Episode 40: Jessica Coon on Mayan Language Documentation & Consulting on Arrival

URL: https://fieldnotespod.com/2022/11/25/ep-40-jessica-coon-on-mayan-language-documentation-consulting-on-arrival/

[intro 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 Jessica Coon, an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Syntax and Indigenous Languages. Much of Jessica’s work has focused on Mayan languages, in particular Ch’ol (a language of southern Mexico) and Chuj (a language of Guatemala). She has also researched Mi’gmaq, an Algonquian language of eastern Canada. In addition to theoretical work on these languages, Jessica has worked to build collaborations with the communities of speakers who are working to document, promote, and revitalize their languages. At McGill, Jessica leads the McGill Linguistics Fieldwork Lab, a venue for students and other local researchers to meet and discuss topics and ongoing projects related to linguistic fieldwork. She is also the current director of the Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative. Jessica was also a consultant on the film Arrival, which features a field linguist as the main protagonist, played by Amy Adams.

Some of the things I’m most excited to share from this interview talk about Jessica’s experience working as a consultant on the film Arrival, and at the top of the show, I want to give a spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen the film Arrival and you intend to, you should definitely watch it before listening to this episode, because I did accidentally give a spoiler without meaning to during this interview. So, I think probably by now most people have seen the film. It was quite exciting in linguistics for there to be a movie that featured not only a linguist but a field linguist, additionally played by a woman protagonist, and I was really thrilled to hear Jessica’s experience working on the movie, the things that she influenced, her thoughts on certain decisions the filmmakers made. It was a really fun conversation, and I’m so grateful that she had some time available to share that with us.

MTB: Okay. Well, thank you so much, Jessica, for making time for this interview. I know it was a little bit tricky to get our schedules to line up, so I really appreciate it.

Jessica Coon: Thanks for having me. Sorry for the chaos on my end.

MTB: No, this is like fieldwork. That’s totally, totally great. So to start, can you tell us a bit about your fieldwork biography, like when you started getting into language documentation and where you’ve done fieldwork?

Jessica Coon: Sure. Yeah. So I was an undergraduate at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and there, I had the opportunity to take linguistics classes from John Haviland, who’s a linguistic anthropologist. Now he’s at UC San Diego, and he’s an expert on Mayan languages, so he spent a long time working in communities, especially in southern Mexico, and I had the opportunity — I think it was the summer after my second year at Reed — to go down and do fieldwork. At the time, I just had, I think, a couple linguistics courses, but I spoke a little bit of Spanish and he said that, you know, he had these opportunities for students and I just said, “I want to go! I want to go!” And so that’s how it started.

I feel really lucky to have been able to start doing fieldwork as an undergraduate because, on the one hand, I really felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, but in retrospect, having the freedom to really just spend time getting to know people, and to establish relationships, and to learn more about the language and culture without the pressures that you often have in, you know, graduate school or tenure-track positions of publishing and, you know, having projects sort of looming. So when John Haviland dropped me off in the community where I first worked, which was a Ch’ol-speaking village called Campanario (Ch’ol is a Mayan language spoken in Chiapas) — so when he first dropped me off, his instructions to me were really just, “Make some friends and learn as much Ch’ol as you can,” and so that’s what I got to do that summer. And then I really fell in love with doing fieldwork with the people that I had the chance to work with, and so I continued going back during my undergraduate degree, and then it was a big part of the reason why I chose to go to graduate school, just wanting to be able to spend more time working with Ch’ol and with Ch’ol speakers. And so I went to grad school at MIT. And there’s nobody there in that department who is a Mayanist or who had done a lot of work in that area, but there was a lot of support for me to continue working with Ch’ol, and so my PhD dissertation focuses on Ch’ol, but also patterns of split ergativity more generally, which was one of the first things as an undergraduate that really stuck out to me. I was so interested in alignment systems in ergativity, especially in split ergativity, and the fact that alignment splits always split one way and not the other. I just thought this was amazing, and I wanted to figure it out. So my dissertation focused on that. So then I finished my PhD, and I had the chance to be a postdoctoral fellow for a year with Masha Polinsky in her language lab at Harvard, and also a postdoc with me at the time was Pedro Mateo Pedro, who’s now a professor at University of Toronto. He’s also a native speaker of Qʼanjobʼal. I think you’ve had him on this program.

MTB: Yeah, he’s been on Field Notes too, yeah.

Jessica Coon: Yeah, so that was really great, and it gave me the opportunity in collaborating with Pedro to sort of broaden my understanding of Mayan languages outside of Ch’ol, so we worked on Qʼanjobʼal together, we were involved in a project involving Kaqchikel, and so that was a great chance for me to learn more about other Mayan languages in the family. We brought a group of students down to do experimental work with the support of Masha’s lab, so that was a great year as a postdoc. And then the next year, I was really fortunate in getting a faculty position here at McGill University in Montreal, and that’s when I had the opportunity to work with Chuj, which is a Mayan language that is spoken in Guatemala, but there are some speakers who live here in Montreal. And so that first year I was at McGill, I was scheduled to teach a field methods class and I was just looking around for different languages that might be around and speakers who might be interested, and I met this family of Chuj speakers. It didn’t work out for field methods. A complication about teaching field methods at McGill in Montreal which I hadn’t realized going in is that many or most immigrants who come to Montreal speak French if they speak one of the colonial languages of Canada rather than English.

MTB: Oh, right.

Jessica Coon: And so you find many, many people who speak, you know, some very interesting language and then speak French as a second or third or fourth language but may not speak English, and so this was the case for this family of Chuj speakers. They speak Chuj and Spanish and French but not English, so it didn’t work out for a McGill field methods class, but it has turned into a long-term project. So I’ve had students here who speak either Spanish or French who’ve been involved in working with these Chuj speakers and then some who have continued on to travel to Guatemala and get more involved in work with Chuj. That first semester, even though Chuj didn’t work out for field methods, I also managed to get in touch with Janine Metallic, who’s a speaker of Mi’gmaq, which is an Algonquian language of Quebec and the Maritime provinces in Eastern Canada. She was a PhD student at McGill at the time. Now she’s a faculty member in the Department of Integrated Studies and Education here at McGill. And so she was a language consultant for that course, and it was such an amazing opportunity my first year here to get to work with an Indigenous Canadian language, and Janine was such a wonderful consultant and I think really inspired the students to think about ways that the work we could be doing in that class could also contribute to language revitalization efforts that are ongoing in her home community of Listuguj. And so rather than every student writing an individual final paper and turning it in, we created a wiki page…

MTB: Oh, cool.

Jessica Coon: …where, you know, the goal was to try to make an accessible, collaborative description of the language. It meant that… You know, say, in a normal field methods class I usually let people just pick whatever topic they want to work on, but because our goal was to cover, you know, sort of a breadth of topics across the language, we did some assigning of, “Okay, you’re working on negation. You’re working on the sound system,” but it went really well, and at the end of the semester, we were invited to travel as a class to Listuguj, which is an eight- or nine-hour drive from Montreal. It was basically the middle of finals week. It was the middle of winter. It was an optional trip, and I sort of assumed that, you know, many students would be too busy or wouldn’t be able to make it, but they all came.

MTB: Oh, wow.

Jessica Coon: Everybody wanted to go. Everybody presented their work in the community, and it went really well, and so that led to a longer-term project on Mi’gmaq in collaboration with the Listuguj Education Directorate where down the road we got grant funding, we had a partnership grant, and we had students who would spend summers in Listuguj helping document some of the language courses that were happening, helping transfer some of the language lessons into an online format so that was really fun. It was a great way to get students involved in ongoing work here at a local Indigenous community. That more or less brings us up to the present.

Most recently, I have had less chance to do fieldwork — obviously, COVID has made that difficult — but I also took on a large administrative role here at McGill, so I’m the current director of the Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative, which is funded by a Mellon Grant to McGill and which aims to help build up the Indigenous Studies program at McGill and, you know, sort of help create an academic hub for indigenous studies. And so, you know, a reason I got involved in this is that while I, of course, have done fieldwork — this is why you have me —and have been involved in language documentation, my primary research area is syntax. Right? I work in syntax and morphology, and I would really like to be at a university where we have more expertise specifically in language documentation, language revitalization, especially Indigenous scholars who are working on their own languages. So I’ve been working to help build up this area at McGill to get more faculty lines in this area and find ways to connect a little better to local Indigenous language revitalization efforts.

MTB: Amazing.

Jessica Coon: That’s what I’ve been up to lately.

MTB: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So it sounds like you started like more of what I do and what the other people I have on the podcast do where you’re like working on your own projects, and now your role is more like helping other people continue language documentation and revitalization work through like teaching field methods and then your director role you just described. Can you talk a little bit more, though, about like the split ergativity in Ch’ol? Is that something that is different from other Mayan languages or like can you just tell us a little bit more about it?

Jessica Coon: Sure. Let’s see. It’s always easiest to describe ergativity with a chalkboard or something, so I’ll do my best in this audio format, but ergativity, it’s a kind of alignment system in which transitive subjects pattern differently from transitive objects and intransitive subjects, and all Mayan languages have morphological ergativity, but a subset of these also show a split, so Ch’ol is a language where you find an ergative alignment pattern in the perfective aspect and with what are called nonverbal predicates, but if you look at the imperfective and progressive aspects, the language switches to a different alignment. So specifically, the morpheme that marks transitive subjects in the perfective is used to mark also intransitive subjects in the imperfective and progressive aspects. So the language switches to what has been called an extended ergative pattern, basically a non-ergative alignment, because both the transitive…

MTB: Okay.

Jessica Coon: …and intransitive subjects are taking the ergative morpheme. I think this is difficult to follow when it is only oral.

MTB: Yeah. I can understand the concept. I’m wondering like what that looks like, like in the language, but maybe we can link some papers that you’ve written about it, because yeah, that sounds really interesting.

Jessica Coon: I’d be happy to link papers. Basically, what you find is that, you know, in Mayan languages, there are these two sets of person marking morphemes, and things change between the perfective aspect and the imperfective and progressive aspects, but what I mentioned earlier, you know, one of the reasons that this topic interested me so much is that we find splits in ergative systems across the world’s languages, but we always find them in a certain direction. So it will always be the progressive aspect that shows the non-ergative alignment or the progressive and the imperfective aspect that shows the non-ergative alignment. And so, you know, a big question is, why? Why would that be the case that it would be always one way and not the other that we would find the split?

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: And the high-level preview of my dissertation and the book that came out of it is that the alignment system isn’t really changing, but rather the structure of these clauses is changing.

MTB: Oh, okay.

Jessica Coon: So it’s been known for a long time in the literature that progressive and imperfective aspects might often have more structure, so maybe use a complex clause configuration. Think about English. We have a progressive I am running rather than I ran, and this is common in a lot of the world’s languages, and so what you’re really dealing with, I propose, is a case of embedding. You have a complex clause construction and that gives the illusion of a split, but really the language is following a consistent alignment and you just have a different amount of structure.

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: That’s the proposal.

MTB: That’s interesting.

Jessica Coon: And so in my dissertation I argue this for Ch’ol, but then I look to other languages like Basque, for example, or Nakh-Dagestanian languages where you also find these splits, and there also seems to be some evidence that the structure is different.

MTB: Okay. Okay. That’s interesting. I remember Pedro also talked about person marking and like object marking and animal marking. Does Ch’ol have something similar where it depends on whether you’re a person or an animal or a thing?

Jessica Coon: No, it doesn’t. So Qʼanjobʼalan languages like Qʼanjobʼal, and also Chuj is a language that acts like this, have these systems of noun classifiers that appear either before nouns and have sort of an article-like function — you know, often they can be translated as ‘the’ and they can also be used as pronouns, but rather than just having, you know, a pronoun ‘it’ like we do in English, there are 10, 12, up to 16 different kinds of classifiers. So you would use a classifier that specifically picks out things made of wood or animals or things made of corn. So yes, Qʼanjobʼalan languages are famous for their systems of nominal classification. What Ch’ol does have is numeral classifiers, so when you count things, then you have a robust system of classifiers. So I’ve done a little bit of work on that, and my graduate student here at McGill, Justin Royer, has been doing a lot of work on the nominal classifiers in Chuj and proposing a semantics for them.

MTB: So for numeral classifiers, is it like depending on like if you’re counting round things, you use a different word, or if you’re counting people…

Jessica Coon: Exactly.

MTB: … it’s a different word? Okay, cool.

Jessica Coon: Yep, that’s right. So Ch’ol has a system of numeral classifiers, and these are like what you find in, say, a language like Mandarin where whenever you use the numeral, you have a classifier that reflects the kind of thing that you’re counting. Chuj and Qʼanjobʼal are lucky in that they have both numeral classifiers and nominal classifiers, so they have a smaller series of classifiers that show up with numerals, but then they also have these classifiers that show up with nouns even when there’s no counting.

MTB: Cool. That’s amazing. That’s really interesting. Okay, so let’s skip ahead because I think you covered some of like what are you working on right now. Can we talk a little bit about your work consulting on the film Arrival? So if anyone hasn’t heard or hasn’t watched the film, the main character is played by Amy Adams, who portrays a linguist named Dr. Louise Banks, and this film was so exciting for me because it’s so rare, as you know, to see linguists in popular culture. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like consulting on the film? Were you just approached out of the blue for it? How did that go down?

Jessica Coon: Yeah, so this was, I guess it was in 2015 when I first got contacted by the filmmakers. So Denis Villeneuve is the director, and he’s from Quebec, and so the movie was filmed here outside of Montreal, and they were looking for somebody local to consult especially on Amy Adams’s role, so the fact that her background is, she’s a fieldworker, and this is why the government shows up at her office door asking her to come and decipher the Heptapod language. So, you know, I first got an email about this and was really ready to push the ‘spam’ button because it was like ‘Aliens! Linguistics! Major Motion Picture!’ but then it was actually the title. So the film is based on a short story by Ted Chiang called “Story of Your Life”, which I especially recommend for linguists out there who liked the movie because it goes a lot more into detail about the language. Right? So in the film, you don’t get a lot of information about the way their language, the two languages work, the spoken language of the Heptapods, and then also the written language, which is sort of the heart of the film, and you hear a lot more about it in the short story. This was actually one of my frequent comments to the filmmakers of, “We should be hearing more about the language,” and at some point they said to me, “You know, Jessica, if we did that, it would be like watching a TED Talk about how to decipher a language…”

MTB: Oh, no.

Jessica Coon: “… and that is not why people buy movie theater tickets.” I was like…

MTB: Oh, no.

Jessica Coon: But anyway, so they got in touch with me, or it was seeing the short story which I had independently read years ago and seeing that short story title made me think, “Okay, this is interesting. I should look into this.” I was very skeptical about whether it would make a good movie because the story is a lot of sort of internal thoughts. I didn’t understand how it would translate to the big screen. I wasn’t sure that this movie would be worth watching at all, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how it went. So I agreed to consult for the film.

I did three main things with the film. So I got to read drafts of the screenplay and give comments, especially on the linguistics-related parts. Sometimes they listened to me and sometimes they didn’t, so we can talk about those times. I also got to work with the set design crew, which was so much fun. So I got to do things like write on the blackboard that’s in her office. They borrowed all the books off my bookshelf, so you see real linguistics titles in the background. There’s a Language Log piece actually sort of zooming in on different aspects of her office. And I also got to talk a little bit with the director and I got to have lunch with Amy Adams, which was the most glamorous thing I will probably ever do in my academic life, but it was great. She had lots of good questions about what linguists do, what it’s like to do fieldwork, what it’s like to be a woman in academia, what does tenure mean, and also questions like, “Do linguists really speak 100 languages,” and I got to reassure her that, “No, it’s okay. That is not an expectation of linguists.” So yeah, those were my main roles with the filmmakers. It was a lot of fun.

MTB: That’s awesome. So in the film, I really enjoyed the elicitation scene where she’s wearing the big like hazmat suit and they’re trying to elicit I think human, and she’s trying to say like, “I’m human, but I’m also Louise,” and she takes off her suit and that scene to me felt like, “Oh, yeah, like it could really go like that.” Like, did you have a heavy involvement in helping craft that scene or did they already have that vision?

Jessica Coon: I think a lot of the vision was already there. I certainly… You know, there were comments that I gave on that scene and I, like you, I was really happy with that scene and how it turned out, and I think it’s one of the things that the film does do well is emphasize the relational aspect of fieldwork, and also the fact that you have to start small, and this is something that Amy Adams’s character sort of hammers home at different points in the film that she can’t just go straight to asking this big complicated question. You have to start with basics and make sure everybody’s on the same page, and I think anybody who’s done fieldwork out there will recognize this as one of the most important things is just starting small, building up a relationship with the people that you’re working with, with language consultants. And so the scene where she takes off her suit, like you said, and goes up to the glass divide even though everybody’s saying, “No, don’t take off your suit!” it really rang true for me as a fieldworker, the importance of establishing a good relationship and of making sure that everybody knows what the nature of the task is and, you know, not making too many assumptions about how the language works, which of course is even more important when you’re working with aliens. We really just have no idea what to expect. Right? When we’re working on human languages, we can go in with some pretty clear assumptions about, you know, we’re all humans, we have some basic common ground here, and that’s, of course, not true in the film.

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: Which is part of what makes it interesting to think about.

MTB: Yeah, definitely. I felt like her character is portrayed more as a translator in the film rather than a fieldworker, and I don’t know if maybe it was just like another thing to try to explain like what language documentation is and what fieldwork is, but did you get that sense too that they were kind of portraying her more as a translator in certain parts of the film?

Jessica Coon: Yeah, that scene where… I mean, it’s the scene in the trailer, right? Forest Whitaker shows up at her office and says, “You are at the top of everybody’s list when it comes to translation.” And I just…

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: [makes a sound]. Yeah, so of course, that’s not what she’s at the top of people’s lists for.

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: She’s not a translator. That was something that I really tried to get them to listen, but in the end, it worked out okay. It’s not perfect, but yeah, that definitely was something that I think was hard to get across. And then so the backstory for Amy Adams is that the reason they come to her, part of the reason, is that she already has high-level military clearance because of translating work she’s been doing in the film, they say, for Dari. Right? And I just I tried to tell them no military people are going to go bother an academic to translate Dari. This is a major world language — like, the military has translators. She’s not a translator. What you need is a small language isolate that she just happens to do fieldwork on, and that is when somebody might really come to a linguist and say, “We need your help with this,” so I tried to get them to change it to Burushaski, which is a very small language. Mark Baker has worked on it, you know, maybe the military wouldn’t already have translators, and it made it into the script, and then they pulled it at the last minute because they weren’t sure that it would be easy enough to pronounce.

MTB: Oh, no!

Jessica Coon: I know. [laughs]

MTB:  Oh, no. That’s the worst reason.

Jessica Coon: Yeah. Anyway, what can you do? So…

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: For some reason, the military apparently has been working with an academic to translate Dari, a language spoken by millions of people.

MTB: Yeah, no, no, totally. Were there any other things like that that you thought were maybe a little bit inconsistent? Or you can also talk about things that you suggested they changed and that they did change.

Jessica Coon: I thought the opening scene was a bit of a missed opportunity. Right? She’s giving a lecture and a lecture hall and she’s like pulling out a map of Europe and talking about why Portuguese is different…

MTB: Oh, Romance languages.

Jessica Coon: …from other Romance languages.

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: I just thought, “No! Like, I’ll give you guys slides. She should be talking about Universal Grammar and that’s going to connect so well to Heptapods and why we can’t have the same kind of expectations of their language,” but no, it was still a map and it was Portugal. So, take what you can get.

MTB: [laughs] Yeah.

Jessica Coon: A scene that I really loved that I think I can take a little bit of credit for is the scene where she’s talking to Colonel Weber about why she hasn’t done the whole job yet or why she has this word list that includes things that…

MTB: Like really basic words.

Jessica Coon: People find really obvious… Yeah, really basic words, and she goes to the whiteboard and she says, “Think about this question,” and she’s sort of pointing to different things that you have to think about when you’re asking a question. Does the other person understand that you’re asking for information? And at some point she sort of draws this arrow of the wh- word moving to the front of the sentence, and I thought, “That’s a win for linguistics,” so…

MTB: Yeah, I love that scene as well, and I think it’s like, “Why are you here?” or something like that and she’s like, “Are we talking about the collective you, or is it just them specifically, like the two we have in our pod?” And yeah, and then when she’s like, “And then we need to know enough to understand the response,” like…

Jessica Coon: Yes, absolutely.

MTB: Yeah, that was such a good scene.

Jessica Coon: Yeah, I was happy with that too.

MTB: Yeah. So, so good. How do you feel about how the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was portrayed in that film? I mean, I thought it was like very creative but like you could never show that in a linguistics intro class and be like, “Yep, here it is, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.” Like, what do you think about it?

Jessica Coon: Yeah, this is definitely something that linguists ask about and that some linguists have complained to me about like, “Why did you let them make the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis such a big part of the movie?” but it just wouldn’t have been a movie otherwise. It was the entire plot. Right?

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: And I think the other thing I like to point out is, this is science fiction. This is not a documentary story about working…

MTB: Totally.

Jessica Coon: …with aliens. And so is it likely that learning to speak an alien language would alter our perception of time? Probably not. At the same time, I think what it makes you think about is, how different could non-human communication systems be from ours and how might those differences correspond with other cognitive differences? Right? I mean, what I really love about Arrival is that unlike, say, Star Trek or Star Wars — where we’re basically dealing with other humanoid characters, often there’s just some automatic universal translator, but if not, these are languages that use human sounds because they all have human vocal tracts — I really like how Arrival starts from the premise that that’s probably not the first thing we’re going to find out there in outer space. And the two different modalities of language, I think, is really interesting. So this is something that you hear more about in the short story that their oral language basically works as a human language would. There’s nothing sort of deeply remarkable about the Heptapod spoken language, but because they’re not using human sounds, it’s very difficult for the linguists to interact with them, and so they go to this written language, and the written language is taking advantage of the fact that you don’t have to put one sound before another sound before another sound the way we do in spoken languages and uses an entirely different system. And so I think that’s really fun to think about, the idea that a written language wouldn’t have any connection to the oral language. And yeah, I think if you take Sapir-Whorf out of this film, there’s not… Then you’re really just watching a TED Talk about how to decipher a language, and that’s not how you sell movie tickets…

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: …apparently, and it’s not how you get people to think about sort of the larger… You know, it’s a movie about linguistics. I think it’s wonderful that it stars a linguist. It’s wonderful that it stars a woman scientist in the lead role. You know, independently of linguistics, that’s something that we don’t find very often. Often, women characters are the love interest, and this was something else I learned about the film Arrival in that it was unique in that it cast Amy Adams’s role first and then cast Jeremy Renner to match with her. Usually the male lead is cast first and then they find a woman who complements him well. So I thought that was a neat thing about this film. So lots of great things about the movie, but I think it’s also, it’s a movie about humanity, really, and what you would do if you could alter things in the past. I thought it was great. I liked it.

MTB: I did too, yes.

Jessica Coon: But yeah, I think the other thing to point out is that when we talk about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and linguistic relativity, we are always talking about human languages. Right? And it shouldn’t surprise us that learning to speak other human languages doesn’t radically alter our perception of the world, because all human languages share certain deep principles in common that seem to connect to our cognitive system more widely. And, you know, Universal Grammar, that ‘universal’ is really intended for humans, not the entire universe, I think, so I guess an interesting question again…

MTB: Yeah.

Jessica Coon: …is, how might other communication systems be different based on other cognitive differences?

MTB: Yeah, absolutely. No, I have no gripe with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis being in the movie. I just thought, like I was wondering how you felt about its depiction in the film. I thought it was very creative, though, the way that they did it with the flashbacks and then the first scene where you think she’s remembering, or like it’s in the past and then later you find out like, “Oh, no, it’s, like, in the future. She doesn’t know yet.”

Jessica Coon: Yeah. I didn’t mean to sound defensive there. It’s fine to have gripes with the movie, but I have defended the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to other linguists — or, its role in the film.

MTB: No, yeah, totally. Okay, so last question, do you have any advice for early career scholars who are working in language documentation or like something that you’ve told your students before that you’d like to share with the Field Notes listeners?

Jessica Coon: Yes. I think I would say, be patient and take your time. And I think it’s such a hard thing to do depending on exactly where you are in early career stage, because there are these pressures to publish things, and you have to be thinking about, you know, “I’ve got to finish this dissertation so that then I can get a job,” and, you know, really just try to build in enough time into any project that you are able to also be creating good relationships with the people that you’re working with, maintaining those relationships over time, even if it’s not directly connected to the linguistic question that you’re interested in. I think everything in fieldwork, in my experience, takes at least twice as long as you think it should, and sort of recognizing that that’s okay, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Just building in lots of buffer time to make sure that you’re able to be patient either with the people you’re working with or with yourself if you haven’t figured out something right away, just recognizing that these things are slow, they take time, and to recognize that, I think, going in, is important. It’s hard to do when you’re in the moment and you have deadlines coming, but I think that’s my number one advice.

MTB: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much, Jessica. Where can our listeners find you if they want to learn more about your work or read some of your publications? Where should we send them?

Jessica Coon: They can find me on my website, which is jessica.lingspace.org. I think if you google ‘Jessica Coon’, I come up, or certainly if you put in ‘Jessica Coon linguistics’, you’ll find me. And yeah, anybody’s free to reach out to me with questions, and you can find more information about my research and other projects on the website there.

MTB: Perfect, and I’ll link that in the show notes so people can find it there.

Jessica Coon: Great.

MTB: Awesome. Thank you so much.

Jessica Coon: Thanks so much for having me. Thanks for all your great questions. It was a lot of fun.