Monday, August 25, 2008

The difficulty of working with a language one hasn't researched

Some of the best advice I got from one of my professors was to submit abstracts to conferences even if you don't have a paper written on the topic. If it's accepted, you can write the paper, and if not, save all that work for another time. It's essentially the same idea as getting a record deal based on a demo, instead of spending all that time and money recording an entire album that may or may not get picked up.

Of course, there are difficulties to this, the most notable being that it's pretty easy to get in over your head. I was recently working on an abstract about stress in Navajo for submission to the High Desert Linguistics Society conference in November. My basic idea was that stop aspiration in Navajo was dependent on stress, and I was going to figure out how. The problem was that I'd never done any theoretical work on Navajo before (with the exception of an abstract on stop aspiration in Navajo). So each miniscule aspect of the language I had to research. While I've studied Navajo a little from a textbook, I don't speak the language at all, and since it was a language textbook, it didn't use any theoretical or linguistic terminology. Instead of having any background knowledge, whenever I had a question about a certain rule or pattern, I'd have to go research it myself. And since Navajo isn't Indo-European, many times I'd simply have to do the research myself, however cursorily.

I highly recommend submitting abstracts even when the paper isn't written. It's one thing when one is doing an outside research project and writes up finding for that. But for most grad students, we're just trying to get ourselves into research and publishing, and generally don't have mountains of self-produced data to wade through for paper topics. So this about the best we can do, and I don't think that's so bad.

(Bonus trivia: I saw a copy of the book "Black Like Me" with an odd font that was squished together and I believe lacked uppercase; I'm so used to seeing the -eme ending in words like "phoneme", "sememe", etc., that I immediately interpreted the title as "Black Likeme".)


NW said...

How much time would you usually have between being accepted and having to submit the paper?

Sorry to hear you're reducing your post frequency, funny enough I'm trying to increase mine.

Ryan Denzer-King said...

Well, for instance, with the abstract I was referencing, I'll find out if it was accepted next week, and the conference is in November. I think that three month window is about average. However, that's just when I have to have my presentation ready. The submission deadline for the actual paper (which is only for conferences with published proceedings anyway) probably won't be for months after that. My abstract was accepted to the Workshop on American Indigienous Languages back in February, the conference was in May, and the papers are due in September. So as far as the actual paper goes I will have had seven months between acceptance and submission.

NW said...

That's nice. I'm used to doing psycholinguistics experiments, and they often take a year to make sure everything's in its right place. All I could think of when you said submitting an abstract before doing the work was:

How do you have time to get all the experimental items and put it in runnable form?!