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Elicitation Techniques

First Steps

(Preliminary Information and Steps 1-3 were compiled by Barb Kelly, Spring, 2004)

Preliminary Information Needed from Your Consultant/Informant

Date of birth
Place of birth
Places lived; for how long
Languages spoken (written/read/understood)
Profession, if any
Family background (mother/father/sisters/brothers – languages they speak)

Eliciting and Transcribing Data

– you control the recording equipment
– have the consultant listen to a short portion slowly and repeat every syllable
– transcribe a stretch and then get a translation
– feel free to ask for meanings of particular words as you go
– do as much glossing as possible as you go along

Sentences/words missed
– look up words in class lexicon
– make notes on what you think is going on and things to check
– it’s life that some parts may be too difficult to understand (even for the speaker! learn to move on.)

Things to Check When Transcribing

1. Phonology

– place, manner
– voicing
– breathy/creaky voice
– ejective
– implosive
– nasalization

– height
– backness
– rounding
– nasalization
– voicelessness
– breathy/creaky articulation

– tone?
– distinct pitch patterns?
– beware of “list intonation”, skewing of elicitation context

– prominent syllable (first, last, penultimate, other)
– secondary stress (is it rhythmic)
– is it pitch related (pitch pattern over word varies predictably with stressed – syllable)

Remember to:
– Keep track of phones (make charts as you go along)
– Keep track of possible allophones (especially among related sounds)
– Attempt to elicit minimal pairs
– Make notes of regularities and things to check
– To begin with: keep lexical classes separate

As you go:
– Continue with charts
– Move from list of phones to list of phonemes
– Watch for morphophonemic variation – keep lists of alternations
– Analyze syllable structure
– Construct syllable templates
– Which phones can occur in which position? Constraints?
– Look for constraints on vowel-consonant combinations

2. Vocabulary


Swadesh 100 list

STEDT (Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus) wordlist questionaire

Matisoff 200-word list/CALMSEA wordlist (Culturally Appropriate Lexicostatistical Model for SouthEast Asia)

Lexical Categories

– Basic terms for people
– Kin terms (basic, then more remote)
– Occupations: farmer, butcher, priest, shaman, healer, etc.
– Neighbours
– Body parts
– Domesticated
– Wild
– Birds
– Fish
– Insects
– Body parts
Natural phenomena
– Rain, hills, rivers, etc.
– Building and implements
– Houses, temples, etc.
– Rooms in houses, etc.
– Clothing, cloth, needle, thread, etc.
– Pots, pans, bottles, ladles, etc.
– Farming implements, ropes, shovels, etc.
Religious objects
– Goddess, god, temple, etc.
– Towns and things in towns
– Roads, alleys, courtyards, markets, wells, etc.
– Other things as appropriate
– Castes, holidays, festivals, days of week, month of year, seasons)

Note: these may be verbs or nouns and not a separate lexical class – elicit to find out!
Human attributes
– Physical: tall, short, fat, skinny, dark, bald, etc.
– Emotional/psychological: lazy, angry, happy, sad, etc.
– Flexible, hard, wet, soft, bumpy, etc.
May not equate with English colours – use words and coloured objects for this
Food related terms
– Salty, spicy, sweet, ripe, rancid, bitter, etc.

Elicit in simply sentences
Look for a base form (infinitive) – from this you can often elicit a whole paradigm.
Be sure you have all the paradigms for each verb class.

Easiest to collect from texts and then fill in with elicitation
Demonstratives, particles, etc – fill in based on texts and elicitation.

3. Verbs and Verbal Morphology

Note, for Tense/Aspect/Evidentiality/Modality textual materials are crucial for analysis.

Tense (location the event on the timeline)
– Past
– Non-past
– Future
– Non-future
– Present
– Remote vs. recent past/future (use temporal adverbs, e.g. ‘next’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘next year’)
– Stative (on-going states, past states, future states: ‘be a teacher’, ‘be tall’, ‘be blind'; You may find past/perfective morphology on entrance into states: ‘He became a teacher’
– Habitual (past/present/future)

Aspect (internal temporal consistency of the event
Perfective (completive)
– Future
– Progressive/continuous
– Habitual
– Stative
– Present
Perfect (English ‘had gone’, ‘have gone’, ‘will have gone’ (3 tenses)
– current relevance

Evidentiality (statement of source of speaker’s authority)
May be indexed in the verb morphology or in sentence-final particles
– Direct perception of event
– Direct perception of resultant state
– Inference
– Hearsay

Deontic (social modality
– ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘be appropriate’, etc.
Epistemic (real-world physical needs, limitations, etc
– ‘need’, ‘must’, etc.)

Singular, dual, paucal, plural
Collective plurals
Morphological status: clitic? suffix? particle?
– What can it attach to?
– What happens if the noun is deleted?
If elements may come after the noun, does the number morpheme follow them?
Any irregular inflection with case morphology?

Copula Sentences
– For each category, work out syntax (how many NPs)
– Check inflections for person, negation, past/present/future
– May inflect like ordinary verbs, or be irregular
– Remember that these are stative by nature
– He was fat – implies no longer
– He became fat – entrance into state)

Case and Verbs
Start by eliciting genitives
– Father’s book, top of the table, the cow’s horn, the shopkeeper’s son
– Check for distinctions with alienable/inalienable possession

Elicit a simple intransitive verb paradigm (you may elicit pronouns at the same time
Use ‘go’ or ‘come’ but note that they might be irregular
Note casemarking, if any, on the subject
Use a nominal subject first, then check a pronominal subject
Elicit past tense first, then non-past
Check animacy/person distinctions

Add locative elements to the simple intransitive
– Allative: ‘to the house’
– Ablative: ‘from the house’
– Simple locative: ‘on the ground (use ‘sit’)

Elicit a simple transitive sentence with a human, nominal subject and a human, nominal object (‘took her son’, ‘dress’, ‘feed’, ‘hit’)

Expand the number of your predicates
– kill the goat, chicken
– wash or sew clothes
– buy fruit
– cook rice
– cut banana
Make them culturally appropriate, use everyday activities that you see happening around you.
– Add instrumentals, comitatives
– Elicit ditransitives with ‘give’

Downloadable Questionnaires and Surveys

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has an extremely comprehensive and informative site, which includes links to questionnaires and elicitation techniques related to specific research questions.

A Manual of Linguistic Field Work and Indian Language Structures by Anvita Abbi. (LINCOM Handbooks in Linguistics 17) is a guide to linguistic field methodology with particular reference to Indian languages.  It has a comprehensive section on elicitation techniques and appendices containing a number of questionnaires.

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