Research Articles

Linguistic fieldwork: perception, preparation, and practice

  • Timothy C. Brickell


The challenging and multidisciplinary nature of documentary and descriptive linguistic fieldwork requires that linguists have a wide array of practical, interpersonal, and technological skills, in addition to theoretical and analytical linguistic knowledge. The negative outcomes which occur when fieldworkers lack requisite preparation include low-quality data (Nathan 2010, 2011:263), health problems (Newman 2009) or emotional distress (Macaulay 2004), and lack of involvement of speech community members in the documentation process (Chelliah & De Reuse 2011:163). This paper discusses academic perceptions and the difficulty of defining 'standard' fieldwork, the aims of contemporary language documentation and description in comparison to earlier traditions of descriptive linguistic fieldwork, training and preparation for postgraduate students, and problems which may result if training is insufficient. An examination of these issues does not provide much cause for optimism. While in public discourse linguists recognise a broad range of fieldwork experiences, outdated stereotypes still exist. Furthermore, despite some individual positive policies, overall, Australian universities lack robust specialised frameworks for fieldwork preparation, despite publications discussing the issue (Howell 1990; Macaulay 2004; Newman 2009). Increased awareness of the issues and improvements to existing policies are necessary in order to achieve best-practice approaches, resulting in more-capable fieldworkers, increased research output, and higher-quality...

Keywords: linguistic fieldwork, skills, knowledge, preparation, standards, training, language documentation and description, best practices

How to Cite:

Brickell, T., (2018) “Linguistic fieldwork: perception, preparation, and practice”, Language Documentation and Description 15, 179-207. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2018
Peer Reviewed