Tuesday, August 31, 2010

By the book

This week I've started getting into some serious note book preparation. Those shiny new notebooks I purchased a couple of weeks ago are already being put to good use. I've started writing down all the questions I've got from last trip (for example, I got the verbs 'hear', 'see', 'touch' and 'taste' but not 'smell') and I've started writing down all the things I think I'll need to explore on this trip.

I'm excited because every hour I spend working on it here is one less hour of my afternoons this tedious process (and stressful when there is the time constrain of the next day's session) will take up while I'm in Nepal, which will leave me more time for proper analysis, and, of course, socialising!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Worfian Romp

Guy Deutscher has written an article for the New York Times on linguistic relativity. Check it out here. It's fun and intimidating and touches on some interesting work done in the last ten years or so.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Toys!

Getting ready falls into a few categories, and one of my favourite is geeking out and getting ready all the electronic gear that I need. This trip I'll be taking two new toys... I mean... electronic items for work purposes that I am very exited about.

The first is a shiny tiny new eee pc. Last trip I took an older one and my good old MacBook. This time I've merged the compactness of the small computer with (a fair amount of) the functionality of my bigger laptop. I'm impressed by how far the specs have come on these things even in the 12 months since my last trip. Hopefully it's going to save me about 3-5 kg in weight for only a small sacrifice in usability.

The second is a cute little geo-tagger, about the size of a Mars bar. Turn it on while outdoors and let it silently beep away as you journey along. While it's on it chats to satellites and stores that data away. Then, when the journey's finished plug it into your computer and it will map your path onto Google Earth, and if you taken photos (and your camera's clock is correct) it will merge that info with your photos so you know when/when you took them down to the meter (also the altitude and and the temperature!). This is hopefully going to sort out that small problem I have of there being no known maps of the area I'm working in.

As always I'll also be bringing my audio recorder (actually, property of the department, which I must remember before I become too attached), video camera, still camera, backup hard-drive and jumbo headphones. Geek out indeed!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tell Us Where

A group of researchers in Victoria are currently using smart phones in a quirky and fun project called 'tell us where.'

The idea is super simple - log into www.telluswhere.net on your internet enabled phone anywhere in Victoria, Australia, then confirm your location. Once you've done that type in a description of where you are - just how you would normally describe that place to another person.

Simple as that!

Lesley Stirling at the university of Melbourne explains what your input will be used for:

"We will use this information in an academic research project that aims to discover the underlying rules and principles for how people talk about places in Melbourne and Victoria (the game is currently limited to Victoria). By submitting your place descriptions you will be helping generate a large body of knowledge about how humans describe places in Victoria. In turn this will help develop better web searching, mapping and navigation systems, and even emergency services. For more details about the research behind the project, please see http://www.geom.unimelb.edu.au/winter/proj-place/index.htm."

Everytime you log in and submit an answer you'll go into the draw for an iTunes voucher, and you can log in as many times as you like. Sounds like great fun, and a relatively unobtrusive way to gather really interesting data. Just a pity my phone is about 5 years before the smart phone revolution!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Taking Note

Yesterday morning was a flurry of all those dull post-holiday activities; washing, clearing out the inbox, checking my bank balance etc. Which left the afternoon free for me to do the first thing on my pre-departure to do list - buy my field note books.

I have always been a bit of a stationary fiend, and so I take buying field books very seriously. On a whim last year I purchased some Marbig Colourhide 120 page books. They're not the most fabulous paper quality but they have some other features I quite like. The first is that they are spiral bound, which makes it easier to fold them when working. It makes them slightly less sturdy than say a moleskine or general exercise book, but convenience wins out in this instance. Secondly, they have a nice sturdy plastic front cover and thirdly, the covers come in a range of colours which makes it easier to rummage for the right one when they're scattered all over my desk.

I've purchased 10 so far, they're stacked up on my desk waiting to be filled. Some I will sketch out ideas for sessions and things I need to ask still. The others will be filled at later dates when I have new questions, or with narratives and stories.

I've also purchased some A5 moleskines for general ethnographic notes and couldn't resist buying some adorable A6 ones as well for general notes. I'm fond of moleskine for the relative robustness as well as the nice paper, although it appears there's a dead bug pressed into one of the pages of the first book I opened which I hope is not an ominous portent.

And so this marks the beginning of the pre-departure month of organisational festivities. I will probably return to a more ad hoc posting schedule so you can join me on the bureaucratic adventure that is organising a field trip!

Monday, August 16, 2010

A choice holiday bro

And so in a blink holidays are over and I'm back on campus as though 10 days in New Zealand were nothing more than a Pinot induced hallucination. It was a very relaxing time. I did take a while to switch off from work; at one point I thought it would be fun to figure out Mauri phonology and phonotactics based only on the bilingual public signage and river names but the handsome penpal who was also chauffeur for the holiday rolled his eyes and I realised that maybe it would be good to not think about linguistics for a few days.

And so the road tripping was punctuated with handsome trying to explain what high octane fuel is (it has eight hydrocarbons, hence the 'oct'- you can get septane too, who knew?) and me trying to explain what backformations are.

Ok, so I didn't do too well at not talking linguistics - but honestly the conversation came up because of something both of us had noticed while chatting with a number of locals. The New Zealand term of affection for Australia is to refer to it as "Aussie" as in:

"Where abouts in Aussie do you live?"
"How long are you over from Aussie."
"I have a friend visiting Aussie at the moment."

This coinage flummoxed us. I don't know anyone in Oz who would refer to the country as Aussie (and my survey of 3 gives highly significant statistical data to back me up with 100% of Australians agreeing).

What's it all about then? Well, my hunch is that it's a backformation. A backformation is where people look at a word and assume (often incorrectly, although that's not really a problem) that there's some kind of analysable structure to it. For example - if a bikini is a two piece bathing suit then in some line of logic you can call a one piece a "monokini".

And so, the only reason I can think of for referring to Australia as "Aussie" is that Australians are referred to as "Aussies" and so to be "Aussies" they must come from "Aussie."

It's not really the most sophisticated example of a backformation - but for a country that is so linguistically similar to ours it was a rather interesting difference.