Episode 23: Descriptive Linguistic Fieldwork with Willem de Reuse

URL: https://fieldnotespod.com/2020/07/09/ep-23-descriptive-linguistic-fieldwork-with-willem-de-reuse/

[introduction music]

Martha Tsutsui Billins (host): Hello, and welcome to Field Notes, a podcast about linguistic fieldwork. I’m Martha Tsutsui Billins, and today’s episode is with Dr. Willem de Reuse. Dr. Willem de Reuse specializes in the description of Native American languages, particularly Siouan and Athabaskan languages. He wrote his PhD dissertation on the Siberian Yupik language. He has published on morphological theory, language contact, and historical phonology and philology. He has taught at the University of Chicago, the University of Iowa, Ball State University, and the University of Arizona. His current position is at The Language Conservancy, and he also is affiliated with The University of North Texas. He is the Review Editor of the International Journal of American Linguistics, and he has written the Handbook Of Descriptive Linguistic Fieldwork with Shobhana Chelliah. He is currently conducting fieldwork in Arizona working with speakers of Apache.

I really enjoyed talking to Willem. He has been doing descriptive linguistics for a really long time, and one of the anecdotes that Willem shared in this episode is how a lot of the time that we spend is not actually doing the data collection or doing the research, but actually working with people and spending time with people, so I appreciated that, because I think it sums up a lot of how the time actually gets spent in the field, and yeah. I’m really glad that Willem could come on and share his experiences and share his stories with our listeners.


MTB: Thank you so much for coming on to Field Notes. I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule. To start, can you give us some background on your fieldwork biography and what led you, first, into the field?

Willem de Reuse: Well, I was born in Belgium. Then my father got a job in Paris when I was eight years old, so at that age, at eight years old, I became very aware of that people have different perceptions of languages, because I had to learn French very quickly by the sink or swim method, like total immersion. In Paris, my native language is Dutch. They also call it Flemish, but I prefer to call it Dutch, actually, because it is the same official language in northern Belgium as the language spoken in the Netherlands, in Holland, actually. So I realized, “Oh, my gosh, the kids in elementary school and in high school really don’t know, these French kids from the Paris area, really don’t know there’s other languages besides French.” They had heard of German and English, maybe, but that was it, so I was like an oddball, and I had to learn to speak French really fast, which I managed. For a long time, I had an accent, which, of course, kids in their elementary school, kids in their typical bullying fashion, bullying was not illegal in Paris at that time in the ‘60s, so they bullied me a lot till I spoke French perfectly. They bullied me into perfect Parisian French. So I became aware of the interest of language comparison and differences in languages and perceptions of languages. That was one thing that got me interested in languages.

The other thing that got me interested in language is the reading of various Romantic novels by a German Romantic novel author, a Western novel author, called Karl May. In Germany, they know about him, but he’s not really common in the United States or in Britain, but his books have been translated in most European languages. He wrote very Romantic novels in which the white people were kind of the bad guys and the Apaches were absolutely wonderful, and beautiful, and they spoke — everything about them was great. So I read these novels and I said, “My gosh, this guy actually managed to, even though he had never been to the United States, managed to find a German book in which he found some Apache words, and he would sort of in very bad spelling put these Apache words in his books.” And I was always curious, “This looks so interesting. I wonder what these words really sound like,” and now I exactly know what they sound like and what they really are supposed to be, and I know the grammar of the language now, so I thought, very soon, as a kid, I was interested in Native American languages and cultures thanks to these very Romantic novels, which were not very accurate, but at least they had words in them that were actually, turned out to be genuine Apache words.

So later on I decided, because of those two influences, I wanted to become a linguist, and I came to the United States, basically, for the sole purpose of becoming a linguist with a specialization in Native American languages. So that’s sort of, went back to my childhood, really.

MTB: So your first interest was in Apache languages, so when you first moved to the US, was that the first language that you researched?

Willem de Reuse: No. Actually, I couldn’t afford to go to a really expensive school in the United States, so I ended up going to the University of Kansas, which I could afford. Basically, I went to the Linguistics Department there, which is a pretty good linguistics department. It’s even gotten better since, and they were, people there, interested in all sorts of Native American languages, but not in Apache, no, so I had to do other things. That’s the other thing about University of Kansas, also, is that, in the same city, there’s a Bureau of Indian Affairs school which used to be called Haskell Indian Junior College, which is now called Haskell Indian Nations University. It’s a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. It’s a federal school, basically, for Native Americans who want to have an opportunity for free education, so I managed to socialize a lot with the Native Americans there. I met some Sioux, some people from tribes from all over the United States, so I thought, “Well, I’m glad I’m here. These people are interesting to talk to,” so this is where I met Apaches for the first time. And this is also where I met Lakota people for the first time, and some people spoke the language, some people didn’t. I ended up writing a master’s thesis on the Lakota language, the language of the Sioux people, the Sioux people of North and South Dakota, so that’s what I did for the University of Kansas, but there was no one really interested in Apache, and there wasn’t much written in Apache then at the time.

So much later, I sort of did my PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, which was also a very good place for doing linguistic fieldwork. There, I actually had the distinction of being the first PhD student of Professor Anthony Woodbury, who’s, since then, you probably know him if you are from London, he’s done a lot of work on linguistic fieldwork and written a lot on linguistic fieldwork, on documentary and descriptive linguistics. So I was his first PhD student. The thing was, he was a specialist in Eskimo, or as they are now called, Inuit or Yupik, languages. So he said, “Well, if you want to work with me,” which of course I wanted to do, “You got to study, you got to go to Alaska.” So I went to Alaska and did a dissertation on that, so that was exciting fieldwork very far away from Texas. And then I got several one-year jobs, and ultimately I ended up at the University of Arizona for a while, and there I said, “Aha! Is there a language there that has been ignored in Arizona?” University of Arizona is also a great university that you learn Navajo, you can learn O’odham, formerly called Papago-Pima. You can learn Navajo, O’odham. You can learn Hopi. You can learn various other languages, but no one had really paid attention to Apache, so I said, “Aha,” so I met some students who were Apache speakers, who were Apaches, so I started renewing my interest in the Apache language. Finally, in 1992, I started doing serious fieldwork on the Apache language, which of course I remembered from a long time ago. I never really lost my interest in it. So it’s kind of glad…I went through a progression of fieldwork languages from relatively hard to very hard to very, very hard. The Lakota language, compared to English, it’s very rich and complex language, but it’s not the hardest of Native American languages to learn. Then from there, I did a dissertation on Siberian Yupik, which is quite a bit more complicated, so I would complain to my wife, “Oh, my gosh. This is the hardest language in the world,” but I was wrong. Then I started studying Apache, and I said, “Okay, this is it. There’s no harder language than that. There’s a lot of really complicated morphological terminology, and morphological complexity, and verbal prefix irregularity in the Apache language,” so I’m still working on that. I’m trying to simplify it now so I can teach it to teachers, but I’m still working on that. We fieldworkers like a challenge. We don’t want to work with languages that are too easy, at least. We don’t want to be macho or anything like that, but I thought, “Okay, Apache is interesting because it’s not easy to pronounce. It’s not easy to figure out the grammar,” so I’m glad I’m doing a lot of work on that particular family. Navajo is just as hard, but Apache maybe is slightly harder maybe because it’s spoken faster. The Apaches, the Navajos somehow, I don’t know what it is, their enunciation is a little bit slower. Apaches, on average, tend to speak a little bit faster, so of course that doesn’t help.

MTB: Yeah. That’s interesting. Has there been some language attrition or stylistic shrinkage? Like for example, in the language I work in, Amami, when it was a healthy language that was being passed on to children, there were full very complicated honorific registers, but these days, the only people who are L1 speakers of the language are over 70 years old, and a lot of them have either forgotten or never acquired the honorific registers, so those parts of the language have kind of become lost, in a way. Is there something similar in Apache, or is it still like pretty well maintained?

Willem de Reuse: Well, among people in their seventies and eighties, people that it’s hard to get permission to work with, I don’t see that happening, but people in their fifties and forties, I see this happening, even people who are not very young. Right? People in their fifties and forties. I mean, I’m in my sixties myself. I see things that they do that probably they wouldn’t, that did not exist in the language, I mean, forty years ago or thirty years ago, even. When I first started working in Arizona, I worked with some youngish speakers who were in their twenties who already did, simplified certain constructions. It’s still totally understandable for fluent speakers, but dropping certain prefixes that really don’t have a clear function, so they’re dropped and people still understand what they say. I see this happening now even with people in their forties and fifties. They would be offended if I pointed out to them, “You know, this is not really the way the elders speak,” but yeah, it’s almost unavoidable as people have their natural tendency, as they speak the language less, to sort of drop certain morphological elements and sort of keep the words a bit shorter somehow. So yeah, I see this happening even in people in their forties and fifties these days, and I saw it twenty years ago with people in their twenties first. Yeah.

MTB: Do you think it’s an aspect of language loss, or do you think the language is changing?

Willem de Reuse: Well, it’s a little bit… That’s a very good question. It’s a little bit of both. The language is changing, I think, yeah, partially under the influence of many people being a little bit English-dominant, so they don’t necessarily lose the language, but they speak English, then they speak Apache, so they’re a little bit less aware of some of the complexities of the grammar. So they’re changing the language without wanting to change it, but it gets changed a little bit without really being language death, but ultimately, if they don’t speak the language to their kids (which very often they don’t), then the kids will not know anything. They probably heard their grandparents speak, but their parents never spoke it to them, and sure enough, as you well know, that’s getting to be a real problem.

MTB: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a really common issue, isn’t it? And now, you’re currently doing fieldwork in Arizona. Right?

Willem de Reuse: Right. Yeah. Actually moved there, I rented a little apartment for a year or two to just be able to work on this stuff really intensively, and then I get supported… I mostly work for The Language Conservancy, which probably Dorothea Hoffmann told you all about them.

MTB: Yeah.

Willem de Reuse: So I don’t need to repeat all that, I guess.

MTB: Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit about your current project? Like are you building a corpus, or do you have a specific research question?

Willem de Reuse: Yes. I just finished writing… The Language Conservancy, you get to do a lot of fieldwork under the auspices of The Language Conservancy, but you also have to develop pedagogical materials, so I write pedagogical materials and check on the spelling and on the grammar. I do some of that. At least, we’re planning to write a series of five textbooks from second grade, third grade, all the way till high school level or something like that, so that’s never been done before for this language, so that’s an interesting project. That’s one thing I’m doing, also doing a vocab builder app, which is basically a bunch of words with pictures that you can put on your phone and you can listen to them, and at least have a 300-word vocabulary that you can listen to and memorize with illustrative pictures like the word for bear, the word for cat, the word for cow, “How are you doing?” “What’s your name?” Simple sentences and simple words like that. That’s another little pedagogical thing that I’ve been helping with, because there’s not… I mean, this sounds like I’m bragging, but there’s not too many people who are very good at spelling the language. It’s a complicated spelling system with tone marks and lots of conventions about how to write the language, and it’s based on Navajo. The Navajos have done a good job, basically, standardizing the spelling, and I’m trying to standardize the Apache language in the same way. Not everyone is very interested in that, but sooner or later, people see the need for having a more or less standardized spelling with some conventions so not everyone spells language every which way. So I’m working on that.

I’m also, a long time ago I started various projects for a dictionary, a dictionary of all the varieties of Apache spoken in Arizona, so this is something that we’re still applying for funding probably for the Administration for Native Americans, we’re trying to get some funding so I can continue work on an Apache dictionary covering all the dialects, something accurate, because the Navajos and the Hopis have beautiful dictionaries. The Apaches have two little dictionaries that are in print. I’m sorry to say they’re not very impressive. They were done by people who didn’t know a lot of linguistics. The Apaches like them, but things can be better, so one has to, little by little, improve the general quality of the materials, both from a linguistic point of view and from a pedagogical point of view. So yeah.

So these are some of the projects I’m doing, which always involve some sort of formal as well as informal fieldwork. Sometimes, for example, I go on field trips with the Apaches themselves. They have various programs when they take kids in the field. Actually, not in the field. Well, in the mountains, and we look at all the plants, and we look at all the animals, and then we come across a rattlesnake once in a while, and people… The Apache, the older Apache speakers, talk about it and volunteer some words, and I write the words down as well as I can, and then some of the other teachers who don’t know how to spell very well ask me, “Willem, how would you spell that?” “Okay, I’ll write it down for you. This is the way you spell this.” And so I am doing all sorts of informal collection of materials. Plant names, animal names, things like that, and we stand outside in the great outdoors with various kids who are very nice kids, and of course they’re paying more attention to the butterflies and the grasshoppers than to the words we’re actually teaching them, sometimes, like six years old, seven years old, they see something, they will catch it. So I’m participating as a babysitter. Right? [laughter] A babysitter with a notepad who writes words down and things like that, so…

MTB: Yeah. Is the writing system, is that… You said it was based on the Navajo writing system, so is this something that you have further developed, or did they already have this system, but it’s that nobody really uses it so much, so you’re trying to promote it?

Willem de Reuse: Yeah, the Navajo writing system was developed originally in the ‘30s by Bob Young, who was a white person who decided to develop a writing system, and the Navajos changed it a little bit, but they adopted it, so this is what is used in all Navajo publications and dictionaries. Then later on, some people from the Summer Institute of Linguistics, SIL International, I don’t know if they’re active in your area, but they’re all over the place, they decided, “Let’s translate the New Testament.” That’s what they like to do. Right? “Let’s translate the New Testament into Apache.” In the ‘60s, in the early ‘60s, they decided to take the Apaches, that writing system that they already had used for the Navajo New Testament, and they used it for the Apache New Testament with some changes, and you don’t want to really mess with the spelling system of the New Testament, because that’s what everyone kind of likes, regardless of whether they’re really interested in reading it or not.

So I took that, and I made a few small adjustments to it. For example, the Summer Institute of Linguistics spelling system for Apache did not distinguish between the mid tone, and the high tone, and the low tone. Well, they did not distinguish between the mid tone and the high tone. The mid tone, they sometimes would write it low without a mark. Sometimes they would write it high with an acute accent, as is often done in those languages. I decided it’s actually pedagogically better if the mid tone is written with a separate symbol. So I added that in. People can still ignore it, because there’s nothing like that in the New Testament, or in many of the other pedagogical publications or in the dictionary already published, but a little modification like this to make it a little bit easier, which I hope someday will catch on. Right now, people are not sure whether that’s real, but I think it is. You have to take baby steps and convince people, “There is a tone in Apache that’s neither high nor low.” It’s actually an allophone or an allotone of the high tone. The interesting thing is that when this language has a long vowel with sort of a phonemic high tone, that phonemic high tone becomes mid, but people don’t like to write high tones on mid vowels, even though they’re variants of each other. But at the same time, I don’t want to not write anything, because then it looks like it’s a low tone, so I write little macrons on top of it, little flat lines, so to let people know, “If you want to write the mid tone, this is where the mid tone goes. It just makes it sound a little bit higher.” So this is something I slowly teach about and introduce this. It’s not something people are used to. Writing tone consistently and getting used to that, it is just hard for everyone, and there’s a quite a few languages in the world, as you certainly know, quite a few tone languages in the world where it has been practiced for over 100 years now never to write tone even though they have tones. For example, the Zulu language of South Africa, probably the largest Zulu dictionary marks tones, but I’ve never really seen any pedagogical materials on the Zulu language that mark tone. They just assume you’ll learn it by listening to it, and that’s it. That’s a way to do it, but I don’t think that’s the way the Apaches want to go, but who knows.

MTB: Yeah. Interesting. You’ve been a fieldworker for so many years. Maybe you can share something that you’ve learned when you were just starting out in the field.

Willem de Reuse: Well, yes. I mean, anthropologists generally like to emphasize the political or power relationship aspect of fieldwork. Is fieldwork colonial or not? I don’t know. Sometimes, it obviously is. Sometimes, it isn’t, obviously. It’s hard to generalize, so anthropologists, there’s a lot of articles about power relationships and the political aspect. And everything, ultimately, is political, so yes, fieldwork is political.

What I’m more interested in, maybe, is sometimes the intensely personal dimension of fieldwork. Some people just like to work with you because they like you. They like your face. They like the attention you paid to them. They think you’re a friendly person or just someone they like. Sometimes they like you. So there’s a very intensely personal aspect to it that really, as far as I can see, has nothing to do with politics. And lots of other people have told me that, too, sometimes, for a younger man, it’s easier to work with older ladies because the older ladies think, “Oh, that’s a nice young-looking…” Well, I was young at some point. “A nice young man paying attention to everything I’m saying, writing down everything I’m saying.” That’s kind of nice. There’s no sexual tension. It’s just, they’re intrigued by a nice, a young man listening to everything they have to say. That happens, and I know there are some older ladies that just, they like beards. Okay? And I used to have a beard, and she was very disappointed when one day I shaved my beard, said, “Willem. Oh, you shaved your beard.” I thought this lady liked me so much and loved working with me because I was such a good fieldworker, but no, it was my beard. There’s sort of these personal relationships that develop. Nothing sexual about them. It’s just that sometimes it’s just easier. Sometimes you develop these relationships. People just kind of like you, and you should not think it’s necessarily because you’re such a great linguist, just because there’s something about your personality, or just your looks that they like. And sometimes, you got to have a really thick skin, because there’s people who will say racist things. There’s people who will say — and homophobic things. There’s people who are otherwise very nice who will say horrible anti-Semitic things, but you’ve got to develop a thick skin and just let people say nasty things and not overly react.

And then there’s sometimes, there’s funny things that happen. The Apaches have a good sense of humour. I’ll just tell you one funny story. There was sometimes, I had to work with younger women, women my age, when we both younger. Younger women, and I didn’t know where to do it. I couldn’t really take those people to my little room in my hotel, in my motel, and just have them sit at their little table and work with them in a hotel room. People talk. People talk about that. Looks suspicious, so I had to hire another woman. I had to hire her sister, who would lie on the bed and just read a cheap novel, something like that, so I would hire two people, one that I would work with, and her sister as a chaperone. Then I would both have to pay them, but I would pay them the same because I pay… You can’t pay people for their skills. You have to pay them for their time. I think that’s the honest thing to do. So I would tell them, “Well, I’m both going to pay you,” whatever, $20 an hour, something like that, and then the woman lying on the bed, her sister lying on the bed says, “Well, wait a minute, how come I get paid the same as my sister? Usually the woman lying on the bed gets paid more.” And then I start laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing, so that’s the sort of humour that Apaches like. They like to be a little bit… I mean, sometimes they like to tease you. They like to tease you and try to see how they can embarrass you and things like that. That’s part of the experience. Some people like it. Some people don’t want to have anything to do with you. Some people don’t really like you, but they need the money, so they say, “Well, you know, Willem, the language data that I’m giving you, you can do anything you want with it. I don’t care. I don’t care at all. You can do what you want. It’s interesting to you. It’s not interesting to me. I’m just doing it for the money.” So that’s a little bit unpleasant, but some people are like that.

Oh, another funny story is that there was a Yupik Eskimo man. I worked with him in, in… Where was that? In Nome, Alaska, in the middle of the winter. The Arctic Sea is frozen solid. I learned there never to sit with him, never to sit with him in such a way that he could look through the window, because if he could look through the window, he would look over the Arctic Sea. He had good eyesight. He would be able to see where there was an opening in the ice where there were probably seals to hunt or walruses. And he was an outdoorsman. He was much, much interested in hunting seals and walruses than talking with me, so he would get distracted. He would say, “Oh, look at that. Look at that, that little grey area there. There’s a little bit of — there’s an opening in the ice. There must be seals there,” and he would lose interest.

MTB: [laughs] You couldn’t compete with the seals.

Willem de Reuse: I couldn’t compete with the seals or the walruses. You have to give him a nice, warm cup of coffee and making sure that he can’t look out a window because it’s distraction. Well, these are two stories, I guess, about the sort of things, and other things happen. Sometimes, people, for example… Oh, yeah.

Another, a third story I guess, it’s kind of similar, also. I was working with Hän Athabaskan people. These are a very small group of people who speak a language related to Apache, but they live on the Yukon River in Central Alaska. Very isolated, far from everything, and basically, the village was facing a bluff on the other side of the Yukon River. And she was facing in such a way that you could look across the Yukon River, which is about one-third of a mile wide there. I mean, it’s a huge river in Alaska, and she would be able to see what comes down on the other side of the cliff, and at some point, she stops, and she says, “Willem! Willem! Look.” And she pointed to the other side of the cliff, and she saw something that looked like a black flea, like a black insect coming down the cliff, but actually it was a wolf. She could tell from that distance. “That’s a wolf.” So that’s the only wolf I’ve ever seen. So people get distracted by wolves coming down the cliff which is like half a mile away, but they could see what it was, or sometimes they go outside to smoke a cigarette, and you see bald eagles flying by, so you have to give people breaks.

MTB: Yeah.

Willem de Reuse: Well, I don’t know. I hope that’s the stories you like.

MTB: I mean, people are interested in like both sides of fieldwork. That human element just makes everything so unpredictable and so… That’s actually why I started this podcast, because I wanted there to be more stories about what the actual on-the-ground, working with real people situations like what the situations are when they come up and how people handle them.

Willem de Reuse: Yeah. Yeah, sometimes, yeah, there’s all sorts of little things that… Sometimes just write things, and sometimes you’re not allowed to write anything, so you got to memorize what people say, and like two hours later, hopefully you’ve memorized it right and you can write it in your notebook sometimes.

MTB: Yeah. What you were saying about how sometimes people want to work with you just because they want to work with you, that actually reminded me of something. So there was another Japanese, like a Japanese from Japan, linguist who worked in the town that I worked in, and people were… He had been working there for a long time, but I noticed that people did not go out of their way so much to work with him and to help him, whereas I felt like when I was there, people really took good care of me. And I mentioned it to someone else who was also a foreigner, another American, and he was like, “Oh, it’s because, well, they’re worried about us. When they see Japanese linguists, they’re like, ‘Oh, they’re fine. They don’t need our help,’ but when a young American or a young foreigner shows up, everybody is like, ‘Oh, no! We have to take care of them. We have to help them, because they don’t know how to do anything.’” [laughs] So I benefited from…

Willem de Reuse: That’s nice.

MTB: … that, definitely, myself.

Willem de Reuse: Yeah. Yeah.

MTB: Okay. Well, my last question is, how has the field of descriptive linguistics changed since you started?

Willem de Reuse: Well, I basically started fieldwork in the ‘80s. People started to take fieldwork a little bit more seriously. Of course, my heroes were the structuralists. Right? Or the pre-structuralists like Franz Boas, and Edward Sapir, and Bloomfield. Those guys did excellent fieldwork forever. I mean, they didn’t always acknowledge their consultants sufficiently. They didn’t always worry that much about salvaging endangered languages. They just wanted to record them for their own purposes, but after 1992 when the Language article with Ken Hale (and Michael Krauss was also a person I worked for, actually in Alaska), Michael Krauss published his famous article about language endangerment, that’s when fieldwork really became a more respectable sort of thing. In my heart, it was all, “It’s very respectable to do this. I’ve always wanted to do this.” And I always thought these languages were just so neat, but I mean, people started taking fieldwork more seriously and more textbooks on fieldwork, including one that I wrote together with my wife, Shobhana Chelliah. It became a more respectable thing to do, just playing fieldwork rather than just being an armchair linguist at MIT just working on English, or French, or Japanese, or languages that are very well described already. There’s still a lot of fieldwork, probably, to be done, on English, but it’s more important at this point to be doing fieldwork with languages that are really underdocumented. Also, after that, it was a whole…

Another thing that’s changed is the distinction between descriptive linguistics and documentary linguistics. They’re both necessary, and they complement each other. I mean, I don’t quite agree with my master, PhD director, Tony Woodbury, or with Himmelmann, or with Peter Austin that there’s very clear distinctions to be make between… That’s just me. I’m never very comfortable with the distinction between documentary and descriptive linguistics. I think you have to describe in order to document well, and vice versa. Yeah. You have to do documentation and description at the same time. You can’t just sort of record a bunch of texts and then maybe write them down, and so, “Okay, well, I’ve recorded all these genres of literature and poetry, and verbal play, and all that stuff, and I transcribe them,” which is already description. Once you’ve transcribed it, it’s really you have described some sort of phonetic or phonological system of the language at a minimum, and you need ethnographic and grammatical notes for all these that documentation to be relevant, so as, yeah, if you’ve ever looked at the Chelliah and de Reuse book, you will see that we’re going against the grain a little bit, against the new trend of separating descriptive and documentary. I think they’re sort of, they’re really… That’s just me, just us, I guess. They really kind of go together. They’re like love and marriage. You can’t really separate them very easily. I mean, they should really be going together.

So these are the main trends since I started. There’s attention being paid to language endangerment, not always for the right reasons. People have to understand that language endangerment is sometimes very political. If… As you know, Ladefoged said, “Well, if there’s someone from Africa who speaks a very interesting native language and decides to raise their kids in Swahili, who am I to tell him he’s not allowed to do this?” So there’s the whole Ladefoged view there, which of course was heavily criticized. Yeah, so the language endangerment problem is something that really came to the forefront, and of course, the distinction, which is a little bit too artificial to my taste, between descriptive work and documentary work. They’re both fieldwork. But that’s my view, but of course there’s plenty of very famous people who have argued against it, including in London and…

MTB: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Willem, for coming on Field Notes. Where can our listeners learn more about the work you’re doing, and if they want to read things that you’ve written, where can we direct them?

Willem de Reuse: Well, my recent work is talked about, I think, on The Language Conservancy website. People can just email me if they want anything, any of my papers. Yeah.

MTB: Okay. Great. All right. Thank you so much.

Willem de Reuse: Thank you. Thanks. You, too. Bye.

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 fieldwork 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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