Your name: Akinbiyi Akinlabi
Info about the language(s) you did fieldwork on:
Ibilo (1976), Ibibio (1992), Lokaa (2001), Defaka and Nkoroo (2008-2013), Agbirigba (2010), Dan (2015-date), etc.
What led to you doing fieldwork?
Unique phonological or syntactic features of each of the languages.
Did you set out with a specific goal in mind, and if so—did you accomplish it?
Yes, for Defaka, Nkoroo, and Dan. No for the others.
Yes, for the three languages.
Are there any problems/challenges unique to your language(s) or region(s)?
There are always challenges with each new fieldwork. Some are personal and risky, often completely unexpected. Others come from human greed: consultants insisting on more pay. Others are simply human: consultant unavailable at the right time, consultant too far away, location too remote (an Island with no roads to get there), etc.
Was there any collaboration with other linguists (or anyone else) during your fieldwork?
Yes, almost always.
What do you wish you had known going in?
The culture. The requirements on getting information from an ethnic group (do you need to swear to an oath of secrecy?). The food. Finding a good translator. Medications to take for local diseases.
Any major setbacks or disasters?
Nothing major! Some illnesses. But no member of my team was killed or kidnapped.
What’re some of the best methods of data collection and organization (including equipment) that you’ve used?
Begin gently. Get the latest SIL wordlist for the region. Get the local history first. Avoid taboos. Start with the wordlist, and with simple one-clause sentences. Get paradigms for each word, or similar words, or word-types. Go through the data collected each night. Play your recordings over each night. You may find out that your recorder malfunctioned. You may find that you are missing one paradigm.
Make sure you record in a quiet location. Get both men and women. The more the better; but start with one man and one woman.
What about the worst?
Anything other than the above.
Was there anything you wished you had brought with you?
Backups for EVERYTHING (clothes, shoes, notes, equipment, batteries), more time than you need.
What advice do you have for anyone just starting out with fieldwork?
Be relaxed. Have more time than you need. Your consultants may not be available when you need them. Be VERY respectful. Give the impression that you are working to make their children and grandchildren’s future better because their language will be better known as a result of your work. Let them know the long-term benefits of the work you are doing. Come down to their level.
What’s the “coolest” thing you’ve learned through your experiences?
The joy of learning the culture and way of life completely different from mine. Participating in local festivals. Someone wanted me to take their daughter back to America.
Any fun stories?
Riding in rickety fishing boats across a river to an island where the language is spoken.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Akin for the great responses! If you’d like to know more, you can contact him at his email below:
akinlabi [at] linguistics [dot] rutgers [dot] edu