Class uses historic Cherokee archive and Skype to hone skills in linguistic fieldwork

June 2, 2015

A new collaboration between the Yale Department of Linguistics and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has resulted in an innovative approach to teaching students how to master the field methods used in linguistic research.

Typically, linguistic fieldwork is conducted verbally between a researcher and a native speaker of a language in a natural setting, such as the speaker’s community. Linguists ask questions about a language to understand aspects of it that cannot be learned by simply reading books about the language. It is an especially essential skill when studying languages that are not widely known or well documented.

For the first time this spring, Claire Bowern, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Linguistics, made use of the Beinecke’s Kilpatrick Collection of Cherokee manuscripts to teach students the skills needed in fieldwork to elicit linguistic data from a native Cherokee speaker. The class both took the unusual step of using historical texts as the basis for the interviews, and made use of Skype instead of face-to-face interviews. Read the full story in YaleNews here.