies of eleven renowned “word hunters”. Few constraints were imposed by the editors – the contributors were asked to provide an overview of their fieldwork career and to expand on specific linguistic and extralinguistic aspects they considered important. The result is a beautiful mosaic of stories by authors from different continents, with different academic backgrounds and research interests but with a shared love of discovery, adventure, puzzle solving, eureka moments and the joint experience of the demands and rewards that come with exposing yourself to a new culture and language...Besides being an unusually refreshing and entertaining read, the volume takes a deeper look at the discipline of field linguistics beyond its academic merits. Sarvasy and Forker try to find out: Who are the people behind the papers?”
“The book’s coherence comes from its sheer diversity, which is metaphoric of fieldwork itself. No two chapters are alike, and this is a strength from a book which provides a panorama of experiences, locations, methodologies, disciplines, and approaches to fieldwork. This means that the book can be enjoyed as a whole, but that each of the chapters can be appreciated individually. In this, the editors achieved their goals of presenting a very diverse area of field linguistics. The fieldworkers and their experiences are as diverse as the languages, places, and peoples with whom they work, and the book provides important insight into the multidisciplinary nature of the work itself.”
Cited by

Cited by 5 other publications

Agranat, Tatiana B. & Leyli R. Dodykhudoeva
2021. Introduction. In Strategies for Knowledge Elicitation,  pp. 1 ff. DOI logo
Childs, G. Tucker
2020. Language Documentation and Revitalization. In The Cambridge Introduction to Applied Linguistics,  pp. 204 ff. DOI logo
Susan Conrad, Alissa Hartig & Lynn Santelmann
2020. The Cambridge Introduction to Applied Linguistics, DOI logo
Thomas, Margaret
2020. The monolingual approach in American linguistic fieldwork. Historiographia Linguistica 47:2-3  pp. 266 ff. DOI logo
[no author supplied]
2020. Language Varieties and Variation. In The Cambridge Introduction to Applied Linguistics,  pp. 171 ff. DOI logo

This list is based on CrossRef data as of 18 november 2023. Please note that it may not be complete. Sources presented here have been supplied by the respective publishers. Any errors therein should be reported to them.


Main BIC Subject

CF: Linguistics

Main BISAC Subject

LAN009000: LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General
ONIX Metadata
ONIX 2.1
ONIX 3.0
U.S. Library of Congress Control Number:  2017052503 | Marc record