Episode 1: Welcome to Field Notes!

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Martha Tsutsui Billins (host) – Hello, and welcome to Field Notes, a podcast about linguistic fieldwork. I’m your host, Martha Tsutsui Billins and this is the very first episode of the Field Notes Podcast.

MTB – So, before I get into a bit about the motivation behind creating this podcast, I wanted to give a bit of background about myself.

I’m currently a  3rd year PhD student in linguistics studying at SOAS University of London. And before that, I did my masters in language documentation and description, also at SOAS. 

And currently, I’m in the field now. I work in Setouchi town on the Southern Amami Oshima language,  which is spoken on Amami, Big Island. Which, administratively belongs to Kagoshima prefecture in Japan, but formerly was part of the Ryuku Kingdom.

And when people hear about the Ryukus, they don’t always know where that is. It originally was its own country, but now all of the Ryuku islands, including Okinawa (which is probably the most famous one) fall under Japan’s jurisdiction.

So, most people don’t realize that other languages besides Japanese are spoken in Japan. But actually, the Ryukyu islands are more linguistically diverse than you might expect. If you look on the UNESCO Atlas of World Languages, you’ll see that there are six languages recognized by UNESCO, and Southern Amami Oshima is one of these.

In 2004, UNESCO reported that there were 1,800 speakers of Southern Amami Oshima,  and putting aside the issues with counting numbers of speakers, all of these speakers were, and are still, for the most part, quite elderly. So, since 2004, it’s been 15 years. The number of speakers has decreased by quite a bit, but it gives you an idea about the language’s vitality.

As for my own research, I’m looking at honorifics and how Amami speakers use honorifics and how they express politeness. The language has undergone a lot of stylistic shrinkage as it’s become more and more endangered. So, younger speakers don’t have access to the higher registers in Amami, and this has changed how the speakers practice politeness and what they do when they need to use honorifics.

So, now I’m in Setouchi on Amami  and this is actually my second field trip. I came last year for the first time for three months. And even though I had done my masters in language documentation and had quite a bit of training, I had this tremendous anxiety about what it was going to be like and I felt so much pressure. And I was looking for something beyond the textbooks and field work manuals. I wanted to hear about things going wrong and how people had dealt with that and outside of research, the challenges that people had faced and overcame.  And I really struggled to find stories like these outside of my own contacts and speaking with my colleagues at SOAS.

So, I wanted to create this podcast not to exoticize the communities or the work. To be clear, this is not about making field work out to be a grand adventure in the jungle, but rather, to have a space where seasoned field workers can share their experiences and hopefully empower new researchers who are just starting out going into the field, and also create a space for conversation! So if you have something to say, if you have a question to ask or a story to share, you can email us at fieldnotespod@gmail.com. We’re also on Instagram and Twitter  @lingfieldnotes. And we also have a website, which is fieldnotespod.com.

So, it would be great if listeners can also join the conversation and we can all learn together.

So, thank you for listening! If you would like to be notified every time a new episode is available, which will be weekly for a season 1, you can sign up at our website. The URL is fieldnotespod.com. Thanks!

You’ve been listening to field notes, a podcast about linguistic fieldwork. This podcast is hosted and produced by Martha Tsutsui Billins with production help from Laura Tsutsui.  Our music is by Lobo Loco and our logo is by E.Vill Designs. If you have a question or a field work experience to share, you can email us at fieldnotespod@gmail.com. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram @lingfieldnotes. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please leave us an Apple Podcast review. Thanks for listening!

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