by Amy Giacomucci, Aurora Martinez del Rio, & Richard Monari
We visited Finely a Knitting Party two times. During our first visit, we filmed a Saturday afternoon knitting class run by Cathy Finley, the owner of the shop. We photographed the space and conversed with the attendees, both on and off camera. At this time, we chose to collect footage of community-driven interactions interspersed with occasional questions from us regarding their current projects and past experiences with knitting. Then, in our second visit, we interviewed Cathy about her experience as the owner of the knitting shop and as a member of the knitting community. The physical space of the knitting shop and the community within it are tied together to form a linguistic landscape. A linguistic landscape is the interaction of different language communities within a physical space.
By Jamie A. Thomas
#LanguageStory as Critical & Creative Pedagogy.
I've learned so much from working with video from my fieldwork, and deliberately formulating it for a public audience, that I've begun to incorporate it into my teaching. This semester, my students have been engaging the Philadelphia community to learn more about how signs, symbols, and communication connect our everyday lives. Students in my introductory course in sociolinguistics at Swarthmore College come from all over the country, and from other institutions in the area, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Our theme has been linguistic landscapes, the physical and imagined dimensions of language use that intersect with and govern our daily practices. In class, we've discussed the linguistic landscape of digital speech communities within Twitter and Yik Yak. We've also touched upon the very real ways in which we use words and multiple ways of speaking to connect in the classroom, in our homes, and in other settings, such as restaurants, libraries, coffeeshops, and Quaker meetings.
Using our discussions as a foundation, I've guided students in my introductory course in sociolinguistics in methods in qualitative interviewing, field research, and visual anthropology, to enable them to conduct interviews and work collaboratively to compose videos on their original research. Their semester-long research culminated in new short videos for the #LanguageStory project, and exemplify another key component I value in research: Openness and adaptability. For many of these students, this was their first experience in soliciting interviews out in the field, and putting together a cohesive visual + digital story to detail their insights.
Introducing New Authors to the Blog.
In the next few posts for the blog, I'll be featuring the collaborative written and visual composition of student teams from my class. I'm so very proud of their efforts. Their deeply reflective videos explore multiple, intersectional aspects of life in the Philadelphia area, and offer critical insights on:
What I love most about these videos is how they illustrate the strong observational skills these students have developed over the semester, and are the shared vision of between 2 and 3 student researchers. I look forward to sharing their work here, and to the conversations and discussion I hope their work will generate. These discussions will carry the hallmark of #LanguageStory's purpose as a visual + digital project deeply rooted in engaged research, and the power and significance of language, from the learner's point of view.
Help Us Share #LanguageStory!
We invite you to share with us in these visual + digital stories, and to spread the word about how fascinating life in Philadelphia is. Use the hashtag to join the conversation here on the blog, on Twitter, or Instagram.
By Jamie A. Thomas
"I don't like the way they speak English in front of me."
Research is Communication.
In my last post, I wrote about what I find most powerful about research, and how I came to develop a strong project during my fieldwork in Tanzania a few years ago. Here, I want to describe what I've learned about the importance of interpersonal communication.
I was weaving in and out of the midmorning city traffic in a bajaji, a typical motorized form of three-wheeled, open-air transport, when I most intensely began to understand the importance of language and communication in urban Tanzania. This was in thanks to the bajaji driver, who I had struck up a conversation with during our ride across Dar es Salaam, from Sinza to Msasani.
An Unscripted Experience in Listening.
We had begun by speaking in Swahili that overcast morning, exchanging a set of unsurprising hellos and how-are-yous. However, once it came out that I spent a lot of my time at the local university, a place the driver did not frequent, the conversation quickly escalated. We continued in Swahili, and I strained to hear him as we picked up speed, and the wind whipped by us, carrying a cacophony of honking car horns and hazy exhaust.
By Jamie A. Thomas
Why Research is Powerful.
One aspect of why research is so powerful, is because it brings us insight by making visible the relationship among factors we may have previously thought unrelated. And this is where anthropological research excels, by placing the human at the center of the study, with a parallel goal of contextualizing descriptions of human behavior.
Importantly, research is only as good or strong as the contextual description it relies upon. Set against a poorly researched description of contributing factors, any study becomes too weak to stand on its conclusions. For example, in the picture above, there appears to be someone in jeans standing on the left. However, when brought into its full context, we can see there is really only one person (me) in the picture (below), standing instead on the right.
Building Contextualized Research is Not Easy.
The richer the context we can develop because of our participation, passion, and mindful absorption of the locale of our research, the stronger we, as researchers, can come to understand the intersections of behaviors, histories, and practices in the daily lives of the people we care about. With context as a strong descriptive basis for our interpretations, we can feel reasonably certain about our conclusions and recommendations, because these are anchored by a deeply nuanced appreciation of multiple factors that combine to create the space we're focused upon.
Even so, developing richly contextualized inquiry is not easy. But here's how I did it in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (2010-2011) to support my research on social identity and language policy in the teaching of Swahili to non-Africans on study abroad in Tanzania from the Austria, China, Libya, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.
In my experience, there were there main principles at the core of my fieldwork that assisted me with building context for the study:
(1) Participation and friendship.
(2) Interpersonal communication.
(3) Openness and adaptability.
In this post, I'll address the first of these: Participation and friendship.
Jamie A. Thomas is a sociocultural linguist and digital media producer. Her forthcoming book Zombies Speak Swahili is all about the undead, videogames, and why language and communication matter. She teaches at Santa Monica College.