thumbnail of New aspects of language; The Linguist and the Informant
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
New aspects of language using a language is so much a part of our everyday lives that we do not realize just how complex an activity it is. Is the science responsible for investigating this activity. We take so much for granted. During this series some of the tools and methods used to study the complexities of language will be demonstrated. This series is prepared and never rated by Dr. Frankel associate professor of English and Linguistics at George Peabody college for teachers in today's program. Dr. Frankel discusses the linguist and the informant. First. Last time. We discussed a number of problems linguists face today if you want to talk about some of the methods linguists use to solve these problems you have a question why don't you do it. Well I think the first question I have revolves around the intent of the linguist in the sense that he works with the structure of
a language rather than the meaning in language. Usually. Working with the struck as we've usually worked with the language it's been a restatement of of known languages items are simply restated about known language and my question is how does a linguist work with a language for which there is no native speaker language. I understand what you mean you are saying that for instance teach us today learned English as correct in a certain way and that they should teach their student that the noun as a word which can be preceded by an article and followed by a plural suffix and so on. How do isolate units in languages which I don't know. Well that is a question which one with have been asked very often. In fact this is the essence of so-called anthropological linguistics which is just one of the areas of the linguistic approach to languages of the world. Our main weapon so to say I mean asset for the US as the native speaker. We
cannot do without the native speaker. You have probably heard that all kinds of technological advances have been utilized for linguistics of the tape recorder as a very important piece of equipment. So is the computer. So it's the spectrogram. So is the language lab. But none of these can really supersede the native speaker. This is my source of information. Now many things have been said about the use of the native speaker and how good it is and how much I can trust the information which I elicit from the native speaker. But what ever the first word in as s I need the person who has the language natively at his command. And if I go into the field and work with a native speaker I hope to find a bilingual one. It would be extremely difficult to work with a monolingual native speaker. It has been done in fact some linguists have put a native speaker in front of a Mike gave him some kind of a signal to
show him that they want him to speak again let him go along. And then after that they are left alone sit down and analyze the speech they got. However that's extremely difficult it is much easier to take a bilingual inform. And I ask in words and parts of the language which you know you need to go back yes of course I should just have you started on initially and you said we don't know or there is a certain amount of discussion about whether you can trust the native speakers around you or us the word trust. What do you mean he said as he speaks the language of chorus must be sure. Well a couple of things which have to be mentioned here. First of all yes it is true that many people have created and used the slogan the native speaker is always right. Now this means of course that the native speaker knows his language so it was intuitively and whatever he or she uses you must accept as correct. However there are some areas in which you may doubt whether the native speaker is
really fully informed. First of all he's only human and mistakes are being made. In fact I have had occasion where native speakers gave me material which did not really occur in that language but it was part of a pattern which they almost automatically sprouted for us one form a second form a third form a fourth form which fell into a pattern. So they felt they should give it to me and later turned out that this was an artificial form. So this is one area where you cannot always trust it depends how you listen. Another area is the following. You can of course ask. Person as we said seen a few moments. How would you say for instance chat in your language and then you say how do you see chairs in your language and you would get a correct answer. However if you ask a person for instance is given example in English you say he to go to the doctor tomorrow and then you ask the informant is that correct. The answer will very often be almost entirely intelligible. But that's not what you want to know what you want to know is that good
except the rigor Magelang that. But many native informant as unsophisticated as they are makes up intelligibility worth grammaticality. So that's one area you have to make a decision. There's another very interesting area which I have encountered a number of times. You ask a person is this the following sentence in good English or whatever the language is you're working with. Let's say you have acquired and I will then use you are now trying to show your own linguistic prowess. So you ask is this. Well as I say I have heard that yes I have heard it. Now what does that mean I've heard it doesn't mean I've heard it from people who themselves don't speak the language very well. Somebody like you. Or does it mean. I've heard my parents say it but it's not part of the language of my own generation. What does it really mean. Very hard to decide. You have to make that assertion. A third area as for instance the following year I asked somebody about a specific form and the informant answer will be well yes it's a part of my life. I
wouldn't say I want to that means in many instances means it's not part of the prestige dialect which I speak. The maid may speak it somebody else outside of the home a speak it. So for your own purpose analyzing the language is now part of the grammar you are writing for isn't it. These are areas where you have to make decisions and then furthermore there's a question of linguistic theory according to modern linguistic theory. There is some kind of deep structure inside us which is the theoretical underpinning of what we're actually producing. Now this is self-conscious and the linguist has worked it out. The language believe that he knows what's going on in people's minds in some kind of an area and they are unknown to the speaker. Of course I cannot ask a native speaker. Tell me please what is the really going on in the deep structure why do you produce such and such a sentence. So this is what I mean when I speak about trustworthiness and about areas where the informant makes the decision of
what's acceptable in the area where the linguist makes a decision what is acceptable in particular that a warning must be uttered against asking informants purely linguistically phrased questions. You can simply not going to the figures and say what is American Indian which is really the mainstay of fieldwork American Indian in this country. You cannot go out and work as an Indian and say Now how many tens assist your language. How many aspects of your language have do you have in perfect and imperfect in your language it looks like it when I look at the material. But I'm not fully convinced yet what answer do you expect to get what you think you will get what kind of an answer. Well it would depend on what is in attitudes were or how well informed he was on my right I would say that probably in most instances you would get a blank stare which we cannot reproduce here. But that's usually what you will get because you hope to have an unsophisticated informant it has turned out an actual field way that the more the person knows about his language the
less trustworthy he is in giving you natural material. He would often give you up official material which he things you want to hear. Well I want to come back and say again that the informant is our main asset in linguistic work. We shall have an opportunity later on in other programs to talk about linguistic hardware and to see what a tape recorder can do and so on. About With out with the native speaker there simply would be no living source for language material of course since the tape recorder has been invented. We have the advantage of being able to repeat material endlessly so to say it is a well-known fact that when a speaker repeats an utterance twice or more often twice they will always be phonetically different. You will never get the same thing phonetically twice. This can be established chronically. So the tape recorder is the greatest reminders that your
taking Mike your poor native speaker down. You say please record the following utterance and then you can play it endlessly and you will always get identical material that will help you to analyze without being confronted by the question what others more difference which I hear from time to time. So the natives we get is the main source of information. There is no doubt about it. Now if we speak about the scale from the native speaker is always right right up to the question. The native speaker cannot possibly know what is going on in the underlying theory. If we have this careful then we have to work on it and to show by examples what is meant that we can trust. A native speaker in certain areas more than in others. Now what we want to exemplify here today there's some work on the front a logical level. We will take a native informant will illicit some material from him and see how modern linguists
take this material and analyze it on the basis of the occurrence of individual units which have been worked out. You want to know something about phonetics. My what you say is the first step which we should undertake. There are various ways of approaching as what would you suggest. Well I think the first thing you have to do is simply do an inventory of the sounds that the native speaker uses and you could do that by simply asking him words or series of words. Yes I think you're quite right. There are of course two possibilities. It is a matter of natural gas and you work with a native informant. Whenever you put a person in front of a mike some kind of an eagerness overcomes him and the question is What do you want to do if you say go ahead and tell me a story. The sounds may come out very naturally if you say give me this one word and give me the other word. They may come out in an artificial way because very few people use words
in isolation. So the question is which one is more convenient for linguistic work. You said words and the transcription of the sounds are more convenient. Why should I not take a continuing utterance let's say a sentence or a story if it is so much more natural Why do you think that individual words are better. Well I'm not so sure that they're better in terms of the information we get but it will be easier to segment what you're hearing. If you do it by words rather than by a continual use or as I've already I can accept that easily. Particularly for and working with a language I don't know how am I to know where to cut the words if I have never heard the language before. If I elicit isolated for it of course I get a fair idea if I ask for a word meaning chair that I get a word meaning chair. If the person who speaks the language of time and listening has a chair in his culture this is of course one of the conditions that I know what kind of implements and funders and so on these people use. Now there is of course a difference between a funny
Titian and lesser thing from a native informant and a funny resist eliciting from a native informant. I can see that you're not quite sure what a name is just as well. Let me explain I think you know what if an efficient is what you define a fun attention. I can try I think your notion is simple you are a person who is interested in establishing all of the sounds that are in this particular informants inventory. All right but what I want imitation is that it does not offend they read there is another funny assess you better get accustomed to the vocabulary items is the new lingo it will occur many times if the phonemic system. All right. OK now a funny addition will work with any kind of sound you are perfectly right. Not even the sound only which are in the native speakers sound in wintery but practically any sound you may be interested in so-called pure sound for instance emitted by a flute. You may be very interested for your own purposes for Nemesis would be a
person interested in speech sounds only so if I go into the field anybody goes into the fields to do some anthropological linguistics to work with an informant. Of course the first thing to do is to transcribe what you hit so the first step is necessarily frenetic You can only put on paper what you think comes out of the speakers or a speech organs or or nasal whatever the language has not for an even sized means to be able to establish sounds which so quite a contrast of sounds in the language you're working with. Let me give an example from English I think. Then you will understand what that's all about. English has two speech sounds. P and B the r. These are contrast if a pair be called a minimal pair like pitch and bit for instance. Now pitch is obviously an English speech in English whatever the item and bit is obviously in English which have that pin is in English we can't read them and been busy English with every item
in case you don't know the difference between bin and pin you just sit on both of them and you will notice the difference. Now there are some languages in which PNB are not contrastive so you may take a person who doesn't have those contrasts in his speech and you produce these two words bin and pen and he will say oh yeah that's interesting which is that the same word twice he said but I didn't want to be involved as a peep now that he would say that's what I just said they are the same. That means for many people they are different but as far as typical sound for his languages go they are not different they are the same because they don't Contra. So you hear them different. He doesn't. You produce them differently. He will also produce them differently but he will not hear that they are distinctive. So this is the difference between a phonetic sound and a phoneme. Now I may just say in conclusion before we go to some examples that we listen to other languages of course phonetically I listen to a language I've never heard before. I transcribe it on paper. I transcribe each individual sound. If
my informal sign in the middle of a sentence I would have to transcribe some kind of aspiration and check whether this means something or it's just some kind of desperation with the language. So on the other hand we listen for the mic Lee. I don't love informants get this red with the language very often and vice versa. On the other hand we listen phonemically which means if you say can I hear that you use a peak. But what the phonetic characteristics of this is not so interesting for me at this point because I'm only interested in finding out that pin is different from yes. The question at this point what you're what you seem to be saying then is and this is maybe just a point of clarification is that the native speaker listens phoneme equate correct. He is not concerned about each individual sound that goes out about the details. That's correct he is interested in the few features which give him the contrast with some other sound so there are phonetic features which do not constitute a contrast there are
some which do so he's interested in the ones which contrasts to me to help him to distinguish one item from the other. Now let's give some examples show how we worked with a native speaker. I am lucky to have a speaker here who is a biling well so that I can ask the questions in English. I'll give you a number of words. Please repeat twice and follow the the order slowly. Number one ashes. FEMA FEMA number two. Barak needed POA POA number three Betty beckon beckon. Number six good people or people are number seven bones to him and to him. Number eight. The rest. LENO Well none knew what the rest was a
cloud and none none. Number 10 come mo mo number 11 dogs can't live can't live Number 12 eat quality medical care. Fine thank you. I think there are some interesting sounds in here and we should listen to them once more. Well we could put on the tape recorder of course and listen to them as many times as we won. We could put them France on a loop and have them run and run and run without having to rewind the tape. In our instance here I'm going to rewinding form and I'm going to ask a few questions once again. Let's have a bock place Leam how fine let's have come from the book. Oh OK let's have to come place. Whoa. Good not how good interesting let's have for each please call it a little harder.
OK fine you know to something right. Well I noticed that you're attempting to set up some contrasting Piers here. Well I don't think I know enough for that yet. Contrast it appears quite difficult you need a great number of words in order to find really some contrasts. There's something going on here which I think is typical for linguistic work. Perhaps we can have one or two other words and then go back to it just for a moment here. Leash mama. OK finally Shamar right. Yes swim. Nice quote least quote Now don't forget my what kind of level are we treating at this point. Before magic level we are really training a fanatical everyone to phonemic size the language. However I don't think we can get away from the fact that we notice that certain forms we are asking also have certain grammatical formations in common so listen to that once more don't you hear that there is something in common to come home to
swim least to eat less quality. What would you say when it seems to me. I hear an initial sound Yes exactly you're saying it seems that this initial sound indicates Inf.. Let me ask you now without the tool to do what Inform is going to say. She would probably take it for an imperative if you leave the two out English come book swim eat because you say so I make you know what I mean this is not our concern here we are really dealing with the phonemics. But I can through this regard that. So I make a note and believe that for further work. OK fine. Now I also had something of interest. Let me ask a few words again and try to identify some of the initial sounds here. They seem interesting to me but I dealt with the really our cloud on that bone tree. Yeah. Ok fine let me have one other before we discuss that Mike here.
Reshma OK. Well I don't dare to repeat it you know. This is dangerous and I want the language begins to repeat here is apt to make mistakes because you may be repeating the wrong thing. So let's ask the informant one's more tree why in place again. Very good bone. Same right Same here. Me smart. There is a sound here which is entirely foreign to English can you have there. I can hear the sound I'm not sure I can identify I can't identify it yet. Now it may help us of course if we know what language it as we may have a fair idea because certain languages are known to have specific sounds which don't occur in other languages. Before we talk about that let me just add one remark. It may seem to you or Mike and it seems to many other people that this kind of approach is valid only if we deal with languages which have no literature on written language as
in fact this is the method which was evolved by people who worked with and written languages as a typical American way of approaching language just because and the publicist went to into the field to work with American Indian languages had no literature. Later on this same method was re applied also to a so-called culture languages and was found very interesting very important efficient and profitable. So I want to stress that point that the message originates from the kind of unwritten language like an American language. Indian languages Amharic like Yockey or Apache or Hopi and so on but it's a particular to all of them. You work from the spoken word which is primary and it makes no difference whether the language somewhere along the line has a literature which is 2000 years old or 200 years old or maybe two years old. Some languages were committed to writing just in the recent past. This makes no difference. Well as it happens I mean he may just as well tell the people we're working with modern Israeli here and now we know that this is a meeting which of
course and there are some sounds which are typical for this I mean you know which family and I have the impression that that's what we are hearing so you try once more Mike. OK OK let's go treat once more please. Good bone right there. I didn't see him. Cloud I'm not American. You know what that is. I think this is the one song that you find in many so many languages I haven't heard it before but from the description that must be the one. This is the so-called for original I believe you know this is the one time produced in the pharynx which is typical for all the Semitic languages and which makes so many languages sound so different from from other languages. Let's see whether we can find at this point yeah. At this point the only thing you could do with that kind of observation would be to make another note. Oh yes of course I mean my work consists of creating a pair or some kind of a minimal number of
transcriptions and then immediately have a hypothesis about what I'm hearing and then try to check and recheck and to verify the hypothesis. Hopefully for the first time I'm wrong so that I have the opportunity to go on and on because only from my mistakes I really learn a lot. And this shows me that I have to do more intensive work that I have to go into more detail and things of this kind. So in this instance of course I make you know what I don't have a phonemic system yet. All I have is a number of notes and it takes hours sometimes it may take days to get all the sounds you want. You can never be sure that the list you have really contains words which have all the sounds which you want to get from being foreign which constitute the entire area. And. Frenetic inventory so that you can fit in his eyes. So let's just see in the short time left whether he can find this particular sound somewhere else. This was initially right. Let's have once more initially please. Clouds of a man are not mine. I think what we heard in the word here finally is the same thing.
Schmoe are very good. Perhaps we can get it mediately. Let's see whether it has the complete distribution what the word for natural TV here we go to a very you're saying now we have found that apparently he has this kind of fire engine which we might expect we're lucky in a way we know what to expect. But of course if we have no idea what to expect it would be impossible in 10 minutes to reach any results. So in this instance we have worked with the language we have never heard before. But we had some idea of what to expect and indeed we found right at the very beginning the most interesting part name of the type of sound we would not be able to find in English. Now we could go on with that of course and try to establish all the other sounds. First of all really expect pair hear voiced versus what it was for instance just as I explained the contract in English. You may expect a contrast in the middle languages where this kind of for engine of the sound which is by the way it's called and I and I know the name but I don't dare to produce it had tried to reproduce it I and it sounds as
if you know if you are. Simply squeeze out the Air Force pilot. Well you know it's called an eye. We would expect a voiced and voiceless pair but I don't think that we have the time to do that. Let's just do one more example for a vowel this was a consonant. That's just one more example. In the minute or two left for vowel pass please give me the word for a month hoggish hoggish. OK the word for a god or guide and I agree. OK the word for Watchmen sure made it OK and the word for months hardish. OK what can you hear. I'm not sure of what I'm hearing I know what we hear as the interesting shift in stress and an interest in accompanying changes about a quantity. Just four months once more Before Watchmen show me show me that you know about this
shift in stress. Now we may hypothesize at this point that the change in while quality is a concomitant factor which goes along with the shift in stress we would have to find out with no contrast to face as this is really true. But I'm glad that we were able to show at this point after so short what a comparatively typical features which is worthwhile because not always are you that lucky. Sometimes you have to work for days and weeks before you find something interesting so you can stop for new sizing. At this point and we at least can say that there is one interesting fact that in the wild and oneness and fester in the continents and that the informant and owner of the informant can help us to follow that out while we elicit more and more material from it. In today's program the linguist and the informant Dr Franco was assisted by Mike Ford a graduate student in linguistics at George Peabody college for
teachers. And by the informant Miriam next week's program will be on linguistic hardware new aspects of languages prepared and narrated by Dr. Franco associate professor of English and Linguistics at George Peabody college for teachers and is produced in the studios of WP. This is Richard Waddell speaking. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
New aspects of language
The Linguist and the Informant
Producing Organization
Nashville Public Radio
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-fj29dv1g).
Series Description
For series info, see Item 3622. This prog.: The Linguist and the Informant
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: WPLN
Producing Organization: Nashville Public Radio
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-36-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:06
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “New aspects of language; The Linguist and the Informant,” 1968-09-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 9, 2023,
MLA: “New aspects of language; The Linguist and the Informant.” 1968-09-14. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 9, 2023. <>.
APA: New aspects of language; The Linguist and the Informant. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from