Preparing for fieldwork I: visibility

Many people have asked me how do I do fieldwork: how to approach the speakers; how to get the best answers, what to take on fieldwork; i.a. I don’t think I have a magic formula, nor I think I have lots of experience. But in any case, this post is for those who have never ever undertaken fieldwork, and are considering doing some (maybe for their MA thesis or their PhD project). The advice that I give here is mostly focused on the reality of Western Polesie. Every language and culture are different, and  even the differences from one village to another can be enormous in Western Polesie (from villages with less than 30 inhabitants, with mostly old people; to villages with more than a thousand dwellers, full of young people, who speaks the local variety, like Bahdanawka). However, you may find some of the tips to be useful. And of course, those readers who have had some experience are most than welcomed to add their suggestions.

So, here we start with the series “Good things to do in fieldwork (and I wish someone had told them to me before)”:


1-Stay visible

When it’s cold, or when sitting outside is impossible because there are noisy and annoying mosquitoes everywhere, you may feel very tempted to lock yourself in your room and do all your analysis. That can be very risky. It is good to spend time processing your data and analyzing it (especially, if you need to submit regular reports to your supervisors or abstracts for conferences). But, it is AS EQUALLY AS IMPORTANT to spend time with the community and letting people know you. Why?

1) It makes your speakers more relaxed during the interviews (many can feel intimidated or threatened to share stories or things about their life when they don’t know you well).

2) You are (or should) be working your project not to or for the community but WITH the community (and I must admit, that I often forget this,  or fail to put it into practice). You want them to get interested in what you are doing;  try to explain to them what you are studying  and why is their variety/dialect/language special and worth of study.

3) It gives you more opportunities to meet other speakers you had never considered. That will give you the chance to study variation or check out some grammar forms you are uncertain about. Plus, you may discover very interesting storytellers, musicians, artists in the village, who have not only linguistically interesting data, but also anthropologically rich!479504943_1280x720


[Source: Mister Shake, from ]

How do you become or stay visible?

Go to every public place you can think of in the village (the nearest shop, if you can walk or cycle to it), the local church, the banja (bathhouse; this was my favourite treat at the end of each week), the local library… In the beginning, you can start by going to the grocery store to get any small thing. If the shopping assistant doesn’t ask you straight away where are you from and what are you doing, leave the shop with a smile, and hear all the whispers on your back as you walk out the door. Go to the school and introduce yourself to the teachers. Some schools in Western Polesie have gathered some folklore from the local village, and they are usually happy to share that with you. If you go to the banja, you can use the occasion to listen to the local variety in its purest form, and hear what people in the village are interested in (this is far more important than you think when you want to design proper questionnaires). In Summer, you should still go out for walks and greet everybody you meet on your way, as if you had always lived there. Go to church with them, learn about their worldview, try to get the local pope/pastor/priest’s recognition and friendship (they know many people in the village, whom you can interview; and they are usually respected).

Anyway, the best thing to do is to try to see your speakers as your friends and not mere deposits of informations which you can ‘use’ for your project. If you decide to recluse yourself in your room, you will hardly make any friends.


Author: Kristian Roncero

I am a PhD student at the Surrey Morphology Group. I am currently doing fieldwork in the region of Brest (Belarus), as I am researching West Polesian morphology and phonology. You can follow short updates about my experiences on the field on Twitter, with the hashtag #westpolesian You will see that some post have the tags as # *thing, as I am also following a course on increasing the impact of your research at the University of Surrey called '23 Things'.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s