A blog about linguistics and the beauty of language. Updates Tuesdays and Thursdays. What's a wug? Look here.

Lessons in fieldwork self-care

(an ongoing area of study)

This summer is my fifth research trip to Oaxaca, and over the years I’ve developed a few ways to remedy stress and homesickness. To be clear, I love Oaxaca. It is a pleasure and a privilege to come here every year. But fieldwork is hard, and because the essence of my research is so tied up in my daily life, I need to be really conscious about taking breaks and de-stressing.

Some of my self-care is in the little things that I pack. I always bring some nail polish, because it encourages me to take little moments for myself.

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Early research on Tlacochahuaya Zapotec pronouns

Disclaimer: This is preliminary research

Hello! Like many things I post on this blog, this research is in very early stages. This means that I may have simplified some more complicated details. It also means I might just be wrong! So please take this information as an early hypothesis, not a solid fact. If you'd like to find out my up-to-date opinions on the topic, feel free to email me.

One of the first things you learn when studying a language are the pronouns — the it’s and they’s and we’s of a language. We use pronouns like variables, so that we can refer to different people and objects without using their full names. Some of the pronouns of English are shown below. For the purpose of this table, I chosen the pronouns that I use most frequently/naturally.

(Some of the) English pronouns
singular plural
1st person I we
2nd person you you/y'all
3rd person, feminine she they
3rd person, masculine he they
3rd person, neutral/agender they they
3rd person, inanimate/nonhuman it it
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Metadata: Hundreds of recordings, but what are they about?

At the end of each day of fieldwork, I sit down and “deal with my data”. No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I want to put it off, it’s an essential part of my daily routine. The first thing I do is back up my recordings. And while my files are transferring, I go over my notes and make sure that all of my metadata is in order. Metadata is all the information about how the recording was made — who was there, where we were, what we talked about, what audio recorder I used, etc. Metadata is data about data, and it’s a crucial aspect of good data management.

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Studying Tlacochahuaya Zapotec "tense"

A little note about verb classes

Disclaimer: This is preliminary research

Hello! Like many things I post on this blog, this research is in very early stages. This means that I may have simplified some more complicated details. It also means I might just be wrong! So please take this information as an early hypothesis, not a solid fact. If you'd like to find out my up-to-date opinions on the topic, feel free to email me.

The current focus of my research is “tense” in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. That’s what I’ll be writing my Qualifying Paper about next fall, and it’s the primary focus of my fieldwork this summer.

I put “tense” in quotes because what we colloquially call “tense”, linguists break down into three smaller categories: tense, aspect, and mood (abbreviated together as TAM; click the words to get pop-up definitions). These three categories are often very intertwined — it’s almost impossible to talk about one without the other two. So what I’m actually researching right now is TAM in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec.

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What does a linguist do (in Oaxaca)?

Today I'm in Oaxaca City, Mexico. Tomorrow I head to San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya, about 20 km east of the city, where I'll spend the next month learning about Tlacochahuaya Zapotec. Since I'm here, I thought I'd answer the question posed to me by every rideshare driver: "You're a linguist? But, um, what do you do?"

When linguists study language, they're seeking to understand (a) what constraints there are on how languages work, and (b) how any particular language fits into those constraints.

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My first blog post / My first archive deposit

Introducing: The Zapotec Collection of May Helena Plumb

Welcome to the blog! I’m using my inaugural post to mark a momentous occasion. It is with great pride that I announce *drumroll* my very first archive deposit! I’ll go into more detail below, but if you want to skip ahead, you can check out my archive collection here.

Last summer (2018), I spent five weeks in San Jéronimo Tlacochahuaya (Oaxaca, Mexico) learning about the Zapotec language they speak there. I came home with lots of recordings, data which will be the foundation of my future research on Tlacochahuaya Zapotec grammar.

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