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Linguistic Fieldwork at Rutgers – Eileen Blum (Vol. II)

Your name: Eileen Blum

Info about the language(s) you did fieldwork on:

Munster Irish (Gaelic) is a language of the Celtic family spoken in the south of Ireland. Native speakers mostly live in government protected and subsidized communities, called Gaeltacht. Irish is one official language of the Republic of Ireland, which has a standard version that is taught in schools and is nativdly spoken in three main dialect regions: Ulster in the north, Connacht in the west, and Munster in the south.

What led to you doing fieldwork?

I wrote my first qualifying paper on the nonstandard stress pattern that has been reported to occur in Munster Irish, but I was only able to find a single participant in New York. Going to the Gaeltacht in Ireland is the most reliable way to find native speakers.

Did you set out with a specific goal in mind, and if so—did you accomplish it?

I intended to record up to 6 native speakers as they participated in the experiment I had designed for my qualifying paper. I recorded a total of 19 people from three different Gaeltacht communities in the region.

Are there any problems/challenges unique to your language(s) or region(s)?

Mostly the number and age of native speakers. Everyone in Ireland learns Irish as a subject in school, but it is less common that people continue to use it outside of the classroom if they don’t live in the Gaeltacht. There are very few, if any monolingual Irish speakers still alive.

Was there any collaboration with other linguists (or anyone else) during your fieldwork?

I met with professors in the Modern Irish department at the University College Cork. They each asked about my project and then gave me a list of names and phone numbers of people I could call to find participants.

What do you wish you had known going in?

I wish I had known to contact the professors at the university. I arrived in Ireland with only a single contact and nowhere to stay, but I spoke to people and followed their recommendations as I went. Once I went to the university, I had lots of participants lined up and everyone was very excited that I was doing that work.

Any lucky breaks?

Mostly what I described above. I think my favorite lucky break was that one of the professors I called had just retired and was literally leaving his office for the last time, but decided to answer the phone before walking out the door. His family lives on the west coast and hosted me for dinner twice while I was there. I got to eat delicious food and then sit in the living room listening to the family speak Irish with each other. They suggested a lot of people for me to call as well

What’re some of the best methods of data collection and organization (including equipment) that you’ve used?

I used the Marantz portable recording box with the head-mounted microphone. Once I got used to it, that produced very good quality recordings.

What about the worst?

As far as data organization, I wish I had learned R beforehand because I did everything for my QP by hand in Excel. I would not recommend doing that.

What advice do you have for anyone just starting out with fieldwork?

Don’t be afraid to talk to people because that is the best way to recruit participants. Try to enjoy the place you go as well. As someone who struggles with anxiety I found the whole experience extremely stressful, but I also got to see some amazing places and eat delicious food.

What’s the “coolest” thing you’ve learned through your experiences?

There is no gold at the end of the rainbow and I could just buy an Irish sim card to use my iPhone while I was there.

Any fun stories?

  1. I was driving through farms on country roads and I passed by a recycling center, which just happened to be next to the ruins of a castle. I had to stop and walk through the castle.
  2. When I arrived on the Dingle Peninsula on the west coast I decided to go for a walk along the ocean cliffs. I walked down the road and met a dog who then came on my adventure with me. We found a path and walked along the ocean together for a couple of hours. The path turned around a bend and there was a rainbow coming out of the ocean in front of me.
  3. At the University College Cork there is a statue commemorating the death of George Boole, who apparently taught and eventually died there. Yes, I have a picture. George Boole is the name behind Boolean algebra.

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Eileen for the fantastic responses! If you’d like to know more, you can contact Eileen at her email below:
erb102 [at] linguistics [dot] rutgers [dot] edu