Globalization and Participatory Action Research in the Humanities: Taking 'Linguistic Field Methods' out of the Classroom and into the Field

By Troi Carleton.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Humanities in the 21st century must be innovative and reflective of the changing landscape of the world. Efforts to internationalize the curricula and forge alliances with community and university are on the forefront of new educational approaches. This paper presents an innovative approach to teaching linguistic field methods, a course designed to train students in the methodology necessary to document endangered languages around the world. There is a dire need in the 21st century for documentary linguists, as we anticipate a devastating loss of indigenous languages over the next 100 years.

Traditionally, field methods courses are taught in the sterile environment of the classroom where a native speaker of an exotic language answers grammatical questions about his/her language as students figure out the grammar through elicitation. This decontextualized introduction to the language means much of what documentary linguists actually do in the field is left to the student’s imagination. Further, separated from the culture in which the language is spoken, students gain little insight into the cultural norms, worldviews and established values and practices of the community from which the language comes.

In this paper, I present a new approach to field methods. I have taken the learning out of the classroom and brought it into the field where students live and work with a Zapotec community in Mexico for a three-week period during the summer. Together, community members and students are working on creating an archive of the oral history of the town in the native language, Zapotec. This will be the fourth summer that students and I have gone to Mexico to work on this collaborative endeavor. This program illustrates how community-based, participatory action research not only has a place in the humanities, but also enhances the humanities by adding depth to the learning experience and providing important services to the community.

Keywords: Linguistics, Field Methods, Participatory Action Research, Community-Based Research, Internationalization, Oral Tradition, Zapotec

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 8, pp.151-156. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 523.849KB).

Dr. Troi Carleton

Associate Professor of Linguistics, Department of English, Language Studies Program, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, USA

Dr. Carleton is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at San Francisco State University. She teaches a variety of linguistics courses including Linguistic Field Methods and Discourse Analysis. A major focus of her research has been the preservation and documentation of endangered languages around the world. She has concentrated on Meso-American languages of Mexico for the past 15 years, but has worked in Africa, as well. She is particularly interested in verbal art and oral tradition with a focus on the structure and meaning of these discourses in indigenous communities.

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