About our native speakers and elicitations

I wanted to write this blog post about some technical issues of linguistic field work but it turned out to be mostly about the speakers just because all my work would have been impossible without them.

On the second day of the field trip this year, I started doing elicitation with my host mother Señora Irma and yes, she is an amazing consultant! As a medical worker, she is very busy during the whole week but she still found time to work with me almost every evening. She was patient and concentrated and, thanks to her, we could work with the most difficult examples using the pictures (try to decide for yourself how many interpretations a sentence like At least three girls saw some cats has).

Pictures for elicitations on quantifiers

The first elicitation and the first attempt to write in Kaqchikel were hard and exhausting. The second elicitation was a surprise: Kaqchikel translations from Spanish provided by Señora Irma contradicted almost all the existing data about the so called Agent Focus (one of the most famous Mayan phenomena). With Señora Irma we spent several days collecting and verifying ‘fascinating’ examples like Who hit himself? and It was himself who Peter saw in a mirror, and I can now say with certainty that the dialect of Kaqchikel spoken in my host family can add a lot of interesting data to the general discussion of Mayan syntax.

The first and the last attempts to write in Kaqchikel

It was also a great experience to work with another member of my host family, my host grandmother Señora Rosa. I suddenly realized the most obvious thing: one should work differently with different consultants. Señora Rosa could spend more time with me, and her Kaqchikel judgments were never ambiguous, so we could check the most basic reflexive constructions as well as the most complex multiple questions. And, apart from usual elicitation sessions, we could also discuss Kaqchikel sentences while she was teaching me to make tortillas!

Señora Rosa

My wonderful host family deserves all the credit for giving me the opportunity to get complicated data. With no previous ‘Mayan’ experience, I could work on several research topics. Translating series of almost same phrases and judging your own language performance is a difficult and tedious task and I am immensely grateful to Señora Irma and Señora Rosa that they could do it.