Linguistics Fieldwork

The challenges of linguistics field work in Melanesia

Overcoming difficulties in gaining acceptance with locals on field trips was one of the topics of a talk by two University of Newcastle PhD students at the recent This is Not Art (TiNA) Festival.

Stephen Logan and Lana Takau, both Linguistics PhD students from the Faculty of Education and Arts, shared their experiences while studying two of the hundreds of indigenous languages of Melanesia.

Stephen spent a life changing six months living in Bougainville making audio and video recordings of the local language and traditional activities and will use this as the basis for his PhD.

“The locals there built a small house for us in a settlement with two other families; we collected water from a well and had an outdoor kitchen and vegetable garden. Our closest town with supplies was 1.5 hours away by boat so it was an unusual experience for myself and my wife. Our hosts showed us great kindness and I feel that we made some good friends,” Stephen said.

While in Bougainville, Stephen found that while most locals were enthusiastic about his project and appreciative of his interest in their language, some were not.

“Although I didn’t encounter any direct opposition to my research, I did hear of one man who thought I might’ve had an ulterior motive for my research,” Stephen said. “I found it was really important to not make assumptions about how much people knew about my project and make it really clear what I was doing. As time went on people became more comfortable.”

Both Lana and Stephen found they had similar challenges in their fieldwork around negotiating life and research in the community despite Lana being a Vanuatu native.

They gave a slideshow at the TINA Festival documenting their work in Bougainville and Vanuatu and fielded many questions from the audience around how their research will impact upon the community.

“The biggest benefit is that we are preserving some materials in these languages for the future. All the audio and video recordings we’ve made and text we compiled will be archived. We’re also creating copies of the stories we’ve documented and will distribute these to the communities we lived in and researched,” Stephen said.

Related News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2015 © The University of Newcastle, Australia

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up to the UON Engage Email Digest and receive the latest news delivered every Friday direct to your inbox.