Isuma TV

This afternoon I read an ILAT message about a new website for indigenous filmmakers, Isuma TV. They have quite a few short films, many set in the arctic. Maana, for example, is a short flick about a man somewhere in Nunavut who decides on a unique approach to fighting skyrocketing energy consumption in his village. There’s quite a range of topics, from Greenlandic children’s television to Nunavut’s own Inuit rock video.

On a related note, I’m currently in Alaska doing some more fieldwork with Iñupiaq speakers. Today’s weather prompted them to teach me, among other things, the word paulġin [ġ = ʁ] , which means ‘shovel’ (n.), at least in one dialect.

I’m doing my best to wade through the dizzying number of ways to accomplish coordination and subordination in the language. One difficulty I’m having in elicitation sessions is getting examples with the valency I’m interested in. For example, if I’m trying to test constituency in transitive clauses, inevitably I get all my nouns nicely incorporated into intransitive verbs. If I’m trying to get examples of incorporated nouns, I get nothing but transitive sentences. Figures! It doesn’t mean I don’t love the examples that I’m getting, it just makes it all the more interesting seeing what I end up with.

Microphones are not firearms

Whenever I read tales of security issues linguists face (like when Anggarrgoon had fieldwork recordings impounded by US Customs), I just think I’m glad that doesn’t happen to me. Until now! I left Houston early Tuesday morning to head home to Alaska, where I’ll be spending Christmas and doing more Iñupiaq fieldwork.

That means my bag was chock-full of fieldwork equipment, including a Marantz recorder in my hand-held luggage and two external mics in a black case in my checked luggage. Apparently the TSA thinks that anything in a hard black case is a firearm, even if it says “Sound Professionals” on the outside. I assured them it wasn’t, but they didn’t take my word for it (which makes sense, I know). Eventually they let me check the bag in and I didn’t miss my flight. I wonder what sort of microphone case I could get that wouldn’t trip alarm bells?

Anyway, now I’m back in Anchorage and hoping to get started on fieldwork again as soon as possible, although I’ll have to allow for busy holiday schedules. Meanwhile, I’m starting to read through the 2005 Iñupiatun Eskimo Dictionary edited by Wolf Seiler. It has both pros and cons, but I can definitely say it’s the most thorough Iñupiaq dictionary out there. I look forward to reading through the rest of it.

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.

Preparing for fieldwork

Well, it’s the end of the semester, and I’m trying to finish up papers as soon as possible. Mostly so that I can put more time into preparing for my summer fieldwork! I’ll be working with a Malimiut dialect Iñupiaq speaker again, and if I’m lucky, more than one consultant this time. Looking forward to it, although I have a list of questions as long as my arm. So many topics to explore, so little time.

While digging around online this evening, though, I ran into a lovely little distraction: Project Jukebox at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I’ve seen some of the sites before but hadn’t realized they were part of a larger project. About half of them are collections of oral history recordings. All the ones I saw were in mp3 format, so not the best for phonetic work, but valuable for many other reasons, of course (both culturally and linguistically). And almost all of them have transcripts, too. Bonus!

North Slope Iñupiaq: Marvin Peter Photo Album Project

North Slope Iñupiaq: Chipp-Ikpikpuk and Meade Rivers Oral History Project

Gwich’in: Gileech’agarohookhyaa Shro’ (Don’t Forget the Past)

Cup’iq: Nunivak Island

Koyukon Athabaskan: Tanana Tribal Council

Central Alaskan Yup’ik: Yupiit School District Project Jukebox

Some Yup’ik, some Alutiiq (I think? I saw more than one language mentioned, but please correct me if I’m wrong.): Katmai National Park

Of course, my Iñupiaq being as poor as it is, I don’t have a prayer of understanding anything in the Iñupiaq recordings, but I can try, right? What a wonderful resource to have at our fingertips.

Iñupiaq map

Following the excellent suggestion over at Jabal al-Lughat, I’ve created a Google Earth map for Iñupiaq. It’s rudimentary, and I haven’t marked which villages and towns speak which dialect yet, but I think it’s useful anyway.

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(Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.)

Unfortunately, Google doesn’t have all the towns and villages necessary, and I don’t know their GPS coordinates. Missing from the map are Council, Mary’s Igloo, and Barter Island, AK (at the very least). The Google Earth file (in .kmz) is here for anyone interested. I’ll try to update and refine it when I get the time.

While Google may not have accurate info for all the towns and villages in rural Alaska (what we call The Bush), note that major roads and such aren’t missing from the map – they’re just not there at all. Most of Alaska is not connected by road or rail whatsoever. This means that contact between villages (and thus dialects) is still somewhat difficult, although modern telecommunications certainly make a big difference.

My consultant this past summer was from Noatak, near Kotzebue. She’d also lived in Kotzebue for many years as an adult. I also got to work with and learn from two speakers of North Slope Iñupiaq (from Barrow) and one from Point Hope.

EDIT: I’ve just gone through and changed the placemarkers for each village so that they reflect which dialect is spoken. In cases where more than one dialect is spoken in the same village, however, I couldn’t see a ready visual solution so I just marked with one of them. Also, I added Kaktovik, which ought to do nicely for Barter Island, as well as Anchorage and Fairbanks for reference.


(originally posted at defunct university blog August 7, 2006)

Been a long time since my last post, largely because I’m forgetful and the Rice blogs seem to be down most of the time.

I’m currently wrapping up a short fieldwork stint here in my home state of Alaska. I’m working with a wonderful native speaker of Iñupiaq, learning all sorts of things about the language. There’s a good possibility this will lead to longer fieldwork trips in the future, too.

In related news, today I found four Iñupiaq books at a local bookshop. Finding anything written in Iñupiaq is quite rare, so this is like finding the complete works of Shakespeare on the Tom Clancy/romance novel/pulp fiction shelf at your local gas station. I haven’t had a chance to delve into them that much yet, but they all appear to be in the Barrow dialect.