Update from the field

So I’m in the field right now, working with another native speaker of Iñupiaq in Noatak, Alaska. I didn’t think I’d have much time to spend online – assuming I’d even have internet access – but there’s only so much work I can do in a day. My consultant up here is great, like my consultant in Anchorage is, but with different strengths. One is eager to give lexical items ad nauseam but doesn’t respond to questions about grammar at all; the other is willing to put up with me eliciting various grammatical constructions, many of them minutely different from each other. She said she doesn’t easily get bored, and after working with her, I believe it.

That’s not to say it’s all smooth going, but better than I could have hoped. Sometimes I’ll ask to see if there certain variations are possible, and I’ll get a response like, “Oh yeah, we can say it with the words backwards [i.e., different word order]. But then they’ll change spelling a bit.” If I try to dig deeper and get how exactly they change, then it’s “Oh, they’re the same.” The trials and tribulations of fieldwork, I guess! Tomorrow I’m going to try a different approach and come up with sentences that I suspect are either grammatical or not. At least I’ll find out what is and isn’t grammatical. I hope.

In all of this, I’m greatly aided by Fortescue’s reference grammar of West Greenlandic. While it doesn’t contain ungrammatical alternatives, it is a very detailed grammar. West Greenlandic is too distant on the dialect chain to be understood by my consultants (according to them, not me), but the sheer range of morphosyntax covered in his grammar is a boon for anyone looking for a list of topics to cover.

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3 thoughts on “Update from the field

  1. SnowLeopard August 5, 2007 / 2:31 pm

    How intelligible do Inupiaq speakers find Yup’ik? Jacobson’s Practical Grammar of the Central Alaskan Yup’ik Eskimo Language, which I’ve been working through over breakfast for years, is quite detailed, yet accessible to rank amateurs like myself. The exercises also tend to have a sly humor about them, and there are also various extended readings.

  2. tulugaq August 5, 2007 / 9:53 pm

    Iñupiaq speakers have told me on more than one occasion that they can’t understand Yup’ik at all. There are some cognates, but if they say they can’t understand, I see no reason not to believe them.

    Jacobson’s grammar is good, though, as you point out. I keep a copy of it handy, too. Less technical than Fortescue’s West Greenlandic grammar, but it’s a teaching grammar so being technical wasn’t its purpose to begin with. It’s very exhaustive and has wonderful exercises.

    Edna Ahgeak MacLean’s teaching grammar (North Slope Iñupiaq grammar, years 1 and 2) is also a very handy guide. My only real frustration with these teaching grammars is that they often give the underlying morphemes and never show the surface forms, but I suspect that’s because students are expected to either get the forms right or be corrected by their teacher (either way, they end up with the correct form).

  3. SnowLeopard August 6, 2007 / 12:35 pm

    Then I suppose there also isn’t much overlap with Lowe’s non-technical work in Inuvialuit and Uumarmiut in what I suppose is the Yukon/ Nunavut region. The words look so similar on paper that it’s surprising to me that they’re not easily understood when spoken. But I guess the same is true for an English speaker being able to follow along with Spanish/French/German when it’s written but not when it’s spoken.

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