Category Archives: Divers

Scientific journals need to make access to research data a prerequisite for reviewing

Data sets on which our publications are based need to be made available, for obvious reasons of verifiability, replicability, and cumulative progress in research. This point is made eloquently in many publications. For instance:

“Openness is one of the central values of science. Open scientific practices such as sharing data, materials and analysis scripts alongside published articles have many benefits, including easier replication and extension studies, increased availability of data for theory-building and meta-analysis, and increased possibility of review and collaboration even after a paper has been published. Although modern information technology makes sharing easier than ever before, uptake of open practices has been slow.” 

(Morey, Richard D., Christopher D. Chambers, Peter J. Etchells, Christine R. Harris, Rink Hoekstra, Daniël Lakens, Stephan Lewandowsky, et al. 2016. The Peer Reviewers’ Openness Initiative: incentivizing open research practices through peer reviewRoyal Society Open Science 3(1).)

Since I first wrote down my fundamental beliefs on this topic back in 2002, the field (linguistics, and specifically, phonetics) has not changed as it should have: disposable data are still the norm. This post takes the example of three small data sets that I deposited this year (data associated to publications from the early 2000s) to illustrate the current situation of lack of support for the conservation of research data. The conclusion is that changes to the mainstream model of publication and evaluation should be made now: scientific journals need to make access to research data a prerequisite for publication. And for these changes to happen, we need to take action. 

1. Data from my first phonetics paper

My first phonetics paper was published in 2004:  “Final consonants and glottalization: new perspectives from Hanoi Vietnamese”. Phonetica 61(2–3). 119–146. It is based on audio and electroglottographic recordings. At the time, neither the reviewers nor the editor asked for access to the research data. Various pieces of software carry out citation counts to estimate ‘impact’ (this paper was cited 1 time in PubMed, 33 times in Web of Science, 120 times in Google Scholar, etc.) and analyze ‘traffic’ (how many times the PDF was downloaded, when, by whom, etc.). On the other hand, even though the corresponding data (multimedia recordings) have been online for more than a decade, no tool that I know of ever tried to establish connections between the study and the data (and software) on which it is based.

The recordings were first made available online in 2005/2006 through a “Databases” project at Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle that aimed to make linguists’ data available online in good order, as multimedia files accompanied by metadata and logically structured transcriptions and annotations. The metadata (here) are sufficiently clear that a web crawler could identify the language of the recordings as Vietnamese: the language is encoded in the metadata as x-sil-VIE, and while this code is not very widely used, a key to the language codes used in the database is available (here), clarifying that this is a code from the Summer Institute of Linguistics’ Ethnologue database and that it refers to Vietnamese. The deposit is also associated with a PDF description (here) that is not hard to ‘mine’ for information, not to mention that high-tech tools could conduct automatic language recognition from the audio files. 
Software built by Google Scholar engineers is pretty good at identifying references despite the bewildering diversity of formats. Similar results could be attained in locating data sets, allowing for multifaceted search across databases, tracking data set usage, and so on. Linking data, publications and software into an Open Science environment is not a technical impossibility: the reason why it is not happening is that Open Science is clearly not a priority of the big players (the commercial publishers and service providers). The assessment of research output (for finding a job in a research institution and keeping it) is based on publications, with little if any recognition of the time spent on the empirical basis of science. And (in phonetics) the evaluation of a submitted manuscript is often conducted without even a sample of the data on which the results, discussion and conclusions are based.

This year, the data set of my 2004 study was made available in the Pangloss Collection, with time-aligned transcripts and translations. These data not only constitute an indispensible complement to the research article: they also have potential for an open-ended list of uses. (The materials are currently at bottom of list here.) But for want of institutional recognition and support, such efforts for making data available along with publications remain an uphill journey. 

2. Sample data from a 2003 book chapter

In 2003, I contributed a chapter to a book about focus marking:

“Focus et tons lexicaux: de la variété des paramètres prosodiques”. In A. Lacheret-Dujour & J. François (eds.), Fonction et moyens d’expression de la focalisation à travers les langues (Mémoires de La Société de Linguistique de Paris, Nouvelle Série, Tome XIII), 13–47. Louvain: Peeters. 

This was my first contribution to a book and I was keen to make a good job of it. In view of the relevance of speech prosody to focus marking, I suggested to the editors to have multimedia materials published alongside the printed volume. They agreed to this, and not a few of the contributors to the volume chose to make audio or video recordings available on a CD-ROM. The printed volume, with accompanying CD-ROM, is available from a dozen of university libraries in the (French) network of academic libraries, SUDOC. The catalogue entry mentions the CD-ROM, but cannot go into any detail on its contents, which limits possibilities for locating these data samples.

When I deposited the preprint version of my chapter in a preprint archive about four years later, I forgot to upload the supplementary files. I have now done so, and the WAV files are now available as supplementary files associated to the publication (here), also with a PDF providing explanations. I feel good about doing so, but it is, again, a lonely journey. I frequently get e-mail asking me to confirm authorship of a paper, to review my list of publications in a database (there are quite a few of them: in addition to ORCID, there are also databases of open access publications), but I never got e-mail asking for this kind of assistance (‘academic crowd-sourcing’) in relation to data or software. This is because, as recapitulated above, the importance of primary data is oddly underestimated in current ‘publication ecosystems’ in linguistics.

3. Sample data from a 2003 conference presentation

In the same year that I wrote my first book chapter (in French), I wrote a paper (in English) for a conference about speech prosody. ‘Deaf and dumb’ papers about prosody sound like a strange paradox, so I asked the organizers whether they would find it useful to have multimedia files accompanying the research papers. Like the editors of the 2003 volume published by the Société de Linguistique de Paris, the editors of the “Prosodic Interfaces” conference (Amina Mettouchi and Gaëlle Ferré) found the idea relevant and forward-looking. Participants were encouraged to submit audio files for inclusion on the CD-ROM containing the conference proceedings. These files are still accessible (as of 2018), here. This year, I added the files associated to my conference paper to the deposit in the preprint archive, here; while doing so, I felt proud about these excerpts, which (in my perfectly objective opinion as data collector and author of the paper!) add a lot to the publication. Cited examples can be listened to, and I also included audio recordings of explanations provided in Naxi (the target language) by language consultants expressing their intuitions about subtle stylistic nuances associated with two variants of an utterance (one with a full form and the other with a reduced form). This allowed a colleague who is a native speaker of Naxi to spot a beautiful example of syllable reduction (which I had not noticed) inside the very sentence in which the consultant described processes of syllable reduction: a lovely case of mise en abyme, and a further piece of evidence of how pervasive syllable reduction processes are in the Naxi language.

But contrary to what I thought, such initiatives failed to gain much traction among linguists. Despite possibilities for embedding sound files of cited examples into PDFs (as exemplified in this paper), it has not yet become common practice to offer at least a sample of data alongside scientific papers. 

Conclusion

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching”, as the saying goes: looking it up, I realize that it’s from none less than Mahatma Gandhi. But it’s now over 20 years since I made documentation and conservation of spoken language data one of my ‘lifelong’ priorities, and judging from my experience, making small steps on one’s own will not get us where we want (any more than sporadic, individual attempts at consuming less resources and creating less pollution can avert environmental disaster). To advance towards open science, we do not only need to get the principles right and put them to good practice. We also need to do advocacy and change the rules.

The field needs to take a turn towards Open Science, and this is not going to happen without us investing some of our time into it: taking a strong stand, and voicing concerns that are key to our discipline’s future, every time that we have opportunities to speak out: as authors, as members of editorial teams, as evaluators, and so on. If scientific journals make access to research data a prerequisite for reviewing (as they should really have started to do two decades ago), also insisting on open access (with an embargo of several years or even decades where necessary), practices will change, and the Open Data Excuse Bingo will be a thing of the past.

Open Data Excuse Bingo. (Click here for source)

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Speech recognition for newly documented languages: highly encouraging tests using automatically generated phonemic transcription of Yongning Na audio recordings

Automatic speech recognition tools have strong potential for facilitating language documentation. This blog note reports on highly encouraging tests using automatic transcription in the documentation of Yongning Na, a Sino-Tibetan language of Southwest China. After twenty months of fieldwork (spread over twelve years, from 2006 to 2017), 14 hours of speech had been recorded, of which 5.5 hours were transcribed (200 minutes of narratives and 130 minutes of morphotonology elicitation sessions). Oliver Adams, the author of Persephone, an open-source software tool for developing multilingual acoustic models, volunteered to experiment with these data. He trained a single-speaker automatic speech transcription tool over the transcribed materials and applied it to untranscribed audio files. The error rate is low: on the order of 17% of errors in phoneme identification. This makes the automatic transcriptions useful as a canvas for the linguist, who corrects mistakes and produces the translation in collaboration with language consultants.

Today I am posting my initial report to Oliver Adams, written in the field in Yunnan, on May 12th, 2017. I consider this date as a landmark in my work documenting Yongning Na! This document remained confidential until today because its online availability would have de-anonymized a submission that was under double-blind review for a workshop in Australia (the Australasian Language Technology Association Workshop, Dec. 6-8, 2017). This paper, which presents Oliver’s work to an audience of language technology specialists, is now available here.
Continue reading Speech recognition for newly documented languages: highly encouraging tests using automatically generated phonemic transcription of Yongning Na audio recordings

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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“Tone in Yongning Na” now published!

Book cover: Tone in Yongning Na

The volume Tone in Yongning Na is now published.

It is open-access: the book is freely available as a PDF from the publisher’s website.

It is open-source: the LaTeX code is freely available on GitHub (from the same page as the PDF).

Last but not least, the analyses are based on data hosted in an open archive (the Pangloss Collection) that allows free download of original sound files and transcriptions (no login required).

I think I should now let the book speak for itself 🙂 and thank once again the many colleagues who helped all along the way.

One of the aims of this blog post is to spread the word about the publishing house. Publishing a book at Language Science Press was a sparkling experience all along. If you do not know about Language Science Press yet, I strongly encourage you to read the description of the “Motivation”, “Setup” and “Vision” of this wonderfully forward-looking publisher.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Project completed! Looking back at the past 48 months, and forward to online grammars and more connected data

The completion date of the HimalCo project (2013-2016) is the day after tomorrow: December 31st, 2016. It’s a good time to look back at the past 48 months, and forward to more and more connected data: online grammars with one-click links to data, and other improvements for the greater benefit of linguistic research.

The aim of this project was to build several types of corpora (traditional stories and dictionaries) for unwritten and endangered Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Nepal and in Tibetan areas of China (Khaling, Thulung, Koyi, Japhug, Zbu, Khroskyabs, Na), as well as to produce tools to analyze and format these corpora. We were able to develop a dictionary interface on the Pangloss collection website (http://lacito.vjf.cnrs.fr/pangloss/dictionaries/), and an online tool of parallel corpus comparison (http://himalco.huma-num.fr/corpus/comparable/index.htm and  http://lacito.vjf.cnrs.fr/pangloss/dictionaries/). The Khaling, Thulung, Japhug and Na corpora of the Pangloss collection were also significantly enriched.

The software engineer Céline Buret collaborated with us during 24 months. She developed a python library which implements in XML the lexicographical norm LMF, with conversion tools from the MDF format (used by many fieldwork linguists to make their dictionaries) to LaTeX, HTML and DOC. PDF versions of the dictionaries have been generated using LaTeX, and a paper version of the Khaling dictionary has been derived from it.
Continue reading Project completed! Looking back at the past 48 months, and forward to online grammars and more connected data

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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“Tone in Yongning Na” is the first book to enter Open Review stage at Language Science Press!

The HimalCo project allowed for the completion of the linguist’s “three treasures” for the Yongning Na language: a dictionary; a collection of texts; and a monograph. This monograph was submitted in June 2016 to Language Science Press.

Language Science Press publishes high quality, peer-reviewed open-access books in linguistics. All publications are free for both authors and readers. General Editors are Stefan Müller (FU Berlin) and Martin Haspelmath (MPI for the Science of Human History). They are supported by a high-profile Advisory Board.

The book, entitled “Tone in Yongning Na: Lexical tones and morphotonology”, was accepted in October 2016. Anonymous reviewers provided a wealth of comments and suggestions, which were gratefully implemented. Now “Tone in Yongning Na” is the first book to enter Open Review stage at Language Science Press. I hope you will want to have a look!

Two quick notes for readers:
(i) The draft that is currently open for you to review has a few unsightly page breaks and line breaks: for instance, the word “construction” begins at the end of page 144 (“construc-“) and the ending (“tion”) is orphaned on page 147. Some examples are also split over two pages. And a few lines spill into the margins. Please kindly disregard these issues concerning page breaks and line breaks: we’re aware of those, but page breaks and line breaks will only be finalized at the very end of the typesetting stage.
(ii) It seems that the PDF made available on the reviewing interface, PaperHive, is not searchable. It makes it hard to navigate the volume. In case you struggle with this, you can download the (searchable) PDF at the following address:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/nekau4g6q91tg6t/109ToneInYongningNa_Draft_21Dec.pdf?dl=0
You can then EITHER provide your comments by logging in to PaperHive and locating the places you have comments about, OR send me comments by e-mail (alexis.michaud@cnrs.fr). All comments will be gratefully acknowledged whether transmitted through PaperHive or by e-mail.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Nepal News

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Like anyone with a strong attachment to Nepal–and many more besides–we were heartbroken to witness from afar the two major earthquakes which devastated Nepal on April 25th and May 12th. Thankfully, the individuals we work with most closely have all reported that they are safe. While there was serious damage in Solu district, where the Rai languages are spoken, it seems that the number of casualties was not as high as was initially feared.
The French government is for the time being not allowing French civil servants (a status covering French academics) to travel to Nepal. As a result, we are working to bring a Thulung speaker to Paris during the summer, which will allow us to continue to work on these amazing languages while giving Nepal time to recover from its wounds.  We still hope to return to Nepal in the fall–Nepal has expressed that the best way to help is to travel to the country, as it relies so much on tourism–and will find ways to spread the word about these languages either way.

Project currently developing on GitHub — out of public view

The project blog has gone quiet in the past 5 months, as texts and dictionaries are in the making in a (nonpublic) GitHub repository. Tools for data migration from Toolbox / MDF format to XML and LaTEX are now operational. Painstakingly collected linguistic data and innovative technology make a heady cocktail: we were excited to see the very earliest professional-looking draft versions of our dictionaries.

Aimée Lahaussois made a field trip to Nepal earlier this year; Guillaume Jacques is beginning one in Southwest China; and this post’s author will visit again Yongning (also in Southwest China) in August. Lots of tasks are under way. In GitHub jargon: hundreds of ‘Commits’ (updates of documents and scripts), 9 Wiki pages, (currently) 33 ‘Issues’ (tasks to be done)… and high hopes of having great things to showcase here in due course.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Third Workshop on Sino-Tibetan Languages of Sichuan: a brief report

Last month our team organised the third edition of the Workshop on Sino-Tibetan Languages of Sichuan, which followed a first workshop in Taipei organised by Jackson T.-S. Sun, and a second one in Beijing in 2010. The conference was hosted at the EHESS.

Alexis Michaud set up a lively website for the workshop. A Book of abstracts is available.

Nearly all fields of linguistics were represented during this conference, and the proportion of papers on phonology and phonetics vs. morphosyntax was relatively well balanced.

It may be unappropriate for me, as one of the co-organizers, to praise the success of our workshop. Yet, I think that it was noteworthy in at least one respect. The advantage of small-scale workshops like this one is that people working on closely related research topics can get together and interact with each other in a better way than in huge conferences. In this workshop, we established a record for the number of presentations on Naish (four) and Rgyalrongic (eight). The presentations on these languages also happened, for some of them at least, to be on related topics: all papers on Naish were about tonology, in particular. This allowed detailed and productive discussions both during the question sessions and during breaks, and it was quite a rewarding experience — at least for me.

Among the participants at the conference were three native speakers of the languages under investigation: Wang Shuangcheng (speaker of Amdo Tibetan and dialectologist himself), Skalbzang Phuntshogs (whose name is sinicized as Geiru Pincuo, a speaker of Northern Pumi collaborating with Henriette Daudey on language documentation) and bLobzang Nyima (a speaker of Rtau [rəsɲəske] who lives in Paris and collaborates with our team). Their presence was in my opinion an essential element of the success of this workshop: during discussions, it allowed for immediate reverification of data cited by participants. It is already a tradition, since 2008, for the Sichuan Workshop to include native speaker participants, and I hope that this tradition will continue in further instalments of this conference.

Zev Handel has expressed his interest to organize the next workshop in Seattle, and I look forward to it already.

Victor Segalen: an explorer who gave a bad name to foreign scholars in China

A Chinese friend doing archaeological work once asked me, ‘Have you heard about Victor Segalen?’ (謝閣蘭) And then, ‘What do you think about him?’

Before our discussion, my impression was positive. I liked Segalen’s literary works; and I believed that Segalen was equally serious about exploring China. Unlike others, he learnt some Chinese; and he went to faraway places, (re-)discovering major archaeological sites. His style of writing is decidedly on the romantic, passionate side, lacking the kind of matter-of-fact information that is required for serious scholarship, but poetic licence seemed OK on the part of an explorer from the last years of Imperial China. There are some obnoxious colonial overtones in some of his writings, but that too seemed OK if viewed in the context of his time.

My Chinese friend’s perception was different. As an archaeologist, he pointed out that Segalen had unearthed sculptures, taken pictures, and gone his own sweet way, leaving ancient art objects exposed to the elements and to depredation, without even reporting their location in sufficient detail. That was an eye-opener for me. Inspired literary works cannot serve as an excuse for leaving a mess behind. As an archaeologist, Victor Segalen simply did not do a serious job. When in a foreign country, one is seen, willy-nilly, as a representative of one’s own country; and so Segalen gave a bad name to foreign scholars in China.

The morality for linguists is simple. When we go and collect data, beyond our immediate interests it’s important to think in terms of stable repositories that guarantee long-term conservation and online availability for researchers and for the communities.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Incentives for publishing text corpora and multimedia documents: About a recent discussion on the Tibeto-Burman list

In-depth language documentation is clearly a priority duty for linguists of our generation. This is what will remain as our most important legacy. It is also a major driving force for real advances in linguistics, as multimedia digital databases open up a tremendous potential for testing linguistic analyses and building computer models: a huge space opens up once we have a reliable, high-quality empirical basis for our studies.

This point has been made eloquently in various forums; it can now be considered a rather uncontroversial point of view. Realizations tend to lag behind somewhat, though. In addition to personal conviction, institutional recognition is required for academics to invest as much time as they should (and in many cases would like to) into the time-consuming tasks of preparing data for long-term preservation, online circulation, and further computer processing. There has been a vivid discussion about publications and publication venues on the Internet list “Issues and Announcements Related to Tibeto-Burman Linguistics” lately (Tibeto-Burman internet domain). Stephen Morey pointed out that:

“Here in Australia, the Australian Linguistics Society has set up a subcommittee to work out ways by which text corpora – annotated, analysed and curated – can be assessed and counted as research output just as articles in journals are. This follows on the recognition of the scholarly merit of Language Documentation by the Linguistics Society of America in 2010.
Once academics can get credit for this kind of work, we’ll be able to put more time into it and this will be of benefit to communities in the long run as well.”

This was a response to Guillaume’s suggestion: “I think that our community should value more the production of dictionaries and text collections including translations in the local national languages, not just in English (or even only in the local languages, without English), even if this kind of publication never get cited. Citation-based evaluation of academic productivity has a highly detrimental effect on the field, and evaluators should really make a special case for non-English publications intended for speakers of the endangered languages.”

To me, the exchanges over the Tibeto-Burman list conveyed a keen sense of the excitement of doing linguistics on under-resourced languages. This is an era for pioneers, and the frontier is… in our own gardens, which we must cultivate, following the motto of the Pangloss Collection! The framework is in place: long-term archiving and stable identifiers; open archives for consultation; CreativeCommons licenses… and it’s now a matter of getting one’s act together. In the long run this is well-invested time and effort, as the hours, days and months of manual weeding, pruning and trimming make for great documents, which always find an appreciative audience at some point.

Cite this article as: Alexis Michaud, "Incentives for publishing text corpora and multimedia documents: About a recent discussion on the Tibeto-Burman list," in Himalayan corpora, 09/04/2013, https://himalco.hypotheses.org/48.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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Talking dictionaries for Himalayan languages

In addition to parallel corpora, the main objective of this research project (HimalCo) is to create a set of online talking dictionaries, in particular from Japhug Rgyalrong, Khaling, Thulung and Yongning Na. We are still weighing our options concerning the structure of the platform (in particular, whether or not to use LexiquePro), but we have decided that all dictionaries will be encoded in a Toolbox-like format, either directly generated by Toolbox itself or exported from FLEX.

Files in Toolbox format are easily manipulable with PERL scripts. They can be easily converted to HTML and combined with sound files to produce a simple interface for web dictionaries, like the Arapaho talking dictionary (this could be an alternative to LexiquePro):

http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/~arapaho/arapaho_english.html

It is also easily convertible to LaTeX code, which can then compiled into a PDF file to produce a professionally typeset version of the dictionary with hyperlinks for cross-references. We place special focus on online tools, and on the web version of dictionaries, but it is also necessary to have printed versions accessible to the speakers of the languages.

Also, it is trivial to write PERL script to convert from one writing system to another (for instance, from IPA to Devanagari script in the case of languages of Nepal) and to automatically generate entire paradigms for either the complex verbal flexion of the Kiranti languages or the intricate tonal alternations of the Naish languages.

Within the three years time frame of this project, it would be irrealistic to work on lots of dictionaries at the same time. For this reason, we decided, in the case of the three Kiranti languages under study, to compile verb dictionaries only. These dictionaries will comprise all the verb roots, their derived forms, example sentences, and a complete list of automatically generated paradigms. This is also a better service to the communities, as many Rai (Kiranti ) intellectuals attempt at making dictionaries themselves, but experience diffculty with the complex verbal morphology of their languages.

I have finished a first draft of the Khaling verb dictionary (the example sentences were collected during my field trip in Solukhumbu last February), and I am bringing it to Nepal next week for proofreading, finishing the section on complex predicates and recording the examples for the web version. This dictionary will continue to improve over the years; on the other hand, a first publishable version is now in view, and I hope that it can soon be made available to native speakers as a practical, easy-to-use book.

On the notion of parallel corpora

We borrowed this idea from the field of translation studies, where translation equivalents are aligned and then stored as translation memory to be used during later translation tasks.  What interested us was the idea of aligning linguistic data across languages and retrieving aligned segments for the purposes of analysis and comparison.

One of the remarkable features of Kiranti languages in Eastern Nepal is that their mythology is surprisingly similar: in some cases, perfect calques of sentences are found across different language versions of a same story.  This seemed like a good starting point for building a corpus of aligned material based on resolutely native data, as opposed to more artificial (but still interesting) material such as Frog stories and Pear Stories.

We have set up a prototype for the aligntment of stories, and so far, it is quite promising:  we have aligned three different versions of the story of Kakcilip–in Thulung, Koyi and Khaling–in such a way that similar content across languages is tagged with a Similarity label.

The Similarity labels appear above the sentence numbers in the full-text versions of the story in the different languages. When a sentence with such a label is selected, it leads to a view of that same sentence in the languages involved in the similarity.

We had, of course, to define the notion of similarity for the purposes of this alignment: for the time being, our working definition is that it concerns a segment of text of similar narrative function or content.  This allows us to align, in addition to material sharing lexical and morphosyntactic features, sentences in different versions that outwardly have no connection (different names of protagonists, different actions, different objects involved) but that share narrative function, in being, for example, a turning point within the story.

The ability to see the same (or a similar) sentence across languages makes it possible to identify the individual languages’ available tools for expressing similar material.

We have also associated a concordancer with the aligned corpus, which means that we can look for specific morphemes or lexemes and then compare them across languages.

For more details on the technical set-up, you can see our paper presented at LREC 2012, in a workshop on Building and Using Comparable Corpora.

About Exploratory Field Trips

These days, the project team is busy finalizing administrative issues. One slight difficulty is that the funding agency, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche, does not have a separate category for exploratory field trips: trips to the areas where the languages we study are spoken, and where we collect the data which is then organized, made available online (in the Pangloss Collection) and analyzed. In the budget documents, they are pooled together with the budget items for attending conferences, workshops… As a result, linguistics project with a fieldwork component look pretty strange from the point of view of current administrative/accounting standards. It looks as if too much money were spent on international travel.

This administrative episode gives us an opportunity to emphasize the specificity of exploratory field trips, which are central to our work. Fortunately, the people at ANR are open to suggestions and interested in understanding how our work is actually conducted, so the odds are that we shall be able to carry out numerous field trips, as originally planned. Who knows–perhaps exploratory field trips will even come to be recognized as a special category of “mission” in administrative typology? At some research centres with a strong tradition of fieldwork, such as LACITO, the two (“Conferences/Workshops” and “Fieldwork”) are already distinguished, as a matter of course.

 

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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HimalCo – Himalayan Corpora

This project proposes to build parallel corpora for three sub-groups of the Sino-Tibetan family, covering a total of 8 little-described oral languages. These corpora will be made up of texts and lexical data. Texts that share a similar (sometimes nearly identical) narrative frame will be selected, drawing from the strong mythological traditions of the Greater Himalayan region. One set of parallel texts will be assembled for each sub-group: Kiranti (from Nepal), and Rgyalrong and Naish (from China). (Note that “parallel texts” in the sense of our project does not refer to texts with aligned translation, as in “parallel Classical Greek texts”: Greek on one page and English on the facing page, but to traditional texts put in parallel according to the junctures of their narrative frames.) The alignment of texts on the basis of their narrative frame will allow for the cross-language comparison of highly similar native materials; among other benefits for research, the typologically salient features of each sub-group will thus come to the fore with greater accuracy than can be obtained through the type of elicitation often used for cross-language comparison, e.g. the Pear Story.
HimalCo includes the two essential steps of (i) first-hand data collection in the field (in Nepal and China) and (ii) state-of-the-art transcription, annotation and formatting of the entire data set. In addition to classical interlinear morphemic glossing, translation and sound synchronization as implemented in the LACITO Archive (to which the participants are regular contributors), the narratives will be organized into parallel corpora in each of the three language subgroups, and the lexical data will be serve as the basis for talking dictionaries: dictionaries combined with sound recordings of individual entries (words spoken in isolation) and of example sentences.
The team, which includes an IT specialist, will develop simple interfaces for the consultation of parallel corpora and talking dictionaries, allowing the comparison of material in individual languages, across languages of a subgroup, and across subgroups. This project will provide the solid empirical basis which has heretofore been lacking for research on these languages: all the materials will be made freely available online through the LACITO Archive, whose interface will be enriched to allow consultation of parallel texts and talking dictionaries. These objectively verifiable data will be available for the in-depth investigation of a broad range of issues that include topical issues in synchrony and diachrony (comparative morphology; reconstruction of Tibeto-Burman morphology; and study of the evolution of morphological systems) for which these languages have key evidence to contribute.

Alexis Michaud

I'm a linguist specialized in phonetics, focusing on un(der-)documented languages.

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